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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE LIFE AND DEATH OH
KING RICHARD II.
This history comprises little more than the two last years of this prince. The action of this drama begins with Bolingbroke's appealing the duke of Norfolk, on an accusation of high treason, which fell out in the year 1398; and it closes with the murder of King Richard at Pomfret-castle towards the end of the year 1400, or the beginning of the ensuing year. THEOBALD
It is evident from a passage in Cambden's Annals, that there was an old play on the subject of Richard the Second ; but I know not in what language. Sir Gillie Merick, who was concerned in the bare-brained business of the Earl of Essex, and was hanged for it, with the ingenious Cuffe, in 1601, is accused, amongst other things, “quod exoletam tragædiam de tragicâ abdicatione regis Ricardi Secundi in publico theatro coram conjuratis datâ pecuniâ agi curasset.”
I have since met with a passage in my Lord Bacon, which proves this play to have been in English. It is in the arraignments of Cuffe and Merick, Vol. IV. p. 412. of Mallet's edition : "The afternoon before the rebellion, Merick, with a great company of others, that afterwards were all in the action, had procured to be played before them the play of deposing King Richard the Second;
-when it was told him by one of the players, that the play was old, and they should have loss in playing it, because few would VOL. IV.
conie to it, there was forty shillings extraordinary given to play, and so thereupon played it was."
It may be worth enquiry, whether some of the rhyming parts of the present play, which Mr. Pope thought of a different hand, might not be borrowed from the old one. Certainly however, the general tendency of it must have been very different ; since, as Dr. Johnson observes, there are some expressions in this of Shakspeare, which strongly inculcate the doctrine of indefeasible right.
FARMER. The Life and Death of King Richard II. by Shakspeare was entered at Stationers' Hall by Andrew Wise, Aug. 29, 1597.
STEEVENS. This play is extracted from the Chronicle of Holinshed, in which many passages may be found which Shakspeare has, with very little alteration, transplanted into his scenes; particularly a speech of the Bishop of Carlisle, in defence of King Richard's unalienable right, and immunity from human jurisdiction.
Jonson, who, in his Catiline and Sejanus, has inserted many speeches from the Roman historians, was perhaps induced to that practice by the example of Shakspeare, who had condescended sometimes to copy more ignoble writers. But Shakspeare had more of his own than Jonson; and, if he sometimes was willing to spare his labour, showed by what he performed at other times, that his extracts were made by choice or idleness rather than necessity.
King Richard II. is one of those which Shakspeare has apparently revised; but as success in works of invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is not finished at last with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can be said much to affect the passions, or enlarge the understanding. JOHNSON.
The notion that Shakspeare revised this play, though it has long pievailed, appears to me extremely doubtful; or, to speak more plainly, I do not believe it. See further on this subject in An Attempt to ascertain the Order of his Plays, vol. ix. MALONE. It was written, I imagine, in 1597.
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE FIRST PART OF
KING HENRY IV.
The transactions contained in this historical drama are comprised within the period of about ten months; for the action commences with the news brought of Hotspur having defeated the Scots under Archibald earl of Douglas at Holmedon, (or Halidown-hill,) which battle was fought on Holy-rood-day, (the 14th of September,) 1402 ; and it closes with the defeat and death of Hotspur at Shrewsbury; which engagement happened on Saturday the 21st of July, (the eve of Saint Mary Magdalen,) in the year 1403.
THEOBALD. Henry IV. Part I. was entered at Stationers' Hall, Feb. 25, 1597, by A. Wise, and again by M. Woolff, Jan. 9. 1598.
Shakspeare has apparently designed a regular connection of these dramatic histories from Richard the Second to Henry the Fifth. King Henry, at the end of Richard the Second, declares bis purpose to visit the Holy Land, which he resumes in the first speech of this play. The complaint made by King Henry in the last act of Richard the Second, of the wildness of his son, prepares the reader for the frolics which are here to be recounted, and the characters which are now to be exhibited. JOHNSON.
This comedy was written, I believe, in the year 1597. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ix.
MALONE. VOL. IV.
The transactions comprized in this history take up about nine years. The action commences with the account of Hotspur's being defeated and killed (1403]; and closes with the death of King Henry IV. and the coronation of King Henry V. [141213.]
THEOBALD. The Second Part of King Henry IV. I suppose to have been written in 1598. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ix.
MALONE. Henry IV. Part II. was entered in the Stationers' book Aug. 23, 1600.
Mr. Upton thinks these two plays improperly called The First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth. The first play ends, he says, with the peaceful settlement of Henry in the kingdom by the defeat of the rebels. This is hardly true ; for the rebels are not yet finally suppressed. The second, he tells us, shows Henry the Fifth in the various lights of a good-natured rake, till, on his father's death, he assumes a more manly character. This is true ; but this representation gives us no idea of a dramatic action. These two plays will appear to every reader, who shall peruse them without ambition of critical discoveries, to be so connected, that the second is merely a sequel to the first; to be two only because they are too long to be one.
JOHNSON. VOL, IV.