ePub 版

it had exhibited the natural language of the Richard of history? We must trespass submissive misery, conforming its intention upon the patience of the reader while we to the present fortune, and calmly ending run through the play, that we may properly its purposes in death.” Now, it is most cer- note the dependence of its events upon its tain that Shakspere had no intention to ex- characters. hibit “the natural language of submissive Froissart has given us the key to two of misery.” Such a purpose would have been the most remarkable and seemingly opposite utterly foreign to the great ideal truth of traits of Richard's mind,-cunning and crehis conception of Richard's character. Again, dulity. Speaking of his devising the death in the interview with the queen, when Rich- of his uncle of Gloster, Froissart says, “ King ard says,

Richard of England noted well these said

words, the which was showed him in secret“Tell thou the lamentable fall of me,

ness; and, like an imaginative prince as he And send the hearers weeping to their beds. For why, the senseless brands will sympa- Lancaster and of York were departed out of

was, within a season after that his uncles of thize,” &c.,

the court, then the king took more hardiJohnson observes, “The poet should have ness on him.” Lord Berners, the translator ended this speech with the foregoing line, of Froissart, always uses “imaginative” in and have spared his childish prattle about the sense of deviceful, crafty-following his the fire.” Mr. Monck Mason very innocently original. As to the king's credulity, the remarks upon this comment of Johnson, same accurate observer, who knew the cha“This is certainly childish prattle, but it is racters of his own days well, thus speaks :of the same stamp with the other speeches “King Richard of England had a condition of Richard after the landing of Bolingbroke, that, if he loved a man, he would make him which are a strange medley of sense and so great, and so near him, that it was marvel puerility.” Of course they are so. There to consider, and no man durst speak to the are, probably, no passages of criticism upon contrary; and also he would lightly believe Shakspere that more forcibly point out to sooner than any other king of remembrance us, than these of Johnson and his followers before him.” Upon these historical truths is do, the absurdity of trying a poet by laws Skakspere's Richard, in the first scenes of which he had of purpose cast off and spurned. this drama,—the absolute Richard,—founded. Had Johnson been applying his test of ex- But with what skill has Shakspere indicated cellence to the conventional kings and he- the evil parts of Richard's character-just roes of the French stage, and of the Eng- as much as, and no more than, is sufficient lish stage of his own day, he might have to qualify our pity for his fall

. We learn been nearer the truth. But Shakspere un- from Gaunt that Richard was the real cause dertook to show us, not only a fallen king, of Gloster's death;—the matter is once menbut a fallen man. Richard stands before us tioned, and there an end. We ourselves see in the nakedness of humanity, stripped of his arbitrary bearing in the banishment of the artificial power which made his strength. Bolingbroke and Norfolk; his moral cowThe props are cut away upon which he ardice in requiring an oath for his own leaned. He is,

safety from the two enemies that he was at

that moment oppressing ; his meanness in “in shape and mind,

taunting Gaunt with his "party-verdict" as Transform'd and weaken'd,"–

to his son's banishment ; his levity in mitihumbled to the lot of the commonest slave, gating the sentence after it had been soto

lemnly delivered. After this scene we have

an exhibition of his cold-hearted rapacity in "feel want, taste grief, Need friends."

wishing for the death of Gaunt :

“Now put it, Heaven, in his physician's mind This is the Richard of our poet. Is it not To help him to his grave immediately!

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The lining of his coffers shall make coats contempt towards Richard ;—to make us

To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars." hate him was no part of his purpose. We This prepares us for the just reproaches of know that the charges of the discontented his dying uncle in the next act ;-when the nobles against him are just ; we almost wish dissembling king is moved from his craft to

success to their enterprise ; but we are most an exhibition of childish passion toward the skilfully held back from discovering so much stern but now powerless Gaunt, before whom of Richard's character as would have dishe had trembled till he saw him on a death- qualified us from sympathising in his fall. bed. The

It is highly probable, too, that Shakspere

abstained from painting the actual king as “make pale our cheek"

an object to be despised, while he stood as was not a random expression. The king

