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it to have been in good demand in a separate form some time after the folio collection had appeared. It was also honoured above any of its fellows by the notice of contemporary writers: it is mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia; Fuller, in his Church History, and Milton, in one of his political eruptions, refer to it as being already well known and in Bishop Corbet's Iter Boreale, 1617, we have a quaint description of the author's host at Bosworth, which is exceedingly curious as witnessing both what an impression the play had made in the popular mind, and how thoroughly the character of Richard had become identified with Burbage, the great original performer of it:
"Mine host was full of ale and history;
And in the morning, when he brought us nigh
But chiefly by that one perspicuous thing,
For when he would have said, 'King Richard died,'
As to when the play was written, we have no certain external notice of an earlier date than the first entry in the Stationers' Register. Touching this point, however, an inference of some probability has been gathered from a passage in Weever's Epigrams, which, it would seem, must have been written in 1595, though not published till 1599. The writer is professedly enumerating the "issue" of "honey-tongued Shakespeare :
"Rose-cheek'd Adonis, with his amber tresses,
Fair fire-hot Venus charming him to love her;
Proud lust-stung Tarquin seeking still to prove her;
In this stupid euphuism we cannot be certain whether the author
is referring to the Richard III. or the Richard II. of Shakespeare; for, though the epithet sugar'd would seem to point out the latter, nothing can be argued thence here, the writer is so little used to keep any sort of terms between the phrase and the matter. the best of our judgment, the internal evidence of the play makes strongly for as early a date as 1593 or 1594: the general style, though rising somewhat above that of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI., is strictly continuous with it; while the history and the characterization show it to have been written with the scenes of those dramas fresh in the author's mind. In Clarence's account of his dream, and in Tyrrel's description of the murder of the young princes, Shakespeare is out in his plenitude of poetical wealth; and the character of the hero is indeed a marvel of sustained vigour and concentrated activity: nevertheless, as a whole, the play evinces considerably less maturity of power, than King Richard II. in several cases there is great insubordination of the details to the general plan; as, for instance, in Richard's wooing of lady Anne and of Queen Elizabeth, which have an excess of dialogical epigram, showing indeed a prodigious fertility of resource, but betraying withal a sort of mental incontinence; and where we quite miss that watchful judgment which, in the Poet's later dramas, tempers all the parts and elements into artistic symmetry and proportion.
It is certain that the history of Richard III. had been made the subject of stage performance several years before it fell into Shakespeare's hands. A Latin drama, written by one Dr. Legge, was acted at St. John's College, Cambridge, some time before 1583. Sir John Harrington, in his Apology for Poetry, 1591, refers to this play, as one which would have moved Phalaris the tyrant, and terrified all tyrannous-minded men." Besides, there was an English play on the same subject, entered at the Stationers', June 19, 1594, and published the same year, with a title-page running thus: "The True Tragedy of Richard the Third ; wherein is shown the death of Edward the Fourth, with the smothering of the two young Princes in the Tower: With a lamentable end of Shore's wife, an example to all wicked women; and, lastly, the conjunction and joining of the two noble Houses, Lancaster and York." Mr. Collier says "it was evidently written several years before it came from the press." As it is unlike any other relic of the kind, some account of it probably will not be deemed out of place. The following is an abridgement of the one given by Mr. Collier :
The opening consists of a singular dialogue between Truth and Poetry; after which, the ghost of Clarence having passed over the stage, and made a short speech in its passage, Truth proceeds to deliver the argument of the play. Thus much by way of introduction; whereupon the drama itself begins with a scene representing the death of Edward IV. Thenceforth the
story is most clumsily conducted, with characters ill-sustained, and with a total disregard of dates, facts, and places, Shore's wife playing a conspicuous part, and the representation being drawn out long after the battle of Bosworth Field. Richard having been killed, Report enters, and holds a dialogue with a Page, to give information of divers things not exhibited. Then follows a long scene between Richmond, his mother, and the Princess Elizabeth ; after which two Messengers come in, and reel off what is to be done and who is to reign, all the way from Richard to Queen Elizabeth, the whole winding up with an elaborate panegyric on the latter. As to the composition of this unique performance, it is written partly in prose and partly in heavy blank-verse, duly interspersed with ten-syllable rhyming couplets and stanzas, and with specimens of the long fourteen-syllable metre.
There are but two instances wherein Shakespeare has with any likelihood been traced to the True Tragedy; and in those the resemblance is not such as to infer any more knowledge of the old play than might well enough have been caught in the hearing. The passages will be found at the proper places in our notes on the last scene but one of the drama. Other resemblances there are indeed, but only such as would naturally result from using a common authority; as where Richard opens his breast so freely to the Page concerning the fittest person to be employed about the murdering of the princes. The cause of the resemblance in that case will at once appear from our note on the passage. In all other points, whether of conception or of execution, the two plays will bear no comparison; and, save in the way of historical account, one almost had need to ask pardon for naming them together.
