« PreviousContinue »
He has also the frankness of Achilles, and the fame abhorrence of falfhood; he is as impatient of Glendower's pretensions to supernatural powers, as to the king's assuming a right over his prisoners. In dividing the kingdom he will not yield a foot of ground to those who dispute with him; but would give any thing to a well-deserving friend. It is a pardonable violation of historical truth, to give the Prince of Wales, who behaved very gallantly at the battle of Shrewsbury, the honour of conquering him; and it is more agreeable to the spectator, as the event was, to beat down
The never-daunted-Percy to the earth, to fuppofe it did not happen from the artov: of a peafant, but from the sword of Henry Monmouth, whose spirit came with a higher commission from the same fiery sphere,
In Worcester the rebel appears in all his odious colours; proud, envious, malignant, artful, he is finely contrasted by the noble Percy, Shakespear, with the fagacity of a
Tacitus, observes the jealousies which must naturally arise between a family, who have conferred a crown, and the king who has received it, who will always think the presence of such benefactors too bold and peremptory.
The character of Henry IV. is perfectly agreeable to that given him by historians. The play opens by his declaring his intention to war against the infidels, which he does not undertake, as was usual in those times, from a religious enthusiasm, but is induced to it by political motives : that the martial spirit may not break out at home in civil wars ; nor peace and idleness give men opportunity to enquire into his title to the crown, and too much discuss a point which would not bear a cool and close examination. Henry had the specious talents, which assist a man under certain circumstances to usurpa kingdom: but either from the want of those great and folid qualities, which are necessary to maintain opinion loyal to the throne to which it had raised him, or from the im
poflibility of satisfying the expectations of those who had affifted his usurpation, as some of the best historians with great appearance of reason have suggested *, it is certain his reign was full of discontents and troubles.
The popular arts by which he captivated the multitude are finely described in the speech he makes to his son, in the third act. Any other poet would have thought he had acquitted himself well enough in that dialogue, by a general fatherly admonition delivered with the dignity becoming a monarch: but Shakespear rarely deals in commonplace, and genetal morals. The peculiar temper and circumstances of the person, and the exigency of the time, influence the speaker, as in real life. It is not only the king and parent, but Henry Plantagenet, that chides the Prince of Wales. How natural it is for him, on Percy's revolt, to recur to his own rebellion against Richard, and to apprehend, that the same levities which lost that king, first the opinion, then * Hume's Hift. of H. IV.
the allegiance of his fubjects, should deprive the Prince of his succeffion ! Nothing can be better imagined than the parallel he draws between himself and Percy, Richard and Henry of Monmouth. The affectionate Father, the offended King, the provident Politician, and the conscious usurper, are all united in the following speeches :
fuch base, such lewd, fuch' mean attempts,
K. HENRY. Heav'n pardon thee. Yet let me wonder, Harry, At thy affections, which do hold a wing Quite from the Aight of all thy ancestors. Thy place in council thou hast rudely lost, Which by thy younger brother is supply'd; And art almost an alien to the hearts Of all the court and princes of my blood. The hope and expectation of thy time Is ruin'd, and the soul of every man Prophetically does fore-think thy fall. Had I so lavila of my prefence been, So common-hackney'd in the eyes So stale and cheap to vulgar company;' Opinion, that did help me to the crown, Had still kept loyal to poffeffion, And left me in reputeless banishment, A fellow of no mark, nor likelihood. But being seldom seen, I could not stir, But, like a comet, I was wonder'd at, That men would tell their children, this is he; Others would say, where? which is Bolingbroke? And then I stole all courtesy from heav'ng And drest myself in much humility, That I did pluck allegiance from mens hearts,