“ the symbolic, or representative, on which again speaks in this way when he hears of all genial law no less than patriotism, dethe defection of the Welsh under Salis

pends." The poet does not hesitate, when bury :

the time is past for reverencing the king or " Have I not reason to look pale and dead?” compassionating the man, to speak of RichRichard, who was of a ruddy complexion, ard, by the mouth of Henry IV., with that exhibited in his cheeks the internal work contempt which his weakness and his frivoings of fear or rage. This was a part of his

lities would naturally excite :weakness of character. The writer of the “The skipping king, he ambled up and down “Metrical History'* twice notices the pecu

With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits, liarity. When the king received a defying

Soon kindled and soon burn'd: carded his

state; message from the Irish chieftain, the French knight, who was present, says, “ This speech

Mingled his royalty with carping fools; was not agreeable to the king; it appeared

Had his great name profaned with their to me that his face grew pale with anger.” When he heard of the landing of Boling

And gave his countenance, against his name,

To laugh at gibing boys," &c. broke, the writer again says, “ It seemed to

("Henry IV.,' Part I.) me that the king's face at this turned pale with anger.” Richard's indignation at the There is nothing of this bitter satire put in reproaches of Gaunt is, at once, brutal and the mouths of any of the speakers ‘in Richchildish :

ard II. ;' and the poetical reason for this ap“And let them die, that age and sullens have.”

pears obvious. Yet it is perfectly true, his

torically, that Richard “carded his state” Then comes the final act of despotism, which by indiscriminately mixing with all sorts of was to be his ruin :

favourites, who used the most degrading “ We do seize to us

freedoms towards him. The plate, coin, revenues, and moveables, Bolingbroke (then Henry IV.) thus de

Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess’d." scribes himself to his son :He is amazed that York is indignant at this “ And then I stole all courtesy from heaven, outrage. He is deaf to the prophetic de- And dress'd myself in such humility, nunciation,

That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts, “ You pluck a thousand dangers on your head."

Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,

Even in the presence of the crowned king." which he might have led us, of unmitigated The Bolingbroke who, in Henry IV.,' is thus

retrospectively painted, is the Bolingbroke *Histoire du Roy d'Angleterre Richard,' &c. of this

in action in ‘Richard II.' The king most curious Poem, written by a French gentleman who was with Richard in Ireland, and bearing the date of 1399,

“Observed his courtship to the common people." there is an admirable translation in the 20th Volume of the * Archæologia.'

* Coleridge.

scorns ;

[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]


When he returns from banishment, in arms His sensibility—his plastic imaginaagainst his unjust lord, he wins Northum- tion—his effeminacy, even when strongly berland by his powers of pleasing :

moved to love or to hatred-his reliance

upon his office more than his own head and “ And yet our fair discourse hath been as sugar.” heart-doom him to an overthrow. How Mark, too, his professions to the “gentle surpassingly characteristic are the lines in Percy:"

which he addresses his “earth" as if it were “I count myself in nothing else so happy, a thing of life-a favourite that he could

honour and cherish—a friend that would As in a soul remembering my good friends."

adopt and cling to his cause—a partisan When York accuses him of

that could throw a shield over him, and de“ Gross rebellion and detested treason," fend him from his enemies :how temperate, and yet how convincing, is

“So, weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth, his defence. York remains with him-he And do thee favour with my royal hands.“cannot mend it.” But Bolingbroke, with Feed not thy sovereign's foe, my gentle all his humility to his uncle, and all his earth," &c. courtesy to his friends, abates not a jot of He feels that this is a senseless conjurahis determination to be supreme. He an- tion;" but when Aumerle ventures to say, nounces this in no under-tones—he has no

"we are too remiss,” he reproaches his " disconfidences about his ultimate intentions ; comfortable cousin,” by pointing out to him -but we feel that he has determined to sit the heavenly aid that a king might expect. on the throne, even while he says,

His is not the holy confidence of a high“I am a subject,

ininded chieftain, nor the pious submission And challenge law.”

of a humble believer. He, indeed, says, He is, in fact, the king, when he consigns “For every man that Bolingbroke hath press’d Bushy and Green to the scaffold. He speaks

To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown, not as one of a council-he neither vindi- God, for his Richard, hath in heavenly pay cates nor alludes to his authority. He ad

