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The Authorship of the Play

The authorship problems in the case of 3 Henry VI—that is, the questions, who wrote the True Tragedy version, and who the altered and additional matter found in the Folio text of 3 Henry VI?,—are so intimately associated with the similar problems presented by 2 Henry VI and its source, that the two Parts cannot well be discussed separately. Reference must therefore be made to the edition of 2 Henry VI in this series, Appendix C, where an attempt is made to state general conclusions regarding the authorship of both Parts.

In summary it may be said that The True Tragedy seems to be fundamentally a work of Marlowe, though certainly preserved in a corrupted form, while the revision represented by the 1623 text of 3 Henry VI is mainly, if not wholly, the work of Shakespeare in the early years of his dramatic novitiate.

The True Tragedy, in comparison with The First Part of the Contention, shows less variety of tone and less inequality of style: it is a better unified and more moving drama and contains fewer scenes which suggest a doubt concerning the possibility of Marlowe's authorship. Shakespeare's revision of this work in 3 Henry VI is, as has been already said,[1] less elaborate and more understanding than his revision of the Contention. He retains better the spirit of the original and in his alterations, extensive though they indeed are, shows himself more the practical dramatist and less the practicing versifier. An advance in purposeful and economical method appears, for example, in the reviser's rearrangement of the sequence of scenes iv–vii of Act IV,[2] and in his occasional transposition of lines in the original play to other positions where they are more effective. Line 53 of II. i, 'But Hercules himself must yield to odds,' and the opening lines of V. iii,

'Thus far our fortune keeps an upward course,
And we are grac'd with wreaths of victory,'

are found in The True Tragedy, but at quite different points from those at which Shakespeare has chosen to employ them. Various details of the relation of the revised to the unrevised play are discussed in the notes; e.g., those on I. i. 14; I. ii. 28–31; II. i. 68 f., 113; II. ii. 89–92; II. iii. 15; II. v. 54; II. vi. 8, 42–44; III. iii. 16–18; IV. ii. 20 f.; IV. iii. 22 S.d.; IV. vii. 50; V. i. 81 S.d.; V. iv. 1–38.


  1. Cf. p. 133.
  2. Cf. notes on IV. iv and IV. vii, pp. 128, 130.