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KING RICHARD II.
THE Richard II. of Shakspere is the Richard conspiracy. Bacon hints at a systematic
purpose of bringing Richard II.“
upon the But there is a question whether, as the stage and into print in Queen Elizabeth's foundation of this drama, Shakspere worked time.” Elizabeth herself, in a conversation upon any previous play. No copy of any with Lambarde, the historian of Kent, and such play exists. The character of Richard keeper of the Records in the Tower, going is so entire-so thoroughly a whole—that we over a pandect of the Rolls which Lambarde can have little doubt in believing it to be a had prepared, coming to the reign of Richard creation, and not a character adapted to the II., said, “I am Richard II., know ye not received dramatic notions of the poet's au- that ?” Any allusion to Richard II. at that dience. But still there is every reason to time was the cause of great jealousy. Haysuppose that there was another play of warde, in 1599, very narrowly escaped a state * Richard II.'—perhaps two others; and that prosecution for his 'First Part of the Life
; one held possession of the stage long after and Reign of King Henry IV. This book Shakspere's exquisite production had been was the deposition of Richard II. put “into acted and published. There is a curious print,” to which Bacon alludes. It appears matter connected with the state history of to us that, without further evidence, there Shakspere's own times that has regard to the can be no doubt that the play acted before performance of some play of ‘ Richard II.' On the partisans of the Earl of Essex was not the afternoon previous to the insurrection of the play of Shakspere. The deposition scene, the Earl of Essex, in February, 1601, Sir as we know by the title-page, professed to Gilly Merrick, one of his partisans, procured be added to the edition of 1608. The play to be acted before a great company of those which Merrick ordered was, in 1601, called who were engaged in the conspiracy, “ the an obsolete play. Further, would Shakspere play of deposing Richard II.” The official have continued in favour with Elizabeth, pamphlet of the declarations of the treasons had he been the author of a play whose perof the Earl of Essex states that, when it formance gave such deep offence ? was told Merrick, “ by one of the players, But we have now further evidence that that the play was old, and they should have there was an old play of Richard II.,' which loss in playing it, because few would come to essentially differed from Shakspere's play. it, there was forty shillings extraordinary Mr. Collier, whose researches have thrown so given to play it; and so, thereupon, played much light upon the stage in general, and it was.” In the printed account of the ar- upon Shakspere's life in particular, has pubraignment of Merrick, it is said that he lished some very curious extracts from a ordered this play " to satisfy his eyes with a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, which sight of that tragedy which he thought soon describe, from the observations of a playafter his lord should bring from the stage to goer in the time of James I., a play of the state.” There is a passage in Camden's Richard II.,' essentially different in its
Annals' which would appear to place it be- scenes from the play of Shakspere. Dr. yond a doubt that the play so acted was an Symon Forman, who was a sort of quack and older play than that of Shakspere. It is astrologer, and who, being implicated in the there charged against Essex that he procured, conspiracy to murder Sir Thomas Overbury, by money, the obsolete tragedy (exoletam had escaped public accusation by suddenly tragoediam) of the abdication of Richard II. dying in 1611, kept "a book of plays and to be acted in a public theatre before the notes thereof, for common policy;" by which
common policy” he means—for maxims of This was a policy in the commonwealth’s opiprudence. His first entry is entitled “in nion, but I say it was a villain's part, and a Richard II., at the Globe, 1611, the 30 of Judas' kiss, to hang the man for telling him April, Thursday.” From the extract which the truth. Beware, by this example, of noblewe shall take the liberty of giving from Mr.
men and their fair words, and say little to them, Collier's book, it will be seen that at Shak- : lest they do the like to thee for thy good
will." * spere's own theatre, the Globe, a Richard II.' was performed, which was, unquestion
From Forman's account of this play it will ably, not his Richard II.'
be seen that it embraces the earlier period “Remember therein how Jack Straw, by his
of Richard II., containing the insurrection
of Jack Straw. overmuch boldness, not being politic nor sus
It seems very doubtful
whether it includes the close of the reign. pecting anything, was suddenly, at Smithfield Bars, stabbed by Walworth, the Mayor of Lon
We have a talk for “policy” about the Duke don, and so he and his whole army was over
of Lancaster's (Gaunt's) machinations; but thrown. Therefore, in such case, or the like, nothing about Henry Bolingbroke. Were never admit any party without a bar between, there two plays of ‘Richard II.' of which we for a man cannot be too wise, nor keep himself know nothing—the obsolete play of the depotoo safe.
