The Writings of Charles Wisner Barrell 24

Shakespeare’s HENRY V Can Be Identified As
“Harry of Cornwall” In Henslowe’s Diary
Research Stimulated to Completion by lautence Olivier’s
Great Film Solves a Chronological Mystery

Copyright 1946 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, October 1946.

LAURENCE OLIVIER’S masterly Technicolor production of Henry V justifies all of the enthusiasm it has evoked since its first showing to American audiences in Boston earlier in the year. It truly represents a new departure in the filming of Shakespeare and constitutes a criterion by which all other motion picture versions of the plays must be judged for years to come.

As frequently happens, Olivier’s method in achieving success was essentially simple. It was to adhere as closely as possible to the author’s script, while employing an experienced and homogeneous group of leading actors to interpret characterizations thoroughly grasped—not superficially sketched in conventional Hollywooden outline. Superbly executed sets and the most magnificently appropriate color photography imaginable also do much to illuminate Olivier’s inspired direction throughout.

It has been remarked by Bernard Shaw and others that Henry V is not a great play in the sense of carrying any sociological “message” of high import. Neither does it read with consistent interest. But Olivier and his fellows prove beyond all question that it can be made to hold the interest of an audience like a house afire. As patriotic propaganda, originally designed to rally the emotions of the English people to the support of the Elizabethan government in its upsurge as a world power, Henry V is a very great work indeed. And that it actually served such a purpose in the 1580’s and early 1590’s when Enfland was so seriously threatened by Spain and her satellites is as plain as a pikestaff. Its merits in this respect remain of permanent force. The very fact that the British Ministry of Information persuaded Olivier to make Henry V during the critical days of the Allied invasion of the Continent in 1944 proves the immortal foresight of the courtier soldier-scholar who wrote it. Every line of its great and stirring speeches bears witness to the author’s personal familiarity with the leadership, political reactions and mass emotions that marked the Elizabethan invasion of the Lowlands and Spain’s mighty bid for conquest of England which culminated in 1588. By the same token, unsupported tradition has it that “William Shakespeare” (conjecturally the Stratford native) saw military service in the Lowland wars against Spain. But the only known dramatist of the period whose claim to that pen-name as well as to active military and naval service can be adequately documented is our poet-playwright Earl of Oxford.

One of Laurence Olivier’s predecessors in the production of Henry V was Sir Frank Benson, knighted by the Crown for his work in popularizing interest in Shakespeare’s plays. Sir Frank and his company were known to almost every hamlet in the main isle of Britain during the late 19th and early part of the present century. He said that once after a matinee performance of Henry V in a rural town, an old farmer hailed the company manager with this remark:

“God bless you, sir, for showing us them ‘istory plays; they’ve taught me ‘ow we English became what we are, and ‘ow we can keep so.”

With his present film rendition of the play, Olivier appeals even more effectively to a very much wider audience than Benson ever reached. The new Henry V will also be studied intensively by many highly intelligent observers who will view it more than once. Eugene O’Neill has publicly announced his intentions in this respect; and Mrs. Dorothy Ogburn told us some time ago that she had attended seven performances—with more in prospect.

To Oxfordians generally Olivier’s Henry V presents numerous points of unusual interest. Those that focus attention upon the patriotic motivation of the play are especially worthy of heed. For they can be shown to emphasize most graphically the arguments put forth by proponents of the dramatist Earl that Henry V was well known to Elizabethan audiences several years before Olivier (in accordance with orthodox conjecture) dates its initial presentation at the Globe in 1600.

Factually speaking, no contemporary record can be produced to chow that this play was first publicly given at the Globe or any other English playhouse in the year 1600. The assumption is based on the following circumstances:

There is a memorandum in the Stationers’ Register dated 4 August and assigned conjecturally to 1600 signifying that application had been made by parties unmentioned to publish Henry V, together with As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. But along-side these titles appears the notation: “To be stayed.” This injunction was effective in the case of As You Like It, no printing of which is known before the First Folio. However, there were evidently uncontrolled stage version of Much Ado and Henry V then in the hands of actors and their piratical publishing associates. For during the same year of 1600 quartos of both plays were issued. The cut stage version of Henry V states that it was printed “by Thomas Creede, for Tho. Millington and John Busby.” It is entitled, “THE CHRONICLE HISTORY OF HENRY the fift With his battle fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auntient Pistoll. As it hath bene sundry times played by the Right honorable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants.” Laurence Olivier reproduces the first part of this title-page as a stage placard in the introductory scenes of the film. But it is to be noted that Creede and his fellow pirates make no mention of “William Shakespeare” as the author. This fact is of significance. It proves how well the authorship of authentic Shakespeare plays was concealed from the printing house ferrets and their undercover allies of the stage even at this late day. Surreptitious sleuths of the type that stole the Shakespeare scripts usually have special talents for knowing the origin and ownership of the property they pilfer. Yet none of these gentry connected the authorship of the seven Shakespeare plays that were printed in various garbled. paraphrased and cut versions between 1590 and 1597 (1) with the pen-name that became so striking a hallmark of quality with its appearance on Venus and Adonis early in 1593.

