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W HEN the First Part of Kına Henry the FOURTH was acted at Reading School, it was sufficient to curtail some tedious paffages, and to omit some exceptionable expressions. In the Second Part it was absolutely necessary to do more. This Play in the original is disfigured not only with indelicate speeches, but with characters, that cannot now * be tolerated on a public theatre, much less in a classical exhibition, which ought to be “ weeded of all noxious expressions, and in which nothing Thould be left to taint the mind, or crimson the cheek of youth.” Those only, who have read the original with some attention, can appreciate the difficulty of the present undertaking. The general moral of the story, the excellent instructions of a dying father to his son, and the reformation of a dislipated Prince, independently of innumerable beauties of style and of sentiment, render this Play admirably calculated for youth : it is therefore hoped that this attempt to pluck the thorns from the roses will not be unfavorably received, or severely criticised.t
* It is hoped that this Play is such as the excellent HANNAH More will not only recommend to be read as a dramatic compo. sition, but permit to be seen as a theatrical exhibition. Works of Hannah More, Vol. III. page 48.
+ It has been said by the enemies of theatrical amusements that the reformation, introduced by Mr. Garrick in the purification of the stage, bas lately lost ground. To those, who frequent the theatre, it is well known that the chastity of the drama has been cooliderably improved during the last twenty years. One of the principal causes of this salutary charge is given in the Preface to King Joun.
I know that it is considered by some eminent Critics as facrilegious to alter a word of SHAKESPEARE. It is the desire of many persons, highly respectable for their judgment,
" to lose no part of that immortal man.” .. It is perhaps unnecessary to justify the liberties, which have been taken, in order to adapt 4 Play to the present occasion ; but it might be alleged, in defence of alterations for general representation, that some of our Poet's best pieces are never now offered to the public in their original form. King Lear, Cymbeline, Richard III. Romeo and Juliet, the Tempest, &c. afford a rational delight in a shape very different from that, in which they were written. The success of the freedom with which “ the God of our Idolatry” has been stripped of his coarse attire, and arrayed in more graceful ornaments, is a proof that a change at least has taken place in the taste of the times. He displays the wildness of his imagination with equal force, and dispenses his graces with the same attractive power s but modern art has softened the asperities of the former, and dignified and extended the happy influence of the latter.
The Reader will forgive me, if, consistently with the spirit of these remarks, I turn his attention to some criticisms on the Alteration of KING John. Flattered as I am with the general approbation, which they contain, I may perhaps be perinitted to defend one passage, which has appeared objectignable to a respectable Critic. In the IIId. Act of the original, Constance thus addresses her injured fon :
If thou, that bidst me be content, wert grim,
For then I would not love thee.
ror at the supposition that a Mother could banish her child from her affection because he was deformed. Were that even poflible, is it consistent with the ambitious character of Constance that she would not care, that she could be content with the political degradation of her only fon? With some confidence I appeal to the feelings of Parents whether that sentiment is natural ; and whether pity would not add an undiscriminating and invincible support to affection ! Impressed with this conviction, I determined to adopt the alteration censured by the Critic ; and I was pleased to find that Cibber had been actuated by the same considerations.
In the course of the fame Play, the reader will find other passages subject to the samé animadversion in consequence of variations generally defended in the notes. Is the silence of the Critic to be considered as a proof that he acquiesced in their propriety? I intreat him to compare, after a candid perusal, the effect of the Alteration of King John, with that of the Abridgment of the fame Play as it is performed in London. Had he witnessed the representation of both, the challenge might be made with still less presumption.
The present Play will, it is feared, be exposed to the same censure. In une scene, particularly, a total change bas been made in the character of Falstaff. In the original, he is represented as a hero so terrible in arms, that one of his enemies surrenders himself at the very mention of his name. This voluntary Captive is no where represented as deficient in courage ; and miserably deftitute indeed must he have been of common sense, to yield himself so calmly, at
the call of a single man, to immediate execution ; when by 'refifting he had at least a chance of escaping. But the conduct and expressions of the Knight of the mirthful countenance in both parts of HENRY IV uniformly characterize