« AnteriorContinuar »
his personal and individual character. Richard II. tells the story of that monarch's times, with little other aid of dramatic art than that of rejecting the form of a mere dramatic chronicle, and of condensing the whole reign into its closing scenes, leaving its earlier incidents to be gathered from the dialogue and narrative. It thus tells the tale of the most memorable example that had yet occurred in modern times of a sovereign deposed for abuse of power, an event remarkable in itself, and still more interesting to Englishmen as being the origin of that long series of civil contests which, for half a century, stained England's fields and scaffolds with English blood shed by Englishmen. The throwing the more odious or contemptible parts of Richard's life into narrative and allusion seems to have been adopted for the purpose, which it certainly attains with much skill, of taking off that feeling of repugnance towards him which would naturally be excited if his crimes and follies were more distinctly presented, and which it would be impossible to change into that commiserating sympathy that we now feel at his downfall. Still the interest is purely historical and political, and we cannot mourn with the dethroned monarch for the loss of his crown as we can partake of Constance's maternal sorrows, shudder under the fiery indignation or the frenzy of Lear, or sympathize with the frailties of a noble mind in Antony. It is probably on account of this comparative weakness of the tragic interest, that the Poet did not care to hazard the weakening its effect by the contrast of laughable or lighter scenes, to which he elsewhere so willingly resorts. The adherence to substantial historical truth is preserved throughout. Nothing is added or exaggerated, unless it be that the queen, (who was in reality but an affianced child, ten years old,) is made to speak the language of mature conjugal affection, and thus to present the gentler and amiable traits of Richard's mixed and variable character. That character, with all its defects and its inconsistencies,-its insolent tyranny, and its gentleness,—its utter want of all moral or intellectual balance,—is painted with the discrimination of the philosophical historian, and with a far deeper and more impartial truth than the author could find in any one of the old annalists, all of whom, I believe, have described Richard as he appeared to them through the medium of their personal party prejudices, Yorkish or Lancasterian. Even the peculiarities of Richard's language and imagery in the last three acts, his tone of pious meditation, his moralizing on“ the flattering glass," and on his favourite “Roan Barbary’s” ingratitude, all of them traits by no means common-place, yet of which resemblances may often be traced in actual life, —were yet I suspect not drawn from the Poet's general knowledge of man, directly from the historical or traditional character of the monarch. His style of thought and language certainly harmonizes with his letters and speeches preserved in the chronicles, as well as with his “passionate exclamations and appeals to Heaven” which Froissart describes.
We are made as familiar with the true Bolingbroke as Sully and his contemporaries have made most historical students with Henry IV. of France-a personage who had many points of resemblance to his namesake of Lancaster. York, Northumberland, and the rest, are slighter, but not less faithful portraits.
Thus we have here a perfect specimen of the purely historical drama, turning wholly upon public and political events and incidents; and it may be placed by the side of Julius Cæsar, (in this respect its exact counterpart,) as showing the limits of excellence in this species of composition.
Such compositions, as compared with dramatic inventions drawn from the sources of individual nature, and coming home to the domestic sensibilities, must probably, like these two tragedies, suffer under a comparative coldness of interest, while like them they may be most rich in moral instruction, in splendid poetry, and in admi. rable pictures of life, manners, characters, and great events.
Richard II. is (as Ulricci has well termed it) “ the first part of the grand five-act historical drama which closes with Richard III.” Although in the next succeeding parts the author has not adhered to this strictly historical model, but deviated into the more tempting field of historical tragi-comedy, still it is manifest that Richard II. was intended to be the introduction of the series of dramatic histories of the wars of York and Lancaster, and to afford to the less instructed reader or spectator a key to the origin of the whole prolonged civil contest. It
may indeed be that, like most other prefaces, this introduction was not written until after the whole or the greater part of the dramas it thus introduces; but the striking references to after events, and the preparation for them and for the characters next to tread the stage, as Hotspur and Harry of Monmouth, show that this dramatic series was present to Shakespeare's mind as one whole.
Vague guesses and confident assertions have been made by Malone, Chalmers, and others, as to the precise year in which Richard II. was written; but there is really nothing to authorise even a confident conjecture on this not very important point. But we do know with certainty that it belongs to the middle period of his genius,-before the epoch of his highest intellectual and tragic power, and after he had acquired ease and confidence and the rapid command of language, by more timid and more elaborate earlier efforts. It was probably written before, but not very long before, the MERCHANT OF VENICE, and I should think a little after ROMEO AND JULIET. Between that tragedy, as it appears in its first edition, and Richard II. there is a certain similarity of style and manner, chiefly consisting in the plays upon words, and the dwelling upon fanciful conceits even in the moments of excited feeling, and also in the abundant intermixture of rhyming couplets. The frequent use of rhyme may be ascribed to a compliance with the popular taste prevailing during the first years of Shakespeare's dramatic authorship; but it may also have been deliberately preferred by Shakespeare for its declamatory effect in scenes of chivalric pomp, for the same reason that we find him, long after he had abandoned it for all other purposes, occasionally returning to its use “ to point a moral,” to embody some strongly excited feeling, or to close a scene with graceful or stately declamation.