Finally, in 1598 Francis Meres, Master of Arts of Oxford and Cambridge, published his unique first listing of six comedies and six tragedies by Shakespeare in the scholarly compendium known as Palladis Tamia. Immediately afterward the pirates who had lifted a cut script of Richard II the year previous, added the “William Shakespeare” by-line to their treasure trove to conform to Meres’ identification. Stolen versions of other Shakespeare plays mentioned by the Oxford-Cambridge scholar were also printed shortly thereafter bearing the same ascription. In fact, Meres seems to have been the sole authority on the Shakespearean dramatic authorship available to the pirates up to 23 August, 1600, when Andrew Wise and William Aspley applied for a new copyright license to print Much Ado About Nothing together with 2 Henry IV as “wrytten by Mr. Shakespere.”

It is a curious and telling circumstance that a university don such as Meres should know much more about the authorship of these much-sought plays than the publishers and actors who were actively engaged in filching them. Such evidence indicates again that the real author was a person occupying a far different station than the pugnaciously protective citizen of Stratford who would go to law to recover a few shillings overdue on a loan.

Henry V is not mentioned in Meres’ list of plays, so the first quarto published by Creede and his associates in 1600 bears no author’s name.

But it is fallacious to assume from Creede’s unauthorized publication that the play was either first written or first produced immediately prior to its appearance in type. Indeed, the opposite is so obvious a possibility that beginning in Elizabethan times and coming on down to the present, hundreds of cases could be cited to prove that the actual staging of a play manuscript bears no standardized chronological relationship whatever either to its composition or its publication in printed form. As Oxfordian writers frequently point out, the orthodox biographers of the Bard have been obliged by the exigencies of the Stratford man’s lifespan to adopt a whole series of arbitrary assumptions of this same unrealistic order. Olivier is not, therefore, to be blamed for following “authorized” precedent—although in his capacity of professional producer and director he must be fully aware of the monumental non sequiturs that have converted the Stratford line of reasoning into a dead end road.

In the dating of Henry V, the orthodox surmise is particularly untenable, for it can be shown that this same play was being staged as an old repertory piece by the players of Lord Strange when they were appearing at the Rose Theatre under the house management of Philip Henslowe during the first months of the year 1592.

The authenticated edition of Henslowe’s Diary, edited by the late Dr. W. W. Greg of Cambridge University, is a veritable arsenal of ammunition for all advocates of the Oxford-Shakespeare chronology. The information it contains nullifies so many of the pet theories of the Stratfordians that very few writers of that persuasion have dared draw full and consistent conclusions from its pages. Dr. G. B. Harrison, author of the informative Elizabethan Journals, says in his Introducing Shakespeare (published by Penguin Books, Ltd.) that the Diary and Papers of Philip Henslowe is one of the two works “which have actually revolutionized modern notions about Shakespeare and his plays.”—the other being the writings of Thomas Nash. “Henslowe,” continues Harrison, “was the owner of several London theatres: the Rose, the Fortune and others. For a period of ten years, between 1592 and 1602, he kept an exact account in a large ledger of his dealings with the various companies that played at his theatres. This account book, known as Henslowe’s Diary, is the most important document of Elizabethan stage history.”

Turning thereto, we find that in the very first run of repertory listed by Henslowe from February to June, 1592, “lord strangers mene” appeared at the Rose in two plays that can be identified as Shakespeare’s Henry V and 1 Henry VI.

The first of these is called “harey of cornwell” by the semi-literate theatre manager, while its companion piece—which always follows it in the Rose accounts just as 1 Henry VI succeeds Henry V in the make-up of Shakespeare’s First Folio—is designated as “harey the vj.” Greg and other modern experts accept “harey the vj” without question as the First Part of Henry VI for numerous reasons, one being that in his 1592 Pierce Penilesse Tom Nash graphically describes the reactions of English audiences to the climactic scenes dominated by Sir John Talbot in Shakespeare’s play.

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.

“harey the vj” is marked “ne” or new to Rose audiences in Henslowe’s accounts, under date of “3 of marche 1591” (really 1592 according to the reformed calendar).

But “harey of cornwell” which precedes it on “25 of febreary” is not similarly annotated and can therefore be taken to be an older piece—exactly as Oxfordians have long argued in respect to Henry V.

