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rapacity nor washed their hands in unrighteous blood. Then too he reckons upon having himself a voice potential in the royal counsels; and he already has it in mind that the race of cormorant upstarts and parasites and suckers who have so long preyed upon the State shall make a speedy end.
Such, I think, is clearly the dramatic purpose and significance of the opening scene, which has been diversely interpreted by several critics, who, it seems to me, have not fully entered into its bearing, prospective and retrospective, on the action of the play. Coleridge, for instance, thinks the Poet's aim in so beginning the piece was to bring out the characters of Richard and Bolingbroke; while Courtenay holds him to have made the opening thus, not from any dramatic purpose, but merely because he found the matter 80 ordered in the chronicle. Gervinus, again, thinks that Shakespeare “ began with this scene, because it was just the beginning of all the sufferings which fell upon the King, and afterwards upon his dethroners.” The views of both Coleridge and Gervinus are doubtless right, as far as they go: but I think the chief object of the scene is to unfold, in its various bearings, direct and remote, the dramatic relation of the two leading persons. Accordingly, out of this relation as there set forth the whole action of the play is made to proceed.
The King's course in arresting the quarrel just as it is coming to the upshot, and in sending both parties into exile, is very cunning, though perhaps in a rather small way. He thus gets rid of the whole question for the present, and saves himself from falling into the hands of either side: Bolingbroke's scheme is baffled, and his purpose indefinitely postponed: withal the act wears a look of fairness and impartiality, so that public discontent cannot well find where to stick upon it. As matters stand, even Norfolk's help is likely to prove a hindrance to the King; he has a firm hold upon him through the secret that lies between them: on the other hand, Richard has found in Bolingbroke an an. tagonist whom he dares not cope with, and can nowise conciliate but by arming him with a still greater obstructive power. So, by thus playing them off against each other, he seems to have shaken himself clear at once from a troublesome friend and a dangerous foe: at all events, as he views the thing, he can well afford to purchase a riddance from so formidable an assailant by the loss of his ablest defender. For Richard's main difficulty, in the play as in history, is, that he feels unable to stand without props, and yet is too weak or too wayward to lean upon any but such as are weaker than himself: none are for him but those who pander to his wilfulness; creatures at once greedy and prodigal, and who have no strength to help him but what they suck out of him.
Richard is evidently not a little elated at the stratagem of banishment: he flatters himself with having devised a master-stroke of policy which is to make him stronger than ever. Both the clog of Norfolk's friendship and the dread of Bolingbroke's enmity are now, as he thinks, effectually removed. After such a triumph, he presumes that none will dare to call the oppressions and abuses of his government to account. Thus he arrogates to himself entire impunity in whatever he may please to do, and so is emboldened to fresh excesses of misrule. He has just been put in a very tight place, as many believed; but he has proved too much for those who put him there; has adroitly turned the tables upon them, and disconcerted their well-laid plans : at least so he thinks, and the thought fills him with delight. Though he has cut down the term of Bolingbroke's exile to six years, it is with a secret purpose that the exile shall never return; and he trusts that the same king-craft which has extricated him from so sharp a dilemma will carry him safe through any plots, however dark and treacherous, which he may frame for putting the man out of the way. But, in his exhilaration of seeming success, he cannot keep his thoughts to himself; he must still feed his self-applause by blurting them out to his favorites, instead of leaving them to be gathered after the work is done. For so, among his other weaknesses, he has an incurable leakiness of mind, so that he must still be prating of designs which he hardly ought to breathe aloud even to himself. He has indeed a good deal of practical cunning, and is endowed with no mean powers of intellect; but somehow he can never so weave his intellectual forces together as to make them hold water: hence he is ever stumbling over schemes which he has himself spilt in advance.
