- The Oxford Shakespeare Henry VI, Part One
Michael Taylor's new edition of Henry VI, Part One follows Parts Two and Three in the Oxford series, fortuitously recalling the plays' probable order of composition prior to 1592. That March "harey the vj"—Part One building on impressions made by the preceding two plays—struck box-office gold at Philip Henslowe's Rose theater. By chance Taylor's edition also retraces the original sequence of publication, when Part One appeared in the 1623 Folio after versions of Parts Two and Three had been printed in the mid-1590s. Part One's status as a "prequel" has attracted a strong, though not universal, consensus that challenges the prima facie authority of the Folio, which re-presented the three Henry VI plays in chronological order and inaugurated critical and stage approaches to Shakespeare's English histories as dramatic cycles. Part One has also usefully, if more inauspiciously, served a major concern of scholars since the eighteenth century: explaining the play's alleged technical and artistic weaknesses. The emergent identity of Part One as a belated play has joined longstanding and ultimately unresolvable debates about its authorship, which most scholars now believe was collaborative. Postmodern flexibility toward "Shakespeare" as a cultural property has made us more receptive to the idea that Shakespeare sometimes worked with fellow writers on this and other plays, such as Edward III or Pericles. And the notion that Shakespeare appropriated himself with a little help from his friends fits with our current popular image of him as pragmatic and matey.
Michael Taylor's brisk edition follows many of these trends. On the matter of authorship he defers to the Oxford Complete Works editors—Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery—who argue in their Textual Companion (1987) that Shakespeare contributed to Part One with Nashe, Peele, Greene, and unnamed others. Taylor remains skeptical, however, about why Shakespeare (as he agrees to refer to the play's authors) would have chosen to do so after writing Parts Two and Three alone with apparent success. (Perhaps a solo hat-trick daunted even him.) Similarly, he accepts the Companion'sanalysis of the original Folio text, whose inconsistencies in speech prefixes, stage directions, and act-and-scene divisions become signs that the underlying copy was a multiply-authored draft. He regards the Folio text as virtually untouched by playhouse agents, rejecting older views that some of its discrepancies [End Page 218] derive from the hands of bookkeepers or prompters. This position obliges him to pass over internal evidence that the manuscript circulated publicly, which is implied by the fact that the original first scene of Act 5 (which contains only "Scena secunda" and "Scœna Tertia") seems to be missing, whether through revision or accident.
The untidiness of the Folio text (hereafter F) and the play's non-unified authorship encourage Taylor to edit eclectically. Names are a case in point. He rejects the Folio spelling "Falstaffe" in favor of the form "Fastolf," deriving from the chronicle sources, and so continues Maurice Morgan's chivalrous tradition of protecting Sir John's plump namesake from any associations of cowardice. Francophone names appear mostly in French (Orléans, Alençon), though Réné, introduced by the Complete Works editors, reverts to the phonetically ambiguous Reignier. More surprisingly, Taylor gallicizes the battle-cry "A Talbot" to "À Talbot." Even if this is defensible philologically, it has the effect on the page of making English soldiers attack the French in French, a courtesy that seems hard to imagine historically. Happily, Taylor returns to the forms "Dauphin" and "la Pucelle," departing from Edward Burns's recent decision to rename Charles "the Dolphin" and Joan "Puzel" in his Arden3 edition. As Taylor rightly observes (echoing arguments made by the Arden3 general editors), the former denies actors the option of pronouncing the word D¯ofin, which was acceptable in Shakespeare's day, while "Puzel" is thematically modish and exclusively pejorative. It deprives the French of a...