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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
J. S. CUSHING & Co., PRINTERS, Boston.
History of the Play. 'HIS play was preceded by at least two others on the
same subject. The first of these was in Latin, written by Dr. Thomas Legge, Master of Caius College, Cambridge, and is said to have been acted at the University as early as 1579. Sir John Harrington, in his Apology for Poetry, 1591, speaks of this play as one that “would move Phalaris the tyrant, and terrify all tyrannous-minded men." There is no reason for thinking that Shakespeare ever saw it, or had any knowledge of it. The other was an English drama, printed in 1594, and called “The True Tragedy of Richard the Third : Wherein is shown the death of Edward the Fourth, with the smothering of the two young Princes in the Tower.”. We have no certain knowledge as to when this piece was written ; though no one doubts that the writing was several years previous to 1594. Shakespeare's drama indicates no acquaintance with it except in two or three slight particulars; and even here the similarity infers no more knowledge than might well enough have been caught in the hearing. Other resemblances there are indeed, but only such as would naturally result from using a common authority. The older piece has little that can be deemed worthy of notice. The workmanship, though crude and clumsy enough, displays honesty of mind, and is comparatively free from inflation and bombast. The piece is written partly in prose and partly in
heavy blank-verse, interspersed with pentameter couplets and rhyming stanzas, and with passages of fourteen-syllable lines. It may be well to add, for the curiosity of the thing, that, after Richard is killed, Report enters, and holds a dialogue with a Page, to give information of divers things not exhibited ; after which, two Messengers come in, and unfold what is to be done and who is to reign, all the way from Richard to Queen Elizabeth, the whole winding up with an elaborate panegyric on the latter.
Shakespeare's drama was entered in the Stationers' register on the 20th of October, 1597, and was published the same year, but without the author's name. The play was reprinted in 1598, with “by William Shakespeare " added in the title-page. There was a third issue in 1602, a fourth in 1605, and a fifth in 1613; the last three all claiming to be “newly augmented,” though in truth merely reprints of the former two. The play reappeared in the folio of 1623, with many slight alterations of text, with soine omissions, and with a few additions, the latter extending in one place to fifty-five consecutive lines. Editors differ a good deal as to the comparative merits of the quarto and folio texts ; though all admit that each makes some damaging omissions which the other must be drawn upon to supply. Mr. White leans decidedly to the folio ; while Dyce, in his latest edition, prefers the quarto text, on the whole. For myself, I can hardly speak further than that my preference goes sometimes with the one, sometimes with the other. As the additions in the folio do not amount to a general enlargement of the piece, it does not well appear what ground or pretext the quarto of 1602 may have had for claiming to be “newly augmented.” Perhaps it was but a publisher's trick, to induce a larger sale of the new edition. The play, however,
marked diversities of style and workmanship, some parts relishing strongly of the Poet's earlier, others as strongly of his middle period ; and I suspect the claim aforesaid may have referred, disingenuously indeed, to changes made in the piece before the issue of 1597.
The great popularity of this play is shown in the number of editions called for, wherein it surpasses any other of the Poet's dramas. For, besides the five quarto issues already mentioned, there were also three others in quarto, after the folio appeared; which proves that there was still a good demand for it in a separate form. It was also honoured beyond any of its fellows by the notice of contemporary writers. It is mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1593. Next, we have a very remarkable allusion to it in a poem published in 1614, and entitled The Ghost of Richard the Third. The author of the poem gave only his initials, “C. B.”; who he was is not positively known; some say Charles Best, others Christopher Brooke : but the strong commendatory verses upon him, which have come down to us from such pens as Ben Jonson, Chapman, and Wither, show him to have been a writer of no little distinction. The Ghost of Richard is made to speak as follows:
To him that imp'd my fame with Clio's quill,
And none detract, but gratulate his praise.