« PreviousContinue »
but very frequent in Shakspeare's time, and much lamented by the wisest and best of our ancestors.
16 Thy state of law is bondslave to the law;] State of law, i. e. legal sovereignty. But the Oxford editor alters it to state o'er law, i. e. absolute sovereignty. A doctrine, which, if our poet ever learnt at all, he learnt not in the reign when this play was written, queen Elizabeth's, but in the reign after it, king James's. By bondslave to the law, the poet means his being enslaved to his favourite subjects..
This sentiment, whatever it be, is obscurely expressed. I understand it differently from the learned commentator, being perhaps not quite so zealous for Shakspeare's political reputation. The reasoning of Gaunt, I think, is this: By setting thy royalties to farm thou hast reduced thyself to a state below sovereignty, thou art now no longer king but landlord of England, subject to the same restraint and limitations as other landlords; by making thy condition a state of law, a condition upon which the common rules of law can operate, thou art become a bondslave to the law; thou hast made thyself amenable to laws from which thou wert originally exempt.
Whether this interpretation be true or no, it is plain that Dr. Warburton's explanation of bondslave to the law is not true.
17 And thy unkindness be like crooked age,] Shakspeare, I believe, took this idea from the figure of
Time, who is armed with a scythe, which (from its form) was anciently called a crook. Crooked may mean armed with a crook.
18 -where no venom else,] This alludes to the tradition that St. Patrick freed the kingdom of Ireland from venomous reptiles of every kind.
19 Nor the prevention of poor Bolingbroke,
About his marriage, &c.] When the duke of Hereford, after his banishment, went into France, he was honourably entertained at that court, and would have obtained in marriage the only daughter of the duke of Berry, uncle to the French king, had not Richard prevented the match.
20 Imp out-] As this expression frequently occurs in our author, it may not be amiss to explain the original meaning of it. When the wing-feathers of a hawk were dropped, or forced out by any accident, it was usual to supply as many as were deficient. This operation was called, to imp a hawk.
So in The Devil's Charter, 1607:
"His plumes only imp the muse's wings."
21 Like perspectives, which, rightly gaz'd upon, Shew nothing but confusion; ey'd awry, Distinguish form:] This is a fine similitude, and the thing meant is this: amongst mathematical recreations, there is one in optics, in which a figure is drawn, wherein all the rules of perspective are inverted; so that, if held in the same position with
those pictures which are drawn according to the rules of perspective, it can present nothing but confusion : and to be seen in form, and under a regular appearance, it must be looked upon from a contrary station; or, as Shakspeare says, ey'd awry. WARBURTON. 22 might have retir'd his power,] Might have drawn it back. French retirer, to draw back.
23 Get thee to Plashy,] The lordship of Plashy was a town of the duchess of Gloster's in Essex. See Hall's Chronicle, p. 13.
24 Come, sister,-cousin, I would say:] This is one of Shakspeare's touches of nature. York is talking to the queen his cousin, but the his sister is uppermost in his mind.
recent death of
25 SCENE IV.] Here is a scene so unartfully and irregularly thrust into an improper place, that I cannot but suspect it accidentally transposed; which, when the scenes were written on single pages, might easily happen in the wildness of Shakspeare's drama. This dialogue was, in the author's draught, probably the second scene in the ensuing act, and there I would advise the reader to insert it, though I have not ventured on so bold a change. My conjecture is not so presumptuous as may be thought. The play was not, in Shakspeare's time, broken into acts; the two editions published before his death exhibit only a sequence of scenes from the beginning to the end, without any hint of a pause of action. In a drama so desultory and erratic, left in such a state, transpositions might easily be made.
26 The bay-trees, &c.] This enumeration of prodigies is in the highest degree poetical and striking.
Some of these prodigies are found in T. Haywarde's "This yeare Life and Raigne of Henry IV. 1599. "the laurel trees withered almost throughout the realm," &c.
So again in Holinshead. "In this yeare in a manco ner throughout all the realme of England, old baie "trees withered," &c.
27 From mine own window torn my household coat,] It was the practice, when coloured glass was in use, of which there are still some remains in the old seats and churches, to anneal the arms of the family in the windows of the house.
28 Raz'd out my impress, &c.] The impress was a device or motto. Ferne, in his Blazon of Gentry, 1585, observes, "that the arms, &c. of traitors and rebels 66 may be defaced and removed, wheresoever they are fixed, or set."
29 Thanks, gentle uncle.-Come, lords, away;
Awhile to work, and, after, holiday.] Though the intermediate line has taken possession of all the old copies, I have great suspicion of its being an interpolation; and have therefore ventured to throw it The first and third lines rhime to each other; nor do I imagine this was casual, but intended by the poet. Were we to acknowledge the line genuine, it must argue the poet of forgetfulness and inattention
to history. Bolingbroke is, as it were, yet but just arrived he is now at Bristol; weak in his numbers; has had no meeting with a parliament; nor is so far assured of the succession, as to think of going to suppress insurrections before he is planted in the throne. Besides, we find the opposition of Glendower begins The First Part of K. Henry IV; and Mortimer's defeat by that hardy Welshman is the tidings of the first scene of that play. Again, though Glendower, in the very first year of King Henry IV. began to be troublesome, put in for the supremacy of Wales, and imprisoned Mortimer; yet it was not till the succeeding year that the king employed any force against him.
30 SCENE II.] Here may be properly inserted the last scene of the second act.
31 The breath of worldly men cannot depose] Here is the doctrine of indefeasible right expressed in the strongest terms; but our poet did not learn it in the reign of King James, to which it is now the practice of all writers, whose opinions are regulated by fashion or interest, to impute the original of every tenet which they have been taught to think false or foolish.
s2 Thy very beadsmen learn to bend their bows] Such is the reading of all the copies, yet I doubt whether beadsmen be right, for the bow seems to be mentioned here as the proper weapon of a beadsman. The king's beadsmen were his chaplains. Trevisa calls himself the beadsman of his patron. Beadsman might like