sition, which Merrick caused to be acted in “ Also remember how the Duke of Glocester, 1601, and the play containing Jack Straw, the Earl of Arundel, Oxford, and others, cross- which Forman noted in 1611? ing the King in his humour about the Duke of
We scarcely know how to approach this Erland (Ireland) and Bushy, were glad to fly and raise a host of men ; and, being in his drama, even for the purpose of a simple anacastle, how the Duke of Erland came by night lysis. We are almost afraid to trust our to betray him, with three hundred men; but,
own admiration when we turn to the cold having privy warning thereof, kept his gates criticism by which opinion in this country fast, and would not suffer the enemy to enter,
has been wont to be governed. We have which went back again with a fly in his ear,
been told that it cannot be said much to and after was slain by the Earl of Arundel in affect the passions or enlarge the underthe battle.
standing.”+ It may be so. And yet, we “Remember, also, when the Duke (i. e. of think, it might somewhat " affect the pasGlocester) and Arundel came to London with sions,” for “ gorgeous tragedy” hath here their army, King Richard came forth to them, put on her “scepter'd pall,” and if she bring and met them, and gave them fair words, and
not Terror in her train, Pity, at least, claims promised them pardon, and that all should be the sad story for her own. And yet it may well, if they would discharge their army : upon
somewhat enlarge the understanding,”— whose promises and fair speeches they did it; for, though it abound not in those sentenand after, the King bid them all to a banquet, tious moralities which may fitly adorn“ and so betrayed them and cut off their heads, &c., because they had not his pardon under his
theme at school,” it lays bare more than one hand and seal before, but his word.
human bosom with a most searching ana“Remember therein, also, how the Duke of tomy; and, in the moral and intellectual Lancaster privily contrived all villainy to set strength and weakness of humanity, which them all together by the ears, and to make the it discloses with as much precision as the nobility to envy the King, and mislike him and scalpel reveals to the student of our physical his government; by which means he made his nature the symptoms of health or disease, | own son king, which was Henry Bolingbroke. may we read the proximate and final causes
Remember, also, how the Duke of Lancaster of this world's success or loss, safety or danasked a wise man whether himself should ever ger, honour or disgrace, elevation or ruin. be king, and he told him no, but his son should And then, moreover, the profound truths be a king: and when he had told him, he hanged him up for his labour, because he should
· New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakenot bruit abroad, or speak thereof to others.
† John on.
which, half hidden to the careless reader, are and barbarous writer, is, above all, remarkto be drawn out from this drama, are con- able for a judgment so high, so firm, so untained in such a splendid framework of the compromising, that one is almost tempted to picturesque and the poetical, that the setting impeach his coldness, and to find in this imof the jewel almost distracts our attention passible observer something that may be from the jewel itself. We are here plunged almost called cruel towards the human race. into the midst of the fierce passions and the In the historical pieces of Shakspere, the gorgeous pageantries of the antique time. picturesque, rapid, and vehement genius We not only enter the halls and galleries, which has produced them seems to bow bewhere is hung
fore the superior law of a judgment almost “ Armoury of the invincible knights of old,"
ironical in its clear-sightedness. Sensibility
to impressions, the ardent force of imaginabut we see the beaver closed, and the spear tion, the eloquence of passion—these brilliant in rest :-under those cuirasses are hearts gifts of nature, which would seem destined knocking against the steel with almost more
to draw a poet beyond all limits, are suborthan mortal rage ;—the banners wave, the dinated in this extraordinary intelligence to trumpet sounds -heralds and marshals are a calm and almost deriding sagacity, which ready to salute the victor—but the absolute pardons nothing and forgets nothing. Thus, king casts down his warder, and the antici- the dramas of which we speak are painful as pated triumph of one proud champion must real history. Æschylus exhibits to us Fate end in the unmerited disgrace of both. The hovering over the world ; Calderon opens to transition is easy from the tourney to the us heaven and hell as the last words of the battle-field. A nation must bleed that a enigma of life; Voltaire renders his drama subject may be avenged. A crown is to be an instrument for asserting his own peculiar played for, though
doctrines ;—but Shakspere seeks his Fate in “ Tumultuous wars
the hearts of men, and when he makes us see Shall kin with kin and kind with kind con- them so capricious, so bewildered, so irresofound."
