Case for Shakespeare's Authorship of The Famous Victories, with the Complete Text of the Anonymous Play, The
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In the opinion of the author, the anonymous sixteenth-century playscript entitled "The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth" is actually one of the first efforts by the young but spirited dramatist, William Shakespeare. Produced about 1586—when the still unknown playwright-actor was 22 years old—the play in question is neither poetic nor highly distinguished. But Professor Pitcher, an ardent Shakespearean scholar, here presents an interesting and ingenious argument for his belief that the unknown playwright was the Bard himself.
The object of much critical disparagement and scholarly dispute, "The Famous Victories" covers approximately the same span of events as that in the playwright's famous trilogy immortalizing Henry of Monmouth. In its own time, it was considered exciting. "What a glorious thing it is," wrote Thomas Nash in 1592, "to have Henry the Fifth represented on the stage leading the French king prisoner and forcing him and the dolphin to swear fealty. "
Dr. Pitcher believes that Heming and Condell omitted "The Famous Victories" from their First Folio in 1623 because they felt it was not worthy of a place with the later, highly professional plays of Shakespeare, none of which contains such inexperienced writing.
If Dr. Pitcher's line of reasoning is correct, his conclusion is of great value in dissipating some of the mystery surrounding Shakespeare's early years. For despite the play's slapstick and buffoonery, it shows that its 22-year-old author was no mere holder of horses at theatre doors, but was already well read enough among "rusty brass and wormeaten books" to piece together his story of "The Famous Victories" from the chronicles of Edward Hall, Raphael Holinshed, and John Stow.
Certain to arouse violent discussion among Shakespearean scholars, Dr. Pitcher's book is the considered product of many years of thought and study. The text of the Elizabethan play concerned will in itself be of interest to students of the drama, and the possibility that Shakespeare himself penned its lines will lend an excitement to the reading of the scenes.
The famous "Grafton portrait" of a youth believed to be the young Shakespeare appears as frontispiece.
Dr. Seymour M. Pitcher is professor of General and English Literature at Harpur College of the State University of New York. He was chairman of the Division of the Humanities during the years 1954–60. Born in Watertown, N. Y., July 21, 1906, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Hamilton College in 1928, his M. A. from Harvard University in 1929, and his Ph. D. from the State University of Iowa in 1937. From 1931 to 1950 he was successively instructor, assistant professor, and associate professor of English at Iowa. In 1951 he became professor of English at Champlain College of the State University of New York, and in 1953 joined the faculty of Harpur College in his present position. Much of his work has been on the subject of Aristotle's Poetics, including a translation of that work published in the Journal of General Education (October, 1952).