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Some question has been made as to whether the “additions” first printed in the quarto of 1608 were written at the same time with the rest of the play. The judgment of, I believe, all the best critics is that they were ; and such is clearly my own. They are all of a piece with the surrounding portions : there is nothing either in the style, the matter, or the connection of them, to argue or even to indicate in the slightest degree a different period of workmanship. Nor is this judgment at all hindered by the fact of their non-appearance in the two earlier issues of the play. For Elizabeth was then on the throne; to whose ears the deposing of monarchs was a very ungrateful theme, especially after the part she had in deposing from both crown and life her enchanting and ill-starred kinswoman, the witty and beautiful Mary of Scotland. Her sensitiveness in this behalf was shown on various occasions. Thus in 1599 Hayward barely escaped prosecution for his History of King Henry the Fourth, which related the deposing of Richard ; all because of the Queen's extreme jealousy lest the matter should be drawn into a precedent against herself. So that, supposing those additions to have been a part of the play as originally written, it is pretty certain that no publisher would have dared to issue them, however they may have been allowed on the stage.
There was certainly another play in Shakespeare's time on the subject of Richard the Second. This we learn beyond peradventure from Dr. Simon Forman, a dealer in occult science, who kept a diary of curious and noteworthy things. Under date of April 30, 1611, he notes the performance of a play called Richard the Second at the Globe theatre ; adding such particulars of the plot and action as make it evident that the play could not have been Shakespeare's, though performed at the theatre for which he had so long been used to write. The details noted by Forman ascertain the piece to have embraced the insurrection of Wat Tiler and Jack Straw, with various other matters occurring before the outbreak of the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Norfolk. Forman says nothing about the deposing of Richard ; an event which he would hardly have failed to mention, had it formed any part of the play.
This brings me to a curious affair of State which took place in 1601. It appears that in February of that year the partisans and accomplices of Essex, in pursuance of the conspiracy they had formed, and to further the insurrection they had planned, procured a play to be acted, wherein the deposing of Richard the Second was represented. The affair is briefly related in Camden's Annals, and the main points of it are further known from Lord Bacon's official papers concerning “ the treason of Robert, Earl of Essex.” Bacon's statement tallies exactly with another document lately discovered in the State-Paper Office. This ascertains that on the 18th of February, 1601, Augustine Phillips, a member of the same theatrical company with Shakespeare, was examined under oath by Chief-Justice Popham, Justice Anderson, and Sergeant Fenner, in support of the prosecution. Phillips testified that a few days before some of Essex's partisans had applied, in his presence, to the leaders of the Globe company, “to have the play of the deposing and killing of King Richard the Second played the Saturday next, promising to give them forty shillings more than their ordinary” for playing it. Phillips also testified that he and his fellows had determined to act some other play, “holding the play of King Richard to be so old, and so long out of use, that they should have small or no company at it,” but that the extra forty shillings induced them to change their purpose, and do as they were requested.
Until this deposition came to light, it was not known what theatrical company had undertaken the performance for which the friends of Essex were prosecuted. We now know that it was the company to which Shakespeare belonged, and by which his play had for some time been owned and often acted. As we have seen, the piece bespoken by the conspirators could not have been the same which Forman witnessed ten years later. It is indeed possible that the play so bespoke may have been a third one on the same subject, that has not elsewhere been heard of; but this, to say the least, appears highly improbable. To be sure, the play engaged for that occasion is spoken of as being “so old, and so long out of use," that it was not likely to draw an audience; which circumstance has been rather strongly urged against supposing it to have been Shakespeare's. But these words need not infer any more than that the play had lost the charm of novelty ; a thing which, considering the marvellous fertility of the time in dramatic production, might well enough have come about in the course of five or six years.
My own judgment, therefore, is, that Shakespeare's King Richard the Second was written as early as 1594 ; that it is the play referred to in the trial of Essex and his accomplices; and that for reasons of State the deposition-scene was withheld from the press till some time after the accession of James the First, when such reasons were no longer held to be of any force.
Source of the Plot.
The leading events of King Richard the Second, and all the persons except the Queen, the whole substance, action, and interest, are purely historical, with only such heightening of effect, such vividness of colouring, and such vital invigoration, as poetry can add without marring or displacing the truth of history; the Poet having entirely forborne that freedom of art in representative character which elsewhere issued in such delectations as Falconbridge and Falstaff. For the materials of the drama, Shakespeare was indebted, as in his other historical plays, to the pages of Holinshed; though there are several passages which show traces of his reading in the older work of Hall. In the current of Holinshed's narrative, the quarrel of Bolingbroke and Norfolk strikes in so abruptly, is so inexplicable in its origin, and so teeming with great results, as to form, naturally and of itself, the beginning of the manifold national tragedy which ends only with the catastrophe of King Richard the Third. The cause indeed of that quarrel is hardly less obscure in the history than in the play : it stands out almost as something uncaused, so that there was no need of going behind it; while at the same time it proves the germ of such a vast and varied procession of historical events as to acquire the highest importance.
Historical Antecedents. It may throw some light on the action of the play to revert briefly to a few antecedent points of history. - At the death of his grandfather, Edward the Third, in June, 1377, Richard was only in his eleventh year ; a very handsome boy, with fair gifts of mind, and not without amiable dispositions, but of just about the right age to be spoiled by the influences of his position. Of course he was too young to be capable of rule, while the English had not yet learned how to bridge uver the nonage of their king by a settled regency. The
youth was fond of pleasure, careless of expense, and apt to love those who humoured his fancies; and in effect the State soon became a prey to rapacious and unprincipled sycophants. Of his three uncles, the Dukes of Lancaster, York, and Gloster, the latter was much the ablest; but, in an age of fierceness and turbulence, was chiefly distinguished for his fierce, turbulent, and despotic temper. Gloster undertook to root out “the caterpillars of the commonwealth "; and his doings in this behalf so strengthened his influence, that in 1387 he drew into his own hands nearly the whole power of the State, and reduced the King to a mere cipher. In this career he proved such a remorseless and sanguinary tyrant, that some year and a half later Richard succeeded, by a well-timed stroke of vigour, in shaking off the tyranny, and becoming his own master. The government then went on in a smooth and tranquil course for several years ; during which time a fresh batch of greedy and reckless favourites got warmed into life. Meanwile Gloster used means to regain his broken influence, took advantage of his seat in the Council to baffle and irritate the King, and was the chief mover of every intrigue, the soul of every faction that opposed Richard's wishes.
In 1396, the King's first wife having died, he espoused the Princess Isabella of France, then in her eighth year. Emboldened by this alliance, the King, in 1397, resolved to execute his long-cherished but deeply-dissembled scheme of vengeance against the Duke of Gloster. The matter was carried with great secrecy and dispatch, Richard himself leading the party that went to apprehend the Duke at his own castle. When Gloster, not dreaming what was on foot, came out to meet the King, he was forthwith delivered into the hands of Norfolk, who was then Governor of Calais, and