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bition of this character, may be said to have attained the highest honours of his profession; and, consequently, the popularity of Richard the Third, notwithstanding the moral enormity of its hero, may be readily accounted for, when we recollect, that the versatile and consummate hypocrisy of the tyrant has been embodied by the talents of such masterly performers as Garrick, Kemble, Cook, and Kean,
So overwhelming and exclusive is the character of Richard, that the comparative insignificancy of all the other persons of the drama may be necessarily inferred; they are reflected to us, as it were, from his mirror, and become more or less important, and more or less developed, as he finds it necessary to act upon them ; so that our estimate of their character is entirely founded on his relative conduct, through which we may very correctly appreciate their strength or weakness.
The only exception to this remark is in the person of Queen Margaret, who, apart from the agency of Richard, and dimly seen in the darkest recesses of the picture, pours forth, in union with the deep tone of this tragedy, the most dreadful curses and imprecations ; with such a wild and prophetic fury, indeed, as to involve the whole scene in tenfold gloom and horror.
We have to add that the moral of this play is great and impressive. Richard, having excited a general sense of indignation, and a general desire of revenge, and, unaware of his danger from having lost, through familiarity with guilt, all idea of moral obligation, becomes at length the victim of his own enormous crimes; he falls not unvisited by the terrors of conscience, for, on the eve of danger and of death, the retribution of another world is placed before him ; the spirits of those whom he had murdered, reveal the awful sentence of his fate, and his bosom heaves with the infliction of eternal torture.
11. King RICHARD THE SECOND: 1596. Our great poet having been induced to improve and re-compose the Dramatic History of Henry the Sixth, and to continue the character of Gloucester to the close of his usurpation, in the drama of Richard the Third, very natu
rally, from the success which had crowned these efforts, reverted to the prior part of our national story for fresh subjects, and, led by a common principle of association, selected for the commencement of a new series of historical plays, which should form an unbroken chain with those that he had previously written, the reign of Richard the Second. On this account, therefore, and from the intimation of time, noticed by Mr. Chalmers, towards the conclusion of the first *act, we are led to coincide with this gentleman in assigning the composition of Richard the Second to the year 1596.
Of the character of this unfortunate young prince, Shakspeare has given us a delineation in conformity with the general tone of history, but heightened by many exquisite and pathetic touches. Richard was beautiful in his person, and elegant in his mannerst; affectionate, generous, and faithful in his attachments, and though intentionally neglected in his education, not defective in understanding. Accustomed, by his designing uncles, to the company of the idle and the dissipated, and to the unrestrained indulgence of his passions, we need not wonder that levity, ostentation, and prodigality, should mark his subsequent career, and should ultimately lead him to destruction.
Though the errors of his misguided youth are forcibly depicted in. the drama, yet the poet has reserved his strength for the period of adversity. Richard, descending from his throne, discovers the unexpected virtues of humility, fortitude, and resignation, and becomes not only an object of love and pity, but of admiration ; and there is nothing in the whole compass of our author's plays better calculated
Supplemental Apology, p. 308. + “ This prince,” observes Mr. Godwin, " is universally described to us as one of the most beautiful youths that was ever beheld; and from the portrait of him still existing in Westminster Abbey, however imperfect was the art of painting in that age, connoisseurs have inferred that his person was admirably formed, and his features cast in a mould of the most perfect symmetry. His appearance and manner were highly pleasing, and it was difficult for any one to approach him without being prepossessed in his favour." -Life of Chaucer, vol. iii. p. 170. &vo. edit.
to produce, with full effect, these mingled emotions of compassion and esteem, than the passages which paint the sentiments and deportment of the fallen monarch. Patience, submission, and misery, were never more feelingly expressed than in the following lines :
66 K. Rich. What must the king do now? Must he submit?
The king shall do it. Must he be depos’d ?
and with what an innate nobility of heart does he repress the homage of his attendants !