A glorious angel." dresses the victims as the one interpreter of But when Salisbury announces that the the law; and he especially dwells upon his “Welshmen” are dispersed, Richard, in a own personal wrongs :

moment, forgets the “angels” who will “See them deliver'd over

guard the right. His cheek pales at the To execution and the hand of death.”

evil tidings. After a pause, and upon the

exhortation of his friends, his “sluggard Most skilfully does this violent and uncom- majesty” awakes ; the man still sleeps. promising exertion of authority prepare us How artificial and externally sustained is for what is to come.

his confidence : We are arrived at those wonderful scenes

“Arm, arm, my name! a puny subject strikes which, to our minds, may be classed amongst

At thy great glory. Look not to the ground, the very highest creations of art—even of

Ye favourites of a king." the art of Shakspere. “Barkloughly Castle” is “at hand.” — Richard stands upon his Scroop arrives ; and Richard avows that he “kingdom once again.” Around him are is prepared for the worst. His fortitude is armed bands ready to strip him of his crown

but a passing support. He dissimulates with and life. Does he step upon his “ earth” himself; for, in an instant, he flies off into with the self-confiding port of one who will

a burst of terrific passion at the supposed hold it against all foes ? The conventional treachery of his minions. Aumerle, when dignity of the king cannot conceal the in their unhappy end is explained, like a man tellectual weakness of the man: and we see

of sense casts about for other resources :that he must lose his “gentle earth” for “Where is the duke my father with his power?".


[ocr errors]

But Richard abandons himself to his de- chester, in 1772, gave us a new · Richard II.', spair, in that most solemn speech, which is “altered from Shakspere, and the style imiat once so touching with reference to the tated.” We are constrained to say that such speaker, and so profoundly true in its ge- criticism as we bave extracted, and such neral application :

imitations of style as that of Mr. Goodhall, "No matter where; of comfort no man speak."

are entirely on a par. Shakspere wanted

not the additional scene of Northumberland's His grief has now evaporated in words :

treachery to eke out the story of Richard's “ This ague-fit of fear is over-blown;

fall. He was too sagacious to make an auAn easy task it is to win our own.

dience think that Richard might have surSay, Scroop, where lies our uncle with his mounted his difficulties but for an accident. power?"

It was his business to show what was essenScroop's reply is decisive :

tially true (though one episode of the truth “ Your uncle York hath join'd with Boling

might be wanting), that Bolingbroke was broke.”

coming upon him with steps as certain as Richard is positively relieved by knowing

that of a rising tide towards the shivering

tenant of a naked sea-rock. What was still the climax of his misfortunes. The alternations of hope and fear were too much for his

more important, it was his aim to exhibit

the overthrow of Richard, and the upraising indecision. He is forced upon a course, and he is almost happy in his weakness :

of Bolingbroke, as the natural result of the

collision of two such minds meeting in mor“Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me tal conflict. The mighty physical force which forth

Bolingbroke subdued to his purpose was Of that sweet way I was in to despair ! called forth by his astute and foreseeing inWhat say you now? What comfort have we tellect : every movement of this wary chief now?

-perhaps even from the hour when he reBy heaven, I 'll hate him everlastingly solved to appeal Norfolk—was a consequence That bids me be of comfort any more."

from a calculated cause. On the other hand, Shakspere has painted indecision of cha- Richard threw away every instrument of deracter in Hamlet—but what a difference is fence; the “one day too late,” with which there between the indecision of Hamlet and Salisbury reproaches him—which delay was of Richard ! The depth of Hamlet's philo- the fruit of his personal weakness and vacilsophy engulfs his powers of action; the re

lation—shows that it was impossible to save flective strength of his intellect destroys the him. Had he escaped from Conway, after energy of his will :—Richard is irresolute being reduced to the extremities of poverty and inert, abandoning himself to every new

and suffering, in company with a few impression, because his faculties, though wretched followers, he must have rushed, beautiful in parts, have no principle of cohe- from his utter want of the ability to carry sion ;-judgment, the key-stone of the arch, through a consistent plan, into the toils of is wanting.

