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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Feathers
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0924  Tuesday, 24 April 2001

From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Apr 2001 11:24:56 +0100
Subject: 12.0855 Re: Feathers
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0855 Re: Feathers

I am reluctant to accept Marcus Dahl's two pennyworth of wit (half a
groatsworth?).  There is an expression somewhere about wooden nickels
which I am sure someone will explain to me...

The question of the ordering of the parts of Henry VI is thoroughly
chewed over most recently by Ronald Knowles in his Arden 3 edition of
2H6 (1999), and by Edward Burns in his Arden 3 edition of 1H6 (2000),
and also by John Jowett in his Oxford edition of R3 (2000), so there is
no need to disturb the shade of John Dover Wilson!  Knowles, Burns and
Jowett seem to be in broad agreement, which I shall attempt to
summarise.

In Thomas Nashe's Piers Penniless (1592), he mentions a Talbot play.  In
a separate passage he praises Ned Alleyn.  Ned Alleyn was a leading
player of Lord Strange's men, who in 1592 were playing at the Rose.
Henslowe's 'Diary' records a 'Harey the vj' as a new play in 1592, and
something of a hit, as the takings were large.  This all fits together
neatly, the only problem being that if Shakespeare wrote 2H6 and 3H6 (1
Contention and True Tragedy) subsequently his career becomes a trifle
congested with plays.  'Harey the vj' thus appears too late to be 1H6,
unless this is a prequel to 2H6 and 3H6.  (2H6 and 3H6 are clearly
intended to be a two-part play inspired by Marlowe's Tamburlaine.  There
are apparently no instances of a three parter).

Why should we think that 2H6 and 3H6 were written earlier?  Well, first
there are the plot inconsistencies.  But these are only inconsistencies
if the plays are performed in chronological order, not if 1H6 is a
prequel.  Much more interesting is Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592).
This includes the famous passage 'an upstart crow, beautified with our
feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde...'  Those
feathers again!  The line 'his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde' is
printed in italics, so the author, his printer, and hopefully his
readership, recognised it as a parody of a famous line in 3H6.  This
would have already been performed on a London stage, presumably by Lord
Strange's Men.  It doesn't feature in Henslowe's Diary, so it was
presumably performed in 1591 at the latest.  (Greene's Groatsworth seems
to have been published posthumously.  I understand that Marcus thinks it
was also written posthumously, but this still doesn't shift its date
from 1592.)

Any other arguments?  Seeing the two tetralogies on the stage offers
useful comparisons.  2H6 and 3H6 feel 'early'.  It is the evenness of
tone which is most notable.  There is more variety in 1H6, but this may
be the inevitable consequence of it being a collaborative work.  There
is a suggestion that it may be by the same 'team' who wrote Locrine and
Edward III.  3H6 leads directly into R3.  Indeed, in Act 3 Sc 2 of 3H6
the action stops while Shakespeare runs a trailer for R3!  The Richard
passages could, however, be a (slightly) later insertion.  R3 is
different in tone: it is English history played as farce or Grand
Guignol.  We need also to look at the context.  If 2H6 and 3H6 are a
two-parter influenced by Tamburlaine, there is some suggestion that R3
influenced Marlowe's Edward II.  Edward II certainly seems to have
influenced Shakespeare to move up a gear in R2.  By the time of H5
Shakespeare is dazzling us with his virtuosity, and anachronistically
playing with the national themes of a country which wasn't formally
united until 200 years later.  There is a suggestion that in H5
Shakespeare is revisiting some ideas dealt with in Edward III and 1H6,
where he collaborated but didn't have total freedom.

Marcus is right to think that earlier critics have linked the sequencing
of the plays to the question of collaboration, but he has it the wrong
way around: apparently it those who argue for sole Shakespearean
authorship who want the 'natural sequence' and those who argue for
collaboration who want the inverted sequence!

It is probably time to dispose of Marcus's options:

(1) Possible but unnecessary: we want an early date for 2H6, not a later
one.

(2) The irregularities cause problems for the 'natural sequence' not the
authorship.  After all, if the plays are written independently why
assume they are written in sequence?

(3) Unfortunately, the Talbot scenes are the ones universally attributed
to Shakespeare!

(4) Again, unification of plot is only a problem if seen 'in sequence'.

(5) Yes, but it is not confusion, just different views of history or a
development of interpretation.  Again, not a problem in a 'prequel'.

(6) There is no need for 1H6 to be later than 'harey the vj': if they
are not identical 1H6 could easily be earlier.

(7) Unfortunately, there is some evidence that 1 Contention and True
Tragedy are later than the texts of 2H6 and 3H6 which we have.  If not
exactly 'reported texts' there is some merit in thinking of them as
touring versions prepared for Pembroke's Men during 1592-4.  The SDs of
True Tragedy refer to the factions wearing red and white roses, which
those of 3H6 don't, and this seems to derive from the Rose Garden scene
of 1H6.  (I nearly described the 'short' plays as 'performing versions',
but the idea of a performing version of a play is not a sensible one,
even for the desk-bound!)  Where has Marcus got the idea that 2H6 and
3H6 were revised in 1612?  From Shakespeare  preparing his Collected
Works?

John Briggs
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