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KING RICHARD THE THIRD completes the Civil War series of the Three Parts of King Henry the Sixth, and is probably the earliest historical play of which Shakespeare alone was the author. There was an older play of which Shakespeare made no ase, entitled “ The True Tragedy of Richard the Third : wherein is shown the death of Edward the Fourth, with the smothering of the two young Princes in the Tower: with a lamentable end of Shore's wife, an example for all wicked women, And lastly, the conjunction and joining of the two noble Houses, Lancaster and York.
As it was played by the Queen's Majesty's Players." This old piece was first printed in 1594, and was then evidently of older date. It has been suggested that as it includes references to contemporary events, and does not refer to the Spanish Armada, the play must have been written before 1588. Its form certainly indicates an undeveloped state of the drama, and it has interest of its own as one of the earliest historical plays in our printed literature. For that reason, and for contrast witb Shakespeare's play on the same subject, room shall be found for it after Titus Ardronicus. The
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present volume has to contain the completion of The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, the ground-work of Shakespeare's Third Part of King Henry VI. There was also a Latin play on Richard III. by Dr. Legge, acted at Cambridge before 1583, which has no likeness to Shakespeare's.
Of Shakespeare's Richard III, there are four quartos, each giving it “as it hath been lately acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlain his servants." The title in each is the same--" The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence : the pitiful murther of his innocent Nephewes : his tyrannicall vsurpation : with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death.” The first quarto, dated in 1597, was printed by Valentine Sims for Andrew Wise. The second quarto, dated in 1598, was printed by Thomas Creede for Andrew Wise. So was the third quarto, dated in 1602. The fourth quarto, dated in 1605, was printed by Thomas Creede, and sold by Matthew Lowe, to whom the play had been assigned on the 27th of June, 1603. The next edition was that of the first folio of 1623. But there were afterwards at least three more reprints of the quartos, namely, in 1624, 1629, and 1634.
The first actor of the part of Richard III. was Richard, one of the two sons of James Burbage. James Burdage was head of the company of actors,
servants of the Earl of Leicester, by whom the first theatre was built. His son Richard had begun to act in or before 1588. He may have been about three years younger than Shakespeare, and the plays of Shakespeare gave him an opportunity for full use of his genius as an actor.
An elegy upon Burbage's death—which was two years later than Shakespeare's-speaks of his Richard III, his Hamlet, Romeo, Macbeth, Shylock. He was small of stature, but, says the elegy :
“ What a wide world was in that little space !
Thyself a world—the Globe thy fittest place.
Corbet tells in his Iter Boreale how his host at Leicester turned Richard III, into Richard Bur
“When he would have said 'King Richard' died,
And called, “A horse ! a horse!' he ‘Burbage' cried.”
The great success of the play was in part due, no doubt, to Burbage's acting; and the part of Richard gives such wide range for the illustration of an actor's power, that Richard III. has had unusual vitality upon the stage.
A play is to an actor welcome or unwelcome as it does or does not enable him to show the glory of his art. Richard III., who is the nearest ap proach made by Shakespeare to the suggestion of an incarnate spirit of evil, is gifted in large measure with that which Spenser made the chief attribute of Archimago—the Devil, Father of Wiles-Hypocrisy. Shakespeare's Richard wears many masks, and every change makes a new call on the powers of the actor.
Although much in the general aspect of this play allies it to the earlier Elizabethan drama, the clearness with which Shakespeare shows all its parts from his own chosen point of sight, at once brings it within the range of Shakespeare's higher work. If he did not himself write some lines of the last speech of Gloster in the Third Part of King Henry VI.as I believe he did, although the lines occur in the True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York-he fastened upon them, and drew from them the main idea of his tragedy of Richard III., that was to close the sequence of these Civil War plays with the Union of the White Rose and the Red.
“I have no brother,” said Richard
“I have no brother; I am like no brother;
And this word • Love,' which grey-beards call divine,
In the play of Richard III. Shakespeare works out the cohception of a life in which no compunctious
visitings of Nature, no regard for God or a man's Neighbour, stays the course of action in a life entirely bent on the aggrandisement of Self. Richard's one object of desire is to attain the Crown. Whatever may to other men be dear or sacred is to him nothing, if it be not matter to his purpose. If it concern him, then he plays upon it with hypocrisy to gain some step towards his end, or makes his way over its ruin.
Of the First Act, Richard's murder of his brother Clarence is the theme. In asides and soliloquies we hear him thinking. In them he triumphs over those whom he betrays, and we have disclosed the hard features beneath his mask. Contrasted changes in the form of his hypocrisy show him first false to his brother, then false in his courtship to the Lady Anne, whom he wins by soft flattery, and mocks within himself, when he has won her, with a devil's scorn. Then in the scene at the palace, the mask of the smooth suitor has a contrast in a new form of hypocrisy; he takes the face and voice of the bluff, honest, ill-used man, too childishfoolish for this world.” Use is then made of Queen Margaret as a Cassandra, and her prophecies of ill for ill, in fullest retribution, are as a Fate that dominates throughout the later action of the play. Then follows in the murder of the brother the destruction of one bar between Richard and the throne.
The Second Act has for chief theme the death