66 Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence; throw away respect,
have but mistook me all this while:
Nor does his conduct, in the hour of suffering and extreme humiliation, derogate from the philosophy of his sentiments. In that admirable opening of the second scene of the fifth act, where the Duke of York relates to his Duchess the entrance of Bolingbroke and Richard into London, the demeanour of the latter is thus pourtrayed :
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xi. p. 108. Act iii. sc. 3.
+ Ibid. vol. xi. p. 98. Act iii. sc. 2. VOL. 11.
Printed and as falling by the hand of Sir Piers of liyane kas vllowed the Chronicle of Holinshed; but there
in ni Dute chis unhappy monarch either starved himself La sandist of despair, or was starved by the cruelty of his
in the account which Speed has given us of this tragedy, In our les place that we possess, the relation of Polydore Virgil be rinko Barking can be conceived more diabolical than the conduct of Paritala itidad his agents. “ His diet being served in,” says that hisvoodile and set before him in the wonted Princely manner, hee Wiada bidat stallired either to taste, or touch thereof.”
Surely,” adds Yukla in a manner which reflects credit on his sensibility,
66 hee is Hind man who at the report of so exquisite a barbarisme, as Richard's putanishment, feeles not chilling horror and detestation ; what if but tim justly condemned galley-slave so dying? but how for an kunnointed King whose character (like that of holy orders) is inHeleble?” |
Of the secondary characters of this play, “ Old John of Gaunt, time-honour'd Lancaster,” and his son Henry Bolingbroke, are brought forward with strict attention to the evidence of history; the chivalric spirit, and zealous integrity of the first, and the cold, artificial features of the second, being struck off with great sharpness of outline, and strength of discrimination.
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xi. pp. 145, 146. Act v. sc. 2. + Historie of Great Britaine, folio, pp. 766.777. 2d edit. 1623.
12. HENRY THE FOURTH; PART THE FIRST: 1596 ; 13. HENRY THE FOURTH; Part THE SECOND: 1596 : That both these plays were written in the year 1596, will, we
from consulting the arguments and quotations adduced by Mr. Malone to prove them the compositions of 1597 and 1598, and by Mr. Chalmers with the view of assigning them to the years 1596 and 1597; for while the latter gentleman has rendered it most probable, from the allusions which he has noticed in the play itself, that the First Part was written in 1596, the authorities and citations produced by the former, for the assignment of the Second Part to the year 1598, almost necessarily refer it, strange as it may appear, with only one exception *, and that totally indecisive, to the
very year which witnessed the composition of its predecessor, namely 1596! Influenced by this result, and by the observation of Dr. Johnson, that these dramas appear “ to be two, only because they are too long to be one t, we have placed them under the same year, convinced, with Mr. Malone, that they could not be written before 1596; and induced, from the arguments to which he, and his immeditate successor in chronological research have advanced, though with a different object, to consider them as not written after that period. I
* The exception alluded to consists in a quotation from Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour, first acted in 1599, as an authority for supposing the Second Part of King Henry IV. to have been written in 1598; and it is a remarkable circumstance, that both Mr. Malone and Mr. Chalmers have each committed an error in referring to this passage. It is in Act v. sc. 2. where fastidius Brisk, in answer to Saviolina, says,—“ No, lady, this is a kinsman to Justice Silence,” which Mr. Malone has converted into Justice Shallow; while Mr. Chalmers tells us, that “Ben Jonson, certainly, alluded to the Justice Silence of this play, in his Every Man in his Humour."-Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 288. and Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, p. 331.
+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xii. p. 3.
I I have not the smallest doubt but that Meres, in his List of our author's Plays, published in September, 1598, meant to include both parts under his mention of Henry IV.;
6 for speaking of the poet's excellence in both species of dramatic composition, he says, comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, &c. &c.;--- for tragedy, his Richard II. Richard III. Henry IV."; and had he recollected the Parts of Henry the Sixth, he would have included them, also, under the bare title of Henry VI.