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of others, if it diminish his crimes, will hardly lighten his criminality.
But even if Shakespeare's representation were proved to be essentially untrue to Richard as he was in himself and in his life, still this would nowise touch the standing of the work as a dramatic reproduction of historical matter. For the Poet's vindication on this score, it sufficeth that his Richard, so far at least as regards the moral complexion of the man, is substantially the Richard of the chroniclers, and of all the historical authorities that were received and studied in his time. Besides, to satisfy the nice scruples and queries of historic doubters and dialecticians, is no part of a poet's business: his concern is not with truth in her abstract essence, but with truth in her operative form; and to pursue the former were to anatomize history, not to represent it. For instance, in the case in hand, whether Richard were in fact guilty of such and such crimes, matters little or none; it being enough that he was generally believed to be so, and that this belief was the mother-principle of those national events whereon the drama That Richard was a prince of abundant head; that his government was in the main wise and just; that he was sober in counsel, brave in the field, and far-sighted in both; all this only renders it the harder to account for that general desertion which left him almost naked to his foes, but by such a wide-spread impression of his criminality as no puttings-forth of intellect could surmount. Thus his fall, so sudden and so complete, was mainly in virtue of what he was thought to be. And forasmuch as the character generally set upon him at the time, if not the essential truth regarding him, was the stuff out of which were spun his overthrow, and the consequent opening of a new social and political era, thus being the truth that was operative; such, therefore, was the only character that would cohere or consist with the circumstances, and hence the only one that was capable of dramatic development.
Touching the moral complexion of Shakespeare's Richard, as thus explained, enough, we trust, will be found in our notes to bear out the delineation. The incidents whereby his character in this respect transpires are nearly all taken from the historians, with only such quickening and heightening as it is the prerogative of poetry to lend, even when most tied to the conditions of actual events. Intellectually, however, his proportions, as they had need to be, are drawn much beyond the conferrings of history, or perhaps of nature. For to have set forth such a moral physiognomy in dramatic form, with only his actual endowment of mind, would scarce consist with so much of pleasure in his skill, as was required to countervail the horror of his crimes. Such a measure of depravity, stripped of the disguise which it necessarily keeps up in real life, might indeed be valuable as truth, but would not do at all as poetry. And this may aptly suggest the different
laws of history and art, which we know not how to state better, than that the method of the one is to please because it instructs, of the other to instruct because it pleases. The forms of poetry, it scarce need be said, are properly relished, not as being fitted to facts, which is the case with science, but as they fit the mind. Nor does this infer any defect of real instructiveness in art; for whatsoever pleasure springs in virtue of such fitness and conge. niality with our better nature must needs carry refreshment and invigoration in its touch.
Practically no man ever understood this matter better than Shakespeare; nor, perhaps, has his understanding thereof been better shown anywhere than in the case of Richard. The lines of his guilt, as traced in history, are considerably deepened in the play, and its features charged with boisterous life, making, all together, a fearful picture, and such as, without counterpoising attractions, would be apt to shock and revolt the beholder. But his intellectuality is idealized so far and in such sort from the Poet's own stock, as to season the impression of his moral deformity with the largest and most various mental entertainment. If he be all villain, he is an all-accomplished one; and any painful sense of his villainy is spirited away by his thronging diversions of thought, his unflagging gayety of spirits, his prompt, piercing, versatile wit. Nay, his very crimes do but beget occasion for these enchantments, while every demand seems in effect to replenish his stock; and thus in his character the hateful is so compensated by the admirable, that we are more than reconciled to his company.
