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Few plays operate upon the understanding ; but Richard II. contains passages, some of which I have indulged myself in copying, which might have drawn from the critic much warmer commendation. Readers not contented with Johnson will do well to read Coleridge, who says:—
“In itself, and for the closet, I feel no hesitation in placing it as the first and most admirable of all Shakspeare's purely historical plays.”
Yet I know not whether, in listening to the severe and to the enthusiastic critic, they will have more to add to the one, or to deduct from the other.
The characters of Richard, of Bolingbroke, and of York, are sufficiently true to nature and to history, so far as Shakspeare was acquainted with it. Richard, reckless in prosperity, weak in adversity ; Bolingbroke, bold and ambitious, and courting popularity; York, timid and wavering, or, viewed more favourably, halting between his loyalty and his patriotism.t. The darker traits in Richard's character are not strongly depicted, or brought to bear more freely on the story, not only because the
Chronicles scarcely notice them, but because homi
cides were, in the fourteenth century, not regarded
cester has been treated, at no distant period, as a justifiable exceeding of regal powers. * The historical character of Northumberland is doubtful; there is no inconsistency in that which Shakspeare has drawn of him.
* “The murder of Gloucester (for the secret execution, however merited, of that prince, certainly deserves this appellation) was a private deed, formed not any precedent, and implied not any usurped or arbitrary power of the crown, which could justly give umbrage to the people. It really proceeded from a defect of power in the king rather than from his ambition, and proves that, instead of being dangerous to the constitution, he possessed not even the authority necessary for the execution of the laws.”— Hume, iii. 42.
NEARLY all the most important events in the reign of Henry Bolingbroke are referred to in the tWO plays which bear his name. “ The First Part of Henry the Fourth” commences with the announcement (continued from “Richard the Second”) of Henry's intention to make an expedition to the Holy Land. I cannot trace this intention at this early period of the reign. If it existed, it was soon superseded by the two occurrences of the year 1402, which are mentioned in the first scene, and which bring to our notice those two remarkable characters, Owen Glendowerand Henry Hotspur.” Owen had defeated the English troops in June 1402, and captured Edmund Mortimer; - Hotspur had in September, at the head of the King's troops in the north, defeated the Scots at Homildon,t when the Earl of Fife, eldest son of
• Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur, eldest son of the Northumberland of whom we heard in “Richard the Second.” Hotspur was born in 1365 or 1366.
f This battle was fought on the 14th of September, 1402, the Duke of Albany,” and Archibald Earl of Douglas,t were taken prisoners. The Chronicle; is followed as to the Welsh and Scottish battles. The defeat and capture of Mortimer by Owen Glendower, and the maltreatment of the dead bodies by the Welsh women, are related almost in the words of Holinshed. And all historians agree that Hotspur's victory at Homildon was won by the English archers.S. “With violence of the English shot the Scots were quite vanquished and put to flight:” this sentence of Holinshed is probably the origin of a line in Shakspeare conveying an idea of a very different weapon from the bow— “Where they did spend a sad and bloody hour; As by discharge of their artillery, And shape of likelihood, the news was told.”||
near Wooler, within the English border.—See Hol. iii.20; Tytler's Scotland, iii. 128; Lingard, iv. 387. * Steevens explains (Bosw. 187) how Shakspeare was misled by the omission of a comma in Holinshed (iii. 21) into calling Fife “eldest son to beaten Douglas.” Here is a curious illustration of the importance of punctuation, and of Shakspeare's reliance upon the Chronicler. Albany was brother to King Robert the Third. f Archibald Douglas, fourth Earl of Douglas, surnamed the Tineman, i. e. Loseman, from his repeated defeats and miscarriages. (Walter Scott's preface to ‘Halidon Hill.') On the present occasion he lost not only his liberty but an eye. (Otterbourne, 245.) He was slain 1424, fighting in France against the Duke of Bedford. ; Hol. 20. § Otterbourne, 237. | Act i. Sc. 1. Westmoreland, who gives this description,
The denial of the prisoners, of which Shakspeare makes so much, is mentioned by Holinshed, on the authority of Hardyng,” who says that Northumberland gave up his prisoner, namely, the Earl of Fife;
“But Sir Henry his son then would not bring
As a follower of the Percies, Hardyng is entitled to credit on this point, but the King's demand of the prisoners does not appear among the alleged causes of rebellion, nor is it dwelt upon by other writers of the time. The only official document with which I am acquainted prohibits the captors from permitting their prisoners to return to Scotland on ransom, but does not require the persons or value ** of the captives, and contains an especial salvo of ** the rights of the captors.f. 4 : .
was Ralph Neville, Lord Neville of Raby, created Earl of Westmoreland by Richard the Second. The Earl of Abergavenny is his lineal descendant and heir male.—Colings, v. 151.
• P. 360, Hol. 22, Hall, 27.
t Writ directed to the two Percies and others, 22d Sept. 1402–Rymer, vol. viii. 278. A commentator says (Bosw. 188) that by the law of arms any man who had taken any captive whose redemption, did not exceed 10,000 crowns had him clearly to himself, either to acquit or ransom at his pleasure. The indentures of service sometimes contained a special reserve as to prisoners of great importance. (See Rymer, ix. 233.) It does not seem at all unreasonable that