Page images

Edward, Prince of Wales, was not murdered, but was killed, as other soldiers were killed, in battle, "in the field by Tewkesbury." King Henry the Sixth, who had become half imbecile, died of disease, aggravated by grief, and not by the hand of an assassin. No evidence exists proving that the young princes, Edward and Richard, sons of King Edward the Fourth, were murdered, a reasonable probability being that one of them died, in the Tower, of disease, and that the other was privily sent out of the kingdom, and reappeared later, in the person of Perkin Warbeck. Queen Anne, wife of King Richard the Third, died a natural death, precipitated by acute sorrow for the death of their only child, Edward, and not by poison. The Duke of Clarence was put to death by his fierce and cruel brother, King Edward the Fourth, who distrusted and hated him, as also did Edward's wife, Queen Elizabeth (Woodeville), and her numerous relatives and partizans. Lord Hastings was slain because Richard knew him for a political opponent and suspected him of being privily implicated in a plot to frustrate the Protectorate and assassinate the Protector. Richard dearly loved his mother, "the Rose of Raby," and he was at all times much under her influence; and also he dearly loved his wife Anne Neville, and when he became a widower, he never entertained the purpose, but publicly and officially disavowed it, of wedding his niece Elizabeth, a princess whom subsequently the astute, crafty, coldblooded King Henry the Seventh took to wife, in order to fortify his usurped title to the English crown. In almost every particular, although he was a stern ruler. and a fierce, sanguinary, restless antagonist, and not guiltless of cruel conduct, King Richard the Third was almost literally the reverse of the man whom Shakspere's tragedy has blazoned as a monster, for the lasting execration of the world.

Richard was not deformed, except that one of his shoulders was a little higher than the other. He was short of stature, slender in figure, and possessed of uncommon strength. His neck was short, and habitually his head was slightly inclined forward. His face was of the aquiline cast, his features were regular, and he had the large nose of the Plantagenet family. His eyes were dark and brilliant.


complexion was olive, his hair dark brown, and his cheeks were a little hollow. His voice was notable for placidity and sweetness. He was fond of rich apparel and customarily wore magnificent garments. He was nervous and restless, as shown by his habit of sheathing and unsheathing his dagger, and of sliding a ring off and on one of his fingers-the third finger of his left hand. He was an expert, graceful dancer, a proficient horseman, and in battle his expedition, agility, valor, and prowess were extraordinary. As a qualifying fact touching his alleged "deformity," it might be remembered that, according to apparently authentic chronicle, he could, and did, when accoutred in full armor, leap to the back of his horse without touching foot to stirrup.

The text of Shakspere's play of "King Richard III," as customarily printed and used, is an eclectic one, taken partly from the first Quarto, 1597, and partly from the First Folio, 1623. The text of the Folio exhibits alterations of the original, not, it is supposed, made by the author, but by the actors, either at the preliminary tavern reading of the play, which was of usual occurrence, or in the processes of rehearsal and performance during many years. It has been ascertained and recorded that "there are about one hundred and twenty new lines introduced in the Folio" (Knight), and that "the Quartos contain important passages which are not found in the Folio, while the Folio, on the other hand, supplies passages, no less important, which are wanting in the Quartos" (Dyce). A justifiable inference would seem to be that the world does not, and never can, possess the text of "King Richard III" exactly as Shakspere wrote it.

Henry Irving caused a book to be printed of Cibber's alteration of Shakspere's tragedy, in which, by the use of inks of different colors, the lines known or believed to be exactly those of Shakspere were shown, in contradistinction from the lines selected by Cibber from other plays by Shakspere, namely, "King Henry IV, Part Two," "King Henry VI, Part Two, and Part Three," "King Richard II," and "King Henry V," and from lines original with Cibber. Among Cibber's verses, the most ambitious is the speech declaring, "Conscience! 't is our coin; we live by

parting with it." The statement put into the mouth of Richard, "I 've lately had two spiders crawling upon my startled hopes," etc., and the commandment, "Get me a coffin full of holes," etc., are Cibber's, and not likely to be mistaken for Shakspere's. Three of Cibber's lines, how ever, are generally supposed to occur in the original: "Off with his head! So much for Buckingham!" "Conscience, avaunt! Richard 's himself again!" and "A little flattery sometimes does well." Coarse as it is, Cibber's version of Shakspere's play was finally approved, for practical use, by both Henry Irving and Edwin Booth, consummate masters of their art, after each of them had made the experiment of producing the original in a condensed form. Neither of them, however, reverted to the use of the Cibber play.

The first attempt to restore Shakspere's tragedy to the stage, even in a partial form, was made by Macready, at Covent Garden, in 1821, that great actor impersonating Richard, with Helen Faucit as Queen Elizabeth. It did not succeed; that is, it did not please the public, and it was withdrawn after a few performances had been given.

Old votaries of the theater-such, at least, as have obtained any considerable experience of that institution—are aware of the manner in which within the last fifty years Richard has usually been represented. The notion of the conventional tragedian has been that Richard is "a part to tear a cat in, to make all split," and accordingly the stage has often been the scene for tiresome display of a scowling, mugging, ranting creature of extravagant deformity, as distinct from Nature as a nightmare is from sense. The number of actors who have assumed the part of Richard is prodigious, but the number of actors who have presented him as a possible and interesting human being, and not as a monstrosity, is few.

