« PreviousContinue »
“ Bnt I was born so high :
The idea conveyed in these lines (which are indeed omitted in the miserable medley acted for RICHARD III.) is never lost sight of by Shakspeare, and should not be out of the actor's mind for a moment. The restless and sanguinary Richard is not a man striving to be great, but to be greater than he is; conscious of his strength of will, his power of intellect, his daring courage, his elevated station ; and making use of these advantages as giving him both the means and the pretext to commit unheard-of crimes, and to shield himself from remorse and infamy.
If Mr. Kean does not entirely succeed in concentrating all the lines of the character, as drawn by Shakspeare, he gives an anit mation, vigor, and relief to the part which we have never seen surpassed. He is more refined than Cooke; more bold, varied, and original than Kemble in the same character. In some parts he is deficient in dignity, and, particularly in the scenes of state business, he has by no means an air of artificial authority. There is at times a sort of tip-toe elevation, an enthusiastic rapture in his expectations of attaining the crown, and at others a gloating expression of sullen delight, as if he already clenched the bauble, and held it in his grasp. This was the precise es. pression which Mr. Kean gave with so much effect to the pan where he says, that he already feels “ The golden rigol bipd his brows." In one who dares so much, there is indeed little to blame. The courtship scene with Lady Anne is an admirable exhibition of smooth and smiling villainy. The progress of wily adulation, of encroaching humility, is finely marked by his action, voice and eye. He seems, like the first Tempter, to approach his prey, secure of the event, and as if success had smoothed his way before him. Mr. Cooke's manner of representing this scene was more vehement, hurried, and full of anx. jous uncertainty. This, though more natural in general, was less in character in this particular instance. Richard should woo not as a lover but as an actor—to show his mental superiority, and power of making others the playthings of his will. Mr.
death. To make room for these worse than needless additions, many of the most striking passages in the real play have been omitted by the foppery and ignorance of the prompt-book critics. We do not mean to insist merely on passages which are fine as poetry and to the reader, such as Clarence's dream, &c., but on those which are important to the understanding of the character, and peculiarly adapted for stage effect. We will give the following as instances among several others. 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
GRAY. To whom in all this presence speaks your grace?
GlorCESTER. "To thee, that hast bor honesty nor grace?
Nothing can be more characteristic than the turbulent preten sions 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 prices both to pardon me
Glorersten E'en es, and please your wrahap, Brakenbary,
A cherry lip, a passing pleasing tongue ;
BRAKENBURY. With this, my lord, myself have naught to do.
BRAKENBURY. What one, my lord ?
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 show as much as anything 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 humor 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 farewell 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;
The other passage is the account of their death by Tyrrel :
“ Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn
Which once, quoth Forrest, almost changed my mind,
These are some of those wonderful bursts of feeling, done to the life, to the very height of fancy and nature, which our Shakspeare 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.
The introduction of the ghosts through the trap.doors of the stage should be altogether omitted. The speeches which they address to Richard might be delivered just as well from bebind the scenes. These sort of exhibitions might have been very proper for a superstitious age, but in an age not superstitious they excite ridicule instead of terror.
Tais 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, sweelness, and resignation, that can be conceived. Her appeals to the protection of the king, her remonstrances to the cardinals, her conversations with her women, show a noble and generous spirit accompanied with the utmost gentle. ness 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,
Dr. Johnson observes of this play, that “the meek sorrows and virtuous distresses of Katherine have furnished some scenes, which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katherine. Every other part may be easily conceived and easily written.” This is easily said ; but with all due deference to so great a reputed authority as that of Johnson, it is not true. For instance, the scene of Buckingham led to execution is one of the most affecting and natural in Shakspeare, and one to which there is hardly an approach in any other author. Again, the character of Wolsey, the description of his pride and of his fall, are inimitable, and have, besides their gorgeousness of