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That profound philosopher, Dr. Johnson, has somewhere laid it down as a moral postulate, that to be at once merry and malicious is an indication of the most consummate badness of heart. In his composition of Gloster Shakspeare has taken care not to omit this ingredient. Not merely insensible to feeling and inaccessible to remorse, he is sportive in the very act of perpetrating murder, and seems to laugh in triumph at his own villanies. Having killed the good king he derides him, and treats him, even in death, with bitter, sneering irony.
What!-Will th' aspiring blood of Lancaster
See how my sword weeps for the poor king's death!
In the whole of that speech Mr. Cooke, whose felicity in soliloquy is unequivocally acknowledged, seemed not to strike some of the audience so forcibly as might have been expected. The colloquial familiarity of his speaking was caviere to the multitude. It had too much nature in it, and too little molasses.
Habituated to consider his deformity as an exclusion from the pale of human nature, Gloster treats all others as if they were be. ings of a different species. Varying his means according to the character of each, he, by persuasion, flattery, or terror, makes them the instruments of his policy, and, even while he flatters, despises them. From the constant exercise of dissimulation, and the natural versatility of his genius, he derives such a facility in feigning, that he can assume as many shapes as Proteus. In all these changes, to let the real man be a little seen, and, through the assumed form, to disclose the internal workings of Richard's heart, so as to render them intelligible to his auditors, requires in an actor, not only the most nice intellectual discrimination, but a rare flexibility of feature and the most powerful physiognomical expression. Naturally fierce and irascible, Gloster can subdue his passion when necessary: but the struggle within is violent. To mark this to the eyes of the audience, and yet to preserve the necessary dissimulation, requires powers such as few actors have ever possessed, even in a limited measure, none that we have ever seen in a degree at all equal to Cooke. How exquisitely fine, how minutely characteristic,
was his transition in the first scene of the second act! He is deliberating with himself in soliloquy on lady Anne's disinclination to see him, and his own personal unfitness for love, when a lieutenant entering hastily addresses him
Lieut. My lord, I beg your grace
Too intent upon the subject of his contemplation to brook inter. ruption, he takes fire,
Glost. Begone, fellow! I'm not at leisure.
Lieut. My lord, the king your brother's taken ill. No sooner does this intelligence reach his ear than his whole frame and face undergo an instantaneous change. Every symptom of brutal roughness and overbearing ferocity is dismissed from his countenance, and succeeded by a mixed expression of diabolical transport and fawning kindness, while bending to the lieutenant he replies in a softened, friendly tone of voice,
I'll wait on him: leave me-friend! nor was this more impressive than the wild rapture which beamed from his eyes when, the lieutenant being gone, he exclaimed
Ha! Edward taken ill!
or the murderous spirit that broke forth in the tone of voice, the utterance, and the savage look, with which he said
Would he were wasted, marrow-bones and all.
As the celebrated courtship scene with lady Anne is perhaps the boldest in conception, the most difficult to reconcile to reason, and yet the most successfully executed that ever entered the imagination of a poet, so we may venture to affirm that the performance of it by Cooke may be reckoned among the most masterly specimens of the histrionic art.
In contemplating this extraordinary scene, the first thing that strikes us is the boldness and unblushing effrontery of Gloster, in daring, under such circumstances, to address or even to entertain a hope of winning her. Never sure was there a conjuncture of such difficulty propounded; and, after wondering how Gloster could so much as imagine it possible, we are at a loss to conceive by what practi. cable means he can hope to accomplish it. For the solution of this doubt we must, in the first instance, resort to Richard's opinion of lady Anne, and to her character as he gradually develops it. That he is perfectly aware of all the difficulties that oppose him, we have from his own mouth:
Why Love forswore me in my mother's womb,
Oh monstrous thought! more vain than my ambition. His hardihood here therefore appears great; but is swelled to absolute enormity when the time, the place and the manner of addressing her are considered. He takes her at the funeral of king Henry, whom he had murdered, and at the very moment when she is pouring forth the most bitter execrations on the murderer. Nay more, he aggravates his offences by stopping the procession and compelling the bearers to lay down the corpse.