It is hardly worth the while to draw any further outline of the historical matter which the Poet had before him, since both the form and order of events are substantially the same in the play as in Holinshed. The chronicler of course had not the art, nor did it fall within his purpose, to give a lifelike portraiture of the persons; yet in respect of these Shakespeare is no less true to fact than in the events; informing the bald diagrams of the historian with vital spirit and efficacy, and thus enabling us not so much to hear or read about the men of a former age, as to see them passing before us. Hints to that purpose there are indeed in the narrative; but these for the most part are so slight, and so overlaid with other matter, that perhaps no eye but Shakespeare's could have detected them and drawn forth their secret meaning. And in many such cases he seems to have used a kind of poetical or psychological comparative anatomy; reconstructing the whole order and complexionof characteristic traits from a few fragments, such as would have escaped any perception less apprehensive and quick than his. So that, looking through his eyes, we can now see things in the chronicler that we could never have discerned with our own. It is almost as if from a fossil thumb-nail or tooth or lock of hair one should reproduce the entire mental, moral, and physical structure of the man to whom it belonged. Such appears to have been the Poet's fineness of faculty! Therewithal the laws of fact seem to sit as easy upon him as those of imagination: within the hard, stiff lines of historical truth, his creative powers move with as much freedom, facility, and grace, as when owning no restraints but such as are self-imposed.
It is probably on some such ground as this that Coleridge, speaking of King Richard the Second, says he “ feels no hesitation in placing it as the first and most admirable of all Shakespeare's purely historical plays.” For, in all the qualities of a work of art merely, or as an instance of dramatic architecture and delineation, it is much inferior to the First and Second Parts of King Henry the Fourth. But these are specimens of the mixed drama; that is, dramas consisting partly of historical, partly of ideal, delineations; though the latter are indeed used as the vehicle of a larger moral history than were otherwise compatible with the laws of dramatic reason. In King Richard the Second, on the other hand, all the prominent delineations are historical; with but one exception, no interest, no incidents, of any other kind, are admitted : so that, as Coleridge adds, “it is perhaps the most purely historical of Shakespeare's dramas.” And he justly argues, that it is not merely the having historical matter, but the peculiar relation which this matter bears to the plot, that makes a drama properly historical. Macbeth, for instance, has much of historical matter, yet is in no proper sense an historical drama, because the history neither forms nor guides, but only subserves the plot. Nor, again, does the having much besides historical matter keep a drama from being truly historical, provided the history orders and governs the plot. So that both King Richard the Second and King Henry the Fourth are in the strictest sense historical plays; the difference between them being, that in the former the history furnishes the whole matter and order of the work; while in the latter it furnishes a part, and at the same time shapes and directs whatever is added by the creative imagination. X Thus, in a purely historical drama, the history makes the plot; in a mixed, it directs the plot; in such
tragedies as King Lear and Macbeth, it subserves the plot.
The play in hand has been justly extolled by several of the most judicious critics as embodying a very profound and comprehensive scheme of political philosophy. Shakespeare was certainly no less a master in this high province of thought than in the exercise of the creative and representative imagination. The just limits and conditions of sovereign authority and of individual right, and how all the parts of the body politic should stand in mutual intelligence and interdependence, were as “things familiar and acquainted” to his all-gifted and serenely-tempered mind. He was indeed a mighty workman, if the world ever saw one. And his mightiness in the grounds and principles of man's social being is especially conspicuous in this drama. What rightly “constitutes a State”; “the degrees by which true sway doth mount"; "the stalk true power doth grow on”; and that “reverence is a loyal virtue, never sown in haste, nor springing with a transient shower”; these lessons are here unfolded with a depth and largeness of wisdom, and with a harmony and fruitfulness of impression, that cannot be too highly praised. Almost every scene contains matter that craves and repays the closest study. .
The play forecasts, vividly yet sedately, the long series of civil crimes and slaughters of which Richard's reign was in fact the seed-plot. These forecastings, however, so far as they come to verbal expression, are fitly put into the mouths of the King and the Bishop of Carlisle, men whose personal interests and settled prepossessions make them strongly averse to the events in progress; while the persons engaged in driving those events forward are touched by no warnings or misgivings in that kind, because with them all such forebodings of distant evil are naturally lost in their resentment of the wrongs that have been done, and in the hopes that dance before them in the path they are