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action natually arising out of the sentiments and manners of the persons represented. Happier is the poet, when the peculiar dispositions of his several characters do naturally unfold the perplexities of the fable, than he who uses the liberty, which Horace allows, to call a Deity to his assistance. This play opens by the king's declaring his intention to undertake the crusade, as soon as peace will allow him to do it. Westmorland informs him of the defeat of Mortimer by Owen Glendower; the king relates the news of Percy's victory at Holmedon, which naturally leads him to the praise of this young hero, and to express his envy of lord Northumberland's happiness,
To be the father of so blest a son,
While I (says he)
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
thenhe mentions Percy's refusal of his prisoners, which Westmorland attributes to the malevolent suggestions of Worcester. Thus
at once is presented to the spectator, the condition of the state, the temper of the times, and the characters of the persons from whom the catastrophe is to arise.
The stern authority the king assumes on Hotspur's disobedience to his commands, could not fail to inflame a warm young hero, flushed with recent victory, and elate with the consciousness of having so well defended a crown, which his father and uncle had in a manner conferred. Nothing can be more natural than that, in such a temper, he should recur to the obligations the king had to his family and thus while he appears to vent his spleen, he explains to the spectator what is past, and opens the source of the future rebellion; and by connecting former transactions with the present passions and events, creates in the reader an interest and a sympathy, which a cold narration or a pompous declamation could not have effected. As the author designed Percy should be an interesting character, his disobedience to the king, in regard to the prisoners, is mi
tigated by his pleading the unfitness of the person and unfavourableness of the occasion to urge him on the subject. To this effeminate courtier (says he)
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pester'd with a popinjay,
Answer'd neglectingly-I know not what.
Thus has the poet artfully taken from the rebel the hateful crimes of premeditated revolt and deep-laid treachery. He is hurried by an impetuosity of soul out of the sphere of obedience, and, like a comet, though dangerous to the general system, is still an object of admiration and wonder to every beholder. It is marvellous, that Shakspeare, from bare chronicles, coarse history, and traditional tales, could thus extract the wisdom and caution of the politician Henry, and catch the fire of the martial spirit of Hotspur. The wrath of Achilles in Homer is not sustained with more dignity. Each hero is offended that the prize of valour,
is rudely snatched from him by the hand of power. One should suspect an author of more learning to have had the character of Achilles in his eye, and also the advice of Horace as to the manner of representing him on the stage:
Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer;
His misdemeanours rise so naturally out of his temper, and that temper is so noble, that we are almost as much interested for him as for a more virtuous character.
His trespass may be well forgot
It hath th' excuse of youth and heat of blood,
A hair-brain'd Hotspur govern'd by a spleen.
The great aspiring soul of Hotspur bears out rebellion it seems, in him, to flow from
from an uncontrollable energy of soul, born to give laws, too potent to receive them. In every scene he appears with the same animation; he is always that Percy,
Whose spirit lent a fire
Even to the dullest peasant in the camp,
He has also the frankness of Achilles, and the same abhorrence of falsehood; he is as impatient of Glendower's pretensions to supernatural powers, as to the king's assuming a right over his prisoners. In dividing the kingdom, he will not yield a foot of ground to those who dispute with him; but would give any thing to a well-deserving friend. It is a pardonable violation of historical truth, to give the Prince of Wales, who behaved very gallantly at the battle of Shrewsbury, the honour of conquering him; and it is more agreeable to the spectator, as the event was, to beat down