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In this paper, I wish to undertake the following:
1. Challenge the notion of "Bad Quarto" as an acceptable description of the Q text entitled The First Part of the Contention;
2. Argue that Q relies mainly on Hall's Chronicle (1548-50) and only to a small extent, if at all, draws on Holinshed's 1577 Chronicle and not on Holinshed's second edition (1587);
3. Challenge the view that F precedes Q, arguing that the original text was Q, which was revised and expanded into F;
4. Explore Laurence Manley's links between Eleanor Cobham in the play with Margaret Stanley (nee Clifford), Countess of Derby as heiress presumptive to Elizabeth;
5. Suggest that Eva Turner Clark's proposed date c 1579-81 for Q is supported by Manley's identification.
I intend to consider the date of composition of the Quarto Text of The First Part of the Contention (1594) and its relationship with the 1623 Folio text of King Henry, VI Part 2 (1623). (1) The scholarly consensus is that the Folio reports the original text and the Quarto is a subsequent, badly derived text--probably a memorial reconstruction, perhaps a conscious abridgement by the playing companies or both.
This view on the priority of Q was accepted by Lawrence Manley as recently as 2003. Manley considered how the F text may have passed from Strange's Men to Pembroke's Men and may have been revised into the 1594 quarto. In particular, Manley observed strong similarities between the character of Eleanor Cobham in the play and the historical figure of Margaret Stanley (nee Clifford), Countess of Derby, a portrayal which varies significantly between the texts. He argued that the Folio text of Henry VI, Part 2 was almost certainly revised by the playwright into the Quarto text so as to portray Eleanor in a less favourable light. Manley's view of the direction of revision was from F to Q.
Many of these points have been called into question. Roger Warren in his Oxford Shakespeare edition of Henry VI, Part 2 (2003) argued that the direction of revision was from Q to F. If Warren is correct, then the revision of the play coincided with a more sympathetic depiction of Eleanor. As the Eleanor Cobham episode shows a remarkable coincidence with events among the Tudor aristocracy in the 1570s, I offer the conclusion that the quarto version of The Contention was probably written about 1579 by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford but not published until 1594. The quarto version of the play was later revised and the Eleanor Cobham episode was altered (perhaps because the play passed to Lord Strange's Men in the late 1580s or early 1590s) and published in the First Folio.
The First Part of the Contention (The Contention) was registered on 12 March 1594 without attribution to a particular author. (2) It was first published in quarto in 1594, (3) again in 1600 (4) and, for the first time with The True Tragedy of Richard of Gloucester (3 Henry VI), in 1619. (5)
There are very few differences between the three quarto texts. The play, or rather a longer version, appeared in the First Folio in its historical position. (6) This longer version was entitled The Second Part of King Henry VI. Somewhat confusingly, some editors refer to the play as The Contention when reporting the folio text. (7) Let me just clarify that in this paper The Contention refers to the Quarto text and the Folio text is called 2 Henry VI. Both The Contention (Q1) and 2 Henry VI (F1) follow the same plot and characterisation in the same 23 scenes but differ in a large number of readings, with Q1 containing only about two-thirds of the text of 2 Henry VI in F1.
Chambers (1930) asserted Shakespeare's sole authorship of the play. This has remained the majority position, e.g. Tillyard (1944), Cairncross (1962) and Hattaway (1991).
A number of critics, however, has expressed doubts over its authorship, without any consensus about the alternative candidate(s). Edmond Malone in 1790 suggested that Greene and others wrote The Contention, later revised by Shakespeare into 2 Henry VI. Fleay saw grounds for assigning at least part of the play to Thomas Lodge. Tucker Brooke (1923) saw The Contention as by another author, but revised by Shakespeare. Dover Wilson (1952) believed that Nashe and Green contributed parts, especially the Jack Cade scenes as these are mainly in prose. Merriam and Matthews (1994) attribute both The Contention and The True Tragedy to Marlowe, later revised by Shakespeare. Wells & Taylor (1986), and more recently Knowles (1999), cautiously accepted the possibility of co-authorship between Shakespeare and other playwrights. Vickers has not (yet) made a special study of 2 Henry VI nor offered any suggestion as to whether the play was co-authored.
We now move on to the sources for the play. According to Geoffrey Bullough, a source is a text which informs the majority of a play, whether in plot, characterisation or context. Bullough demonstrates that Hall's chronicle, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548-50) provided Shakespeare with the complete structure for the Yorkist tetralogy (i.e., the plays about Henry VI and Richard III). Hall seems to be especially echoed in the full title of the play, The firste parte of the Contention of the two famous houses of York and Lancaster. Secondly, Bullough follows Hall's moralising narrative in assigning blame for the civil war to Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's queen. Furthermore, Hall provides both the details and the treatment of the quarrel between Gloucester and Winchester as well as depicting the deaths of Winchester and Suffolk as retribution for the murder of Gloucester. Finally, Hall portrays Henry VI as a gentle king who fails to stop the Civil War (showing Lancastrian sympathies), not as the madman depicted in Holinshed (who follows the Yorkist interpretation).
