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the third part of Henry VI.' (which also occurs in The Tragedie of Richard Duke of York '); this date is supported also by all internal evidence. • Richard III.,' however, probably appeared only a few years after · Henry VI.' The earliest quarto (printed by Val. Sims for Andrew Wise) belongs to the year 1597 ;* and as every piece was acted before it was printed—which is here expressly stated on the title-page-it must have been composed at least as early as 15:6. But probably it was written as early as 1593, which supposition is I think supported by a certain abruptness in the transitions, and some cases of harshness in the delineation of the characters, but, in general, by the difference in the tone and spirit of those of Shakspeare's histories which were written in the succeeding years. This applies more especially to the scene of Richard's courtship of the Lady Anne—the widow of the Prince of Wales whom Richard had murderedwithin view of the coffin of Henry VI. her father-in-law, who was likewise one of Richard's victims; this sudden courtship, for which there exist no nearer motives, and Anne's equally sudden consent, which is wanting in all womanliness, form, as I think, a scene of intolerable harshnews, and offensive to all feeling of delicacy. In spite of the cleverness with which it is worked out, it can be accounted for only by a state of recklessness in the young poet, intoxicated by his delight in the first triumphs of his powerful dramatic compositions.f Again Clarence's xi
* Of the other quartos, the second appeared as early as 1598, the other four in 1602, 1605, 1612 and 1622; that of 1602 with the remark on the title-page, (which is repeated in the later ones) “newly augmented,' etc. The sixth quarto was reprinted twice (1629 and 1634), even after the publication of the folio—a proof of the great popularity of this play as well.
t I willingly acknowledge, as (echelhäuser—the ingenious advocate of the scene-thinks, that, when well represented on the stage, it does not make the offensive impression which is produced on simply reading it. This is certainly an excuse for Shakspeare, the dramatist, who wrote only for the stage, but is no excuse for Shakspeare the poet, who, as such, stands above the stage. A great actor canthrough the pleasure his skill affords—conceal the worst and most unquestionable defects of a dramatic composition in such a manner that thy are scarcely noticed. But every dramatic work of art, as every individual scene, is not fully justified uuless it has the approval, not merely of the eye of the excited spectator, who has no time for critical reflection, but also of the calm searching and weighing dis. crimination of the reader.
long, historically unauthenticated account of his dream, as well as his interview with his murderers (i. 4)—however powerful the scenes may be--are unmotived in an artistic respect, in so far as they occupy too much space and yet do not in the least contribute to the development either of the action, or of the character of Richard. The same may be said of the secondary features which, it is true, are historically correct, but wholly unimportant from a dramatic point of view; for instance, Richard's request to have some strawberries from the garden of the Bishop of Ely (iii. 4); the remarks made by the scrivener (iii. 6), &c. Further, it is quite unaccountable how the prudent, and self-possessed Richard, who is so well skilled in the art of dissembling, could be thoughtless enough so grossly to offend his favourite the Duke of Buckingham, a man as powerful as he was proud and vain, that it should be the latter who drives him into the camp of his enemies. If these defects betray the young poet, who was as yet but little skilled in handling historical subjects, and if, further, this is also indicated by the lamentations of the women (ii. 2, iv. 1)—which in character are purely lyric, reminding one of the style of the Italian pastorals—and by the equally undramatic accumulation of curses and maledictions to which Margaret gives utterance, still, on the vther hand, the play, in its present form-even though subsequently augmented—cannot have been written earlier than 1593. For the pret's description of Richard's tyranny is pre-eminently distinguished by moderation and selfcontrol, compared with his Titus Andronicus' and his
Henry VI.,' notwithstanding that the subject might have induced him to use deeper and broader colours in depicting the terrible. Accordingly, the drama must be separated by at least an interval of some years from the first-fruits of the poet's tragic muse. Language and delineation of character also, are much more Shakspearian than in • Henry VI. Tieck was of the opinion that the drama was first written by Shakspeare as early as about 1590,
and that it was remodelled by him six years later. This hypothesis is probably founded upon the following entry in the Stationers' registers on the 19th of June, 1594 : 'Au enterlude, entitled the Tragedy of Richard the Third, wherein is showen the deathe of Edward the Fourthe with the Smotheringe of the Twoo Princes in the Tower, with the lamentable end of Shore's wife, and the conjunction of the twoo Houses of Lancaster and York.'
