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My heart hath one poor string to stay it by,
A mould of clay in shape of royalty. [Faulconbridge.] I burn with haste to see your majesty.
The dauphin is preparing hitherward;
Salisbury comes forward. [Salisbury.] It seems you know not then so much as we:
The Cardi'nal Pandulph is within at rest,
With purpose presently to leave the war. [Faulconbridge.] He will the rather leave it, when he sees
That we are ready in our own defence.
But, be it as you say, yourself shall post
From the accession of Henry III. to that of Richard II., a period of 160 years, we have no dramatic scenes to commemorate the events of history from the hand of Shakspeare. It was indeed unlikely that any dramatic poet should select the reign of the third Henry as a subject for the stage. Throughout its dreary course (the longest in our annals except that of George III.), there is nothing to fix and interest the attention till we draw near its close, when the confused struggles between a weak monarch and a powerful nobility are partially illumined and made distinct by the rising splendor of young Edward's character, and the ambition, enterprise, and treachery of Simon de Montford. The king himself remains uninteresting to the end of his life ; for the bravery of his son preserved him from the fate which afterwards befel Edward II. and Richard II., monarchs equally weak, whose misfortunes the tragic muse has consecrated. The reign of the first Edward, the conqueror of Wales, the fearful opponent of William Wallace and Robert Bruce, the model of a politic and warlike king, is commemorated by one of the earliest of the Elizabethan dramatists, George Peele, who wrote a play on this subject some ten or twelve years before any of Shak. speare's works appeared. It is still in existence ; but has no merit to recommend it to further notice. The second Edward met with a more able poet-Christopher Marlow, who may be regarded as the immediate precursor of Shakspeare, and whose genius perhaps kindled that of the sweet Swan of Avon. It is believed that Richard II. was the earliest play entirely the work of Shakspeare's hand.
Let it be supposed that he had been present when the following scene was acted, which represents, in such a manner as poetry might represent, the horrid death of Edward II.; and we may easily conceive that Shakspeare was so struck by it, as to try his talent on a kindred subject.
BERKELEY CASTLE: Edward II. a prisoner : he is startled by the entrance of Lightborn, a murderer [Edward.] Who's there? What light is that ? Wherefore
[com’st thou? [Lightborn.] To comfort you, and bring you joyful news. [Edward.] Small comfort finds poor Edward in thy looks.
Villain, I know thou com’st to murder me. [Lightborn.] To murder you! no, my thrice gracious lord Far is it from my heart to do
To see a king in such a piteous state ?
This dungeon where they keep me is a sink,
And there unhors'd the duke of Cleremont.
Yet stay awhile; forbear thy bloody hand,
And let me see the stroke before it comes. [Lightborn.] What means your highness to mistrust me thus? [Edward.] Forgive my thought for having such a thought.
One jewel have I left; receive thou this.
Let this gift change thy mind, and save thy soul. [Lightborn.] You’re overwatch'd, my lord; lie down and
[rest. [Edward.] These ten days past mine eye-lids have not clos’d;
Now as I speak they fall,—and yet with fear
Open again -Why dost thou come so near ? [Lightborn.] If you mistrust me, I 'll begone, my lord. [Edward.] No, no; for if thou meanst to murder me,
Thou wilt return again; and therefore stay.
O let me not die yet. [Lightborn.] How now, my lord ? [Edward.] There's something still that buzzeth in mine ears,
And tells me, if I sleep, I never wake.
And therefore tell me, wherefore art thou come?
CONNECTING MEMORANDA, CONTINUED. When Edward was murdered, his son was only fourteen years of age, and partially under the control of his bad mother and the infamous Mortimer. But he soon took the reins of power into his own hands, and his brilliant career began. Yet no Elizabethan drama exists to commemorate the reign of the conqueror of Crecy, or to reflect the noon-tide of chivalry, in whose blaze, himself and
the Black Prince, his son, are the most conspicuous objects. We descend therefore to the year 1377, when Richard II., son of the Black Prince, succeeded his grandfather at the age of eleven years. Still we reach not the era when the drama resumes the facts of history, notwithstanding the remarkable event of Wat Tyler's rebellion, the spirited act of the young king, whose presence of mind saved himself and court from the fury of a lawless multitude, and some other facts which, like these, are of a dramatic character. That Shakspeare should not draw attention to the growth of our free political institutions, is not remarkable; all allusions of this nature being probably forbidden by those to whose protection and patronage the players were indebted for sufferance and support. Passing, therefore, over the first twenty or one-and-twenty years of Richard's reign, we begin with the two which preceded his death.
THE MURDER OF THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER AT THE INSTIGATION OP
THE PARTIES OPPOSED TO HIM AT COURT; THE BANISHMENT OF
HISTORICAL MEMORANDA. Lancaster, York, and Gloucester, the king's three uncles, had engrossed much of the power of government during the minority, and still continued to control it when the king became of age. Richard and his favourites opposed these noblemen, but particularly Gloucester, whose turbulent and ambitious spirit, taking advantage of the king's prodigality and other weaknesses, dispossessed him for a time of all but the semblance of royal power. When, by the struggle of parties, Richard was again in a condition to follow the dictates of his precipitate temper, he ordered Gloucester to be secretly arrested and sent to Calais. His other uncles seem to have permitted this step: but Richard went further, and gave secret directions for despatching Gloucester in prison. After the destruction of the duke of Gloucester's party, a misunderstanding broke out among the noblemen who had joined in the prosecution. Lancaster's son, Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford, accused the duke of Norfolk of having spoken treasonable words of the king: Norfolk gave Hereford the lie; and offered to prove his innocence by the duel. The challenge was accepted, and the lists for this decision were appointed at Coventry before the king ; the nobility of England banded into parties; and the whole nation was held in suspense with regard to the event. But when the two champions appeared in the field, the king stopped the duel; and, with the concurrence of parliamentary commissioners, ordered both to quit the kingdom; assigning one country for the place of Norfolk’s exile, which he declared perpetual ; another for that of Hereford, which he limited to ten years, afterwards reduced to six.