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THE historical facts of this play, (says Mrs. Lenox) are all taken from Holing And, and the characters all closely copied from that author ; that of Rickard the Third has been censured as monstrous, the picture of a fiend and not a man; and too exquisitely wicked to be represented on the stage. 'Tis certain, however, that Shakespear has not aggravated the vices and cruelty of this prince; he paints him such as history has tranf mitted him to us; and if his character shocks us more in the fetne than the story, 'tis because the colours of the poet are more lively, his expreffion stronger, and the lights he shews him in more diversified; but the subject in both is the same. The qualities of his mind and person are thus summed up by Holingshed.
* As he was small and little of stature, so was he of body greatly-deformed, the one shoulder higher than the other, his face was small, but his countenance cruel, and such that the first aspect a man would judge it to smell and favour of malice, fraud and deceit ; when he stood musing, he would bite and chaw his nether lip; as who said, that his fierce nature always chafed, stirred and was ever unquiet : beside, that the dagger which he wore, he would (when he studied) with his hand pluck up and dusvn in the sheath to the midst, never drawing it fully out. He was of a ready, pregnant, and quick wit, wielie to feire, and apt to dissemble: he had a proud mind, and an arrogant stomach, the which accompanied him even to his death, rather choosing to suffer the same by dint of sword, than being forsaken and left helpless of his unfaithful companions, to preserve by cowardlie Aight, such a frail and uncertain life, which by malice, sickness, or condign punihment, was like shortly to come to confusion.”
This character is the very fame with that drawn of him by Shakespear ; but the latter is made more striking by the wonderful propriety of the manners and sentiments he every where, throughout the play, attributes to him. If Shakespear is in any instance to be blamed for keeping too close to the historian, it is for dignifying the last inoments of this bloody tyrant with such shining proofs of fortitude and valour, as, notwithstanding the deteftation we conceived at his cruelties; must force from us an involuntary arplause. The history tells us he fought bravely in that battle which decided his fate, and, overpowered as he was by numbers, disdained to save his life by flight.
This (says Johnson) is one of the moft celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised mort, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in them. selves, and very well contrived to Itrike in the exhibition, canpot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others Thocking, and some improbable.
This tragedy (says Theobald), though it is called the Life and Death of this Prince, comprises, at most, but the last eight years of his time; for it opens with George duke of Clarence being clapped up in the Tower, which happened in the beginning of the year 1477; and closes with the death of Richard at Bosworth. field, which battle was fought on 22d of August, in the year 1485.
OVE is a smoke rais'd with the fume of fighs,
Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lovers tears ;
SCENE V. On Dreams,
(1) Fancy's, &c.] This has been read Fairies, but Mr. Ware burton altered it to Fancy: the lines following.
Which are the children of an idle brain
Begot of nothing but vain phantasy, evidently prove the truth of the reading. Beside, as she is the qucen of the fairies, it would rather be beneath her dignity to be their midwife too. The word shape is used in the next line very licentiously for form, fise, or magnitude.
In thape no bigger than an agat-stone
(2) Oer a courtier's nose.] Tho' lawyer's is here used in almost all the modern editions, it is very observable, that in the old ones the word used is, Courtier's; but the modern editors, having no idea what the poet could mean by a courtier's fmclimg out a suit, notwithstanding he had introduced the lawyer's before, gave them another place in his fine speech. Mr. Warburton has very well explained it, by observing that “ in our author's time, a court-folicitation was called simply a suit; and a procefs, a suit at law to distinguish it from the other. The king (says an anonymous cotemporary writer of the life of Sir William Cecil) called him (Sir William Cecil] and after long talk with him, being much delighted with his answers, willed bis father 10 find [i, e. smell out) a slit for him. Whereupon he became fuitor for the reversion of the Custos Brevium office in the Common-pleas. Which the king wilingly granted it, being the first fuit ke bad in his life.” Nor can it be objected, as Mr. W'a'burton also observes, that there will
And then dreains he, of sinelling out a suit :
be a repetition in this fine speech, if we read courtiers, as there is, if we read lawyers, it having been said before,
On courtiers knees that dream on curtfies straight. Because they are shewn in two places under different views; in the first their foppery, in the second their rapacity is ridiculed.” Besides, we may add, that in the first line he seems to allude to the court ladies, in these under consideration to the gentlemen. The custom being so much out of use, it is not amiss that in the modern readings of this speech, and also on the stage, we find the doctors introduced,
O'er Doctors fingers, who straight dream on fees. But there seems no doubt of the genuineness of the word in the text.
Tho' the following passages have something similar in general to this celebrated speech, yet they serve only to thew the fuperiority of Shakespear’s fancy, and the vast range of his boundless imagination. If the Reader will consult the 4th book and 959th line of Lucretius, he will find more on the subject than I have quoted : Shakespear has an expression in Othello, concerning dreams, which is conformable to what Lucretius and Petronius observe, and which is an inttance of his great knowledge of nature: here he pronounces, dreams are nothing , there, when Othello's passions are to be raised, 'tis remark'd that they.
Denete a foregone conclusion. See Othello, A. 3. S. 8. Lucretius, Book IV.
Ee quoi quisque fere fiudio, Scc.