The closeness of connection between this play and The Third Part of Henry VI. is so evident as to leave no occasion for tracing it out. At the very opening of the one we have Richard flouting and snarling in soliloquy at the "stately triumphs " and "mirthful comic shows," with which, at the close of the other, King Edward had proposed to celebrate the final and full establishment of his cause. And it was fitting, no doubt, that on Richard's first appearance as a dramatic hero, we should overhear him at his old practice of ruminating aloud, and thus familiarizing his thoughts in solitude with the villainy which he has in purpose to Of course everybody knows that Colley Cibber, being seized with a fit of progress, took upon him to reform Shakespeare's King Richard III. into fitness for the uses of the stage; and that, as the play in its original shape was too long for representation, his mode of retrenching it within the proper compass was, in part, by transporting into it a scene or two from the foregoing play. From which we may conclude that Cibber saw there was such a continuity of matter and style in the two plays as might well enough admit of their being drawn into one; though, as would seem, he did not perceive the absurdity of setting the catastrophe of one
play at the beginning of another. How his mind should have been so taken up with that continuity as to overlook this absurdity, a question for those to meet, who maintain, with Malone, that the two plays were not originally by the same hand. For the scene where Richard murders Henry in the Tower is among those parts of the preceding play, which, as was shown near the close of the sixth volume, were least altered from their original state.
Historically considered, the play in hand embraces a period of more than fourteen years, from the death of Henry, May, 1471, till the fall of Richard, August, 1485. Half of this period, however, is despatched in the first act; the funeral of Henry, the marriage of Richard with lady Anne, and the death of Clarence being represented as occurring all about the same time, whereas in fact they were separated by considerable intervals, and the latter did not take place till February, 1478. And there is a similar abridgement, or rather overleaping of time between the first act and the second, as the latter opens with the sickness of Edward, his seeming reconciliation of the peers, and his death, all which took place in April, 1483, thus leaving but two years and four months for the rest of the play This drawing together of the scattered events seems eminently judicious: for the plan of the drama required no use to be made of them but as subsidiary to the hero's character; and it does not appear how the Poet could have ordered them better, so as to develope in the most forcible manner his idea of that extraordinary man. So that the selection and grouping of the secondary incidents are strictly regulated by the paramount law of the work; and, certainly, they are made to tell with masterly effect in furtherance of the author's purpose.
After the death of Edward IV. the events of the drama are disposed for the most part in the order of their actual occurrence. Thenceforward the representation in all its main points is founded directly on the narrative of Sir Thomas More, as it had been given at full length in the Chronicles of Hall and Holinshed; the drama being perhaps as true to the history as were practicable or desirable in a work so different in its nature and use. This will be shown so fully in our notes as to render any abstract of the history needless here. Perhaps it should be observed, however, that More's narrative only comes down to the revolt of Buckingham; after which the account given by Hall, and copied by Holinshed, was made up from other sources. So that More's History furnished the basis of the most characteristic passages of the play. What esteem his narrative was held in at that time is testified by Sir John Harrington, in his Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, thus: "The best part of our Chronicles, in all men's opinion, is that of Richard the Third, written, as I have heard, by Morton, but as most suppose, by Sir Thomas More."
Since Shakespeare's time, much has been written to explode
the current history of Richard, and to lessen, if not remove, the
Something more than a century later, the same work was resumed and carried on with great acuteness and ingenuity by Horace Walpole in his Historic Doubts, which, however, in the opinion of Campbell," are themselves subject to doubts." Also, Carte, Laing, and, in our own day, Caroline A. Halsted have put their hands to the same work. Still the old judgment seems likely to stand, the main substance thereof not having been much shaken yet. Dr. Lingard has carried to the subject his usual candour and research, and, after despatching the strong points urged on the other side, winds up his account of Richard thus: "Writers have indeed in modern times attempted to prove his innocence; but their arguments are rather ingenious than conclusive, and dwindle into groundless conjectures when confronted with the evidence which may be arrayed against them." Of course the killing of the two princes formed the backbone of the guilt laid at his door. That they did actually disappear, is tolerably certain; that upon him fell whatsoever advantage could grow from their death, is equally so; and it is for those, who deny the cause uniformly assigned at the time and long after for their disappearance, to tell us how and by whom they were put out of the way. And Sharon Turner, who is perhaps the severest of all sifters of historical fictions and fables, is constrained to admit the murder of his nephews, however he may seem to succeed in washing off his other blood-stains; and so long as this remains, the scouring