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Having considered the evidence given by the plays themselves, and found it in their favour, let us now enquire what corroboration can be gained from other testimony. They are ascribed to Shakespeare by the first editors, whose attestation may be received in questions of fact, however unskilfully they superintended their edition. They seem to be declared genuine by the voice of Shakespeare himself, who refers to the second play in his epilogue to Henry V. and apparently connects the first act of Richard III. with the last of the third part of Henry VI. If it be objected that the plays were popular, and therefore he alluded to them as well known ; it may be answered, with equal probability, that the natural passions of a poet would have disposed him to separate his own works from those of an inferior hand. And indeed if an authour's own testimony is to be overthrown by speculative criticism, no man can be any longer secure of literary reputation.
Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the same kind; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. King Henry, and his queen, king Edward, the duke of Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly painted.
The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI. and of Henry V. are so apparently imperfect and mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing them the first draughts of Shakespeare. I am inclined to believe them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down, during the representation, what the time would permit, then perhaps filled up some of his omissions at a second or third hearing, and when he had by this method formed something like a play, sent it to the printer.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KING
RICHARD III. Act I. SCENE i. (1. i. 28.)
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover. Shakespeare very diligently inculcates, that the wickedness of Richard proceeded from his deformity, from the envy that rose at the comparison of his own person with others, and which incited him to disturb the pleasures that he could not partake. Acr I. SCENE I. (1. i. 108-10.) GLOUCESTER. Whatsoe'er you will employ me in,
Were it to call King Edward's widow sister,
I will perform it. This is a very covert and subtle manner of insinuating treason. The natural expression would have been, were it to call King Edward's wife sister. I will solicit for you though it should be at the expence of so much degradation and constraint, as to own the lowborn wife of King Edward for a sister. But by slipping as it were casually widow into the place of wife, he tempts Clarence with an oblique proposal to kill the king. Act. I. SCENE ii. (1. ii. 55–6.)
See, dead Henry's wounds Open their congeaľd moutbs and bleed afresh. It is a tradition very generally received, that the murdered body bleeds on the touch of the murderer. This was so much believed by Sir Kenelm Digby that he has endeavoured to explain the reason. Act I. SCENE Ü. (1. ii. 153.) They kill me with a living death.
In imitation of this passage, and I suppose of a thousand more ;
- a living death I bear,
Act I. SCENE Ü. (1. ii. 180-1.)
I did kill King Henry, But 'twas tby beauty that provoked me. Shakespeare countenances the observation, that no woman can ever be offended with the mention of her beauty.
Act I. SCENE iv. (1. ïïi. 242.) Bottled spider.
A spider is called bottled, because, like other insects, he has a middle slender and a belly protuberant. Richard's form and venom make her liken him to a spider. Act II. SCENE I. (11. i. 103.)
Have I a tongue to doom my brother's death. This lamentation is very tender and pathetic. The recollection of the good qualities of the dead is very natural, and no less naturally does the king endeavour to communicate the crime to others. Act IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 84.) But with his tim'rous dreams.
'Tis recorded by Polydore Virgil, that Richard was frequently disturbed by terrible dreams : this is therefore no fiction. Act IV. SCENE ü. (iv. ii. 94 foll.)
The allusions to the plays of Henry VI. are no weak proofs of the authenticity of these disputed pieces. Act IV. SCENE V, (iv. iv. 199 foll.) Stay, Madam.
On this dialogue [between Richard and the Queen] 'tis not necessary to bestow much criticism : part of it is ridiculous, and the whole improbable. Acr V. SCENE V. (v. iii. 178 foll.) Give me another borse. There is in this, as in many of our authour's speeches
of passion, something very trifling, and something very striking. Richard's debate, whether he should quarrel with himself, is too long continued, but the subsequent exaggeration of his crimes is truly tragical.
This is one of the most celebrated of our authour'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 improbable.
THE LIFE OF KING HENRY VIII.
This is not the only passage in which Shakespeare has discovered his conviction of the impropriety of battles represented on the stage. He knew that five or six men with swords give a very unsatisfactory idea of an army, and therefore, without much care to excuse his former practice, he allows that a theatrical fight would destroy all opinion of truth, and leave him never an understanding friend. Magnis ingeniis et multa nihilominus habituris simplex convenit erroris confessio. Yet I know not whether the coronation shewn in this play may not be liable to all that can be objected against a battle. Act I. SCENE i. (1. i. 15-16.)
Till this time Pomp was single, but now marry'd
To one above itself. Dr. Warburton has here discovered more beauty than the authour intended, who meant only to say in a noisy periphrase, that pomp was encreased on this occasion to more than twice as much as it had ever been before. Pomp is no more married to the English than to the French king, for to neither is any preference given by the speaker. Pomp is only married to pomp, but the new pomp is greater than the old.
Act I. SCENE ii. (1. i. 122-3.)
A beggar's book Out-worths a noblé's blood. That is, the literary qualifications of a bookish beggar are more prized than the high descent of hereditary greatness. This is a contemptuous exclamation very naturally put into the mouth of one of the antient, unlettered, martial nobility.
Act I. SCENE iv. (1. ii. 1-2.)
Thanks you for this great care. The expression is monstrous. The heart is supposed the seat of life : But, as if he had many lives, and to each of them, a heart, he says, his best beart. A way of speaking that would have become a cat rather than a King.–WARBURTON.
This expression is not more monstrous than many others. Heart is not here taken for the great organ of circulation and life, but, in a common and popular sense, for the most valuable or precious part. Our authour, in Hamlet, mentions the heart of heart. Exhausted and effete ground is said by the farmer to be out of heart. The hard and inner part of the oak is called heart of oak.
Act I. SCENE iv. (1. ii. 32.) The many to them 'longing.
The many is the meiny, the train, the people. Dryden is, perhaps, the last that used this word.
The Kings before their many rode.