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THE TRAGEDY OF
KING RICHARD THE THIRD
We first hear of King Richard III in the entry under the name of Andrew Wise, in the Stationers' Register of October 19, 1597 : ‘Entred for his copie under thandes of master Barlow, and master warden man. The tragedie of Kinge Richard the Third with the death of the Duke of Clarence. Here we have a certain downward limit of date. In John Weever's Epigrammes (1599) occurs a reference to Romeo and to Richard and the Richard may be the third rather than the second of the kings of that name. Weever states that most of the epigrams were written before he was twenty years of age. He was born in 1576. Obviously the evidence that we have here an allusion of 1595-6 to Shakespeare's play is far from decisive. In conjecturing the date we are thrown back upon suggestions derived from internal evidence. The play was apparently written in direct continuation of the Third Part of Henry VI; it is probable that Henry VI was completed before the close of 1592. The present play may have followed in 1593. Critics, indeed, differ as to the chronological order of Richard II and Richard III; the weight of authority inclines to the opinion that Richard III is the earlier play. Although Marlowe's Edward II to some extent served as a model for Richard II, Shakespeare in that play is less Marlowesque in the general character of the piece than we find him here, and we may hesitate before admitting that he could have returned to such discipleship as is manifest throughout Richard III. The date 1593 or 1594 may be accepted as probably correct, but it must be admitted that certainty is not attainable.
The first quarto appeared in 1597. The play was highly popular with Elizabethan and Jacobean readers, and no fewer than six editions were published before 1623, the date of the first folio. The second edition (1598) gives the name of the author, William Shakespeare. The third (1602) is described as newly augmented', but this is not in fact the case. Editions followed in 1605, 1612, and 1622. The folio text is printed probably from the last of these, with additions, omissions, and corrections derived from some other source.
At this point we are confronted by a problem the solution of which is as difficult perhaps as any that arises in connexion with King Henry VI. To discuss it here anew or in detail is impossible. All that can be done is to explain the nature of the problem, and to state the conclusions of some scholars who have made special efforts to grapple with the difficulty. We cannot do better than quote the words of the editors of the Cambridge Shakespeare: “The first Quarto contains passages not found in the Folio, which are essential to the understanding of the context: the Folio, on the other hand, contains passages equally essential, which are not found in the Quarto. Again, passages which in the Quarto are complete and consecutive, are amplified in the Folio, the expanded text being quite in the manner of Shakespeare. The Folio, too, contains passages not in the Quartos, which though not necessary to the sense yet harmonize so well, in sense and tone, with the context that we can have no hesitation in attributing them to the author himself.' The writers go on to say that, on the other hand, insertions and alterations occur in the folio which are certainly not due to Shakespeare, showing that Richard III had been tampered with, even before the publication of the folio, 'by a nameless transcriber who worked in the spirit, though not with the audacity, of Colley Cibber.' Their conclusion is that the quarto text was derived from the author's manuscript through a transcript by another hand, to which are due some accidental
omissions and errors. The folio text they would trace back to a revision by Shakespeare of his original manuscript, through a copy of this revised manuscript, made by another hand, probably after the author's death ; and here, as they suppose, the unknown transcriber on occasions took unwarrantable liberties in dealing with the text. The nearest approximation to a trustworthy text is, in their opinion, to be obtained by rejecting all that is due to the transcriber, whom the printers of the folio followed, and supplying its place from the quarto.