lute, he teaches us to contemplate, without The luxurious lord,
surprise the untoward events and sudden
changes of fortune. In the purely poetical “That every day under his household roof
dramas to which this great poet has given Did keep ten thousand men,”
so much verisimilitude, we console ourselves perishes in a dungeon ;—the crafty usurper in believing that the evils which he paints sits upon his throne, but it is undermined by are imaginary, and that their truth is but the hatreds even of those who placed him on general. But the dramatic chronicles whichị it. Here is, indeed, a kingdom for a Shakspere has sketched are altogether real. stage.” And has the greatest of poets dealt There we behold irrevocable evils—we see with such a subject without affecting the the scenes that the world has seen, and the passions or enlarging the understanding ? | horrors that it has suffered. The more the No, no. Away with this. We will trust our details that accompany these events are own admiration.
irresistible in their truth, the more they It is a sincere pleasure to us to introduce grieve us. The more the author is impartial, our remarks upon the 'Richard II.' by some the more he wounds and overpowers us. acute and just observations upon Shakspere's This employment of his marvellous talent is historical plays in general from a French in reality a profound satire upon what we
The following passage is from the are, upon what we shall be, upon what we forty-ninth volume of the ' Dictionnaire de
were." la Conversation et de la Lecture.' (Paris, It is this wonderful subjection of the 1838.) The article bears the signature of poetical power to the higher law of truthPhilarète Chasles :
to the poetical truth, which is the highest “ This poet, so often sneered at as a frantic truth, comprehending and expounding the
“ to ope
historical truth-which must furnish the George II. were thus equally in fear of the clue to the proper understanding of the popular tendencies of this history. On the drama of Richard II.' It appears to us other hand, when Richard, speaking dramathat, when the poet first undertook
tically in his own person, says,—
“Not all the water in the rough rude sea The purple testament of bleeding war," — Can wash the balm from an anointed king:
The breath of worldly men cannot depose to unfold the roll of the causes and conse
The deputy elected by the Lord;”quences of that usurpation of the house of Lancaster which plunged three or four gene- Dr. Johnson rejoicingly says,—“ Here is the rations of Englishmen in bloodshed and doctrine of indefeasible right expressed in misery–he approached the subject with an the strongest terms; but our poet did not inflexibility of purpose as totally removed as learn it in the reign of James, to which it is it was possible to be from the levity of a now the practice of all writers whose opipartisan. There were to be weighed in one
nions are regulated by fashion or interest to scale the follies, the weaknesses, the crimes impute the original of every tenet which of Richard—the injuries of Bolingbroke— they have been taught to think false or the insults which the capricious despotism foolish.” Again, when the Bishop of Carof the king had heaped upon his nobles—lisle, in the deposition scene, exclaims, the exactions under which the people groaned “And shall the figure of God's majesty, -the real merits and the popular attributes His captain, steward, deputy elect, of him who came to redress and to repair. Anointed, crowned, planted many years, In the other scale were to be placed the Be judged by subject and inferior breath, afflictions of fallen greatness—the revenge
And he himself not present ?"— and treachery by which the fall was pro- Johnson remarks, “ Here is another proof duced—the heartburnings and suspicions that our author did not learn in King which accompany every great revolution - James's court uis elevated notions of the right the struggles for power which ensue when the established and legitimate authority is of kings. I know not any flatterer of the thrust from its seat. All these phases, per- much stronger terms.” Steevens adds that
Stuarts who has expressed this doctrine in sonal and political, of a deposition and an
Shakspere found the speech in Holinshed, usurpation, Shakspere has exhibited with
and that “the politics of the historian were that marvellous impartiality which the the politics of the poet." The contrary French writer whom we have quoted has well described. The political impartiality is to those who were political partisans is a
aspects which this play has thus presented so remarkable, that, during the time of Eli- most remarkable testimony to Shakspere’s zabeth, the deposition scene was neither
political impartiality. He appears to us as acted nor printed, lest it should give occa
if he, “ apart, sat on a hill retired,” elevated sion to the enemies of legitimate succession
far above the temporary opinions of his own to find examples for the deposing of a mon
age, or of succeeding ages. His business is arch. Going forward into the spirit of an
with universal humanity, and not with a other age, during the administration of Walpole, the play, in 1738, had an unusual fragment of it. He is, indeed, the poet of a
nation in his glowing and genial patriotism, success, principally because it contained but never the poet of a party. Perhaps, the many passages which seemed to point to the
most eloquent speech in this play is that of then supposed corruption of the court; and,
Gaunt, beginningon this occasion, a letter published in The Craftsman,' in which many lines of the play
“ This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle." were thus applied to the political topics of It is full of such praise of our country as, the times, was the subject of state prosecu- taken apart from the conclusion, might too tion. The statesmen of Elizabeth and of much foster the pride of a proud nation.