This piece, which Tieck very likely considered the first sketch of Shakspeare's play, has however nothing to do with our
Richard III. It is—as has been proved by Barron Field's * careful reprint of the old edition of 1594—an earlier work which in some respects resembles the later Moralities on historical subjects, and was probably written before 1586; but the subject has not even been made use of by Shakspeare. Still the old print does give us some assistance in determining the date of Shakspeare's * Richard III.'; for it is probable that the appearance of the latter was the reason of the earlier piece being 'warmed up again, and made known by being printed for circulation, in the hope that the interest awakened by Shakspeare's play might be transferred to the other. This supposition, also, would assign · Richard III.' to about the year 1593. • Richard III.' was followed, about 1595, by 'Richard II.' and, as I have already observed, the latter piece was succeeded, down to 1599, by the two parts of Henry VI.' and · Henry V.
* See The True Tragedy of Richard the Third, to which is appended the Latin Play of Richardus Tertius, etc., by B. Field. London: Pr. for the Shakespeare Soc. Compare also Collier's Shakespeare, v. 343 f.Shakspeare doubtless did not know anything of the still older Latin play of Richardus Tertius by Dr. Legge, which existed in manuscript only, and has been reprinted by Field, p. 77 ff.
If we now turn to the conclusion, to the epilogue of the great dramatic cycle from English history, we shall find ourselves upon the same historical ground, it is true, but transferred across a period of about three decades, and entering upon an entirely new and essentially different period.
The prayer of Henry VII, for peace-in the last act of • Richard III.—was answered. His long reign may be said to have healed the deep wounds which the Civil Wars and Richard's tyranny haà inflicted upon the country. This, together with the fact that his reign also became to England a point of transition to the new political relations of Europe--which had become essentially changed since the sixteenth century-constitutes its historical significance. The reign of Henry VII., however, was not suited for dramatic representation because its very
character was devoid of dramatie action. Its spirit and effect, accordingly, could be intimated only episodically, as is done at the close of Richard III.' Hence from an historical point of view the poet appears wholly justified in not having attached the last link of his dramatic cycle to the reign of Henry VII., and in having closed with the history and principal events of that of Henry VIII. This reign is the true end, because it is, at the same time, the beginning of a new historical period.
The monarchical principle had gained considerably in strength, in consequence of the Civil Wars and of the administration of Henry VII., and was now approaching its culminating point. The nobles, the clergy, and the people have become accustomed to obey ; the king's will is now almost unlimited.
This the poet shows us in the fate of Buckingham, and also in some important scenes (for instance, in act v. 2, 3), which for this very reason are indispensable. The increase of the royal power manifests itself outwardly in excessive splendour and luxury, which the higher nobility are induced to emulate. Their old tendency to maintain an independent position, politically opposed to that of the sovereign, had changed into the endeavour to be outwardly worthy of standing by his side, and in rivalling him in wealth and magnificence. Accordingly, in the first introductory scenes, we have a graphic description of the change in the character of the age. The church, after having attained the object which she so determinately expressed and vigorously pursued in the reign of King John, was now reaping the fruits of her perverse endeavours. Her internal, spiritual influence was broken-she could no longer carry out her pretensions openly, and could only hope to establish them by secret and circuitous paths, by intrigues, by double dealings and double speakings, in fact the royal power has eclipged the ecclesiastical. The truth of this is most strikingly illustrated in the relation in which Cardinal Wolsey stands to the King and to the state. In other words the Middle Ages, with their knightly combats, their impetuous energy and the secluded, sharply defined form of all their social spheres, were fast approaching their extinction ; life had become more inward, more intellectual. In the theological disputations about Henry's divorce, and in the reference to the time in which God shall be truly known,' we at all events have an intimation of the great religious revolution which was to establish the right of the free, unchecked development of the mind, by gradually dissolving the petrified mental culture of the Middle Ages which had become an empty form owing to the tyranny of the church. Hence, in this case again, in his representation of the general state of things, in his description of the character of the age, and in his conception of the peculiar tendencies and interests, as well as of the principal events in question, Shak. speare has remained absolutely faithful to history, and has shown his usual skill in penetrating to its very core.