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No. I.-SIR JOHN FALSTAFF.
“For those who read aright are well aware
That Jaques, sighing in the forest green,
MS. penes me.
“ JACK FALSTAFF to my familiars !”—By that name, therefore, must he be known by all persons, for all are now the familiars of Falstaff. The title of “ Sir John Falstaff to all Europe” is but secondary and parochial. He has long since far exceeded the limit by which he bounded the knowledge of his knighthood ; and in wide-spreading territories, which in the day of his creation were untrodden by human foot, and in teeming realms where the very name of England was then unheard of, Jack Falstaff is known as familiarly as he was to the wonderful court of princes, beggars, judges, swindlers, heroes, bullies, gentlemen, scoundrels, justices, thieves, knights, tapsters, and the rest whom he drew about him.
It is indeed his court. He is lord paramount, the suzerain to whom all pay homage. Prince Hal may delude himself into the notion that he, the heir of England, with all the swelling emotions of soul that rendered him afterward the conqueror of France, makes a butt of the ton of man that is his companion. The parts are exactly reversed. In the peculiar circle in which they live, the prince is the butt of the knight. He knows it not he would repel it with scorn if it were asserted ; but it is nevertheless the fact that he is subdued. He calls the course of life which he leads, the unyoked humor of his idleness; but he mistakes. In all the paths where his journey lies with Falstaff, it is the hard-yoked servitude of his obedience. In the soliloquies put into his mouth he continually pleads that his present conduct is but that of the moment, that he is ashamed of his daily career, and that the time is ere long to come which will show him different from what he seems. As the dramatic character of Henry V. was conceived and executed by a man who knew how genius in any department of human intellect would work—to say nothing of the fact that Shakespeare wrote with the whole of the prince's career before him we may consider this subjugation to Falstaff as intended to represent the transition state from spoiled youth to energetic manhood. It is useless to look for minute traces of the historical Henry in these dramas.* Tradition and the chronicles had handed him down to Shakespeare's time as a prince dissipated
* Mr. Verplanck (editor of the Illustrated Shakespeare, published by Harper and Brothers, New York) declares that “Shakespeare has brought out the prince's heroic character, by a bold and free paraphrase of his actual history.” He says, “So striking and impressive are the individuality and life of the character, that it has been suggested that the Poet had the aid of traditionary knowledge to fill up the meagre outline of the chroniclers.” Mr. Verplanck adds that, “Of all the strictly historical personages, Henry IV. himself, alone, seems drawn entirely and scrupulously from historical authority; and his is a portrait rivalling, in truth and discrimination, the happiest delineations of Plutarch or of Tacitus.”—M.
in youth, and freely sharing in the rough debaucheries of the metropolis. The same vigor “that did affright the air at Agincourt” must have marked his conduct and bearing in any tumult in which he happened to be engaged. I do not know on what credible authority the story of his having given Gascoigne a box on the ear for committing one of his friends to prison may rest, and shall not at present take the trouble of inquiring * It
*. In Knight's Illustrated Shakespeare there is a notice of, with extracts from, an old play, called “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth,” which was on the stage when Shakespeare wrote, and, probably, supplied him with the subject of the principal dramas in which Falstaff and the Prince more prominently appear. In the old play the Prince is committed, by the LordMayor, to the counter (the Compter, even yet a prison in London), for rioting in the City, but escapes and enters the court where the Chief-Justice is sitting in judgment on Gadshill, the Prince's man, who robbed the carrier. The Judge threatens to hang the knave, and on his continued refusal to release him, gets a box on the ear from the Prince, who is at once committed to the Fleet Prison for“contempt” and the assault. In King Henry the Fourth, Part II. (Act I. Scene 2), Shakespeare makes Falstaff's page speak of the Lord-Chief-Justice, as “the nobleman that committed the prince for striking him about Bardolph.” In Act V. Scene 2, is recorded the truly noble manner in which the Prince, then newly succeeded to the Crown, displays moderation and magnanimity in thanking, instead of hostilely remembering, the judge for his independent conduct. As to the actual fact of such an incident, the authorities are at variance. Hollinshed, the historian, from whom Shakespeare drew largely, records the circumstance of the Prince's insolence and his commitment to prison. So does Hall, and so (more minutely still) does Sir Thomas Elyot, in his book of political ethics, called, “ The Governeur.” None of them mention the after conduct of the Prince. On the other hand, several commentators and critics deny the historical fact. Several add, that Chief-Justice Gascoigne died in the lifetime of Henry IV., so that Prince Henry, as King, could not have made the amende, as recorded in the drama. Others allege that Gascoigne survived, but was not re-appointed. Stowe declares that Gascoigne was Chief-Justice from the sixth of Henry IV. to the third of Henry V. Mr. Verplanck refers to an American author (George Gibbs, of New York), whose “Judicial Chronicle," published in 1834, contains an exact chronological list of the earlier English judges of the higher courts of England and America, in which Gascoigne is mentioned as having died or retired in 1414, the second year of Henry V. It is not probable that Shakespeare, who generally adhered to historical truth, invented what has been called “ the fine lesson of political magnanimity to a personal adversary," so spiritedly given in King Henry the Fourth, Part H. - M.
is highly probable that the chief justice amply deserved the cuffing, and I shall always assume the liberty of doubting that he committed the prince. That, like a “sensible lord,” he should have hastened to accept any apology which should have relieved him from a collision with the ruling powers of court, I have no doubt at all, from a long consideration of the conduct and history of chief justices in general.
More diligent searchers into the facts of that obscure time have seen reason to disbelieve the stories of any serious dissipations of Henry. Engaged as he was from his earliest youth in affairs of great importance, and with a mind trained to the prospect of powerfully acting in the most serious questions that could agitate his time—a disputed succession, a rising hostility to the church, divided nobility, turbulent commons, an internecine war with France impossible of avoidance, a web of European diplomacy just then beginning to develop itself, in consequence of the spreading use of the pen and ink-horn so pathetically deplored by Jack Cade, and forerunning the felonious invention, “contrary to the king's crown and dignity," of the printing-press, denounced with no regard to chronology by that illustrious agitator;- in these circumstances, the heir of the house of Lancaster, the antagonist of the Lollards-- a matter of accident in his case, though contrary to the general principles of his family—and at the same time suspected by the churchmen of dangerous designs against their property - the pretender on dubious title, but not at the period appearing so decidedly defective as it seems in ours, to the throne of France - the aspirant to be arbiter or master of all that he knew of Europe— could not have wasted all his youth in riotous living. * In fact, his historical character is stern and severe ; but with that we have here nothing to do. It is not the Henry of
* Shakespeare derived his idea of Prince Henry's wild youth from Hollinshed, Hall, and other historians, as well as from tradition.-M.