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would rightly judge of the poet, must acquaint himself with those authors, and his character will not suffer in the enquiry
Richard III. was preceded by other plays written upon the same subject; concerning which, see the conclusion of a note in this Introduction, at p. 332. As to Henry V.-it may not be improper to observe in this place, that there is extant another old play, call’d The famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, printed in 1617, quarto; perhaps by some tricking bookseller, who meant to impose it upon the world for Shakspeare's, who dy'd the
before. This play, which opens with that prince's wildness and robberies before he came to the crown, and so comprehends something of the story of both parts of Henry IV. as well as of Henry V.—is a very medley of nonsense and ribaldry; and, it is my firm belief, was prior to Shakspeare's Henries; and the identical “ displeasing play” mention'd in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV.; for that such a play should be written after his, or receiv'd upon any stage, has no face of probability. There is a character in it, callid -Sir John Oldcastle ; who holds there the place of Sir John Falstaff, but his very antipodes in every other particular, for it is all dullness: and it is to this character that Shakspeare alludes, in those much-disputed passages ; one in his Henry IV. p. 194, and the other in the epilogue to his second part; where the words “ for Oldcastle dy'd a martyr” hint at this miserable performance, and it's fate, which was-damnation.
Lear's distressful story has been often told in poems, ballads, and chronicles : but to none of these are we indebted for Shakspeare's Lear; but to a silly old play which first made its appearance in 1605, the title of which is as follows:"The True Chronicle Hi--story of King Leir, and his
three | daughters, Gonorill, Ragan | and Cordella. As it hath bene divers and sundry | times lately acted | London, I Printed by Simon Stafford for John | Wright, and are to bee sold at his shop at Christes Church dore, next Newgate Market. 1605. (4° I. 46.)-As it is a great curiosity, and very scarce, the title is here inserted at large: and for the same reason, and also to shew the use that Shakspeare made of it, some extracts will now be added.
The author of this Leir has kept him close to the chronicles; for he ends his play with the reinstating King Leir in his throne, by the aid of Cordella and her husband. But take the entire fable in his own words. Towards the end of the play, at signature H 3, you find Leir in France : upon whose coast he and his friend Perillus are landed in so necessitous a condition, that, having nothing to pay their passage, the mariners take their cloaks, leaving them their jerkins in exchange: thus attir'd, they go up further into the country; and there, when they are at the point to perish by famine, insomuch that Perillus offers Leir his arm to feed upon, they fight upon Gallia and his queen, whom the author has brought down thitherward, in progress, disguis'd. Their discourse is overheard by Cordella, who immediately knows them; but, at her husband's persuasion, forbears to discover herself a while, relieves them with food, and then asks their story; which Leir gives her in these words :
“ Leir. Then know this first, I am a Brittayne borne,
" The youngest sayd, she loved me as a child
Might do: her answere I esteem'd most vild,
gave in dowry with the other two:
Poynting that there she would come talk with me;
“ And now I am constraind to seeke reliefe
payes me but
Thereupon ensues her discovery; and, with it, a circumstance of some beauty, which Shakspeare has borrow'd
(v. Lear, p. 565,) their kneeling to each other, and mutually contending which should ask forgiveness. The next page presents us Gallia, and Mumford who commands under hini, marching to embarque their forces, to re-instate Leir; and the next, a sea-port in Britain, and officers setting a watch, who are to fire a beacon to give notice if any ships approach, in which there is some low humour that is passable enough. Gallia and his forces arrive, and take the town by surprize: immediately upon which, they are encounter'd by the forces of the two elder sisters, and their husbands : a battle ensues : Leir conquers; he and his friends enter victorious, and the play closes thus :
“ Thanks (worthy Mumford) to thee last of all,
Such is the Leir, now before us. Who the author of it should be, I cannot surmise; for neither in manner nor style has it the least resemblance to any of the other tragedies of that time: most of them rise now and then, and are poetical; but this creeps in one dull tenour, from beginning to end, after the specimen here inserted : it should seem he was a Latinist, by the translation following:
“ Fcare not, my lord, the perfit good indeed,
But whoever he was, Shakspeare has done him the honour to follow him in a stroke or two: one has been observ'd upon above; and the reader who is acquainted with Shakspeare's Lear, will perceive another in the second line of the concluding speech: and here is a third ; “ Knowest thou these letters ?”
says Leir to Ragan, (sign. I. 3.) shewing her hers and her sister's letters commanding his death; upon which she snatches at the letters, and tears them: (v. Lear, p. 590, 591,) another, and that a most signal one upon one account, occurs at signature C 36:
“ But he, the myrrour of mild patience,
Perillus says this of Leir; comprising therein his character, as drawn by this author : how opposite to that which Shakspeare has given him, all know; and yet he has found means to put nearly the same words into the very mouth of his
Lastly, two of Shakspeare's personages, Kent, and the Steward, seem to owe their existence to the above-mention'd
shag-hair'd wretch," and the Perillus of this Leir.
The episode of Gloster and his two sons is taken from the Arcadia : in which romance there is a chapter thus intitld ;“ The pitifull state, and storie of the Paphlagonian unkinde King, and his kind sonne, first related by the son, and then by the blind father.” (Arcadia, p. 142, edit. 1590, 4to.) of which episode there are no traces in either chronicle, poem, or play, wherein this history is handld.