Bolingbroke. Shakspere, as we must repeat, Bolingbroke is arrived before Flint Castle. painted events whilst he painted characters. Mr. Courtenay says, “ By placing the nego

Look at Bolingbroke's bearing when York ciation with Northumberland at Flint, Shak- reproaches Northumberland for not saying spere loses the opportunity of describing the “ King Richard ;"— look at his decision when disappointment of the king, when he found he learns the king is at Flint;—look at his himself, on his progress to join Henry at subtlety in the message to the king : Flint, a prisoner to Northumberland, who

Harry Bolingbroke had concealed the force by which he was ac- On both his knees doth kiss King Richard's companied."*

A Mr. Goodhall, of Man- hand." * Shakspeare's Historical Plays considered Historically. Compare the affected humility of his profes

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]



[ocr errors]

sions with the real, though subdued, haugh- | the details of the quarrel scene in Westtiness of his threats

minster Hall, merely remarking that those “If not, I 11 use the advantage of my power."

who say, as Johnson has said, “ This play is

extracted from the Chronicle' of Holinshed, He marches “ without the noise of threat’ning in which many passages may be found which drum ;” but he marches as a conqueror upon Shakspere has, with very little alteration, an undefended citadel. On the one hand, transplanted into his scenes,” would have we have power without menaces ; on the

done well to have printed the passages of the other, menaces without power. How loftily Chronicle' and the parallel scenes of ' RichRichard asserts to Northumberland the ter- | ard II. This scene is one to which the rerors which are in store—the “armies of pes- mark refers. Will our readers excuse us tilence” which are to defend his “precious giving them half-a-dozen lines as a specicrown !” But how submissively he replies men of this “very little alteration ?”— to the message of Bolingbroke !-"Thus the king returns :

HOLINSHED. His noble cousin is right welcome hither.- "The Lord Fitzwater herewith rose up, and

Speak to his gentle hearing kind commends." said to the king, that, where the Duke of AuMarvellously is the picture of the struggles merle excuseth himself of the Duke of Glou

cester's death, I say (quoth he) that he was the of irresolution still coloured :

very cause of his death; and so he appealed him “Shall we call back Northumberland, and send of treason, offering, by throwing down his hood Defiance to the traitor, and so die?"

as a gage, to prove it with his body." Beautiful is the transition to his habitual

SHAKSPERE. weakness—to his extreme sensibility to evils, and the shadows of evils—to the consolation

“ If that thy valour stand on sympathies, which finds relief in the exagg

ation of its

There is my gage, Aumerle, in gage to thine:

By that fair sun that shows me where thou own sufferings, and in the bewilderments of

stand'st, imagination which carry even the sense of

I heard thee say, and vauntingly thou spak’st suffering into the regions of fancy. We have

it, already seen that this has been thought “de

That thou wert cause of noble Gloster's death. viating from the pathetic to the ridiculous.”

If thou deny'st it, twenty times thou liest; Be it so. We are content to accept this and

And I will turn thy falsehood to thy heart, similar passages in the character of Richard Where it was forged, with my rapier's point.” as exponents of that feeling which made him lie at the feet of Bolingbroke, fascinated We have long borne with these misrepresenas the bird at the eye of the serpent : tations of what Shakspere took from the “For do we must what force will have us do."

Chronicles,' and what Shakspere took from

Plutarch. The sculptor who gives us the This is the destiny of tragedy ;-but it is a highest conception of an individual, idealized destiny with foregoing causes—its seeds are into something higher than the actual man sown in the varying constitution of the hu- -(Roubiliac, for example, when he figured man mind : and thus it may be said, even that sublime image of Newton, in which the without a contradiction, that a Bolingbroke upward eye, and the finger upon the prism, governs destiny, a Richard yields to it. tell us of the great discoverer of the laws of

We pass over the charming repose-scene of gravity and of light)—the sculptor has to the garden—in which the poet, who in this collect something from authentic records of drama has avoided all dialogues of manners, the features and of the character of the subbrings in “old Adam's likeness,” to show us ject he has to represent. The Chronicles' how the vicissitudes of state are felt and un- might, in the same way, give Shakspere the derstood by the practical philosophy of the general idea of his historical Englishmen, humblest of the people. We pass over, too,

as Plutarch of his Romans. But it was for



[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »