‘Good lord, what madness rules in brainsick men’.
What is special about this twenty-something playwright?
Death. War. Deceit. Brotherhood. Betrayal. Blood. Witchcraft. A hero. A boy king. A son’s corpse in his father’s arms. A wedding to end it all. And most importantly- roses, of two colours. These and more are the contents of what is perhaps Shakespeare’s first play. A history named Harry VI, Part I.
The reason to read and write about this play would be the same for many- to delve into the mind of the bard still relatively untouched by the London airs, still escaping the proto-bourgeoise Stratford life. When Will(his name henceforth) wrote this play, he would’ve had very little hope of seeing it performed, let alone published and preserved for centuries. He took the risk that all writers and artists must take in their lives and perhaps no one in history has benefited more from a risk. Will was cautious not to rely on his words for sustenance and that perhaps allowed him the leeway to experiment with this play, so much so that theories exist that Will corroborated with Marlowe et al to write this play in order to account for the aberrances in tone and style. But this critic is of the belief that these aberrations may be satisfactorily explained by the fact that the pen which produced them was held by a hand which was yet unsteady and unformed.
The introductory clutch of what have now become catchphrases are merely the veneer on this work, as is the case with most of Will. These words could be used in relation with any modern soap opera and it is not entirely false that one or two such shows borrow a thing or two from Will and what he writes about. The wars of the roses are rife with death, war and all that which makes for engaging drama which Will’s astuteness grasped. But the wars of the roses wouldn’t be called by that name if it weren’t for Will. The Temple Gardens scene in the play is simply one of those things which Will invented that history has absorbed into its texture.
What is special about this twenty-something playwright that I can glean from this text? Why did fate endow him with the bounties he enjoys till this day? Do we see a spark of that great genius, that maker of men, second only to God himself here? There are instances of greatness here, yes. Pucelle, the Talbots, the boy king and cowardly Falstaff are among those. There are worlds within Will which cannot be explored or explained today. They exist locked away and this play, if anything, is evidence that with Will you never really know what you are dealing with. Even in his genesis, remains an enigma for that is the price he must pay to contain so much within himself.