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THE LIFE AND DEATH OF
KING RICHARD THE SECOND. .
In the construction of this play, Shakspeare has followed Holinshed, his usual historical authority. Some passages of the Chronicle are transplanted into the drama with very little alteration.
It has been suspected that there was an old play on the subject of King Richard II. which the Poet might have seen. Sir Gillie Merrick, who was concerned in the harebrained business of the earl of Essex, is accused of having procured to be played before the conspirators “ the play of the deposing of Richard the Second: when it was told him by one of the players that the play was old, and they should have loss in playing it, because few would come to it, there was forty shillings extraordinary given to play, and so thereupon played it was!” It seems probable, from a passage in the State Trials, quoted by Mr. Tyrwhitt, that this old play bore the title of King Henry IV., and not King Richard II., and it could not be Shakspeare's King Henry IV., as that commences a year after the death of King Richard. “It may seem strange (says Malone) that this old play should have been represented after Shakspeare's drama on the same subject had been printed. The reason undoubtedly was, that, in the old play, the deposing of King Richard II. made a part of the exhibition; but in the first edition of Shakspeare's play, one hundred and fifty-four lines, describing a kind of trial of the king, and his actual deposition in parliament, were omitted; nor was it probably represented on the stage. Merrick, Cuffe, and the rest of Essex's train, naturally preferred the play in which his deposition was represented, their plot not aiming at the life of the queen. It is, I know, commonly thought that the parliament scene, as it is called, which was first printed in the 4to of 1608, was an addition made by Shakspeare to this play after its first representation; but it seems to me more probable that it was written with the rest, and suppressed in the printed copy of 1597, from the fear of offending Elizabeth ; against whom the pope had published a bull in the preceding year, exhorting her subjects to take up arms against her. In 1599, Hayward published his History of the first year of King Henry IV., which is in fact nothing more than a history of the deposing of King Richard II. The displeasure which that book excited at court sufficiently accounts for the omitted lines not being inserted in the copy of this play which was published in 1602.* Hayward was heavily censured in the Star Chamber, and committed to prison. In 1608, when James was quietly and firmly settled on the throne, and the fear of internal commotion, or foreign invasion, no longer subsisted, neither the author, the managers of the theatre, nor the bookseller, could entertain any apprehension of giving offence to the sovereign: the rejected scene was therefore restored without scruple, and from some playhouse copy probably found its way to the press.” |
Malone places the date of its composition in 1593; Mr. Chalmers in 1596. The play was first entered on the Stationers' books by Andrew Wise, August 29, 1597; and there were four quarto editions published during the life of Shakspeare, viz. in 1597, 1598, 1608, and 1615.
This play may be considered the first link in the chain of Shakspeare's historical dramas, which Schlegel thinks the Poet designed to form one great whole, “ as it were an historical, heroic poem, of which the separate plays constitute the rhapsodies.”
“ In King Richard the Second, the Poet exhibits to us a noble, kingly nature, at first obscured by levity and the errors of unbridled youth, and afterwards purified by misfortune, and rendered more highly splendid and illustrious. When he has lost the love and reverence of liis subjects, and is on the point of losing also his throne, he then feels with painful inspiration the elevated vocation of the kingly dignity, and its prerogatives over personal merit and changeable institutions. When the earthly crow has fallen from off his head, he first appears as a king whose innate nobility no humiliation can annihilate. This is felt by a poor groom: he is shocked that his master's favorite horse should have carried the proud Bolingbroke at his coronation; he visits the captive king in his prison, and shames the desertion of the great. The political history of the deposition is represented with extraordinary knowledge of the world, the ebb of fortune on the one hand, and the swelling tide on the other, which carries every thing along with it: while Bolingbroke acts as a king, and his ad
* This is a mistake of Mr. Malone's. There is no quarto copy of the date of 1602. He probably meant the edition of 1598.
† Malone's Chronology of Shakspeare's plays.
herents behave towards him as if he really were so, he still continues to give out that he comes with an armed band, merely for the sake of demanding his birthright and the removal of abuses. The usurpation has been long completed before the word is pronounced, and the thing publicly avowed. John of Gaunt is a model of chivalrous truth: he stands there like a pillar of the olden time which he had outlived."*
This drama abounds in passages of eminent poetical beauty; among which every reader will recollect the pathetic description of Richards entrance into London with Bolingbroke, of which Dryden said that “he knew nothing comparable to it in any other language;" John of Gaunt's praise of England,
“ Dear for her reputation through the world;"
and Mowbray's complaint at being banished for life.
Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol, ii. p. 24.
King RICHARD THE Second.
to John of Gaunt; afterwards King Henry IV.
Queen to King Richard.
Lords, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, two Gardeners, Keeper,
Messenger, Groom, and other Attendants.
SCENE, dispersedly in England and Wales.
SCENE I. London. A Room in the Palace.
Enter King RICHARD, attended ; John of Gaunt, and
other Nobles with him. King Richard. Old · John of Gaunt, time-honored
K. Rich. Tell me, moreover, hast thou sounded him,
1 « Old John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster.” Our ancestors, in their estiinate of old age, appear to have reckoned somewhat differently from us, and to have considered men as old whom we should now esteem as middle-aged. With them, every man that had passed fifty seems to have been accounted an old man. John of Gaunt, at the period when the commencement of this play is laid (1398), was only fifty-eight years old: he died in 1399, aged fifty-nine. This may have arisen from its being customary in former times to enter life at an earlier period than we do now. Those who married at fifteen, had at fifty been masters of a house and family for thirty-five years.
2 When these public challenges were accepted, each combatant found a pledge for his appearance at the time and place appointed. Band and bond were formerly synonymous.
3 In the old play, and in Harding's Chronicle, Bolingbroke's title is written Herford and Harford. This was the pronunciation of our Poet's time, and he therefore uses this word as a dissyllable.