« PreviousContinue »
The first is the scene where Richard enters abruptly to the queen and her friends to defend himself :—
"Gloucester. They do me wrong, and I will not endure it. Who are they that complain unto the king, That I forsooth am stern, and love them not? By holy Paul, they love his grace but lightly, That fill his ears with such dissections rumours: Because I cannot flatter and look fair, Smile in men's faces, smooth, deceive, and cog, Duck with French nods, and apish courtesy, I must be held a rancorous enemy. Cannot a plain man live, and think no harm, But thus his simple truth must be abus'd With silken, sly, insinuating Jacks?
Gray. To whom in all this presence speaks your grace?
Gloucester. To thee, that hast nor honesty nor grace; When have I injur'd thee, when done thee wrong? Or thee? or thee? or any of your faction? A plague upon you all!"
Nothing can be more characteristic than the turbulent pretensions to meekness and simplicity in this address. Again, the versatility and adroitness of Richard is admirably described in the following ironical conversation with Brakenbury:—
"Brakenbury. I beseech your graces both to pardon me. His majesty hath straitly given in charge, That no man shall have private conference, Of what degree soever, with your brother.
Gloucester. E'en so, and please your worship, Brakenbury,
You may partake of any thing we say:
Brakenbury. With this, my lord, myself have nought
Gloucester. What, fellow, naught to do with mistress
I tell you, sir, he that doth naught with her,
Brakenbury. What one, my lord?
Gloucester. Her husband, knave—would'st thou betray
The feigned reconciliation of Gloucester with the queen's kinsmen is also a master-piece. One of the finest strokes in the play, and which serves to shew as much as any thing the deep, plausible manners of Richard, is the unsuspecting security of Hastings, at the very time when the former is plotting his death, and when that very appearance of cordiality and good-humour on which Hastings builds his confidence arises from Richard's consciousness of having betrayed him to his ruin. This, with the whole character of Hastings, is omitted.
Perhaps the two most beautiful passages in the original play are the farewel apostrophe of the queen to the Tower, where her children are shut up from her, and Tyrrel's description of their death. We will finish our quotations with them.
"Queen. Stay, yet look back with me unto the Tower; Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes, Whom envy hath immured within your walls; Rough cradle for such little pretty ones, Rude, rugged nurse, old sullen play-fellow, For tender princes!"
The other passage is the account of their death by Tyrrel:—
"Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn To do this piece of ruthless butchery, Albeit they were flesh'd villains, bloody dogs, Wept like to children in their death's sad story: O thus! quoth Dighton, lay the gentle babes; Thus, thus, quoth Forrest, girdling one another Within their innocent alabaster arms; Their lips were four red roses on a stalk, And in that summer beauty kissed each other; A book of prayers on their pillow lay, Which once, quoth Forrest, almost changed my mind: But oh the devil!—there the villain stopped; When Dighton thus told on—we smothered The most replenished sweet work of nature, That from the prime creation ere she framed."
These are some of those wonderful bursts of feeling, done to the life, to the very height of fancy and nature, which our Shakespear alone could give. We do not insist on the repetition of these last passages as proper for the stage: we should indeed be loth to trust them in the mouth of almost any actor: but we should wish them to be retained in preference at least to the fantoccini exhibition of the young princes, Edward and York, bandying childish wit with their uncle.
This play contains little action or violence of passion, yet it has considerable interest of a more mild and thoughtful cast, and some of the most striking passages in the author's works. The character of Queen Katherine is the most perfect delineation of matronly dignity, sweetness, and resignation, that can be conceived. Her appeals to the protection of the king, her remonstrances to the cardinals, her conversations with her women, shew a noble and generous spirit accompanied with the utmost gentleness of nature. What can be more affecting than her answer to Campeius and Wolsey, who come to visit her as pretended friends.
"Nay, forsooth, my friends,
They that my trust must grow to, live not here ;