Notes and Queries, Number 55, November 16, 1850 by Various


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MISCELLANEOUS:--
Notes on Books, Sales, Catalogues, &c. 414
Books and Odd Volumes Wanted 415
Notices to Correspondents 415
Advertisements 415

* * * * *


NOTES.

AUTHORSHIP OF "HENRY VIII."

In returning to the question of the authorship of _Henry VIII._, I am
anxious to remove a misconception under which MR. SPEDDING appears to
labour relative to the purport of a remark I made in my last communication
to you (Vol. ii., p. 198.) on this subject. As we appear to be perfectly
agreed as to the reasons for assigning a considerable portion of this play
to Fletcher, and as upon this basis we have each worked out a result that
so exactly coincides with the other, I conclude that MR. SPEDDING, as well
as myself, has rested his theory solely on positive grounds; that is, that
he imagines there is strong internal evidence in favour of all that he
ascribes to this writer. It follows, therefore that the "third hand" which
he thought he detected must be sought rather in what remained to
Shakspeare, than in that which had been already taken from him. I never for
an instant doubted that this was MR. SPEDDING's view; but the inequality
which I supposed he had observed and accounted for in this way, I was
disposed to refer to a mode of composition that must needs have been
troublesome to Shakspeare. The fact is, that, with one or two exceptions,
the scenes contributed by the latter are more _tamely_ written than any but
the earliest among his works; and these, different as they are, they
recalled to my mind. But I have no doubt whatever that these scenes were
all written about the same time; my feeling being, that after the opening
Shakspeare ceased to feel any great interest in the work. Fletcher, on the
other hand, would appear to have made a very great effort; and though some
portions of the work I ascribe to him are tedious and overlaboured, no
censure would weigh very strongly against the fact, that for more than two
centuries they have been _applauded_ as the work of Shakspeare.

As to the circumstances under which _Henry VIII._ was composed, it is an
exceedingly difficult question; and if I venture, on the present occasion,
to give the impression upon my mind, I do so, reserving to myself the full
right to change my opinion whenever I shall have acquired more knowledge of
the subject, or, from any other motive, shall see fit to do it. I consider
this case, then, as one of joint authorship; in point of time not much
later than the _Two Noble Kinsmen_, and in other respects similar to that
play. If the conclusions of the article in the _Westminster Review_, to
which MR. SPEDDING alludes, be accepted, the writer of the introductory
notice to _Henry VIII._ in the _Illustrated Shakspeare_, published by Tyas,
will recognise the "reverent disciple" whom he hints at, but does not name.
In short, I think that {402} Fletcher was the pupil of Shakspeare; and this
view, it appears to me, demands the serious attention of the biographer who
next may study or speculate upon the great poet's life.

I don't know that I can add anything to MR. SPEDDING'S able analysis of
_Henry VIII._ There are certain _tricks_ of expression he, no doubt, has
observed that characterise Fletcher's style, and which abound in the play.
It might be useful to make notes of these; and, at some future time, I may
send you a selection. I now beg to send you the following extracts, made
some time ago, showing the doubts entertained by previous writers on the
subject:--

"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. It appears to me very likely that they were supplied by the
friendship or officiousness of Jonson, whose manner they will be
_perhaps found exactly_ to resemble."--_Johnson._

"Play revived in 1613." "Prologue and epilogue added by Jonson or some
other person."--_Malone._

"I entirely agree with Dr. Johnson, that Ben Jonson wrote the prologue
and epilogue to this play. Shakspeare had a little before assisted him
in his _Sejanus_.... I think I now and then perceive his hand in the
dialogue."--_Farmer._

"That Jonson was the author of the prologue and epilogue to this play
has been controverted by Mr. Gifford. That they were not the
composition of Shakspeare himself is, I think, clear from internal
evidence."--_Boswell._

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