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THIS tragedy, though called, in the original edition, "The Life and Death of King Richard the Third," comprises only fourteen years. The second scene commences with the funeral of king Henry VI., who is said to have been murdered on the 21st of May, 1471. The imprisonment of Clarence, which is represented previously in the first scene, did not, in fact, take place till 1477-8.
Several dramas on the present story had been written before Shakspeare attempted it. There was a Latin play on the subject, by Dr. Legge, which had been acted at St. John's College, Oxford, some time before the year 1588. And a childish imitation of it, by one Henry Lacey, exists in MS. in the British Museum; (MSS. Harl. No. 6926;) it is dated 1586. In the books of the Stationers' Company are the following entries:-"Aug. 15, 1586, A Tragical Report of King Richard the Third: a ballad." June 19, 1594, Thomas Creede made the following entry: "An enterlude, intitled the Tragedie of Richard the Third, wherein is shown the Deathe of Edward the Fourthe, with the Smotheringe of the Two Princes in the Tower, with the lamentable Ende of Shore's Wife, and the Contention of the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke." A single copy of this ancient Interlude, which Mr. Boswell thinks was written by the author of Locrine, unfortunately wanting the title-page, and a few lines at the beginning, was in the collection of Mr. Rhodes, of Lyon's Inn, who liberally allowed Mr. Boswell to print it in the last Variorum edition of Shakspeare.* It appears evidently to have been read and used by Shakspeare. In this, as in other instances, the bookseller was probably induced to publish the old play, in consequence of the success of the new one in performance, and before it had yet got into print.
Shakspeare's play was first entered at Stationers' Hall, Oct. 20, 1597, by Andrew Wise; and was then published with the following title:"The Tragedy of King Richard the Third: Containing his treacherous Plots against his Brother Clarence; the pitiful Murther of his innocent Nephewes; his tyrannical Usurpation: with the whole course of his
* A complete copy of Creede's edition of this curious Interlude (which upon comparison proved to be a different impression from that in Mr. Rhodes's collection) was sold by auction by Mr. Evans very lately. The title was as follows:-"The true Tragedie of Richard the Third, wherein is showne the death of Edward the Fourth, with the smothering of the two yoong Princes in the Tower: With a lamentable end of Shore's wife, an example for all wicked women; and lastly, the conjunction of the two noble Houses Lancaster and Yorke, as it was playd by the Queenes Maiesties players. London, printed by Thomas Creede; and are to be sold by William Barley at his shop in Newgate Market, neare Christ Church door, 1594; 4to." It is a circumstance sufficiently remarkable, that but a single copy of each of the two editions of this piece should be known to exist.