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*KING HENRY VIII.] We are unacquainted with any dramatick piece on the subject of Henry VIII. that preceded this of Shakspeare; and yet on the books of the Stationers' Company appears the following entry: "Nathaniel Butter] (who was one of our author's printers) Feb. 12, 1604. That he get good allowance for the enterlude of King Henry VIII. before he begin to print it; and with the wardens hand to yt, he is to have the same for his copy." Dr. Farmer, in a note on the epilogue to this play, observes, from Stowe, that Robert Greene had written somewhat on the same story. STEEVENS.
This historical drama comprizes a period of twelve years, commencing in the twelfth year of King Henry's reign, (1521,) and ending with the christening of Elizabeth in 1533. Shakspeare has deviated from history in placing the death of Queen Katharine before the birth of Elizabeth, for in fact Katharine did not die till 1536.
King Henry VIII. was written, I believe, in 1601. See An, Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, Vol. II.
Dr. Farmer, in a note on the epilogue, observes, from Stowe, that "Robert Greene had written something on this story;" but this, I apprehend, was not a play, but some historical account of Henry's reign, written not by Robert Greene, the dramatick poet, but by some other person. In the list of "authors out of whom Stowe's Annals were compiled," prefixed to the last edition printed in his life time, quarto, 1605, Robert Greene is enumerated with Robert de Brun, Robert Fabian, &c. and he is often quoted as an authority for facts in the margin of the history of that reign. MALONE.
I come no more to make you laugh; things now,
The play may pass; if they be still, and willing,
In a long motley coat,] Alluding to the fools and buffoons, introduced in the plays a little before our author's time: and of whom he has left us a small taste in his own. THEOBALD.
In Marston's 10th Satire there is an allusion to this kind of dress:
"The long foole's coat, the huge slop, the lugg'd boot, "From mimick Piso all doe claime their roote."
Thus also Nashe, in his Epistle Dedicatory to Have with you to Saffron Walden, or Gabriel Harvey's Hunt is up, 1596; "-fooles, ye know, alwaies for the most part (especiallie if they bee naturall fooles) are suted in long coats." STEEVENS.
As fool and fight is,2 beside forfeiting
such a show
As fool and fight is,] This is not the only passage in which Shakspeare has discovered his conviction of the impropriety of battles represented on the stage. He knew that five or six men with swords, gave a very unsatisfactory idea of an army, and therefore, without much care to excuse his former practice, he allows that a theatrical fight would destroy all opinion of truth, and leave him never an understanding friend. Magnis ingeniis et multa nihilominus habituris simplex convenit erroris confessio. Yet I know not whether the coronation shown in this play may not be liable to all that can be objected against a battle.
the opinion that we bring,
(To make that only true we now intend,)] These lines I do not understand, and suspect them of corruption. I believe we may better read thus :
the opinion, that we bring
Or make; that only truth we now intend. JOHNSON.
To intend, in our author, has sometimes the same meaning as to pretend. So, in King Richard III:
"The mayor is here at hand: Intend some fear
"Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
If any alteration were necessary, I should be for only changing the order of the words, and reading:
That only true to make we now intend:
i. e. that now we intend to exhibit only what is true.
This passage, and others of this Prologue, in which great stress is laid upon the truth of the ensuing representation, would lead one to suspect, that this play of Henry the VIIIth. is the very play mentioned by Sir H. Wotton, [in his Letter of 2 July, 1613, Reliq. Wotton, p. 425,] under the description of " a new play, [acted by the king's players at the Bank's Side] called, All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the VIIIth." The extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, with which, Sir Henry says, that play was set forth, and the particular incident of certain cannons shot off at the
Therefore, for goodness' sake, and as you are known The first and happiest hearers of the town,*
King's entry to a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, (by which the theatre was set on fire and burnt to the ground,) are strictly applicable to the play before us. Mr. Chamberlaine, in Winwood's Memorials, Vol. III. p. 469, mentions "the burning of the Globe, or playhouse, on the Bankside, on St. Peter's-day [1613,] which (says he) fell out by a peale of chambers, that I know not on what occasion were to be used in the play." Ben Jonson, in his Execration upon Vulcan, says, they were two poor chambers. [See the stage-direction in this play, a little before the King's entrance: Drum and trumpet, chambers' discharged."] The Continuator of Stowe's Chronicle, relating the same accident, p. 1003, says expressly, that it happened at the play of Henry the VIIIth.
In a MS. Letter of Tho. Lorkin to Sir Tho. Puckering, dated London, this last of June, 1613, the same fact is thus related: "No longer since than yesterday, while Bourbage his companie were acting at the Globe the play of Hen. VIII. and there shooting of certayne chambers in way of triumph, the fire catch'd," &c. MS. Harl. 7002. TYRWHITT.
I have followed a regulation recommended by an anonymous correspondent, and only included the contested line in a parenthesis, which in some editions was placed before the word beside. Opinion, I believe, means here, as in one of the parts of King Henry IV.character. ["Thou hast redeem'd thy lost opinion. King Henry IV. Part I. Vol. XI. p. 422.] To realize and fulfil the expectations formed of our play, is now our object. This sentiment (to say nothing of the general style of this prologue) could never have fallen from the modest Shakspeare. I have no doubt that the whole prologue was written by Ben Jonson, at the revival of the play, in 1613. MALONE.
The first and happiest hearers of the town,] Were it necessary to strengthen Dr. Johnson's and Dr. Farmer's supposition, (see notes on the epilogue,) that old Ben, not Shakspeare, was author of the prologue before us, we might observe, that happy appears, in the present instance, to have been used with one of its Roman significations, i. e. propitious or favourable: "Sis bonus O, felixque tuis!" Virg. Ecl. 5. a sense of the word which must have been unknown to Shakspeare, but was familiar to Jonson. STEEVENS.