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acquaintance than I can boast with the dramatic literature of the age. It is chiefly because I cannot think that the language of the - Contention” was Shakspeare's, that I concur with Malone and Mrs. Jameson in ascribing it to another. The language of the first part, as it stands among Shakspeare's works, is inferior to that of the corrected plays, but it is much better than that of the uncorrected. It may therefore be presumed, either that it was the entire work of a writer, ranking in merit between Shakspeare and the author of the Contention, or that Shakspeare was unusually careless and hasty in correcting it. I give these opinions with real diffidence, and with an admission of ignorance of some of the circumstances which ought to affect them.
I now approach a play with which the public is familiar, and which is a great favourite as an acting play ; probably because the hero is always represented by the first tragic actor of the time being.
This hero, Richard Duke of Gloucester, opens the play with a soliloquy, in which, as in the former play,* he descants upon his personal deformities :
“ And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” And he avows his underhand schemes for effecting the ruin of his brother Clarence, by infusing suspicions and apprehensions into the mind of Edward. The systematic villainy of Richard, thus connected with his misshapen person, may be deemed the επoς of the play.
And this brings us at once to the question, whether Richard was really a deformed, lame, and ill-looking man. Whether he was “ born with teeth,” or his birth was otherwise prodigious, I shall not inquire, yet these strange averments throw much doubt upon the more probable stories with which they are mixed.
Now, what is the authority for imputing deformity to Richard ?
Shakspeare probably wrote from tradition, and from Sir Thomas More; whose history is copied by Holinshed ;
“ As he was small and little of stature, so was he of body greatly deformed, the one shoulder higher than the other; his face was small, but his countenance cruel, and such, that at the first aspect, a man would judge it to savour and smell of malice, fraud, and deceit. When he stood musing, he would bite and chew busily his nether lip, as who said that his fierce nature in his cruel body always chafed, stirred, and was ever unquiet : beside that, the dagger which he wore, he would (when he studied) with his hand pluck up and draw from the sheath to the midst, never drawing it fully out. He was of a ready, pregnant, and quick wit, wily to feign, and apt to dissemble: he had a proud mind, and an arrogant stomach, the which accompanied him even to his death, rather choosing to suffer the same by dint of sword, than being forsaken and left helpless of his unfaithful companions, to preserve by cowardly flight such a fair and uncertain life, which, by malice, sickness, or condign punishment, was like shortly to come to confusion.”*
Sir Thomas More's character would be a guaranty for his truth, if he wrote of what was within his own knowledge. He was not born until five years before Richard's death, but he is supposed to have derived his information from Archbishop Morton, of whom we hear in the play as Bishop of Ely. At the death of this prelate, More was twenty years old; and if we were sure that what is related in his history, as to the personal appearance of the late king, was from Morton's information, we might rely upon it ; though not without some allowance for the ill-will of one who had quarrelled with the person of whom he speaks. More thus describes Richard :
“ In wit and courage he was equal with either of his brothers ; in body and prowess far under them both, little of stature, ill-featured of limb, crook-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard-favoured of visage, and such as is in states called warlie, in other men otherwise. I
* Hol., 447.
| More, in Hol., 362. I do not find the passage in Kennet, who professes to give More's history. For some doubts whether the book was written by More, see Sir Henry Ellis's
John Rous, a contemporary, who professes to have seen Richard, says, “ He was of low stature, having a short face, unequal shoulders, the right being higher than the left.”*
On an examination of portraits, Walpole admits the inequality of the shoulders, and he conceives that this was the extent of the deformity. Nor is there, indeed, much difference between Rous and More, though the latter, probably, made the most of the distortion. For the excess of deformity, which Richard is made by Shakspeare to impute to himself, there is no authority.
On the other hand, I lay no stress upon the testimony of the old Countess of Desmond, who had danced with Richard, and declared he was the handsomest man in the room, except his brother Edward, and was very well made ;"4 because it comes through too many hands. preface to Hardyng, p. xix., and Lingard, 237. If written by Morton himself, it is more like testimony, but is less likely to be impartial. * Hist., p. 236.
+ Walpole, p. 166. In p. 216, he says, “The Earl of Shaftesbury was so good as to inform me that his ancestor, Lady Ashley, who lived to a great age, had conversed with Lady Desmond, and gave from her the same account that I have given, with this strong addition, that Perkin Warbeck was remarkably like Edward IV.” I can find no Lady Ashley, except the widow of Sir Anthony; she died in 1619. It can only have been by tradition, that her account came down to the fourth Earl of Shaftesbury.