During this run of 105 playing days. Lord Strange’s Men presented “harey of cornwell” four times and “harey the vi” twelve times, the former invariably preceding one or more performances of the new play in the general ratio of one to three. This indicates a perfectly natural orientation of audience interest.

The “harey of cornwell” title that Henslowe uses to designate Henry V can be shown to be quaintly appropriate (as every observer of Olivier’s film will be reminded) also thoroughly consistent with the theatre owner’s pawky penchant for applying nicknames to current successes, as elsewhere noted. (2) There is no such character known to British history or literature as “Harry of Cornwall”—outside of Henslowe’s Diary and the private correspondence of his son-in-law, the famous actor Edward Alleyne who unquestionably took the star role in this piece. But the author of Henry V gives Henslowe and Alleyne ample warrant for applying this same nickname to his unconventional monarch in Act III, Scene 2 of the play. For here Henry in the disguise of a common soldier has his amusingly dramatic encounter with the voluble braggart Pistol on night sentry duty before the Battle of Agincourt. This scene always elicits laughter from the film audiences, we are told, and can be assumed to have tickled the Elizabethan groundlings even more keenly. It is retained in the brutally butchered stage version of the complete work which Creede printed in 1600. This despite the fact that one-third of the 1623 Folio text (which is the author’s own) is not used by Creede at all. Briefly, the full play has been arbitrarily cut, and many speeches split up and rearranged to fit a smaller cast of characters than Shakespeare uses. Alleyne himself probably did this cutting, for the King’s part is built up at the expense of others.

Incidentally, none of the speeches by the Chorus appears at all in the Creede quarto. This fact certainly contradicts Olivier’s assumption that they were being spoken at the Globe in 1600 with the same gusto that they are delivered in the film. It also contradicts every one of the self-confident orthodox commentators who has claimed on the evidence of a few lines given to the Chorus at the opening of the play that Henry V “was composed in 1599 in honor of the Earl of Essex on the eve of his invasion of Ireland.” So far as anybody can prove, the Chorus speeches were never printed nor spoken by any public actor before their appearance in the 1623 Folio. Regarding the assumed Essex allusion, several other “general(s) of our gracious empress” set out to invade “Ireland” before Essex’s abortive attempt in 1599. Moreover, Sir John Norris, Lord Grey and Sir William Drury were all better soldiers than Essex, though their efforts to broach rebellion among the gaels took place earlier, were accompanied by much the same fanfare of publicity—and resulted in no permanent peace. As a matter of fact, after the first few months of 1599, any such assumed laudatory references to Essex were bound to recoil most unfortunately upon their writer—as Dr. Hayward the historian found to his sorrow. Thus the standardized “Essex allusion” is seen to be a very weak peg on which to hang the actual composition of the play.

Regarding Ireland, it is significant to note that Olivier has taken good care to eliminate all of the Chorus references to an invasion of that country from his film. At the same time he develops fully the scene carried off by the forcefully patriotic Irish Captain Macmorris. (3) The latter is one of the characters left out of the 1600 quarto. Macmorris obviously belongs to an earlier creative era than 1599. No conceivable circumstances could fit him into a play written to celebrate Essex’s invasion of the Emerald Isle. For he is the one outspoken critic of the time-wasting talkativeness of his fellow officers and their seeming lack of serious preparation for the impending battle. As for being a true son of Eire, when Fluellen opens his mouth to criticize Maemorris’ countrymen, the pioneer Captain bellows:

“Who talks of my nation is a villain, and a basterd, and a knave, and a rascal.”

This broth of a boy is actually as incongruous in the Essex picture—where the orthodox insist on placing him—as he would be in Camille.

We see at once, however, that he does personify the playwright Earl of Oxford’s own recorded sympathy for such early Irish patriots as Sanders and Baltinglas. 4 And as a matter of fact, the Elizabethan State Papers occasionally refer to certain Irish officers of the Macmorris type who fought valiantly for England in the Lowland wars and also took part in repelling the “Invincible Armada.”

In general, all political allusions that are retained in the 1600 quarto of Henry V apply to the 1588-92 period rather than to the accepted 1599-1600 years of its assumed composition. This is especially true of Henry’s bitter denunciation of “the weasel Scot” who, “once the eagle England” leaves her nest unguarded, “Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs.”

In the Folio text this diatribe is distributed between the King, Canterbury and Westmoreland. But in Creede’s version, Henry delivers the whole speech. England’s distrust of Scotland at the time of the Armada and the years immediately following was intense. By 1600, however, James of Scotland had made his peace with the most powerful politicians of England, and was being secretly groomed by them as the successor to Elizabeth. No such anti-Scottish speeches as these would have been allowed at that time, we can rest assured. So we see that from every angle the essential spirit of Henry V traces directly back to the decade before 1600 in so far as an appeal to Elizabethan audiences is concerned.