Gloster founds his hopes of success on two separate points on his own vast abilities and hypocrisy, and the weakness and passions of lady Anne. The power of the former he knows and relies on; the latter he knows and despises.
But I've a tongue shall wheedle with the devil.
And when, unseen by her, he hears her pour forth a string of curses not only on himself as a murderer of her husband, but on his wife if he have any:
Accursed the head that had the heart to do it;
what can show his contempt for her heart and understanding more than his derisive, confident side-speech,
Poor girl! what pains she takes to curse herself!
That his plan in outraging the funeral is evidently to increase her anger, in order that, by her violence, she may at once exhaust her rage and charges against him, appears from his side-speech:
First, let her sorrows take some vent-stand here!
For his repentant murderer. Having, by a direct confession of his offences, provoked her to exhaust her rage, he turns upon her with the whole artillery of his most artful flattery, and makes even the murder of her husband administer to the gratification of her vanity.
Your beauty was the cause of that effect;
So I might live one hour in that soft bosom.
Fair creature, he that kill'd thy husband,
Did it to help thee to a better husband.
Nay do not pause, for I did kill king Henry,
But 'twas thy heavenly face that set me on. This shameless avowal of his enormities, seasoned as they are with rank flattery on the score of her beauty, impresses her with an idea of his candour, and when he has thus soothed her, and in some measure dispelled her distrust of him, he cunningly urges his passion, and obtains an indirect compliance with his suit.
From the structure of this scene it is evident that it not only affords scope for, but imperiously demands, the most capital act. ing, and this it received from Mr. Cooke, the matchless signi. ficance of whose countenance gave full effect to every line he uţtered, and made the whole an interesting and instructive commentary on female feebleness, and the danger of vanity to the sex.
The parts of the scene in which the powers of this great actor appeared most prominent were, first, his injunction to the bearers of Henry's body to lay it down
Advance thy halbert-higher than my breast. secondly, the sncering archness of his look and voice, when, on lady Anne having panegyrized the deceased king,
Oh! he was gentle, loving, mild and virtuous;
But he's in heaven, where thou canst never come; he replies,
Was I not kind to send him thither?
He was much fitter for that place than earth. The hypocritical pathos he threw into his voice and looks when he offers her his sword, and bids her hide it in his breast:
And let the honest soul out that adores thee;
and above all, the manner of his uttering the line
Why I can smile and smile, and murder when I smile, and the three lines that follow it; which four lines were for the first time introduced into the part by Mr. Cooke himself, from the third part of Henry the Sixth. A judicious introduction, not only as they contain a forcible illustration of the character of Richard, but as they afford the actor a fine scope for exhibiting his powers. Never, were words delivered with more perfect felicity, or greater effect, than these by Mr. Cooke, who, while uttering them, seemed to luxuriate with diabolical delight in the consciousness of his possessing such terrible powers for the perpetration of mischief. On the whole, this scene was one tissue, nearly uniform, of transcendent excellence.
No person on the stage seldomer subjects his judgment to impeachment in what is called the business of his part, than Mr. Cooke: but criticism would lose its character and privileges if it were to let a fault pass unnoticed, out of respect to the authority or the talents of any actor, and is here compelled to censure this gentleman's manner of joining the royal family when they are assembled on the annunciation of king Edward's death. Gloster, on entering, is made by the poet to come in sneering at their sorrow:
Why ay! these tears look well-sorrow's the mode,
And every one at court must wear it now. This is to himself, or, as the books have it, aside: yet Mr. Cooke speaks it from behind the rest, so that it must necessarily reach the ears of the court before it can reach the audience. This must defeat the real meaning of the thing as respects the illusion necessary to be preserved. It is true that the printed play has it “ enter Gloster behind;" but that may have originated in accident, and certainly