ページの画像
PDF
ePub

his administration; whereas our poet studiously avoids allusion to any circumstance favourable to Richard.

In taking from Holinshed the oration of Richmond, the poet has not found it necessary to use his licence. The Chronicler was the original poet. He supplied a plentiful imputation, not only of murder in acquiring the crown, but of oppression and tyranny in using its powers; for which latter there is no authority whatever.

The order of battle is from the Chronicle, but the unhorsing of Richard is iinaginary ; it is allowed that he displayed much personal bravery, and, we are told that in this instance the personal conflict between the two rivals, which almost always occurs on the stage, did actually take place. It is, however, not stated that Richard fell by Henry's own hand.

It may be observed that Henry, referring in his final and triumphant address to the contest between York and Lancaster, says,

O now let Richmond and Elizabeth,

The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God's fair ordinance conjoin together.”

Elizabeth was the undoubted heiress of York, and certainly conveyed to the Tudors their best hereditary title. Henry was not the representa. tive of Lancaster, in any sense in which that representation would have given him a title to the crown, either ancestral or parliamentary, Through his mother he was the representative of the Beauforts, the illegitimate descendants of John of Gaunt. But the crown was never given by parliament to the heirs of John of Gaunt. The Lancastrian title began with Henry IV. Even, therefore, if the legitimation* of the Beauforts had not contained a bar to their claim to the royal succession, they would have had no claim while any descendants remained of the elder brother of John of Gaunt. Nevertheless, Henry VII. was fond of his Lancastrian title, and seldom, if ever, put forward the Yorkist right of his wife, or built, as in the play, upon the union of the two houses.

Of Richard III. Johnson says,

“ This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances ; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some impossible.”+

[ocr errors]

Malone adds, that the play "was patronized by the queen on the throne, who probably was not a little pleased at seeing King Henry VII. placed in the only favourable light in which he could have been exhibited on the scene."

And Steevens concurring in the judgment of Johnson and Malone, says,

“ Perhaps they have overlooked one cause of the success of this tragedy. The part of Richard is, perhaps, beyond all others, variegated, and consequently favourable to a judicious performer. The hero, the lover, the statesman, the buffoon, the hypocrite, the hardened and repentant sinner, &c., are to be found within its compass. No wonder, therefore, that the discriminating powers of a Burbage, a Garrick, and a Henderson, should at different periods have given it a popularity beyond other dramas of the same author. Yet the favour with which this tragedy is now received, must also, in some measure, be attributed to Mr. Cibber's reformation of it, which, generally considered, is judicious."

I agree in the opinion that the popularity of this play is owing to the character of Richard, and the way in which it is sustained by the dramatist, and has been performed by the actor; not because the character is variegated, but be. cause it is uniform-that of an hypocritical villain, pursuing by wicked means the one great

object of ambition. The scenes which might be selected from the play as specimens of Shakspeare's power are not his best. They would be inferior in interest and excitement to the somewhat cognate scenes in the less valued play of King John, and would present few passages in splendid language. My friend, Mr. Broderip, has shown me a play,* from which it appears that in the time of Charles II., a different and inferior play of Richard III. was acted in London.

Of secondary personages, Buckingham is the best; but there is not much in his character. Margaret sustains her part well, but that is entirely fanciful, and not to be admired. Shakspeare's character of Queen Anne is imaginary, and not well imagined. Nor does the scene in which the courtship is represented, contain passages of dramatic merit sufficient to countervail the fault of the conception.

The received history is pretty closely followed; but, when this play was written, the belief which it was the view of the Tudors to encourage had not been disturbed by the historic doubts of a later age.

* The English Princess, or the Death of Richard III., as it is now acted at His Highness the Duke of York's Theatre, 1674.

HENRY VIII.

In coming to the last play of the English historical series, we omit a period of about thirty-five years; namely, the whole reign of Henry VII., and the first eleven years of that of Henry VIII. We pass from 1485 to 1520.

The plays of Richard III. and Henry VIII. are distinguished, in one respect, from the preceding; they treat of times so near to those in which they were written, and of persons so nearly connected with the reigning queen, as to exhibit a stronger bias in favour of one view of doubtful history. In Richard III, this bias shows itself in blackening the character of Richard, and in representing Henry VII. in the favourable light of his successful rival, invited by the nobles of the land to deliver it from a tyrannical usurper.

From the reign of Henry VII. himself, it would probably have been difficult to make a

« 前へ次へ »