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“ The style in which it is composed deserves observation: it is partly in prose, partly in heavy blank-verse, (such as was penned before Marlowe had introduced his improvements, and Shakespeare had adopted and advanced them,) partly in ten-syllable rhyming couplets, and stanzas, and partly in the long fourteen-syllable metre, which seems to have been popular even before prose was employed upon our stage. In every point of view it may be asserted, that few more curious dramatic relics exist in our language. It is the most ancient printed specimen of composition for a public theatre, of which the subject was derived from English history.
Boswell asserts that the • True Tragedy of Richard the Third' had evidently been used and read by Shakespeare;' but we cannot trace any resemblances, but such as were probably purely accidental, and are merely trivial. Two persons could hardly take up the same period of our annals, as the ground work of a drama, without some coincidences; but there is no point, either in the conduct of the plot or in the language in which it is clothed, where our great dramatist does not show his measureless superiority. The portion of the story in which the two plays make the nearest approach to each other, is just before the murder of the princes, where Richard strangely takes a page into his confidence respecting the tittest agent for the purpose.
" In the Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,' it is shown that Henslowe's company, subsequent to 1599, was either in possession of a play upon the story of Richard III., or that some of the poets he employed were engaged upon such a drama. From the sketch of five scenes, there inserted, we may judge that it was a distinct performance from the • True Tragedy of Richard the Third.' By an entry in Henslowe's Diary, dated 22 June, 1602, we learn that Ben Jonson received 101. in earnest of a play called “Richard Crookback,' and for certain additions he was to make to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.' Considering the success of Shakespeare's Richard III., and the active contention, at certain periods, between the company to which Shakespeare belonged, and that under the management of Henslowe, it may be looked upon as singular, that the latter should have been without a drama on that portion of English history until after 1599; and it is certainly not less singular, that as late as 1602 Ben Jonson should have been occupied in writing a new play upon the subject. Possibly, about that date Shakespeare's Richard III. had been revived with the additions; and hence the employment of Jonson on a rival drama, and the publication of the third edition of Shakespeare's tragedy after an interval of four years."
The sun by day shines hotly for revenge ;
To such a performance, it is evident Shakespeare's Richard conld have owed little beyond such straggling hints. Knight justly remarks :-" There is not a trace in the elder play of the character of Shakespeare's Richard: in that play he is a coarse ruffian only—an unintellectual villain. The author has not even had the skill to copy the dramatic narrative of Sir Thomas More in the scene of the arrest of Hastings. It is sufficient for him to inake Richard display the brute force of the tyrant. The affected complacency, the mock passion, the bitter sarcasm of the Richard of the historian, were left for Shakespeare to imitate and improve."
It may be added that, as the unhorsing of Richard is contrary to the old historical account, his well-known cry on his last battle-field, so popular on the stage, and which bas been reëchoed by succeeding dramatists,"A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse !"—is to be traced to this rude old play, where it is thus given :
The Battle enters, Richard wounded with his Page.
King. Fly, villain! Look I as though I would fly ?-Nol first shall, etc.
Possibly, too, the substitution of the ghost-scene, in place of Richard's dream of devils, related by Hall, might have been suggested by one of the lines in Richard's last speech before the battle, in the old play; and as this is the most elaborated speech it contains, it is here extracted :
King. The hell of life that hange upon the crown,
The purely historical materials are wholly drawn, as before stated, from Sir. Thomas More's (afterwards the celebrated Chancellor) “ History of Edward the Fifth," and “Richard the Third," as they were embodied, in full, in the chronicles both of Hall and Hollingshed ; the latter part of Richard's reign, which was untinished in tho manuscript, being supplied in them from other sources.
The comparison of these historical narratives with the incidents and characters as Shakespeare has dramatized them, presents two distinct questions for the consideration of the critical student of SHAKESPEARE. The first is the long-contested question, how far is the Richard of More, of Hall, and of Shakespeare, to be received as . the authentic representation of the real Richard ? Another point, which has attracted much less attention, is how much of the Poet's own original mind has been infused into the character and narrative that he adopted, whether he has merely given dramatic life to his chronicle narrative, as in HENRY V.; or whether, as in HENRY IV., he has restamped its persons and incidents with his own original conceptions ? We have but brief space to consider either of these questions, the first of which has alone filled volumes.
More's narrative comes down to us with the highest authority that almost contemporary history can have, from the author's talents, integrity, and means of information. He was born under Richard III.; his father was a judge of the King's bench, in the next reign; and he was brought up in the family of Archbishop Morton, a living actor in all the scenes of Richard's reign, and who is known to the dramatic reader as Shakespeare's Bishop of Ely, and the “Morton who is fled to Richmoud.” More's narrative was some time after adopted, in full, by Hall, in his Chronicle; and Hall was not an ordivary compiler, but a barrister, and a member of parliament, who lived near enough to the times to have access to the best living sources of information, when many actors and more witnesses of those scenes were still surviving. The adoption of the same general view of ihe history and the character of Richard, by Hollingsbed, Stowe, Lord Bacon, and, we may add, by Shake speare, a generation or two later, shows at least that
that view accorded with the tradition of the events of own personal agency many of the crimes of his partythe civil wars, which being in the middle ages asso- as the deaths of Henry VI. and his son Edward, and ciated with family and local recollections, monuments, | that of Clarence. Sharon Turner, in his laborious and buildings, armour, etc., is in itself of no slight weight impartial history, is led by these considerations to reject Nay, the abhorrence of Richard seems to have been so almost all of Richard's imputed crimes, except the de. universal, that there is no trace of his having left any position and murder of his nephews, which he is couremnant of partisans, -any lingering friends. While strained to admit. Byron and Napoleon could find reason to doubt whether Still later, (1841,) a female historian, Caroline A. the crimes of Nero had not been exaggerated, or mixed Halsted, has published a very interesting and ingenious with better qualities, because after his fall and death work on “ Richard III. as Duke of Gloucester and king there were found former friends to strew his grave with of England,” with the avowed design of “ weeding from flowers, in defiance of danger and denunciation; there the pages of history the fabulous tales which have been was no faithful hand, of those who had once served long associated with his memory," and of “ rescuing his Richard, to wipe off the stains from the escutcheon of the character as a prince from those unjust charges which last of the royal Plantagenets.