The point in review is well illustrated in Richard's wooing and winning of lady Anne, where the rays of his character are all gathered, as were, into a focus. Now, whatever may have been the real facts in the case, it is certain that Richard was at the time generally believed by the Lancastrians to have had a hand in killing both Henry VI. and Edward his son. It is also certain that within two years after their death Richard ried to Edward's widow, who must in all reason be supposed to have shared in the common belief of her party. How they felt on the subject may well appear in that the late king was revered by them as a martyr, and his tomb hallowed as the abode of miraculous efficacies; for which cause Richard afterwards had his bones removed to a more secluded place. On Richard's part the chief motive to the marriage was, no doubt, to come at a share in the immense estates of the lady's father. For as Clarence, having married the elder daughter, grasped at the whole; and as Richard proposed by taking the younger to succeed to a part; hence arose that fierce strife between them, whence grew the general persuasion that Richard was somehow the cause of his brother's death. Perhaps, as indicating the manner and spirit of their contest, it should be mentioned that Clarence, to thwart the aim of Richard, at first had the lady concealed from his pursuit several
months in the disguise of a cook-maid; and that, when at last the former saw he could not prevent the marriage, he swore that the latter "should not part the livelihood with him."
So that the Poet is nowise answerable for this difficulty: it was in the history; and the best he could do was to furnish such a solution of it as would stand with the conditions of dramatic effect; to produce which effect it must perforce be brought within the terms of historical reason and probability. Before solving the difficulty, however, Shakespeare greatly augments it by the suppression of time; heightening the exigency, as if on purpose that he may proportionably heighten the intellectuality that is to meet it. Richard begins and finishes his courtship of the lady over the very coffin of the royal saint whose death she is mourning, and whom he is supposed to have murdered. Yet his triumph, such is the Poet's management, seems owing not to any special vice or defect in her, but simply to his persuasive art and fascinations of wit, so put in play as to disconcert all her powers, and steal from her the very will and spirit, of resistance. His towering audacity, which, springing from entire confidence that his genius will back him up and bear him out, succeeds in part by the very effrontery of its attempts; his flexibility and suppleness of thought, turning himself indifferently to all occasions, forms, and modes of address; his perfect self-possession and presence of mind, never at loss for a shift, nor betrayed into a misstep, nor surprised into a pause; his wily dissimulation, and more wily frankness, silencing her charges by pleading guilty to them, parrying her blows by inviting them, and disarming her hatred by owning its justice; such are the parts of the sly, subtle, unfearing, remorseless Richard, that are wrought out in his courtship of lady Anne.
This scene indeed is far from being the best, or even among the best, in the play, and is thus pitched upon, as combining a remarkable variety of characteristic points, and as happily exemplifying the Poet's method of diverting off the offensiveness of Richard's acts by the entertainment of his gifts. In these respects we have a repetition of the scene afterwards, when he in like manuer triumphs over the fears and scruples of Elizabeth; where the same difficulty recurring draws on a similar procedure, history being again responsible for the one, and Shakespeare for the other. And surely the Poet was not without a purpose in so ordering the drama, that in our first impression of the full-grown Richard his thoughtswarming head should have the start of his bloody hand: which order, by the way, is quite reversed in Cibber's patchwork preparation of the play, where, the murder of the sainted Henry coming first, admiration of Richard's intellect is of course forestalled by abhorrence of his cruelty. By the opening soliloquy, so startling in its abruptness, and so crammed to the utmost with poetry and thought, our minds are duly preëngaged to the man's active, fertile, scheming brain: our first impression is of one, unrelenting
indeed, and incapable of fear, but who looks long and well before he strikes, and never does the latter, till he is sure of working his will thereby. And the organic law of the drama plainly requires that this or some such initiative be given to the penetrating and imperturbable sagacity which presides over all other elements in the hero's character, and every where pioneers to his purpose, and in the strength of which he still gains his real ends by feigning others, and conquers by seeming to yield. And thus, in the original arrangement of the play, our feelings are from the first properly toned and set to the scope and measure of the terrible as distinguished from the horrible; the reverse of which takes place in the Cibberian improvement.
