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KING RICHARD III.
Shakspeare's historical authorities in the composition of this popular drama were the History of Richard the Third by Sir Thomas More, and its continuation in the Chronicles of Holinshed. The date of 1593 is the period assigned by Malone to its production, which however was not entered at Stationers' Hall till 1597.
The reign of Richard III. appears to have been a favorite subject of dramatists and other poets who preceded our author; but no sufficient evidence has been produced that Shakspeare borrowed from any of them. Mr. Boswell indeed supposed that an old play, published in 1594, “An Enterlude, intitled the Tragedie of Richard the Third, wherein is showne the deathe of Edward the Fourthe, with the smotheringe of the two princes in the Tower, with the lamentable ende of Shore's wife, and the contention of the two houses of Lancaster and Yorke,'—had so great a resemblance to this play, that the author must have seen it before he composed his own. It is, notwithstanding; one of the worst of the ancient dramas, and bears but few traces of general likeness.
The historical events here recorded occupy a space of about fourteen years, but are frequently confused for the purposes of dramatic representation. The second scene of the first act commences with the funeral of King Henry VI. who is said to have been murdered on the 21st of May, 1471, while the imprisonment of Clarence, which is represented previously in the first scene, did not take place till 1477-8.
In speaking of this play, Dr. Johnson remarks ; • This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances, yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied; but some parts are trifling, others shocking, anä some improbable.'
The extinction of the house of Lancaster and the declining
health of the king induce Richard, duke of Gloster, to commence his career of ambition with the removal of the duke of Clarence, who is privately assassinated in prison by his orders. Edward shortly after expires, leaving Richard protector of the realm, who immediately withdraws the two young princes from the superintendence of their maternal relatives : these unfortunate noblemen are executed on a pretended discovery of treason; a similar fate awaits Lord Hastings for his fidelity to the legitimate successor of his deceased master; while the innocent children are conveyed to the Tower. By the powerful assistance of the duke of Buckingham, Richard obtains the crown, which is followed by the murder of his nephews in the Tower, and the poisoning of his wife, in order to facilitate an alliance with his niece, which he hopes to accomplish by the aid of her mother. These events are succeeded by the defection and execution of the duke of Buckingham. In the mean time, Henry, earl of Richmond, having assembled a large army, embarks at Bretagne, and lands at Milford Haven : he resolves to proceed towards the capital without delay, and reaches the town of Bosworth in Leicestershire, where he is encountered by the forces of the usurper, who is defeated and slain; while the regal dignity devolves on his fortunate rival, wbo assumes the title of Henry VII. and puts a period to the long contention between the rival families by an immediate uuion with Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV.