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THE dramatic poet could scarcely have desired two finer subjects to fulfil all the requisites of contrasted character than are to be found in the historical play of “Richard II.” It would be difficult to describe two natures more opposed to each other at all points than those which really existed in the unhappy son of the Black Prince, and of his crafty cousin and deposer, the offspring of “ Old Gaunt.” Richard, whose faults almost wholly arose from defect of judgment—the elements of which, notwithstanding, were estimable, and whose affections were active and overflowing ;—who, if he did lavish his favours upon unworthy creatures, could nevertheless appreciate the virtues and the love of his first consort—the “Good Queen Anne," as she was called ; and who, while she lived, exercised an angelic influence over his conduct; and when she died, such was the transport—not to say the insanity-of
his grief, that he destroyed the palace where they had lived in happiness together;—who in his single person, and during his nonage, quelled a formidable insurrection; and yet, in his last struggle for his crown, abandoned the contest with a facilityeven an imbecility–wholly irreconcilable with his early character and deportment;—who was himself a singular contradic
tion-weak and irresolute, when he should have been stable and firm, and consistently heroic-even to a Spartan endurance -where universal humanity dictates a surrender ;—who abandoned, and then mourned over, the loss of his patrimony; and yet, in his adversity, (if one plausible tradition of the mode of his death speak correctly,) he had the strength stubbornly to die of starvation. In short, Richard was a creature of impulse, unhappily for himself, misdirected in after life; but who, for various qualities that he inherited, claims and receives our sympathy, even to the holding of our sterner judgments in abeyance. The natural emotions of his nature were kind, and noble, and generous, even to a childish profuseness; his acts of injustice and oppression were the result of flattery, weakness of judgment, and the misuse of irresponsible power,--an anomaly in civil government not likely to occur again in the history of the world, at all events, in our world of Britain.
Of a totally reverse character to Richard's was that of Bolingbroke : cold, crafty, determined, persevering, designing, and treacherous ; politically plausible, and insolently unjust ; an oppressor with a heart of ice,—and there is no tyrant like that ;-a demagogue, a traitor, and a violator of his oath. He swore by the tomb of his grandfather, Edward III., (an impressive and solemn oath in that age,) that he had no design upon the crown; yet, as it were, in the same breath, he assumed the prerogative of royalty, condemning to death the favourites of Richard ; and in a few weeks after he deposed and imprisoned his relation and sovereign.
Bolingbroke had doubtless strong ground of complaint against Richard, who had banished him, and had seized and converted to his own use the personal estate of the Duke of Lancaster, Bolingbroke's father, and who had died during the exile of his son.
If the dramatic history, however, of the period, as recorded
by Shakespeare, be received for any authority, it should seem clear that the sentence of banishment passed upon Bolingbroke and Mowbray was an act of political expediency; more especially as regards Bolingbroke, and only was made to refer ostensibly to their mutual impeachment of treason and subsequent trial by battle. Richard, in one of his speeches; supplies us with the key to his sudden' and arbitrary course of punishment; the fact being that his wily relative and near pretender to the crown had begun to take advantage of his cousin's unpopularity with the nobles as well as the commonalty, by acting the demagogue and courting their favour. Richard here supplies us with the motive for his course of action :
"Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here, and Green
In every movement, every act of Bolingbroke, throughout his career, both in this play and the subsequent one of Henry IV.,” Shakespeare has detailed the man with perfect consistency. Here, as hereafter, he is the aspiring and mounting politician ; the thorough enthusiast—at the same time the imperturbable, self-composed, and unfailing ruler; and this self-possession—with sagacity, promptitude, and energy of fulfilment — brought every obstacle to the footstool of his