Richard II. was printed first in 1597, then in 1598, and again with “new additions of the Parliament sceane and the deposing of King Richard " in 1600 and in 1613, In the folio of 1623 it is reprinted from the last quarto, but with some slight variations and some unaccountable omissions. The diligent collation of the several old editions,
by preceding editors, and especially by Mr. Collier, has restored these omissions, and removed the fow difficulties which the older text presented.
The strong and unqualified assertion of the divine and indefeasible right of kings in the latter scenes of the play, has been assumed by tory and by republican writers to be a declaration of the author's own personal opinions. But it should be recollected that in these passages the Poet does but speak the historical language of Richard and the house of York; that he has not overlooked the other side of the argument; that he has fairly displayed the capricious disposition and profligate wastefulness of the king, by which he deserved and incurred deposition; and that such is the remarkable impartiality with which all this is done, that during the despotic reign of Elizabeth (as Knight remarks) “ the deposition scene was neither acted nor printed, lest it should give occasion to the enemies of legitimate succession w find examples for the deposition of a monarch.”
SOURCES OF THE HISTORY OF RICHARD. * For the incidents of this most admirable of all Shakespeare's purely historical plays,' our great Poet appears to have gone no further than Hollingshed, who was himself indebted to Hall and Fabian. However, Shakespeare has nowhere felt himself bound to adhere to chronology when it better answered his purpose to desert it. Thus, the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Henry V., is spoken of as frequenting taverns and stews, when he was in fact only twelve years old. Marston, in a short address before his • Wonder of Women,' 1606, aiming a blow al Ben Jonson, puts the duty of a dramatic author in this respect upon its true footing, when he says, I have not laboured to tie myself to relate any thing as a historian, but to enlarge every thing as a poet;' and what we have just referred to in this play is exactly one of those anachronisms which, in the words of Schlegel, Shakespeare committed purposely aud most deliberately.' His design was in this instance to link together Richard II. and the first part of HENRY IV."-Collier.
"The Richard II. of Shakespeare is the Richard II. of real history. But there is a question whether, as the foundation of this drama, Shakespeare worked upon any previous play. No copy of any such play exists. The character of Richard is so entire-so thoroughly a whole—that we can have little doubt in believing it to be a creation, and not a character adapted to the received dramatic notions of the Poet's audience. But still there is every reason to suppose that there was another play of . Richard II.'--perhaps two others; and that one held possession of the stage long after Shakespeare's exquisite production had been acted and published. There is a curious matter connected with the state history of Shakespeare's own times, that has regard to the performance of some play of Richard II. On the afternoon previous to the insurrection of the Earl of Essex, in February, 1601, Sir Gilly Merrick, one of his partisans, procured to be acted before a great company of those who were engaged in the conspiracy, 'the play of deposing Richard II.' The official pamphlet of the declarations of the treasons of the Earl of Essex states, that when it was told Merrick, "by one of the players, that the play was old, and they should have loss in playing it, because few would come to it, there was forty shillings extraordinary given to play it; and so, thereupon, played it was.' In the printed account of the arraignment of Merrick, it is said, that he ordered this play" to satisfy his eyes with a sight of that tragedy which he thought soon after his lord should bring from the stage to the state. There is a passage in Camden's · Annals' which would appear to place it beyond a doubt, that the play so acted was an older play than that of Shakespeare. It is there charged against Essex, that he procured, by money, the obsolete tragedy (exoletam tragædiam) of the abdication of Richard II. to be acted in a public theatre, before the conspiracy. Bacon hints at a systematic purpose of bringing Richard II. “upon the stage, and into print in Queen Elizabeth's time.' Elizabeth herself, in a conversation with Lambarde, the historian of Kent, and keeper of the Records in the Tower, going over a pandect of the Rolls which Lambarde had prepared, coming to the reign of Richard II., said, “I am Richard II.; know ye not that?' Any allusion to Richard II., at that time, was the cause of great jealousy. Hayward, in 1599, very narrowly escaped a state prosecution. for his . First Part of the Life and Reign of King Henry IV.'. This book was the deposition of Richard II. put * into print,' to which Bacon alludes. It appears to us that, without further evidence, there can be no doubt that the play acted before the partisans of the Earl of Essex was not the play of Shakespeare. The deposition-scene, we know, professed to be added to the edition of 1608. The play which Merrick ordered was, in 1601, called an obsolete play. Further, would Shakespeare have continued in favour with Elizabeth, had he been the author of a play whose performance gave such deep offence ?
