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'Tis ten to one, this play can never please
The merciful construction of good women;
5 such a one we show'd them;] In the character of Katharine Johnson.
- If they smile, &c.] This thought is too much hacknied It had been used already in the Epilogues to As you Like it and The Second Part of King Henry IV. Steevens.
Though it is very difficult to decide whether short pieces be genuine or spurious, yet I cannot restrain myself from expressing my suspicion that neither the Prologue nor Epilogue to this play is the work of Shakspeare; non vultus, non color. It appears to me very likely that they were supplied by the friendship or officious. ness of Jonson, whose manner they will be perhaps found exactly to resemble. There is yet another supposition possible: the Prologue and Epilogue may have been written after Shakspeare's departure from the stage, upon some accidental revival of the play, and there will then be reason for imagining that the writer, whoever he was, intended no great kindness to him, this play being recommended by a subtle and covert censure of his other works. There is in Shakspeare so much of fool and fight;
"In a long motley coat, guarded with yellow,"
appears so often in his drama, that I think it not very likely that he would have animadverted so severely on himself. All this, however, must be received as very dubious, since we know not the exact date of this or the other plays, and cannot tell how our author might have changed his practice or opinions. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson's conjecture, thus cautiously stated, has been since strongly confirmed by Mr. Tyrwhitt's note, p. 196, by which it appears that this play was revived in 1613, at which time without doubt the Prologue and Epilogue were added by Ben Jonson, or some other person. On the subject of every one of our author's historical pieces, except this, I believe a play had been written, before he commenced a dramatick poet. See the Essay at the end of The Third Part of King Henry VI. Malone.
All the best men are ours; for 'tis ill hap,
I entirely agree in opinion with Dr. Johnson, that Ben Jonson wrote the Prologue and Epilogue to this play. Shakspeare had, a little before, assisted him in his Sejanus; and Ben was too proud to receive assistance without returning it. It is probable, that he drew up the directions for the parade at the christening, &c. which his employment at court would teach him, and Shakspeare must be ignorant of. I think, I now and then perceive his hand in the dialogue.
It appears from Stowe, that Robert Greene wrote somewhat on this subject. Farmer.
In support of Dr. Johnson's opinion it may not be amiss to quote the following lines from old Ben's Prologue to his Every Man in his Humour:
"To make a child new swaddled, to proceed
"Man, and then shoot up, in one beard and weed,
The historical dramas are now concluded, of which the two Parts of Henry the Fourth, and Henry the Fifth, are among the happiest of our author's compositions; and King John, Richard the Third, and Henry the Eighth, deservedly stand in the second class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical scenes to their original, may consult Holinshed, and sometimes Hall: from Holinshed Shakspeare has often inserted whole speeches, with no more alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To transcribe them into the margin was unnecessary, because the original is easily examined, and they are seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the historian.
To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events by action and dialogue, was a common entertainment among our rude ancestors upon great festivities. The parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play which lasted three days, containing The History of the World Johnson.
It appears from more than one MS. in the British Museum, that the tradesmen of Chester were three days employed in the representation of their twenty-four Whitsun plays or mysteries. The like performances at Coventry must have taken up a longer time, as they are no less than forty in number. The exhibition of them began on Corpus Christi day, which was (according to Dugdale) one of their ancient fairs. See the Harleian MSS. No. 2013, 2124, 2125, and MS. Cot. Vesp. D. VIII, and Dugdale's Warwickshire, p. 116. Steevens.
END OF VOL. XI.
T. S. Manning, Printer, No. 143, North Third Street.