Structuring and Revision in 1 Henry VI

Article excerpt

In "Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth, Part One," Gary Taylor presents the best reconstruction yet published of the genesis of the play arguably the least read and least performed of all those included by Heminge and Condell in the Shakespeare First Folio. (1) While not without its faults, Taylor's authorship hypothesis is so much more thorough than those of his major predecessors--F. G. Fleay, Allison Gaw, John Dover Wilson, and Marco Mincoff--that little would be gained from comparing their conclusions here. (2) The enduring value of their criticism lies in the arguments each advanced for the Folio text (hereafter referred to as "F") representing a substantially revised play. (3)

Clearly, the degree to which 1 Henry VI can be said to be revised or restructured impacts directly on any hypothesis for the play's genesis. Taylor proclaims that "theories of substantial revision, months or years after the original performances, should no longer be taken seriously," without acknowledging that most scholars who have investigated the composition of 1 Henry VI including his four most incisive predecessors--have insisted that substantial revision by Shakespeare is the best way to explain the structural inconsistencies in F (170). In support of his chronological and authorship hypotheses, Taylor sets in motion a juggernaut of bibliographical, linguistic, and metrical evidence beneath which fundamental uncertainties concerning the creation of the play are crushed. One major casualty is the uncertainty that persists (and must always do so) about whether all of F was composed in a single, limited period. Taylor courts convenience rather than critical caution and decides that the manuscript behind the play Philip Henslowe recorded in his Diary as "harey the vj"--the play staged by Strange's Men at the Rose theater for the first time on 3 March 1592--is preserved unaltered in the 1623 Folio as The first Part of Henry the Slit. (4) This, Taylor contends, means that "Part One is the only securely dated play in the early Shakespeare canon--or rather, that II.iv and IV.ii-IV.vii.32 of Part One are the most securely dated passages of early Shakespearean dramatic verse (184). (5) But Taylor cannot prove that Shakespeare's work in 1 Henry VI was part of harey the vj, the play whose takings were "unequalled throughout Henslowe's long management"--no one can. (6) His argument for the play's authorship being collaborative is compelling, but one gains from it little idea of the scene-by-scene and act-by-act composition of 1 Henry VI (148, 153). I present here a full structural analysis of the play which reveals that, contrary to Taylor's position, theories of substantial revision, years after the original performances, should be taken seriously when investigating the origins of 1 Henry VI.

From playwright's quill to printer's type, early modern play-texts were subject to different kinds of revision by different kinds of revisers. My primary concern here is the structuring and evident revision of the play by the dramatist(s) behind 1 Henry VI, not with the bookkeepers, compositors, proofreaders, or any other agents who may have revised the text after the manuscript left authorial hands.


1 Henry VI contains three main plot elements; the first and most integral concerns the English hero, Talbot, and his battles against the French, who come to be led by Joan of Arc. The second concerns the quarreling of the Bishop of Winchester and the Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, over the control of the child King, Henry VI. The origins of the enmity between the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset are dramatized in the third plot element. A fourth, very minor plot thread is introduced in two scenes of Act 5. (7) In 5.3 the Earl of Suffolk, who up until that point has spoken just eleven lines in the Temple Garden of 2.4, materializes in France and woos Margaret of Anjou for the young King. Back in England in 5. …