The conclusions of the Cambridge editors were subjected to a very searching criticism by Spedding, the eminent editor of Bacon's Works, in a paper which appears in the New Shakspere Society's Transactions', 1875-6. He dismisses the theory of the unknown transcriber, maintains that Shakespeare prepared in part a corrected and amended copy of his play, but had not leisure to complete his revision, and argues that this revision came into the hands of the editors of the folio, and was used as the copy for their text; he concludes that the text of the folio (errors being corrected or allowed for) represents the result of Shakespeare's own latest revision, and approaches nearest to the form in which he wished it to stand.' To Spedding replied Mr. E. H. Pickersgill, who endeavoured to show that Shakespeare never revised the play; that the first quarto was printed, with many blunders, from the actors' copy, which had been shortened for representation, and perhaps contained some corrections by Shakespeare; and that the folio text gives Richard III not as revised by Shakespeare, but as originally written, with alterations made by some unknown hand. Finally, we may mention the result of investigations carried out by that admirable scholar, Mr. P. A. Daniel; to a certain point his conclusions are akin to those of Mr. Pickersgill—the folio represents the play as first set forth by its author or authors; the quarto, a shortened and revised copy of it. But Mr. Daniel adds that Richard III is, in his opinion, not of Shakespeare's original composition ; it is rather the work of the author, or authors, of the Henry VI series of plays; his part in this, as in those, being merely that of a reviser or rewriter'. The differences of opinion may at least satisfy us as to the great difficulty of the problem. To me it seems certain that there is work from Shakespeare's hand in the quarto which does not appear in the folio, and work from Shakespeare's hand, in larger quantity, in the folio, which does not appear in the quarto. Beyond this statement I do not venture to go. While it is true that, as we possess it, the play has every right to be named a work of Shakespeare, that as such it was named by Meres, that as such it was included in the first folio, and that quartos ascribe its authorship to him, Mr. Daniel's opinion that he was working over a piece by the authors of the Henry VI plays is not to be lightly dismissed, nor is the conjecture of Mr. Fleay that Marlowe may have laid the foundation and erected part of the building of Richard III.' We may, however, venture to believe that Shakespeare, having revised and in part rewritten the old plays on which the last two parts of Henry VI are founded (in which old plays he may himself have collaborated), was not incapable of continuing the series in an original work, written in the same spirit and yet essentially his own. It is wise to restrain the passion for pronouncing with confidence in matters where the basis on which full assurance can rest is not in existence.
The historical source used by the writer of the play was the Chronicle of Holinshed, or that of Hall; behind both of these lies Sir Thomas More's History of Edward V and Richard III; and behind this again some have supposed that a Latin form of that history, which they ascribe to Cardinal Morton, should be placed. We need not, however, consider a question which does not immediately relate to the play. The Latin play Richardus Tertius, by Dr. Thomas Legge, performed at Cambridge in 1579, did not influence the author of our Richard III, nor does he seem to be under obligations to The True Tragedie of Richard III, which was presented by the queen's players, and was published in 1594. To discover a dramatic source for our play we must, as does Mr. Fleay, imagine one. With the matter of history Shakespeare deals in his accustomed freedom, caring little for the actual sequence of events, and adding from his own invention with a view to stage effect.
The personality of Richard dominates-it may almost be said to constitute—the play. It is so strongly drawn, and the sense of it is so driven home in every scene, that analysis of the character becomes almost impertinence. A great force, whether good or evil, masters and overawes the imagination, and Richard, the evil genius of the civil wars, is force concentrated, annealed by the fires of hatred, incarnated in a writhen and shrunken body, powerless only against the final law of avenging justice. For above Richard, from first to last, there stands Fate, or Nemesis, or Divine Lawcall it what we will. The terrible prophecies or curses of Margaret, a fury and a pythoness, keep alive in us the sense that Richard, though he cannot be bowed, must be broken. Intellect and will are his; he can lay a crafty train or explode it on the instant with a fierce detonation ; intellect and will are his—but never love : 'I am myself alone'. Yet he is not a gloomy villain; the laws of the world being inverted for him, he lives with a certain glee in this inverted world. An actor has not caught Shakespeare's idea unless he can play the partmas did Irving-with a kind of perverted gaiety, and a smiling contempt for his victims. It is only at the close that Richard for a moment quails ; for a moment a shudder at the thought of his own solitude thrills him; and then he is himself again.
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me this is the cry heard when the strong hand of God presses him ; but presently he can address to his soldiery an oration full of spirit, and he dies, we may