But the profound impartiality of the master- sort of reasoning that the French critics in mind comes in at the close of this splendid the time of Voltaire, and the English who description, to show us that all these glories caught the infection of their school, applied must be founded upon just government. to the higher range of the art of Shakspere.
It is in the same lofty spirit of impartiality The criticism of Dr. Johnson, for example, which governs the general sentiments of this upon the character of Richard II. is, for the drama that Shakspere has conceived the most part, a series of such mistakes. He mixed character of Richard. Sir Joshua misinterprets Shakspere's delineation of Reynolds, in his admirable ' Discourses' (a Richard, upon a preconceived theory of his series of compositions which present the Thus he says, in a note to the second example of high criticism upon the art of scene in the third act, where Richard for a painting, when the true principles of criti- moment appears resigned cism upon poetry were neglected or mis
“ To bear the tidings of calamity," understood), has properly reprobated "the difficulty as well as danger in an endeavour “ It seems to be the design of the poet to to concentrate in a single subject those raise Richard to esteem in his fall, and, convarious powers, which, rising from different sequently, to interest the reader in his fapoints, naturally move in different direc- He gives him only passive fortitude, tions.” He says, with reference to this sub- the virtue of a confessor rather than of a ject,“ Art has its boundaries, though imagi- king. In his prosperity we saw him imnation has none.” Here is the great line of perious and oppressive; but in his distress distinction between poetry and painting. he is wise, patient, and pious.” Now this is Painting must concentrate all its power upon precisely the reverse of Shakspere’s reprethe representation of one action, one expres-sentation of Richard. Instead of passive forsion, in the same person. The range of titude, we have passionate weakness ; and it poetry is as boundless as the diversities of is that very weakness upon which our pity is character in the same individual. Sir Joshua founded. Having mistaken Shakspere's purReynolds has, however, properly laughed at pose in the delineation of Richard in his those principles of criticism which would fall, this able but sometimes prejudiced even limit the narrow range of pictorial ex
writer flounders on in a series of carping pression to conventional, and therefore hack- objections to the language which Richard neyed, forms. He quotes a passage from
After Richard has said, Du Piles, as an example of the attempt of a “Or I 'll be buried in the king's highway, false school of criticism to substitute the Some way of common trade, where subjects' pompous and laboured insolence of gran
feet deur” for that dignity which,“ seeming to May hourly trample on their sovereign's head,” be natural and inherent, draws spontaneous he flies off into a series of pretty imaginings, reverence.”
“ If you draw persons of high and ends thus,character and dignity” (says Du Piles), they ought to be drawn in such an attitude
“Well, well, I see that the portraits must seem to speak to us
I talk but idly, and you mock at me.” of themselves, and as it were to say to us, Now in nothing is the exquisite tact of the
Stop, take notice of me; I am that invinci- poet more shown than in these riots of the ble king, surrounded by majesty :' 'I am imagination in the unhappy king, whose that valiant commander who struck terror mind was altogether prostrate before the everywhere:' 'I am that great minister who cool and calculating intellect of Bulingbroke. knew all the springs of politics :' 'I am that But Johnson, quite in Du Piles' style, here magistrate of consummate wisdom and pro- says, “ Shakspere is very apt to deviate from bity.'” Now, this is absurd enough as re- the pathetic to the ridiculous. Had the gards the painter; but, absurd as it is, in its speech of Richard ended at this line (* May limited application, it is precisely the same hourly trample on their sovereign's head'),