Returning to the “Harry of Cornwall” scene as it appears in the pirated quarto, the impression is inevitable that this was printed from the same stage script that had been put on by Lord Strange’s Men at Henslowe’s theatre in the February of 1592. It runs as follows:

Enter the King disguised, to him Pistoll.

PIST. Ke ve la?
KING. A friend.
PIST. Discus unto me, art thou Gentleman? or art thou common, base, and popeler?
KING. No sir, I am a Gentleman of a Company.
PIST. Trailes thou the puissant pike?
KING. Even so sir. What are you?
PIST. As good a gentleman as the Emperour.
KING. O then thou art better than the King?
PIST. The kings a bago, and a hart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame: of parents good, of fist most valiant: I kis his durtie shoe: and from my hart strings I love the lovely bully. What is thy name?
KING. Harry le Roy.
PIST. Le Roy, a Cornish man: art thou of Cornish crew?
KING. No sir. I am a Wealchman.
PIST. A Wealchman: knowst thou Flewellen?
KING. I sir, he is my kinsman.
PIST. Art thou his friend?
KING. I sir.
PIST. Figa for thee then: my name is Pistoll.
KING. It sorts well with your fierceness.
PIST. Pistoll is my name. (5)

The self-restraint and dry sense of humor which Britain’s idol displays in the face of Pistol’s addle-pated bluster provides outstanding comic relief in the tension that grips the wakeful English camp at midnight. It also points up the development of Henry’s character from reformed playboy to conscientious guardian of his men’s welfare—and one who knows the morale-building value of the human touch. So it is not surprising to find this scene retained in Creede’s otherwise greatly shortened 1600 quarto. It is plainly one of the high spots of the piece. In misidentifying the incomparable “Harry of Monmouth” as a Cornishman through his ignorance of the simple French term for king, the presumptuous Pistol would make even the most humble patrons of the Rose howl with glee. Moreover, in that day the natives of the Land’s End were considered a race apart—and not entirely civilized. As Ned Alleyne, who was nearly seven feet tall with a voice to match his bulk, would play the King in this comic interlude on Henslowe’s stage, its effect would amply justify his father-in-law’s coinage of the nickname “Harry of Cornwall” for the whole play. At the same time, this title for the genuine Shakespeare drama would sufficiently differentiate it in Henslowe’s records from The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, which was also a popular piece of long-standing in the repertory of the Queen’s Men.

We can be reasonably certain that Alleyne did head the cast of this heretofore unidentified production of Henry V, for he was Henslowe’s star performer in 1592. There is a corroborative letter to this effect in the actor’s own handwriting which may be dated in late July or early August of the same year. Lord Strange’s Men, still headed by Alleyne, had then left the plague-ridden city and were touring the provinces. Ned writes to his wife—Henslowe’s step-daughter—”from Bristo (Bristol) this wensday after saint Jams his day, (6) being redy to begin the plave of Hary of Cornwall.”

As we have said, no other popular Elizabethan play is known—outside of the private records of Henslowe and Alleyne—which bears this title or contains a leading character that could by any stretch of the imagination be recognized as a “Harry of Cornwall.” Shakespeare’s Henry V therefore becomes the sole and only entry that meets realistic requirements. Slavish conformity to the conjectural Stratfordian “canon” has alone prevented our identification before this.

So it is that Laurence Olivier’s magnificent production of the rarely-seen play has stimulated logical solution of another phase of the remarkable Shakespeare creative mystery.


1. These include King John (Troublesome Raigne paraphrase) 1590; Taming of the Shrew (A Shrew memory or shorthand version.) 1594; 2 Henry VI (Contention memory version) 1594: 3 Henry VI (True Tragedy memory version ) 1595: Titus Andronicus (genuine script., slightly cut) 1594: Romeo and Juliet (genuine script extensively cut and illiterately mistranscribed) 1597: and Richard II (genuine script, with deposition scene cut) 1597.

2. See April 1946 QUARTERLY, pp.29 and 31.

3. Most of the Olivier film being photographed in Eire, many minor parts are enacted by Irishmen.

4. See “The Secret of Shakespeare’s Irish Sympathies” in the NEWS-LETTER, VOL II, NO. 1.

5. Comparison of this text with the author’s in the First Folio will give readers a fair idea of the verbal cheapening that so many of the Master’s subtle word effects experienced at the hands of actor-revisers and pirate printers.

6. St. James’ day falls on July 25th.