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change the course of rivers, dry up springs, darken the sun in the firmament, stay both day and night, and convert the one into the other. So that the poet was guilty of no exaggeration in arming them with supernatural powers, but has only availed himself of their agency, then generally believed, to increase the effect of his astonishing drama.
SHAKSPEARE seems to have been indebted for the plot of this drama to an anonymous play, printed in 1591, called The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England, with the Discoverie of King Richard Cordelion's base Sonne, (vulgarly named the Bastard Faulconbridge:) also, the Death of King John at Swinstead Abbey. Indeed, he has so little attended to historical detail, that John's quarrel with the barons, and the signature of Magna Charta, are entirely neglected. He has followed the old tragedy, even in its errors; as he attributes Richard's death to a duke of Austria, though he must have known, that that monarch was slain by Bertrand de Gourdon, at the siege of Chalus. King John is represented, by both dramatists, jealous, vindictive, and mean-spirited; though Shakspeare occasionally makes him evince a lofty-mindedness hardly compatible with such a character. Shakspeare's best scene is where John insinuates to Hubert his desire to bave Arthur murdered. In the old play, it is bluntly announced in the following meagre lines:
"Hubert de Burgh, take Arthur here to thee, Be he thy prisoner; Hubert, keep him safe; For on his life doth hang thy sovereign's crown, But in his death consists thy sovereign's bliss: Then, Hubert, as thou shortly hear'st from me, So use the prisoner I have given in charge." Hubert's explanation to John that Arthur is not dead, is original in its best parts. The representation of John's death by poison, and the attendant circumstances, are borrowed, but have been most eloquently amplified: the best lines in the old text
Philip, some drink: oh! for the frozen Alps, To tumble on, and cool this inward heat That rageth as the furnace seven-fold hot." The pleadings of Arthur, in the original, for his eyes, are dull, quaint, and harsh; the mere reasonings of an adult: but Shakspeare arrays his supplications in the beautiful simplicity of a child. Nothing can be more pathetic; and their influence on Hubert is the triumph of humanity. Constance is neither a prominent nor an amiable character in history; and, in King John's Troublesome Raigne, her maternal tenderness, her clamorous grief, and oppressed widowhood, are chiefly insisted upon : but Shakspeare, while he has preserved her sorrows and complainings, has invested them with dignity.
The sketch of Faulconbridge is to be found in the old play, and though the character has none of the highly-wrought effect of Shakspeare's, it possesses much vigour.
KING RICHARD II. HOLINSHED furnished the facts of this drama, and with a few trifling exceptions, Shakspeare has implicitly followed him. The short period embraced in the action of the drama is deficient in incidents; and the author made one attempt to remedy the defect, by representing Isabell, Richard's queen, who was only twelve years old when he was deposed, with the speech and actions of maturity. Shakspeare's genius has been lavishly poured out on the character of Richard. He could not entirely pass over his bad qualities, but they are lightly touched. Holinshed says, that under his misfortunes he "was almost consumed with his sorrow, and half dead with care;" which slight notice
Shakspeare has expanded into a vivid picture intellectual cowardice. Yet, Richard the Second though an admirable poem, is a heavy play; it i deficient in variety and contrast; the dialogue i not always interesting; and while dramas of fai inferior merit keep possession of the stage, thi tragedy, from its inherent defect, a want of powe in its action, is seldom represented.
KING HENRY IV. (Parts I. and II.)
THE Chronicles of Holinshed have also furnished the ground-work of these plays; and Shakspeare is likewise, indebted to an old drama, called The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, containing the honourable Battell of Agincourt. The old play does not allude to the intestine broils which occupied the reign of Henry IV. Shakspeare de rived nothing from it, in describing these civil feuds, and he took but few hints from that source, for the fifth Harry's French wars. In fact, the historical events of the three plays are solely epi tomised from Holinshed, in the perusal of whose work, he appears to have been anxious to meet with traits of personal character, and when he found them, his fertile imagination embodied them with singular felicity. His Heury IV. nobly exemplifies the prudence and dignity evinced by that monarch in his declining years; wherein, says Holinshed, "he shewed himself so gentle, that he got more love amongst the nobles and people of this realm, than he had purchased malice and evil will in the beginning." Our bard pays a just tribute to the amiable Scroop, by transfusing the historian's eulogium into elegant verse. Hotspur is entirely his own creation such a person is, of course, to be found in the Chronicle, but he is a very different being from the chivalrous hero of the tragedy. double character of a dissolute young man and an The old play brought Henry V. on the stage in the accomplished warrior. Shakspeare does ample justice to the ideas of his precursor, but in deli neating his more finished portrait he had recours to the historian: Holinshed describes him a "youthfully given, grown to audacity, and ha chosen his companions agreeably to his age; with whom he spent the time in such recreations, exer cises, and delights, as he fancied," &c. The rob bery, to which the prince consents, is, in the ol play, an act of extreme profligacy; but Shakspeare taking Stowe for his authority, gives to the trans action the air of an harmless jest. Both writer conduct the prince and his associates, after th robbery, to the tavern in Eastcheap: but how ca we sufficiently admire the judgment of Shakspear for substituting the exquisitely comic scenes whic occur there for such trash as we find in the old play take a specimen : "Came the young prince an three or four more of his companious, and called fo wine good store; and then they sent for a noyse musicians, and were very merry for the space of a hour; then whether their music liked them not, whether they had drunke too much wine or no, cannot tell; but our pots flew against the wall: and then they drew their swords, and went int the street and fought; and some took one part, an some took another." In The Famous Victorie: prince Henry strikes the chief-justice on the stage Shakspeare, far more judiciously, merely gives narrative of the fact after Holinshed. Holinshed and both the dramatists, distinguish Henry V. c the throne by similar circumstances, and the te rible conflicts on the plains of France are comme to the two plays; but it is the glow of Shakspeare imagination alone which makes the warlike monar so glorious a character.
Holinshed says, that Henry, in his youth, "ma himself a companion unto misruly mates of diss lute order and life;" and the old play associat
Car. O, death! if thou wilt let me live but one
I'll give thee as much gold as will purchase such
O, see where duke Humphrey's ghost doth stand,
So, now, he's gone again. Oh, oh, oh!
Salis. See how the pangs of death doth gripe his heart!
King. Lord cardinal, if thou diest assured of
Hold up thy hand, and make some sign to me.
O see, he dies, and makes no sign at all!
Salis. So bad an end did never none behold:
him with "Ned, Tom, sir John Oldcastle, and
Considering the narrow scope he had for dis-
"I have no brother, I am like no brother:
What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
All this is from the Whole Contention, and certainly deserves high praise; but much remains in these plays which Shakspeare does not divide with any claimant. He polished, invigorated, and corrected what he found rude, uncouth, or feeble; and the part of Gloster, which came to him a fine but imperfect sketch, he has left one of the most terrible pictures of determined ambition which our
KING RICHARD III.
THE historical authorities used by Shakspeare in this tragedy, were The History of Richard III. by sir Thomas More, and its continuation in Holinshed. More's work is enriched with much eloquence
of style. The following vivid portrait of the hero must have been useful to the dramatist: “Richard, the third son, (of Richard, duke of York,) was in wit and courage equal with either of them, (his brothers Edward the Fourth, and George, duke of Clarence,) in body and prowess far under them both; little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crookbacked, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard-favoured of visage, and such as is in states called warlie, in other men otherwise; he was malicious, wrathful, envious, and from afore his birth ever froward. It is for truth reported, that the duchess, his mother, had so much ado in her travail, that she could not be delivered of him uncut; and that he came into the world with the feet forward, as men be born outward, and (as the fame runneth also,) not untoothed, whether men of hatred report above the truth, or else that nature changed her course in his beginning, which, in the course of his life, many things unnaturally connected. None evil captain was he in the war, as to which his disposition was more metely than for peace. Sundry victories had he, and sometime overthrows, but never in default as for his own person of hardiness or politic order: free was he called of dispense, and somewhat above bis power liberal; with large gifts he got him unstedfast friendship, for which he was fain to pil and spoil in other places, and get him stedfast hatred. He was close and secret, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of heart, outwardly companionable where he inwardly hated, not letting to kiss whom he thought to kill: dispiteous and cruel, not for evil will alway, but often for ambition, and either for the surety or increase of his estate. Friend and foe was much what indifferent; where his advantage grew, he spared no man's death, whose life withstood his purpose." Here were ample materials for a poet's mind, and gloriously have they been improved in the play before us. Shakspeare, however, has blackened the character of Richard much beyond the truth of history. Lady Anne was not married, but merely betrothed, to Edward, the prince of Wales: there is no good ground for believing that Richard caused his wife to be murdered; nor does it appear that he was accessory to the death of his brother Clarence; and with respect to his proposed union with his niece Elizabeth, the marriage seems not to have been disagreeable to that youthful princess, since she wrote to the duke of Norfolk, with her own hand, begging him to recommend the alliance to Richard. But the occurrences of his short reign were recorded under the government of the Tudors, and his name has reached posterity covered with a cloud of obloquy, which the efforts of more impartial writers will never entirely remove. The duke of Buckingham's reception by the citizens, as described in the drama, is historically correct. When at the conclusion of his harangue, the duke expected the shout of "king Richard, king Richard!" all was hush and mute, and not one word answered thereunto. **** When the mayor saw this, he drew unto the duke, and said, "that the people had not been accustomed there to be spoke unto but by the recorder, which is the mouth of the city, and happely, to him they will answer." The recorder repeated the duke's words, but so tempered his tale, "that he shewed everything as the duke's words and no part his own." The result was, that "at last, in the nether part of the hall, a bushment of the duke's servants, and Nashfeld's, and other longing to the protector, with some 'prentices and lads that thrust into the hall among the press, began suddenly at men's backs to cry out as loud as their throats would give: "King Richard, king Richard!” and threw up their caps in token of joy.
And when the duke and the mayor saw this manner, they wisely turned it to their purpose, and said:
"it was a goodly ory, and a joyful to hear, every man with one voice, no man saying nay. Where fore friends, quoth the duke, since that we perceive it is all your whole minds to have this nobleman for your king, whereof we shall make his grace so effectual report, that we doubt not but it shall redound unto your great weal and commodity: we require ye that ye to-morrow go with us, and we with you, unto his noble grace, to make our humble request unto him in manner before remembered."
Sir James Tirrell, Miles Forest, and John Digh ton, whom Shakspeare makes the murderers of the young princes, were the persons actually employed in that diabolical office. Tirrell, in the play, pro fesses his ignorance of the place where his victims are buried; the history informs us, that he himsel saw them interred "at the stair-foot, meetly deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones." It i added, however, the bodies were afterwards re moved by "a priest of sir Robert Brakenbury, and secretly interred in such place, as, by the occasion of his death, which only knew it, could never since come to light. Very trath it is, and well known that at such time as sir James Tirrell was in the Tower, for treason committed against the mos famous prince, king Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder in manner above written, but whether th bodies were removed they could nothing tell." Buck ingham's rebellion, Richmond's expedition, and the tyrant's distrust of Stanley, are taken from th Chronicle, which is copied with great minuteness
The night before the battle, was, says the chro nicler, terrible to the usurper. "The fame wen that he had a dreadful and terrible dream: for i seemed to him, being asleep, that he did see diver images like terrible devils, which pulled and hale him, not suffering him to take any quiet or rest The which strange vision not so suddenly strak his heart with a sudden fear, but it stuffed his hea and troubled his mind with many busy and dreadf imaginations. * * And lest that it might b suspected that he was abashed for fear of his en mies, and for that cause looked so piteously, recited and declared to his familiar friends in th morning, his wonderful vision and fearful dream His frenzy in the night is suggested by a passa in sir Thomas More: after the murder of his n phews, "he never had quiet in his mind, he nev thought himself sure. He took ill rest nights, lay long waking and musing, sore weari with care and watch, rather slumbered than sle troubled with fearful dreams, would suddenly son times start up, leap out of his bed and run about chamber." On the morning of the battle, both in tragedy and the Chronicle, Richard resumes all grandeur of his character, and is invested with the commanding attributes of a warrior and a ki The following proves Shakspeare's close adhere to his authority. The quotations are from speech which Holinshed's Richard makes to soldiers. "You see, also, what a number of b garly Britains and faint-hearted Frenchmen be w him (Richmond), arrived to destroy us, our wis and children. * * * And to begin with the ear Richmond, captain of this rebellion, he is a We milk-sop, a man of small courage, and of less ex rience, in martial acts and feats of war, brought by my mother's means, and mine, like a captiv a close cage, in the court of Francis, duke Britain; and never saw army, nor was exercise martial affairs; by reason whereof he neither nor is able by his own witt or experience to g or rule an host. *** And as for the French and Britains, their valiantness is such that noble progenitors and your valiant parts have th oftener vanquished and overcome in one mo than they in the beginning imagined possible compass and finish in a whole year. What
you make of them? Beggars without audacity, drunkards without discretion, ribalds without reason, cowards without resisting, and, in conclusion, the most effeminate and lascivious people that ever shewed themselves in front of battle; ten times more courageous to flee and escape, than once to assault the breast of our strong and populous army. *** As for me, I assure you, this day I will triumph by glorious victory, or suffer death for immortal fame." Of his courage in combat, and disdainful rejection of the means of escape, when offered him, the following extracts are satisfactory evidences, and fully justify the glowing description which the dramatist gives of his intrepidity: "When the loss of the battle was imminent and apparent, they brought to him a swift and a light horse, to convey him away; but, disdaining flight, and inflamed with ire and vexed with outrageous malice, he put his spars to his horse, and rode out of the side of the range of his battle, leaving the van-guard fighting, and, like a hungry lion, ran with spear in rest towards him. The earl of Richmond perceived well the king coming furiously toward him, and because the whole hope of his wealth and purpose was to be determined by battle, he gladly proffered to encounter with him body to body, and man to man. King Richard set on so sharply at the first brunt, that be overthrew the earl's standard, and slew sir William Brandon, his standard-bearer; and matched hand to hand with sir John Cheinie, a man of great force and strength, which would have resisted him, but the said John was by him manfully overthrown. And so, he making open passage by dint of sword as he went forward, the earl of Richmond withstood his violence, and kept him at the sword's point, without advantage, longer than his companions either thought or judged, which being almost in despair of victory, were suddenly re-comforted by sir William Stanley, which came to succours with three thousand tall men, at which very instant, king Richard's men were driven back, and fled, and be bimself, manfully fighting in the middle of his enemies, was slain, and brought to his death as be worthily had deserved." A tragedy founded on the events of Richard's life, certainly appeared previously to Shakspeare's drama, and there is an old play, printed by Malone, which seems to be the composition of one of his predecessors.
KING HENRY VIII.
THIS fine drama was not suggested by any previons play on the same subject; differing in that respect from the author's other historical pieces, the outline of which is commonly found to have been embodied on the stage long before he wrote. The materials used on this occasion were furnished entirely from the page of history, and so exact is Shakspeare in his adherence to his authorities, that there are scarcely any passages in the play, which are not deducible from Fox's Acts and Monuments of Christian Martyrs, or Cavendishe's Life of Wolsey, as it appears in Holinshed's Chronicles. We shall point out some of the most important points. The character of cardinal Wolsey is perfectly developed, though dismissed in the third act. That most daring act of his whole life, the attempt to exact money from the people, without any legal pretext, is thus related by the historian: "Wherefore, by the cardinal, there was devised strange commissions, and sent into every shire, and commissioners appointed, and privy instructions sent to them how they should proceed in their sittings, and order the people to bring them to their purpose, which was, that the sixth part of every man's substance should be paid in money or plate to the king. Hereof followed such cursing, weeping, and exclamation against both king and cardinal, that pity it was to hear. **** The duke of Suffolk, sitting in commission about this subsidy, persuaded
by courteous means, the rich clothiers to assent thereto; but when they came home, and went about to discharge and put from them their spinners, carders, fullers, weavers, and other artificers, which they kept in work aforetime, the people began to assemble in companies. The king then came to Westminster, to the cardinal's palace, and assembled there a council, in the which he openly protested, that his mind was never to ask anything of his commons which might sound to the breach of his laws; wherefore, he willed to know by whose means the commissions were so strictly given forth, to demand the sixth part of every man's goods. The cardinal excused himself, and said, that when it was moved in council how to levy money to the king's use, the king's council, and, namely, the judges, said, that he might lawfully demand any sum by commission; and that by consent of the whole council it was done, and took God to witniss that he never desired the hinderance of the commons, but, like a true counsellor, devised how to enrich the king. The king, indeed, was much offended. *** Therefore, he would no more of that trouble, but caused letters to be sent into all shires, that the matter should no further be talked of; and he pardoned all them that had denied the demand openly or secretly. The cardinal, to deliver himself of the evil will of the commons, purchased by procuring and advancing of this demand, affirmed and caused it to be bruited abroad, that through his intercession the king had pardoned and released all things."
The representation in the play of the cardinal's banquet at York house, is faithfully copied from the Chronicle: the introduction of Anne Bullen is a contrivance of the poet's. The passage which follows will shew that Shakspeare was justified in his account of Wolsey's resentment, when the emperor refused him the archbishopric of Toledo. "The cardinal verily was put in most blame for this scruple now cast into the king's conscience, for the hate he bare to the emperor, because he would not grant to him the archbishopric of Toledo, for which he was a suitor. And, therefore, he did not only procure the king of England to join in friendship with the French king, but also sought a divorce betwixt the king and queen, that the king might have had in marriage the duchess of Alençon, sister unto the French king." The cause of Wolsey's disgrace is ingeniously ascribed, in this drama, to the mis-delivery to Henry of a letter intended for the pope, and an inventory of his private wealth; but Holinshed attributes it to his endeavouring to prevent the marriage of the king with Anne Bullen. In the scenes that succeed the cardinal's ruin, the Chronicle is pretty closely followed. Holinshed says, that Wolsey was "never happy till his overthrow, wherein he shewed such moderation, and ended so perfectly, that the hour of his death did him more honour than all the pomp of his life past." Shakspeare has strictly conformed to this description: the celebrated exclamation in the tragedy,
"Had I but serv'd my God, with half the zeal I serv'd my king, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies,"
is copied almost literally from the Chronicle. "If I had served God as diligently as I have done the king, he would not have given me over in my gray hairs." The opposite characters of him given by queen Katharine and Griffith are both derived from the history. Queen Katharine was, in reality, rather a passive character, but Shakspeare has raised her into dignity and interest. The speech assigned her in the court, where the validity of her marriage is disputed, is taken with little variation from Holinshed. "The queen, in presence of the whole court, most grievously accused the cardinal of untruth, deceit, wickedness and malice, which had sown dis
sension between her and the king her husband; and, therefore, openly protested that she did utterly abhor, refuse, and forsake such a judge, as was not only a most malicious enemy to her, but also a manifest adversary to all right and justice, and therewith did she appeal unto the pope, committing her whole cause to be judged of him." Katharine's dignified departure from the court, which, it might be supposed, was a contrivance of the poet's, is also historical. "The king being advertised that she was ready to go out of the house, commanded the crier to call her again, who called her by these words: Katharine, queen of England, come into the court. With that, (quoth master Griffith,) madam, you be called again. On, on, (quoth she,) it maketh no matter, I will not tarry, go on your ways. And thus she departed, without any further answer at that time, or any other, and never would appear after in any court." The scene between Katharine and the cardinal was also suggested by the Chronicle, but is wrought into eloquence and beauty by our great dramatist.
An extract from Holinshed will curiously illustrate our author's method when availing himself of history. "The princess-dowager, lying at Kimbolton, fell into her last sickness, whereof the king being advertised, appointed the emperor's ambassador, that was legier here with him, named Eustachius Caputius, to go to visit her, and do his commendations to her, and will her to be of good comfort. The ambassador, with all diligence, did his duty therein, comforting her the best he might; but she, within six days after, perceiving herself to wax very weak and feeble, and to feel death approaching at hand, caused one of her gentlewomen to write a letter to the king, commending to him her daughter and his, beseeching him to stand good fatlier unto her; and further, desired him to have some consideration for her gentlewomen that had served her, and to see them bestowed in marriage. Further, that it would please him to appoint that her servants might have their due wages, and a year's wages beside. This, in effect, was all that she requested, and so immediately hereupon she departed this life the 8th day of January, at Kimbolton aforesaid, and was buried at Peterborough." If we compare this dry narrative with the last scene in which Katharine appears in the play, we shall be able duly to appreciate the extent of the poet's genius.
Shakspeare has treated the voluptuous and cruel Henry much more favourably than he deserved; but if we reflect that he wrote during the reign of that monarch's daughter, we shall be sensible that he had a very delicate task to perform. The turbulence of his passions, however, is sufficiently marked; and, though his motives for the divorce are represented as conscientious, very unequivocal allusions are made to his love for Anne Bullen, as the real cause which induced him to cast away "a jewel, that had hung for twenty years about his neck, yet never lost her lustre." On the whole, we may form a more lively idea of Henry's true character from this drama, than from any of the historical monuments of his reign.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. CHAUCER'S Booke of Troilus and Creseide, and Caxton's Recuyel, were the authorities Shakspeare followed in the construction of this drama. He might also have availed himself of some portions of the Iliad, which had appeared in English before the play was written. The character of Troilus is nearly the same both in Caxton and Chaucer, and Shakspeare has adopted their idea of his hero, but has invested him with greater dignity of character. Both Caxton and Chaucer describe Cressida with attributes considerably at variance with her actions. Caxton says, "She was passing fair,
of mean stature, white and medled with red, and well made, sweet and piteous, and whom many men loved for her beauty." Chaucer amplifies these commendations.
to represent her as anything but virtuous in the Shakspeare has acted more judiciously: intending sequel, he makes her conduct light and wanton from the first; and, hence, there is no inconsistency in the picture he has given us. Pandarus is a very prominent agent in Chaucer's tale, and our author has followed his original, perhaps too closely.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
SHAKSPEARE was partially indebted for the fable of this drama to an old manuscript play, bearing Pleasure, and Plutarch's Life of Antoninus. The date 1600; but much more to Painter's Palace of Thomas North's translation of that work: "Because of Timon's misanthropy is thus given in sir cause of the unthankfulness of those he had done good unto, and whom he tooke to be his friends, he Lucian's Dialogue of Timon must also have been was angry with all men, and would trust no man.' used; though, as there existed no translation at the period, there is a difficulty as to the mode in which have been suggested to him by some classical friend, our author became acquainted with it. It might tion. The story in Lucian is not only nearly the who might also have furnished him with a translasame, but there are many parallel passages. When Alcibiades asks Shakspeare's Timon, "What is thy name?" he replies, "I am misanthropos, and hate mankind." Lucian's Timon says, est name I would wish to be distinguished by is that of misanthrope." There is also a well marked The fairagreement between the following:
heavy, sweet to behold."
"What is here?
In the play, we find Timon's flatterers returning in Lucian: "But, hush! whence all this noise and to him the moment his new riches are heard of. So hurry? What crowds are here, all covered with dust and out of breath; somehow or other they pelt them from it with stones." have smelt out the gold. I'll get upon this hill and others he very unceremoniously beats. Timon, in does in order to be rid of some of his visitors, This he actually the play, pelts Apemantus, and beats the poet and painter. Nothing can be more admirable than the manner in which Timon, who is of a noble nature, resembles in his hatred of mankind. This very is discriminated from Apemantus, whom he only Shakspeare found his information respecting that unamiable character is, in fact, a mere cynic; and sect in Lucian.
followed Plutarch's narrative very closely; with, IN the composition of this play, Shakspeare however, such deviations from the history as were requisite in order to make the hero appear more amiable. Plutarch (as translated by North,) says, would yield to no living creature; which made He was so cholericke and impatient that be him churlish, uncivil, and altogether unfit any man's conversation. much at his constancie, that he was never overfor Yet men marvelling endure easily all manner of paines and travels: come with pleasure nor money, and how he would thereupon they well liked and commended his stoutness and temperancy. they could not be acquainted with him as citizen useth to be with another in the city: his But for all that, behaviour was so unpleasant to them, by reason of a certain insolent and stern manner he had, which,