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THIS history comprises but little more than the two last years of this prince. The action of the 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 Camden'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 hare-brained business of the Earl of Essex, who was hanged for it, with the ingenious Cuffe, in 1601, is accused, amongst other things, “ quod exoletam tragediam 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, hecause few would come 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.
Bacon elsewhere glances at the same transaction : “ And for your comparison with Richard II. I see you follow the example of them that brought him upon the stage, and into print in Queen Elizabeth's time." Works, vol. iv. p. 278. The partizans of Essex had, therefore, procured the publication as well as the acting of this play. Holt White.
There is not any ground for supposing that the old play abovementioned, which represented the deposition and murder of
Richard the Second, was ever printed; nor does the passage quoted from Bacon, by Mr. Holt White, furnish any authority for such a supposition. If that gentleman had informed us from what edition of Bacon his extract was made, we might have more minutely examined the context ; which, for want of that aid, is beyond my reach. Certainly the passage is not in p. 278 of the fourth volume of Bacon's Works, edited by Mallet. But, be it where it may, it has been entirely misunderstood. “Those who brought Richard the Second upon the stage, and those who brought him into print,' were different persons : Sir Gilly Merick and others brought him on the stage, and Sir John Heyward brought him into print, in Queen Elizabeth's time, which was in 1599, when he published his history of the first year of Henry the Fourth; for which he was imprisoned. Unquestionably, this old play, like many others, was never printed, and I fear has long since perished. If it could be recovered, it would be a great curiosity.
It is, in my apprehension, highly improbable that it should have afforded a single line to Shakspeare; and I cannot but wonder that Dr. Farmer should have given any countenance to the idle notion entertained by Mr. Pope on this subject, that “some of the rhyming parts in this tragedy were of a different hand.” Whoever will carefully examine the productions of Shakspeare's predecessors, Greene, Peele, Marlowe, and Kyd, will find that they rhymed whenever they could conveniently; and ceased to rhyme when thev grew weary of its fetters; and betook themselves to their ordinary metre. It appears always to have been thought a beauty whenever it could be attained. Shakspeare, therefore, in all his early plays, and particularly in his early tragedies, after the .: example of the elder dramatists, introduced rhyme where he could; in his latter plays he employed it more sparingly. To suspect, therefore, any of his plays, or any part of them, not to be genuine, because they abound in rhyming couplets, is certainly a very idle and unfounded notion.
This beautiful tragedy, of which Mr. Garrick thought so highly, that heonceintended to have revived it, in my opinion bears the stamp of our poet's hand as evidently as any he ever wrote; by which I mean, that it is as manifestly his production, as his more highly wrought and finished pieces. It was, I conceive, his first tragick performance; and, I believe, was written in 1593. See the Essay on the Chronological Order of his Plays, vol. i. Malone.
The passage referred to by Mr. Holt White may be found in Mallet's edition, vol. iv. p. 320. BoswELL.
It is probable, I think, that the play which Sir Gilly Merick procured to be represented, bore the title of Henry IV. and not of Richard II.
Camden calls it-" exoletam tragædiam de tragicâ abdicatione regis Ricardi Secundi ; ” and Lord Bacon (in his account of The
Effect of that which passed at the Arraignment of Merick and others,) says : “ That the afternoon before the rebellion, Merick had procured to be played before them, the play of deposing King Richard the Second.” But in a more particular account of the proceeding against Merick, which is printed in the State Trials, vol. vii. p. 60, the matter is stated thus : “ The story of Henry IV. being set forth in a play, and in that play there being set forth the killing of the king upon a stage; the Friday before, Sir Gilly Merick and some others of the earl's train having an humour to see a play, they must needs have the play of Henry IV. The players told them that was stale; they should get nothing by playing that; but no play else would serve : and Sir Gilly Merick gives forty shillings to Phillips the player to play this, besides whatsoever he could get."
Augustine Philippes was one of the patentees of the Globe playhouse with Shakspeare, in 1603; but the play here described was certainly not Shakspeare's Henry IV. as that commences above a year after the death of Richard. TYRWHITT.
This play of Shakspeare was first entered at Stationers' Hall by Andrew Wise, Aug. 29, 1597. STEEVENS.
There were four quarto editions of this play published during the life of Shakspeare, 1597, 1598, 1608, and 1615. Most of the material alterations have been already pointed out in the notes.