alone derogate from the acknowledged superiority of In the universal opinion of his own and of the next two his regal career.” or three generations, Richard was undoubtedly identified I cannot enter further into the discussion of this conwith the cruel uncle of the “Babes in the Wood," the troversy, and can only express my decided opinion that, most popular and touching ballad of our traditionary | while it is very probable that Richard was charged with literature, which Turner and our best English antiqua- | the guilt of several crimes which he was too wise to rians agree had its origin in, and was a disguised recital commit where he had no reasonable motive of policy: of Richard's treatment of his two nephews. It has been yet the general traditional detestation of his memory thought that all this is sufficiently accounted for by the in the three or four succeeding generations, while the policy of Henry VII. and the succeeding Tudors, whose memory of the civil wars was still fresh, is so well asinterest it was to blacken the memory of the last of the certained, as to be conclusive that the older historical preceding dynasty. It may be so; but it is remarkable accounts of him are substantially true. that the first defence of Richard's memory came from the On the second inquiry, which regards only the
This was by Sir George Buck, in his “ History | degree of dramatic invention to be ascribed to the of Richard III." He was Master of the Revels under Poet, in this brilliant delineation of the most splendid James I., and was the official licenser and inspector theatrical villain of any stage, the decision is more obof the stage, during the last years of Shakespeare. His vious, and may be stated in few words. More hal book was not published until 1646. In this book, says given the dramatist nearly all his incidents, and many Buck's contemporary, Fuller, (himself among the best of those minor details of Richard's person, manner, and authorities of old English history,)“ he eveneth Richard's character, which give life and individuality to his por shoulders, smootheth his back, planeth his teeth, maketh trait. He, and the subsequent chroniclers who built him in all points a comely and beautiful person. Nor upon his work, had shown Richard as a bold, able, stoppeth he here, but proceeding from his naturals to ambitious, bad man—they had described him as malihis morals, maketh him as virtuous as handsome; con- cious, deceitful, envious, and cruel. The Poet has made cealing most, denying some, defending others of his the usurper a nobler and loftier spirit than the historians foulest facts, wherewith in all ages since he standeth had done, while he deepened every dark shadow of charged on record. For mine own part, I confess it no guilt they had gathered around his mind or his acts. heresy to maintain a paradox in history; nor am I such The mere animal courage of the soldier he has raised an enemy to wit as not to allow it leave harmlessly to into a kindling and animated spirit of daring; he has disport itself for its own content, and the delight of brought out his wit, his resource, his talent, his mounting others. But when men do it cordially, in sober sadness, ambition, far more vividly than prior history had exto pervert people's judgments, and therein go against || hibited them. His deeds of blood are made to appear, all received records, I say singularity is the least fault not as in the Tudor chronicles, as prompted by gratuitous that can be laid to such men's charges. Besides, there | ferocity or envious malignity, but as the means employed are some birds (sea-pies by name) who cannot rise ex- by selfish ambition for its own ends, careless of the cept it be by flying against the wind, as some hope to misery which it inflicts, or the moral obligations op achieve their advancement by being contrary and para- · which it tramples. The Richard of Shakespeare has doxical to all before them.”—(FULLER's Church History no communion with his kind-he feels himself at once of Britain, book iv.)
aloof from others and above them-he is "himself Buck's work was preserved from oblivion by being alone;" and he therefore neither partakes in the hatred, reprinted, in the next century, in Kennet's collection of nor the love or pity, of “men like one another." ACEnglish history, and by his authority being adopted par- cordingly, every ihing that gives the poetic cast and tially by Carter, in his history of England. Butas Smol- dramatic life and spirit to the character,-every thing let and Hume adhered to the old authorities, it made no that elevates Richard above the cruel, artful, coldimpression on the general opinion. About eighty years blooded tyrant of the old historians—all that mingles a ago this theory was revived by Horace Walpole, in his sort of admiring interest with our abhorrence of him,
Historic Doubts," where Buck's arguments are repro- and invests the deformity of his nature with a terrible duced, and others added, with all the grace, acuteness, majesty,—is the Poet's own conception; and he proand ingenuity that characterize all Walpole's writings. | duces these effects not by the inventiou of new incident, Since that time, a more accurate examination of con- but by the pervading spirit with which he has animated temporary authorities, many of them unknown to former the language and sentiments, and the vivid colouring historians, has given the best grounds to believe that he has thus thrown over the old historical representathere was much exaggeration in imputing to Richard's tion.