"But we have now further evidence that there was an old play of Richard 11.,' which essentially differed from Shakespeare's play. Mr. Collier, whose researches have thrown so much light upon the stage in general, and upon Shakespeare's life in particular, has published some very curious extracts from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, which describe, from the observations of a play-goer in the time of James I., a play of • Richard II.,' essentially different in its scenes from the play of Shakespeare. Dr. Simon Forman, who was a quack and astrologer, and who, being implicated in the conspiracy to murder Sir Thomas Overbury, escaped public accusation by suddenly dying, in 1611, kept a book of plays and notes thereof, for common policy;' by which common policy' he means, for maxims of prudence. His first entry is entitled, “in Richard II., at the Globe, 1611, the 30 of April, Thursday.' From the following extract, it will be seen that, at Shakespeare's own theatre, the Globe, a “ Richard II.' was performed, which was, unquestionably, not his RICHARD II.:
4. Remember therein how Jack Straw, by his overmuch boldness, not being politic nor suspecting anything, was suddenly, at Smithfield barb, stabbed by Walworth, the Mayor of London, and so he and his whole army was overthrown. Therefore, in such Case, or the like, never admit any party without a bar between, for a man cannot be too wise, nor keep himself too safe.
** Also remember how the Duke of Glocester, the Earl of Arundel, Oxford, and others, crossing the king in his humour about the Duke of Erland (Ireland) and Bushy, were glad to fly and raise a host of men; and being in his castle, how the Duke of Erland came by night to betray him, with three hundred men; but, having privy warning thereof, kept his gates fast, and would not suffer the enemy to enter, which went back again with a fly in his ear, and after was slain by the Earl of Arundel in the battle.
4. Remember, also, when the Duke (i. e. of Glocester) and Arundel came to London with their army, King Richard came forth to them and met them, and gave them fair words, and promised them pardon, and that all should be well, if they would discharge their army; upon whose promises and fair speeches they did it: and after, the king bid them all to a banquet, and so betrayed them and cut off their heads, &c., because they had not his pardon under his hand and seal before, but his word.
** Remember therein alto, how the Duke of Lancaster privily contrived all villainy to set them all together by the ears, and to make the nobility to envy the king, and mislike him and his government; by which means he made his own son king, which was Henry Bolingbroke.
*. Remember, also, how the Duke of Lancaster asked a wise man whether himself should ever be king, and he told him no, but his son should be a king; and when he had told him, he hanged him up for his labour, because he should not bruit abroad, or speak thereof to others. This was a policy in the commonwealth's opinion, but I say it was a villain's part, and a Judas' kiss, to hang the man for telling him the truth. Beware, by this example, of noblemen and their fair words, and say little to them, lest they do the like to thee for thy good will.'
“From Forman's account of this play, it will be seen that it embraces the earlier period of Richard II., containing the insurrection of Jack Straw. It seems very doubtful whether it includes the close of the reign. We have a talk for 'policy' about the Duke of Lancaster's (Gaunt's) machinations; but nothing about Henry Bolingbroke. Were there two plays of · Richard II.' of which we know nothing—the obsolete play of the deposition, which Merrick caused to be acted in 1601, and the play containing Jack Straw, which Forman noted in 1611 !"KNIGHT.
COSTUMES, ARCHITECTURE, ETC. The views of buildings, streets, etc., here given, are from accurate architectural drawings, either taken directly from the still existing remains of old English buildings, or adapted from old engravings.
The costume of RICHARD II., is carefully distinguished by the learned director of this department of the Pictorial edition, from that of the next generation, with which antiquarian artists and theatrical decorators generally confound it. He has gathered the true costume of the period with great diligence, from undoubted authorities, such as the portraits, monumental effigies, and arms of the historical personages of the times still preserved, and the highly finished miniatures adorning the old illuminated manuscripts of that period, -of Chaucer, Froissart, and the "Metrical History" of Richard's deposition. We subjoin the substance of his curious and entertaining lore.
