« ZurückWeiter »
Elegies by J. D. and C. M., first published about 1596, contains lines which were probably imitated from Richard's opening soliloquy on his want of polite accomplishments :
I am not fashion'd for these amorous times,
Oblige my saint with supple sonnetting, Collier found, in The Rising to the Crown of Richard the Third, appended to Giles Fletcher's Licia (1593), evidence that Richard had not yet appeared as a hero on the stage, when the poem was written. Fletcher makes Richard complain of "the Poets of this Age,
Like silly boats in Shallow rivers tost,
To write of Women, and of Women's falls.” But the dramatists of 1593 could not be charged with exclusive attention to female misfortune. And if the third part of Henry VI. had appeared before September, 1592, as is probable from the famous allusion in Greene's Groats-worth of Wit, Richard III., in which the strong outlines of the character of Gloucester are developed directly from the earlier play, must have followed soon after, probably in the course of 1593. It is the most natural thing to conclude that Shakespeare, having revised the plays which dealt with the tragedy of the house of Lancaster, and having set his own mark on the revision, with increasing certainty of touch as the work proceeded, should continue the series, whether as author or reviser, to the culminating tragedy in which the house of York pays the penalty of its vengeance, and the destroyer of his own family is himself exterminated. And naturally, again, when Richard III. had proved a success on the stage, the dramatist would see what could be done with the original events that were the prime cause of all these sorrows, and so undertook the tragedy of Richard II. The relative chronology of Richard III, and Richard II. is an unsettled question, it is true; but it is difficult to disprove the patent fact that Richard II. shows just that degree of advance on Richard III, in poetic, if not in metrical and dramatic skill, which we might expect. There is nothing in Richard III, which can compare, on grounds of poetry, with the dialogue between John of Gaunt and Bolingbroke in Richard II. 1. iii. 275-303, Gaunt's dying speech (II. i. 31-68), the King's reflections (III. ii. 144-77, III. iii. 143-75), or York's description of Richard's captive entry into London (v. ii. 7-40). In these passages the rhetoric of Richard III. has lost self-consciousness and has acquired fresh grace. If the date of Richard II, is not later than 1594, as is generally acknowledged, it may be assumed that Richard III. was Shakespeare's chief work of 1593.
May it be taken, then, as Shakespeare's own unaided work? His authorship of the play cannot be denied positively. We have no traces of any play on which he could have exercised his revision—not even of any play from which the text that he revised, like that of Henry VI., could have been derived. The comparative evenness of the style shows that the revision, if revision it was, was performed with great skill. There is a concentration and liveliness in the action, which are less noticeable in such hurried chronicles of events as the three parts of Henry VI. The occasional humour of the Henry VI. plays is certainly almost wanting in Richard III.; but they are far surpassed by Richard III. in point of dramatic irony. Certain weaknesses which may be detected here and there-for example, Richard's soliloquy on waking from his dreams, in v. iii.—may be explained by the probability that Shakespeare was attempting more than a young dramatist might be expected to achieve on his own account. Such points of style as the abandonment of classical similes favour the supposition that the reviser of the earlier plays was now working as an independent author. The theory that the origin of Richard III. was similar to that of the three parts of Henry VI, is attractive and not improbable. But, on the other hand, if we recognise that there is such a thing in Shakespeare's work as a current of development and improvement, we cannot surrender whatever seems feeble or commonplace in it to other authors, unless probability is supported by something stronger than itself. Richard III., inferior though it is to Shakespeare's more mature writings, is nevertheless far
from being feeble or commonplace. On the contrary, it is conspicuous, among the plays of Marlowe's followers, for its dramatic skill and interest.
There doubtless was an existing play on the same subject, when Richard III, appeared on the stage for the first time. The True Tragedie of Richard III., published in 1594, “as it was played by the Queenes Maiesties Players,” covers much the same ground as the Shakespearean play ; but there is no textual connexion between the two. Possibly the True Tragedie was an earlier play, whose publication as the “ only original” Richard III. was intended to steal a march upon its successful younger rival. But, if Shakespeare simply revised an older drama, the text and original sources of that drama have disappeared altogether. The chief argument in favour of the revised play may be found, perhaps, in the words “newly augmented,” which were prefixed to Shakespeare's name for the first time in Q3. It has been shown already that these words are not true, if applied merely to the editions in which they occur. But it is possible that they supply an omission which had been made in the title-pages of the earlier quartos. Q I had been printed without the author's name.
