Page images


.richard IL is a play little known compared with Richard III. which last is a play that every unfledged candidate for theatrical fame chuses to strut and fret his hour upon the stage in; yet we confess that we prefer the nature and feeling of the one to the noise and bustle of the other; at least, as we are so often forced to see it acted. In Richard II. the weakness of the king leaves us leisure to take a greater interest in the misfortunes of the man. After the first act, in which the arbitrariness of his behaviour only proves his want of resolution, we see him staggering under the unlooked-for blows of fortune, bewailing his loss of kingly power, not preventing it, sinking under the aspiring genius of Bolingbroke, his authority trampled on, his hopes failing him, and his pride crushed and broken down under insults and injuries, which his own misconduct had provoked, but which he has not courage or manliness to resent. The change of tone and behaviour in the two competitors for the throne according to their change of fortune, from the capricious sentence of banishment passed by Richard upon Bolingbroke, the suppliant offers and modest pretensions of the latter on his return, to the high and haughty tone with which he accepts Richard's resignation of the crown after the loss of all his power, the use which he makes of the deposed king to grace his triumphal progress through the streets of London, and the final intimation of his wish for his death, which immediately finds a servile executioner, is marked throughout with complete effect and without the slightest appearance of effort. The steps by which Bolingbroke mounts the throne are those by which Richard sinks into the grave. We feel neither respect nor love for the deposed monarch; for he is as wanting in energy as in principle: but we pity him, for he pities himself. His heart is by no means hardened against himself, but bleeds afresh at every new stroke of mischance, and his sensibility, absorbed in his own person, and unused to misfortune," is not only tenderly alive to its own sufferings, but without the fortitude to bear them. He is, however, human in his distresses; for to feel pain, and sorrow, weakness, disappointment,

remorse and anguish, is the lot of humanity, and we sympathize with him accordingly. The sufferings of the man make us forget that he ever was a king. , .'. ... *,'

The right assumed by sovereign power to trifle at its will with the happiness of others as a matter of course, or to remit its exercise as a matter of favour, is strikingly shewn in the sentence of banishment so unjustly pronounced on Boliugbroke and Mowbray, and in what Bolingbroke says when four years of his banishment are taken off, with as little reason. ,

*.' How long a time lies in one little word! Four lagging winters and four wanton springs End in a word: such is the breath of kings."

A more affecting image of the loneliness of a state of exile can hardly be given than by what Bolingbroke afterwards observes of his having "sighed his English breath in foreign clouds;" or than that conveyed in Mowbray's complaint at being banished for life.

"The language I have learned these forty years,
My native English, now I must forego;
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cas'd up,
Or being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony.
I am too old to fawn upon a nurse,
Too far in years to be a pupil now."—■

How very beautiful is all this, and at the same time how very English too!

Richard 11. may be considered as the first of that series of English historical plays, in which "is hung armour of the invincible knights of old," in which their hearts seem to strike against their coats of mail, where their blood tingles for the fight, and words are but the harbingers of blows. Of this state of accomplished barbarism the appeal of Bolingbroke and Mowbray is an admirable specimen. Another of these "keen encounters of their wits," which serve to whet the talkers' swords, is where Aumerle answers in the presence of Bolingbroke to the charge which Bagot brings against him of being an accessory in Gloster's death.

"Fitzwater. If that thy valour stand on sympathies, There is my gage, Aumerle, in gage to thine; By that fair sun that shows me where thou stand'st I heard thee say, and vauntingly thou spak'st it, That thou wert cause of noble Gloucester's death. If thou deny'st it twenty times thou liest, And I will turn thy falsehood to thy heart Where it was forged, with my rapier's point.

Aumerle. Thou dar'st not, coward, live to see the day.

Fiizwater. Now, by my soul, I would it were this hour.

Aumerle. Fitzwater, thou art damn'd to hell for this.

Percy. Aumerle, thou liest; his honour is as true,
in this appeal, as thou art all unjust;
And that thou art so, there I throw my gage
To prove it on thee, to th' extremest point
Of mortal breathing. Seize it, if thou dar'st.

Aumerle. And if I do not, may my hands rot off,
And never brandish more revengeful steel ..... •
Over the glittering helmet of my foe.
Who sets me else? By heaven, I'll throw at all.
I have a thousand spirits in my breast,
To answer twenty thousand such as you.

Surry. My lord Fitzwater, I remember well
The very time Aumerle and you did talk.

Fitzwater. My lord, 'tis true: you were in presence then: And you can witness with me, this is true.

Surry. As false, by heav'n, as heaven itself is true.
Fitzwater. Surry, thou liest.
Surry. Dishonourable boy,
That lie shall lye so heavy on my sword,
That it shall render vengeance and revenge,
Till thou the lie-giver and that lie rest
In earth as quiet as thy father's skull.
In proof whereof, there is mine honour's pawn:
Engage it to the trial, if thou dar'st.

Fitzwater. How fondly dost thou spur a forward horse:
If I dare eat or drink or breathe or live,
I dare meet Surry in a wilderness,
And spit upon him, whilst I say he lies,
And lies, and lies: there is my bond of faith,
To tie thee to thy strong correction.
As I do hope to thrive in this new world,
Aumerle is guilty of my true appeal."

The truth is, that there is neither truth nor honour in all these noble persons: they answer words with words, as they do blows with blows, in mere self defence: nor have they any principle whatever but that of courage in maintaining any wrong they dare commit, or any false

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »