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servants of the Earl of Leicester, by whom the first theatre was built. His son Richard had begun to act in or before 1588. He may have been about three years younger than Shakespeare, and the plays of Shakespeare gave him an opportunity for full use of his genius as an actor. An elegy upon Burbage’s death-which was two years later than Shakespeare's—speaks of his Richard III, his Hamlet, Romeo, Macbeth, Shylock. He was small of stature, but, says the elegy :
“ What a wide world was in that little space !
Thyself a world-the Globe thy fittest place.
Corbet tells in his Iter Boreale how his host at Leicester turned Richard III. into Richard Burbage, for “ When he would have said · King Richard' died,
And called, “A horse ! a horse !' he ‘Burbage' cried.”
The great success of the play was in part due, no doubt, to Burbage's acting; and the part of Richard gives such wide range for the illustration of an actor's power, that Richard III. has had unusual vitality upon the stage..
A play is to an actor welcome or unwelcome as it does or does not enable him to show the glory of his art. Richard III., who is the nearest approach made by Shakespeare to the suggestion of an incarnate spirit of evil, is gifted in large measure with that which Spenser made the chief attribute of Archimago—the Devil, Father of Wiles-Hypoofiarchishakespeare Richardson crisy. Shakespeare's Richard wears many masks, and every change makes a new call on the powers of the actor.
Although much in the general aspect of this play allies it to the earlier Elizabethan drama, the clearness with which Shakespeare shows all its parts from his own chosen point of sight, at once brings it within the range of Shakespeare's higher work. If he did not himself write some lines of the last speech of Gloster in the Third Part of King Henry VI.as I believe he did, although the lines occur in the True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York-he fastened upon them, and drew from them the main idea of his tragedy of Richard III., that was to close the sequence of these Civil War plays with the Union of the White Rose and the Red.
“I have no brother,” said Richard
“I have no brother; I am like no brother;
And this word 'Love,' which grey-beards call divino,
In the play of Richard III. Shakespeare works out the conception of a life in which no compunctious
visitings of Nature, no regard for God or a man's Neighbour, stays the course of action in a life entirely bent on the aggrandisement of Self. Richard's one object of desire is to attain the Crown. Whatever may to other men be dear or sacred is to him nothing, if it be not matter to his purpose. If it concern him, then he plays upon it with hypocrisy to gain some step towards his end, or makes his way over its ruin.
Of the First Act, Richard's murder of his brother Clarence is the theme. In asides and soliloquies we hear him thinking. In them he triumphs over those whom he betrays, and we have disclosed the hard features beneath his mask. Contrasted changes in the form of his hypocrisy show him first false to his brother, then false in his courtship to the Lady Anne, whom he wins by soft flattery, and mocks within himself, when he has won her, with a devil's scorn. Then in the scene at the palace, the mask of the smooth suitor has a contrast in a new form of hypocrisy; he takes the face and voice of the bluff, honest, ill-used man, “ too childishfoolish for this world.” Use is then made of Queen Margaret as a Cassandra, and her prophecies of ill for ill, in fullest retribution, are as a Fate that dominates throughout the later action of the play. Then follows in the murder of the brother the destruction of one bar between Richard and the throne.
The Second Act has for chief theme the death
of Edward IV., which brings Richard closer to his single object of desire—the Crown. False peace, with malice in its words, falsehood in other forms, cloaked with hypocrisy-to the children, to his mother, to Buckingham, his friend-show Richard full of danger, as the citizens believe who speak of Edward's death. Says one of them :
“ By a divine instinct men's minds mistrust
Ensuing danger; as, by proof, we see
In the Third Act the throne is won by murder and hypocrisy. Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are swept away. Hastings, triumphing in their fate, blindly meets his own. Religion is the last cloak worn to win the Crown.
In the Fourth Act, since Edward's children live, the cup of iniquity is filled full by the usurper's murder of the children. The Act is opened with the tender wail of women, and there comes with it an indication that even Richard, who has shut out of his heart regard for God and man, cannot shut out the thoughts by which his dreams are tortured. Hard cruelty, false friendship, that throws Buckingham aside when he is no more helpful to selfish ends, precede the joining in one thought the murder of the children in the Tower with the marrying of their sister Elizabeth. That marriage may make sure the holding of the Crown; to which end, there. fore, he is also preparing to destroy his wife Anne. The reader's mind is filled with the pity of the murder of the children. Then Margaret is again upon the scene, the wail of women is renewed, the day of retribution is at hand. As Richard marches to meet Richmond, the wail of the women rises to a curse, and the close of it is the curse of his mother.
When Richard, after this, uses his cloak of hypocrisy to secure his desired union with the young Princess Elizabeth, and succeeds in the temptation of her mother, he can swear to his sincerity by nothing that he had not dishonoured and profaned :
“ K. Rich. Now, by the worldQ. Eliz.
'Tis full of thy foul wrongs.
Thy life hath that dishonoured.
TAYSELF IS SELF MISUSED.”
In the Fifth Act, which fulfils Margaret's curse, and brings home full retribution, when the two tents of Richard and Richmond are shown side by side (Richard committing himself to his earthly guards, and Richmond committing himself, before he sleeps, in prayer to God), again the motive of the play has vigorous expression. Richard, awaking in fear from his tortured sleep, exclaims :