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BY EDWARD EVERETT HALE, JR., PH. D.
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
JUL 17 1906
Copyright, 1883 and 1905,
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
Henry V was first presented in the summer of 1599. This we may infer from certain lines in the Prologue to Act V. Chorus has been telling of the welcome of the King to London after Agin- Date of the court; he
66 'As, by a lower but loving likelihood,
Were now the general of our gracious empress,
"The general of our gracious empress" was the Earl of Essex, who went to Ireland in the spring of 1599 and returned in the fall.
The date of a play is not in itself a matter of very great importance, yet it is of interest here. We know from the date that this play followed the two parts of Henry IV, making with them a trilogy of which Henry the Fifth was the hero. Henry VI, on the other hand, was written a good while before and has no connection with our play. We know from the date, too, that Henry V was the last of the historical plays, excepting Henry VIII, which is a play of a different kind. We know it to belong to a period about the same as the strong and joyous comedies, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and just before the tragedies of Julius Cæsar and Hamlet. We know Shakespeare's general temper and disposition while he was writing the play: it was the time
when he was beginning to make a success in a business way. Certainly we could read the play intelligently or enjoy it on the stage without knowing these things; still it does add to our appreciation of the strong soldier-king to remember, for instance, that Shakespeare drew his figure just before he imagined Brutus and Hamlet, those two so much greater and weaker. One does not want to give too much stress to the date of a play, but a recollection of it often helps one at a pinch. Thus one of the catchwords of Nym in the play is "That's the humour of it." Humour is such an important Elizabethan word that one ought to look it up a little, but without further study Nym's constant use of it in the Merry Wives of Windsor (I, iii) is almost sufficient comment on his use in this play. As the Merry Wives was written about the same time as Henry V (before, unless Falstaff, Bardolph, and Nym are all brought to life for the occasion), we see that Nym was using a popular catchword, or one associated with his character. Both in a large way and in a smaller, then, a knowledge of the date may help us. Fortunately it is something that we may learn with very little trouble, for so many students have looked into these matters that the results are open to anybody.
The sources of this play are, as in the case of most of the histories, entirely clear. Shakespeare took the narrative of the chronicler Holinshed1 as a basis. Sources of Shakespeare often followed his authority the play. very closely; sometimes in facts, as in I, i, 1; I, i, 75; III, vi, 40; sometimes in words, as in II, iv, 102; III, vi, 164; V, ii, 341; sometimes in names,
1 Raphael Holinshed compiled the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which were published in 1578.
as III, v, 40. Those who study dramatic construction will notice a number of points of interest in comparing the play with the sources. Thus, Shakespeare shortens up the matter: from the play one gets the idea that Act V, with the negotiations for peace, follows directly after the battle of Agincourt. But really the Treaty of Troyes was five years after Agincourt, and in that time there was a whole campaign in France of which Shakespeare says nothing. That would not have done on the stage. Shakespeare wanted to give a striking picture of a glorious campaign; so he gives merely the cause of war, the victory, and the peace. Absolute historic accuracy is something too complicated to present on the stage.
The language, also, of this play, as of every play of Shakespeare's, is something we must pay attention to. In a general way everybody that reads English can understand Shakespeare; still three centuries Language have made changes in language. Some of of the play. Shakespeare's words are now out of use. These we must know, nor is it a great task to learn them. But there are others which are a little more difficult, namely, words that are not obsolete in form, but which had then a meaning different from the modern one. There are sometimes a good many such words. Thus in Act II, Scene ii: