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speare wrote, and illustrate his care to connect the past and future, and unify them with the present by forecast and reminiscence.
It is interesting to a critical ear to compare the six opening lines of the play —
Old John of Gaunt, time-honour'd Lancaster,
each closing at the tenth syllable, with the rhythmless metre of the verse in Henry VI. and Titus Andronicus, in order that the difference, indeed, the heterogeneity, of the two may be felt etiam in simillimis prima superfine. Here the weight of the single words supplies all the relief afforded by intercurrent verse, while the whole represents the mood. And compare the apparently defective metre of Bolingbroke's first line,—
Many years of happy days befall — with Prospero's,
Twelve years since, Miranda! twelve years since—
The actor should supply the time by emphasis, and pause on the first syllable of each of these verses. Act i. sc. 1. Bolingbroke's speech : —
First, (heaven be the record to my speech!)
I remember in the Sophoclean drama no more striking example of the To irpiicov Kal oc/ivov than this speech; and the rhymes in the last six lines well express the preconcertedness of Bolingbroke's
scheme so beautifully contrasted with the vehe-
Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries,
Note the Scivoy of this 'to me,' which is evidently felt by Richard :—
How high a pitch his resolution soars!
In haste whereof, most heartily I pray
The occasional interspersion of rhymes, and the more frequent winding up of a speech therewith— what purpose was this designed to answer? In the earnest drama, I mean. Deliberateness? An attempt, as in Mowbray, to collect himself and be cool at the close ? —I can see that in the following speeches the rhyme answers the end of the Greek chorus, and distinguishes the general truths from the passions of the dialogue; but this does not exactly justify the practice, which is unfrequent in proportion to the excellence of Shakspeare's plays. One thing, however, is to be observed, — that the speakers are historical, known, and so far formal, characters, and their reality is already a fact. This
should be borne in mind. The whole of this scene
Gaunt. Heaven's is the quarrel; for heaven's substitute.
Without the hollow extravagance of Beaumont and Fletcher's ultra-royalism, how carefully does Shakspeare acknowledge and reverence the eternal distinction between the mere individual, and the symbolic or representative, on which all genial law, no less than patriotism, depends. The whole of this second scene commences, and is anticipative of, the tone and character of the play at large.
lb. sc. 3. In none of Shakspeare's fictitious dramas, or in those founded on a history as unknown to his auditors generally as fiction, is this violent rupture of the succession of time found:—a proof, I think, that the pure historic drama, like Richard II. and King John, had its own laws, lb. Mowbray's speech :—
A dearer merit
Have I deserved at your highness' hand.
O, the instinctive propriety of Sbakspeare in the choice of words!
lb. Richard's speech:
Nor never by advised purpose meet.
Already the selfish weakness of Richard's character opens. Nothing will such minds so readily embrace, as indirect ways softened down to their ywasi-consciences by policy, expedience, &c.
lb. Mowbray's speech:—
Boling. How long a time lies in our little word!
Four lagging winters, and four wanton springs,
lb. sc. 4. This is a striking conclusion of a first act,—letting the reader into the secret;—having before impressed us with the dignified and kingly manners of Richard, yet by well managed anticipations leading us on to the full gratification of pleasure in our own penetration. In this scene a new light is thrown on Richard's character. Until now he has appeared in all the beauty of royalty; but here, as soon as he is left to himself, the inherent weakness of his character is immediately shown. It is a weakness, however, of a peculiar kind, not arising from want of personal courage, or any specific defect of faculty, but rather an intellectual feminineness, which feels a necessity of ever leaning on the breasts of others, and of reclining on those who are all the while known to be inferiors. To this must be attributed as its consequences all Richard's vices, his tendency to concealment, and his cunning, the whole operation of which is directed to the getting rid of present difficulties. Richard is not meant to be a debauchee; but we see in him that sophistry which is common to man, by which we can deceive our own hearts, and at one and the same time apologize for, and yet commit, the error. Shakspeare has represented this character in a very peculiar manner. He has not made him amiable with counterbalancing faults; but has openly and broadly drawn those faults without reserve, relying on Richard's disproportionate sufferings and gradually emergent good qualities for our sympathy; and this was possible, because his faults are not positive vices, but spring entirely from defect of character. Act. ii. sc. 1.