In 2 2 Shakespeare had been introduced as the author. Four years later, when Q 3 appeared, his true relation to the play may have been discovered; and it is not unlikely that the words "newly augmented” were inserted to rectify the impression, created by Q 2, that he was the original author. Nothing is more probable than that the publisher of an unauthorised edition of the play should be insufficiently informed as to its true authorship. The word " newly," which was continued on the title-pages of the later quartos, might easily be applied to work which had been done some years before the publication of Q3. In short, Q, from this point of view, may be regarded as the text of an earlier play augmented by Shakespeare. We might even go further, and surmise that many of the roughnesses of Qwere left unsmoothed from the original drama, and that the process of augmentation came before that of revision, which eventually was accomplished in the text represented by F. This view would not diminish, but corroborate the im
portance of F as the true basis of a text of the play.
It is, however, a mere conjecture; and the only conclusions at which we can arrive safely are, that the text as we have it is substantially Shakespeare's, and that either, as in the Henry VI. plays, he embroidered skilfully upon an older text, or wrote an entirely new play in a style to which, by practice, his own was become assimilated.
Beside the True Tragedie of Richard the Third, there was a Latin play on the same theme by Thomas Legge, Master of Caius, which had been acted at Cambridge in 1579. But the real source of the material used for Richard III. was Holinshed's Chronicles of England, in which Halle's earlier chronicle and the History of Richard III, by Sir Thomas More were embodied almost literally. A reading at v. iii. 325, which is shared by all the printed editions of the play, shows that the second edition of Holinshed (1586-7) must have been used in the preparation of Richard III. ; the passage at iv. ii. 98-115, peculiar to , depends on an insertion added to the same edition. It goes without saying that the treatment of the historical sources in Richard III, is free in general, but faithful in minor details. To form a connected action, the events of several years are brought together into a space of time which Mr. Daniel has estimated at eleven days with certain intervals. Thus the imprisonment and death of Clarence (I. i. and iv.) took place in 1478. The events of I. ii., if they were historically possible, would belong to 1471. From II. i. to iv. iv., the events of 1483 follow one another in rapid succession. At the end of iv. iv., the interval between Richmond's separate expeditions of 1483 and 1485 is annihilated, and the drama moves on to its climax at Bosworth. The dramatic convenience of these alterations is obvious : accuracy of date is incompatible, in the space of five acts, with striking presentation of character. The main object of the play is to give bold dramatic relief to the figure of Richard III., whose traits were ready to hand in Holinshed. This is the object of the liberty which is taken with history in the famous scene between Richard and Lady Anne- -a scene which has no foundation in fact, but is a most powerful demonstration of the personal influence of the hero on
those round him. The interview with the Queen-dowager in IV. iv., where Richard again exercises his faculty of persuasion, is a free deduction from history for the same purpose. Richard's connivance at the death of Clarence, which the historical authorities merely insinuate, becomes in the play a positive fact. The impression of subtlety and wickedness, which is left by the chroniclers, is repeated by Shakespeare in the higher key and more emphatic tone which are required by drama. Now and then, the Shakespearean estimate of a particular character departs slightly from the estimate suggested by Holinshed. The Hastings of the play, vindictive, but gay and imprudent, is a more foolish person than the Hastings of history, who is more closely related to the Shakespearean Buckingham. Even Buckingham is represented as less cautious than he actually was. His bragging, melodramatic words in III. v. 5-11 amount to a confession of imbecility. Hastings and Buckingham, however, are merely dramatic foils to the figure of Richard; and, as such, the depreciation of their characters is unavoidable. Finally, some of the doubtful minor details of history become, where it is necessary in the play, actual facts. This is the case with the confidences of Richard to Buckingham, for which there is only historical probability; while the manner of Clarence's murder is related in accordance with likelihood rather than with ascertained truth.
The treatment of history in Richard III. is guided everywhere by loyalty to the traditional principles of tragedy. The irresistible power of Nemesis over-rules the actions of every one of the characters. In the great tragedies of Shakespeare's later life, the misfortunes of the heroes compel our sympathy and regret, while we acknowledge that they are inevitable. But in Richard III, the inevitable nature of the tragedy precludes. us from sympathy. We are passionless spectators, standing outside the drama. It is true that the dramatis personæ interest us more nearly than any persons in the Henry VI. plays. Richard himself is a powerful study in sustained villainy: Hastings, his credulous dupe, and Buckingham, his short-sighted fellow-conspirator, although they are merely foils to him, are skilfully drawn as such. There is a pathetic humour