One of the authors of that singularly thoughtful and suggestive book, Guesses at Truth, has a piece of criticism on Richard, which, whether altogether just or not, the reader will doubtless thank us for producing here. "Slow and reluctant as I am," says he, "to think that any thing can be erroneous in Shakespeare, whom Nature had wedded, so to say, for better, for worse, and whom she admitted into all the hidden recesses of her heart, still I cannot help thinking that even he, notwithstanding the firm grasp with which he is wont to hold the reins of his solar chariot, as it circles the world, beholding and bringing out every form of life in it, has somewhat exaggerated the diabolical element in the soliloquies of Richard the Third." Then, after quoting parts of the two soliloquies near the close of the foregoing play and at the opening of this, he adds, "If we compare the way in which Iago's plot is first sown, and springs up and gradually grows and ripens in his brain, with Richard's downright enunciation of his projected series of crimes from the first, we may discern the contrast between the youth and the mature manhood of the mightiest intellect that ever lived upon earth,—a contrast almost equally observable in the difference between the diction and metre of the two plays. There are several things in Richard's position, which justify a great difference in the representation of his inward being. His rank and station pampered a more audacious will. The civil wars had familiarized him with crimes of lawless violence, and the wildest revolutions of fortune. Above all, his deformity, — which Shakespeare received from a tradition he did not think of questioning, and which he purposely brings forward so prominently in both the speeches quoted, seemed to separate and cut him off from sympathy and communion with his kind, and to be a plea for thinking that, as he was a monster in body, he might also be a monster in heart and conduct. In fact, it is a common result of a natural malformation to awaken and irritate a morbid self-consciousness, by making a person continually and painfully sensible of his inferiority to his fellows. Still I cannot but think that Shakespeare would have made a somewhat different use even of this motive, if he had rewritten the play in the maturity of his intellect. Would
not Richard then, like Edmund and Iago, have palliated and excused his crimes to himself, and sophisticated and played tricks with his conscience? Would he not have denied and avowed his wickedness, almost in the same breath, and made the ever-waxing darkness of his purposes, like that of night, at once conceal and betray their hideous enformity?"
These queries certainly go right to the spot, and the most we should venture in answer to them, is to start a few cross-queries; premising that when, in reference to the same point, this acute and ingenious writer says, It is as contrary to nature for a man to anatomize his heart and soul thus, as it would be to make him dissect his own body," - his speech surely is stronger than the subject may well bear. May it not, then, be a natural result of Richard's inordinate, dare-devil intellectuality, that he should inspect and scrutinize himself with the same cold, passionless impartiality as he would another person, or as another would him? And might, he not, in the strength of his God-defying pride of intellect, grow and harden into a habit of facing his blackest purposes as unflinchingly as he does his unsightly person, and even take pleasure in exaggerating and overpainting their wickedness to himself, as serving to set off and magnify in his own view the art and spirit which, he feels assured, will carry him safe and victorious through them? And does not his most distinctive and individual feature, as compared with Edmund and Iago, stand mainly in this, that intellectual pride is in a more exclusive and operative manner the constituent of his character, and the principle of his action? It should be observed that the question here is not, whether the portrait as a whole be not one of superhuman audacity, and running to a height of guilt where no man could sustain himself in being; but whether the speeches under consideration be not in perfect keeping with the idea of his character as transpiring in his action throughout the play. For in whatsoever he does, no less than in what he there says, it is manifest that his hypocrisy is without the least shade of self-delusion. The most constant, the most versatile, the most perfect of actors, he is never a whit deceived or taken in by his own acting: he has, in consummation, the art to conceal his art from others; and because this is the very thing he chiefly glories in, therefore he takes care that it may never become in any degree a secret unto himself. Moral obliquity so played as to pass for moral rectitude is to him the test and measure of intellectual strength and dexterity; for the which cause he delights to practise it, and, what is more, to contemplate himself while practising it, and even while designing it. And herein Richard is distinguished from and far above all real-life actors, where it is scarce possible but that hypocrisy and selfdeceit should slide into each other; whence it is that hypocrites still end by turning fanatics, and vice versa, as every day's observation amply testifies.