Henry VI Part 2 (1923) Yale/Appendix B
The History of the Play
On March 12, 1593/4, a London publisher, Thomas Millington, registered his copyright in 'a booke intituled, the firste parte of the Contention of the twoo famous houses of York and Lancaster with the death of the good Duke Humfrey, and the banishment and Deathe of the Duke of Suffolk, and the tragicall ende of the proud Cardinall of Winchester, with the notable rebellion of Jack Cade and the Duke of Yorkes ffirste clayme vnto the Crowne.' During the same year the play was published by Millington with a similarly descriptive title-page, of which a facsimile is given in the frontispiece of the present volume. In this 1594 edition and in a reprint of it which appeared in 1600 no mention is made of the author's name or of the company which produced the play.
In 1619 the First Part of the Contention was again printed, now in combination with the early version of 3 Henry VI (The True Tragedy), under the title of "The Whole Contention betweene the two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke. . . . Diuided into two Parts: And newly corrected and enlarged. Written by William Shakespeare, Gent.' The corrections and enlargements here announced are relatively inessential, and the earlier part of the Whole Contention amounts to no more than a new edition of the Quarto of 1594, though the publisher's intention was evidently to imply that it contained the large additions by Shakespeare which actually first appeared in the text of 2 Henry VI in the Shakespeare Folio of 1623.
The close plot relationship between the First Part of the Contention and the True Tragedy makes it fairly evident that the former play was produced, as we know the latter to have been, by the Earl of Pembroke's Company before that company disbanded in 1598. This troupe had recently acted Marlowe's Edward II, and, if the inferences of recent scholars are correct, was at the moment employing Shakespeare's services both as actor and as playwright. Professor J. Q. Adams suggests that Shakespeare's initial revision of the First Part of the Contention and of the True Tragedy was made (in 1592) in order to enable the Pembroke Company to present them in competition with the original version of 1 Henry VI (by Peele?), which was at this time proving a great success at the rival theatre of Lord Strange's Men.
We have little knowledge of the stage history of 2 Henry VI between the time it was amplified out of the earlier First Part of the Contention and the Restoration era. The Epilogue to Shakespeare's Henry V (1599) indicates that the Henry VI plays had been popular:
'Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.'
Ben Jonson's Prologue to Every Man in his Humour singles out the York and Lancaster plays (i.e. 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI and Richard III) among 'the ill customs of the age,' which purchase the delight of audiences by unjustifiable dramatic methods. He rebukes the authors who
'with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,
And in the tiring-house bring wounds to scars.'
Jonson's contemporary and rival, the artist-architect Inigo Jones (1578–1652) has left a vigorous sketch of Jack Cade in costume, which may point to some otherwise unrecorded revival or adaptation of 2 Henry VI in the reign of James I or Charles I.
A revision of 2 Henry VI, by the Restoration dramatist, John Crowne, was produced at the Duke of York's Theatre about 1681, and published in the same year with the title: Henry the Sixth; or, The Murder of the Duke of Glocester. This work begins with the quarrel of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort over King Henry's marriage, and, after presenting the death of both Humphrey and Beaufort, closes with the announcement of Suffolk's death and the success of Cade's revolt. The cast of characters is reduced to eleven, all save the Sheriff of London persons of the highest rank. Duke Humphrey was acted by Betterton and the Duchess Eleanor by Mrs. Betterton. Though in general Crowne follows the course of events in Shakespeare's play, as far as the middle of the fourth act, he retains little of Shakespeare's wording and quite alters the spirit of the piece, which he seeks to bring into line with the anti-papal feeling of the closing years of Charles II by representing his odious Cardinal as an example of the vices of the Roman clergy.
A sequel to the foregoing play was written by Crowne under the title of The Miseries of Civil-War. This is in the main an alteration of 3 Henry VI, but the first act, as well as the opening pages of the second, deal with matter included in the Second Part, i.e. the progress and final suppression of Jack Cade's rebellion and the first battle of St. Albans.
On February 15, 1723, was acted at Drury Lane Ambrose Philips' play: Humfrey Duke of Gloucester (printed the same year). This is a tragedy in the French style, consisting of many brief conversational scenes, which change whenever a character enters or leaves the stage. Only nine dramatis personæ appear, besides an Officer of Justice and two Ruffians. The whole action 'passes within the King's Palace in Westminster,' and within twenty-four hours. Humphrey, York, Salisbury, and Warwick are represented as high minded gentlemen without much discrimination of character, and the Duchess Eleanor is absurdly idealized, while Beaufort is made a conventional villain. The indebtedness to Shakespeare is much smaller than even in Crowne's pieces, and is not unfairly indicated in Philips' Epistle to the Reader: 'They who have read Shakespear's Second Part of Henry VI. may, probably, recollect most of the Passages I have borrowed from Him, either Word for Word, or with some small Alteration. Nevertheless, that I may not be thought unwilling to Acknowledge my Obligation to so great a Poet, I desire my Readers will place to his Account One or Two Hints, and One intire Line in the 24th Page, where Eleanor's Penance is related: Four Lines in the 38th Page, where Beaufort speaks of Gloucester's Popularity: Three Parts in Four of the Description of the Duke's dead Body, in Page 71: And about Seventeen Lines in the last Scene; some of which are so very beautifull, that it may be questioned whether there be any Passages in Shakespear that deserve greater Commendation.'
None of the revisions just mentioned enjoyed a real popularity. The most notable revival of 2 Henry VI in modern times was that produced by the great actor, Edmund Kean, at Drury Lane. According to Genest the first performance took place on December 22, 1817. The play was called Richard, Duke of York; or, The Contention of York and Lancaster, and was adapted from the Second Part of Henry VI, with smaller borrowings from the First and Third Parts, by J. H. Merivale, in such a way as to give prominence to the rôle of York, which was acted by Kean himself. Queen Margaret was played by Mrs. Glover and Jack Cade by the notable comedian Munden.
In 1863 an adaptation of 2 Henry VI under the title of The Wars of the Roses was played some thirty or forty times at the Surrey Theatre under the direction of the reviser, Mr. Anderson, who, with remarkable versatility, doubled the rôles of York and Cade. In 1864 2 Henry VI, translated with considerable modifications into German, was produced at Weimar by Dingelstedt as one of the series of Shakespearean history plays (omitting 1 Henry VI), which were performed in celebration of the poet's tercentenary. A more recent revival was that of the F. R. Benson Company at the Shakespeare Memorial Festival, Stratford-on-Avon, 1906, when the entire group of history plays, from Richard II to Richard III, was presented on successive days, the production of 2 Henry VI occurring on May 3.
- Cf. J. Q. Adams, A Life of William Shakespeare, 1923, pp. 186, 187, and the edition of 1 Henry VI in the present series, pp. 133, 151 ff.
- This drawing is reproduced in the Shakespeare Society volume, Sketches from Inigo Jones, etc., 1848.
- Crowne's Epistle to Sir Charles Sedley says: 'I call'd it in the Prologue Shakespeare's Play, though he has no Title to the 40th part of it. The Text I took out of his Second Part of Henry the Sixth, but as most Texts are serv'd, I left it as soon as I could.' A recent investigator (Gustav Krecke, Die englischen Bühnenbearbeitungen von Shakespeare's 'King Henry the Sixth,' Rostock, 1911) estimates that of 2864 lines in Crowne's play 215 are taken direct from Shakespeare.
- Langbaine, a contemporary, writing in 1691, says: 'This Play was oppos'd by the Popish Faction, who by their Power at Court got it supprest; however it was well receiv'd by the Rest of the Audience.'
- This, however, was printed in 1680, a year before the earliest edition of The Murder of the Duke of Glocester, and it may have been composed earlier.
- Cf. Charles Lamb: On the Acting of Munden, Essays of Elia.
- This version was never printed and is now lost. Mr. Anderson informed Mr. F. A. Marshall (Henry Irving Shakespeare, Introduction to 2 Henry VI): 'Unfortunately the manuscript with all books and papers were destroyed when the theatre was burnt down in the year 1864.' Another manuscript condensation of the Three Parts of Henry VI, prepared by the actor, Charles Kemble, is printed by Mr. Marshall, ibid., vol. ii, pp. 203–246.
- For a detailed account of these jubilee performances see L. Eckardt: Shakespeare's englische Historien auf der Weimarer Bühne, Shakespeare Jahrbuch i. 362–391.
- An account will be found in the London Athenæum, May 12, 1906.