Following the Order

As we transition our discussion from The First Part of Henry the Sixth to The Second, it’s probably a pretty good time to revisit the Roadmap.  Remember back then, we said

Yeah, I’ve played around a little the with sequencing… but only to keep the tetralogies both in order and consecutive (for example, moving The Merry Wives of Windsor to after Henry V so the four histories are together)

Well, it applies to both last month and this.  There is some debate in the literary and academic community as to the sequence of the first tetralogy’s order of composition.

and, yeah, I know there’s not a little confusion in general since the first tetralogy contains the plays that come in sequence AFTER the second tetralogy… I’d give this the ol’ Star Wars trilogy analogy, but that would be giving George Lucas WAAAAAAYYYYYY too much credit

Here’s what we know for certain:

  • There is a record of a performance (in The Diary of Philip Henslowe) of a play called Harey VI which was performed by Lord Strange’s Men on March 3, 1592 at the Rose Theatre in Southwark
  • In Pierce Penniless (registered August 1592), Thomas Nashe writes,

    How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times) who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding
  • No play about Lord Talbot from Shakespeare’s time has survived except The First Part of Henry the Sixth
  • The original published title of The Second Part of Henry the Sixth is: The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, With the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey: and the Banishment and Death of the Duke of Suffolk, and the Tragical End of the Proud Cardinal of Winchester, With the Notable Rebellion of Jack Cade: and the Duke of York’s First Claim Unto the Crown
  • This is seen by many critics to be a parody of a line from The Third Part of Henry the Sixth: “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” (3HVI: I.iv.138)

    In “Greene’s Groats-worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance” (registered 1592), Robert Greene writes,

    ...for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey

  • The original published title of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth is: The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, and the Death of Good King Henry the Sixth, With the Whole Contention Between the Two Houses Lancaster and York

Here’s the supposition:

  • The “brave Talbot” play is, in fact, The First Part of Henry the Sixth, and it had a performance as early as March 1592
  • The Third Part of Henry the Sixth had a performance sometime before the end of 1592, possibly even in 1591
  • Despite theories of nineteenth century critics, The First Part of the Contention… is a “bad quarto” of a Shakespeare
  • As the end of The Second Part… immediately precedes the beginning of The Third Part…, narratively speaking (the battle of St. Albans and the pursuit of the king following, respectively), the plays were written and produced in that order.
  • While The First Part… may have been written prior to the other two, it is more likely, however, that The First Part… is a separate play (written either by Shakespeare or someone else), and later modified by Shakespeare (most likely with additions like the Rose Briar/Mortimer death sequence and the Suffolk/Margaret scene) to then act as a lead-in to the existing two plays (a prequel, as it were).

So, yeah, I’ve played with the syllabus order a bit, but mainly to keep the history in some semblance of order.

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