“The foppery of dress prevailing during the reign of Richard II. is the theme of satire and reprobation amongst the poets and historians of the day ; and York, in the first scene of the second act of this play, speaks with perfect truth of our ‘apish nation' limping in base imitation after the fashions in proud Italy,' or wherever the world thrusts forth a vanity ;' a passage which Dr. Johnson has presumed to be a mistake of Shakespeare, or, rather, a wilful anachronism of the man who gave 'to all nations the customs of England, and to all ages the manners of his own! Richard himself was the greatest fop of his day. He had a coat estimated at thirty thousand marks, the value of which must chiefly have arisen from the quantity of precious stones with which it was embroidered, such being one of the many extravagant fashions of the time. Those of working letters and mottoes on the dresses, and cutting the edges of the mantles, hoods, etc. into the shape of leaves and other devices, will be seen by referring to the portrait
of Richard in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster, and the illuminations of the Metrical History. Bolingbroke, in the miniatures of that work, is represented in mourning for his father. When he entered London with the captive Richard in his train, he was dressed, according to Froissart, in a short jack, or jacket, of cloth of gold, 'a la fachon D'Almayne.'
“Of John of Gaunt we are told that he wore his garments not wide,' and yet they became him full well. In the Cotton MS., he is represented granting the claims at the coronation of Richard II., as Lord High Steward of England. He is attired in a long party-coloured robe, one half white, the other blue, such being the family colours of the House of Lancaster. White and red were, however, assumed by Richard II. as his livery colours, and, as such, worn by the courtiers and citizens on state occasions.
“The sleeves of John of Gaunt's robe are tight, and reach to the wrist, after the old fashion of Edward the Third's time : but bearing out the words of the old poet before quoted, who praises him for not giving way to the extravagancies of his nephew's court; Chaucer, the Monk of Evesham, and the author of an anonymous work called • the Eulogium,' all complain of the large, long, and wide sleeves, reaching almost to the feet, which even servants wore in imitation of their masters.
“ The shoes had excessively long pikes, sometimes crooked upwards, and then called crackowes (probably from Cracow, in Poland), and occasionally fastened to the knees by chains of gold or silver. The chaperon, or hood of
this reign, was of a most indescribable shape, and sometimes worn over the capucium or cowl. Single ostrich feathers are seen occasionally in front of the hood, or cap. The hair was worn long in the neck and at the sides, and elderly persons are generally represented with forked beards.
“ The decoration of the white hart, crowned and chained under a tree, was worn by Richard's retainers.
“The armour of this reign was nearly all of plate. A neck-piece of chain fastened to the bascinet, and called the camail, and the indented edge of the chain-apron depending below the jupon, or surcoat, being nearly all the mail visible. The jupon introduced during the preceding reign was a garment of silk, or velvet, embroidered with the armorial bearings of the wearer, fitting tight to the shape, and confined over the hips by a magnificent girdle. In the Metrical History, Richard and his knights are represented in loose surcoats, sometimes with sleeves, and embroidered all over with fanciful devices, the king's being golden ostrich feathers. The armour worn by Bolingbroke, when he entered the lists at Coventry, was manufactured expressly for him at Milan by order of Galeazzo Visconti, to whom he had written on the subject.
“The chroniclers, Hall and Hollingshed, describing this event, assert that Bolingbroke's horse was caparisoned with blue and green velvet, embroidered all over with swans and antelopes, (his badges and supporters,) and that the housings of the Duke of Norfolk's charger were of crimson velvet, embroidered with silver lions (his paternal arms) and mulberry trees-a punning device, the family name being Mowbray. The vizor of the bascinet, or war helmet of this time, was of a singular shape, giving to the wearer almost the appearance of having the head of a bird.
“No feathers decorated the helmet unless they formed the heraldic crest of the family, and then only the tournament helmet.
“The general dress of ladies of quality, during the reign of Richard II., consisted of the kirtle, a low-bodied gown, with long tight sleeves, made to fit very close to the figure, over which was worn a singularly-shaped sleeveless gown, or robe, with a very full skirt and train, the front and edges generally trimmed with ermine, or other rich furs, and giving the appearance of a tight spencer over a loose dress, instead of which it is, as nearly as possible, the exact reverse.
“Over this, on state occasions, was worn a long mantle, which, as well as the skirt of the gown, or robe, was frequently embroidered with armorial bearings; in such cases, the arms on the mantle are always those of the husband, and the others those of the lady's own family.
“The hair was worn in a gold fret, or caul, of net-work, surmounted by a chaplet, or garland, of goldsmith's work, a coronet, or a veil, according to the fancy or rank of the wearer.”
KING RICEARD THE SECOND.
Uncles to the KINO
JOHN or GAUNT; afterwards King Henry IV.