There are many more examples, and Bullough believes that Hall (possibly as reported by Grafton) provides by far the largest amount of material. While Grafton's Chronicle of 1569 is often derived verbatim from Hall, two notable elements, added by Grafton, are used by Shakespeare: the incident involving Simpox's miracle (Q Scene V; F Act II.i) and the list of grievances raised in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which the dramatist transferred to Jack Cade's rebellion in Act IV; details include the execution of "men of lawe that stood in their way, whether they were Spirituall or Temporall."
It is possible that Shakespeare made some small use of Holinshed's Chronicles of Englande, Scotlande, and Irelande (first edition 1577; second edition 1587), but not to the extent he did with Hall, e.g. in the dispute between York and Somerset over the regency of France:
But the Duke of Somerfette frill maligining the Duke of Yorkes aduauncement, as bee had foughte to hinder his difpatche at the firfte when he was lent ouer to be regent, as before ye haue heard: he likewyfe nowe wrought fo, that the king reuoked his graunt made to the duke of Yorke for enioying of that office the terme of other flue yeares, and with helpe of Willia Marlques of Suffolke obteyned that graunt for him felfe: (Holinshed, 1577, under 1446.)
This passage is reproduced verbatim in the later edition, with some changes in orthography:
But the duke of Summerset still maligning the duke of Yorkes aduancement, as he had sought to hinder his dispatch at the first when he was sent ouer to be regent, as before yee haue heard: he likewise now wrought so, that the king reuoked his grant made to the duke of Yorke for enioieng of that office the terme of other flue yeeres, and with helpe of William marquesse of Suffolke obteined that grant for himselfe (Holinshed, 1587, under 1446; iii, 625.)
Holinshed also reports the use of Buckingham as Henry's negotiator to York:
But the King, whe he heard firft of ye Dukes approche, fente to him meffengers, as the Duke of Buckingham, and others, to vnderftad what he meant by his comming,VVhethafted. thus furnifhed after the manner of warre. (Holinshed, 1577, under 1455.)
This passage is also reproduced almost verbatim in the later edition:
But another historie-writer saith, that the king, when first he heard of the duke of Yorks approch, The duke of Buckingham sent to ye duke of Yorke. sent to him messengers, the duke of Buckingham, and others, to vnderstand what he meant by his comming thus in maner of warre. (Holinshed, 1587 (under 1455, 643.)
These details occur both in Q (III.21) and in F (I.iii. 102-207; IV.ix.37-8). It is possible that Shakespeare's source for these details was not Holinshed but "another historicwriter." Bullough cites further authors who might have furnished some incidental details. Neither Grafton nor Holinshed, are sources since they did not inform the majority of Shakespeare's play. (8)
The question arises: if Shakespeare did use Holinshed, which version? The first edition was published in 1577 and the expanded second appeared in 1587. Detailed comparison of Holinshed's second edition with the relevant passages in Henry VI Part 2 was carried out by Boswell-Stone in 1896. (9) Further studies by Lucille King in 1935 and by Hanspeter Born in 1974, seem to confirm the use of the 1587 Holinshed for the Folio text.
King, however, ignored the use of Hall as a source. She notes as "one of the most striking pieces of evidence" that when Warwick is praised for his house-keeping (Q: I. 124; F I.i.189), the word "house-keeping" is not found in the 1577 Holinshed but is found in the 1587 edition. However, Hall had used this word when describing Warwick:
Emong all sortes of people, he obtained greate love, muche favor and more credence: which thynges daily more encreased by his abundant liberalitie, and plentiful house kepynge: (Hall, 232)
King observes that the genealogy explained by York had to be garnered across 330 pages in the 1577 edition but was concentrated in 31 pages in the 1587 edition. Bullough, however, states that a much more likely source for the genealogy was the short passage in Hall (246) recording York's speech to Parliament in 1460. Only one detail in Q (concerning the wax-paper which Eleanor carries in the Stage Direction to Quarto Scene 8) seems to derive from the 1587 Holinshed edition; but this detail might have derived from other sources, as will become clear in the discussion below.
Bullough concludes that the dramatist relied mainly on Hall (and Grafton) and may have used Holinshed; if Holinshed was consulted, then either edition might have been used. Thus the earliest possible date for the play would be soon after Holinshed's 1577 …