The first performer of Richard was Burbage, but nothing is known of his method of acting him or of the dress that he wore. The anonymous elegy on that actor's death, a composition consisting of eighty-six lines of heroic verse which, having long existed in manuscript, was first published in 1825,-mentions Crookback as one of the characters in which he ex

celled, and intimates that when he died that character, among others, died with him, a form of demise frequently named in theatrical memoirs.

Authentic record declares that neither Shakspere's tragedy nor any alteration of it was acted between 1660 and 1710,-a period covering the last fifty years of Thomas Betterton's life. In 1667, however, Betterton acted Richard, not in Shakspere's tragedy, but in a play called "The English Princess, or the Death of Richard the Third," by John Caryll, a person who in later years was secretary to Queen Mary, wife of King James the Second, and who is agreeably remembered as having suggested to Pope the subject of that poet's exquisite work of fancy, "The Rape of the Lock." Pepys saw the first performance of "The English Princess,' and in his "Diary" designates it "a most sad, melancholy play, and pretty good, but nothing eminent in it." Betterton's acting, as Richard, seems to have been excellent. Downes, a principal authority as to the Betterton period, commends it by implication, but does not describe it.

Cibber's alteration of Shakspere's "King Richard III" was first produced in 1700 at Drury Lane, and Cibber himself appeared as Richard, giving a performance which was accounted weak and even ridiculous. The merit of Cibber as an actor consisted in his talent for comedy: as a tragedian he appears to have been a conspicuous failure. In his own story of his performance of Richard he declares that he acted the part as he supposed that it would have been acted by Samuel Sandford, one of his contemporaries, and he describes Sandford as a man who "had sometimes an uncouth stateliness in his motion, a harsh and sullen pride of speech, a meditating brow, a stern aspect, occasionally changing into an almost ludicrous triumph over all goodness and virtue; and from thence falling into the most assuasive gentleness and soothing candor of a designing heart."

The first unequivocally fine embodiment of Richard the Third of which authentic description exists was that presented by David Garrick, at Goodman's Fields Theater, London, October 19, 1741, when he acted that part for the first time. The important later performances of Richard, without exception, have been

more or less affected by knowledge of that example. Garrick unquestionably blazed the path for John Philip Kemble, who was twenty-two years old when Garrick retired from the stage, and for George Frederick Cooke, Edmund Kean, William C. Macready, Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, and their successors,-the inspiring, enduring magic of his method being vitality of impersonation combined with brilliancy of executive art.

The achievement of Garrick has so often been noted that even a passing reference to it may seem like "damnable iteration"; yet it cannot here be avoided. That great actor astonished his public by following a course which in our time would not astonish anybody; that is to say, he spoke, as far as effect is concerned, naturally, not rhetorically, and he acted naturally, not artificially. It is not meant that he was a photographer, no one of his biographers conveys that impression,-but he concealed his

His question, "What do they in the North?" was shot forth with frightful celerity and rage. His action and delivery in the tent or dream scene expressed a frenzy of horror, fear, agony, and pathos, interpenetrated with the furious courage of desperation. All accounts concur in designating the impersonation as wonderfully brilliant. Without doubt he set the example; and it was not alone his art

From an ant Orginal Pancing on Board at Rensington Palace. From an engraving by G. Vertue after a painting at Kensington Palace KING RICHARD III

mechanism, he abjured the formal declamation which had been customary, he projected himself into the character, and he caused the effect of nature by a judicious and expert use of art. The stage version of the play that he presented was Cibber's, and in his employment of it he seems to have made almost all the "points" that have been made by his followers. On his first entrance he presented, in face, person, and demeanor, an image of fierce vitality, dangerous force, sardonic humor, beguiling duplicity, and smiling menace. His performance was marked by incessant variety.


that conquered, but his genius. The spirit that was in the man is indicated by the words that Smollett wrote about him, mentioning "the sweetness and variety of his tones, the irresistible magic of his eye, the fire and variety of his action, the elegance of his attitudes, and the whole pathos of his expression." Garrick's Richard, it should be added, has been characterized as "a vulgar assassin." Hogarth said to him, referring to his widely contrasted impersonations of Abel Drugger (in Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist") and Rich


ard the Third, "You are in your element when begrimed with dirt or up to your elbows in blood."

It does not appear that John Philip Kemble interpreted the character with any notable accession of comprehensiveness or power. He played the part at a time (in 1783) when Garrick's performance of it was still remembered, and the impression that he made was comparatively faint. He was consistently princelike in manner, and he seems to have pleased a fastidious taste by his felicitous subtlety of inflection in delivery of the text.

George Frederick Cooke, far less scholarlike and accomplished than Kemble ("Black Jack," as he called him), but far more formidable and self-assertive, completely eclipsed that noble actor, in the character of Richard. Cooke unhappily did himself lamentable injustice and irreparable harm by hard drinking; but he was a man of sturdy constitution, great force of character, and of wild, discordant mental brilliancy. According to his journal, he seems to have considered himself to be at times a dweller on the verge of insanity, and probably his view of his condition was correct. He acted many parts. He shone as Falstaff, but he records that he never played the part to his own complete satisfaction. He excelled in such parts as Sir Giles Overreach, Shylock, Iago, and Richard. As Hamlet he failed, at least of popular approval, and probably because of complete incompatibility with the part. He was a stalwart person, of commanding figure. His nose was large, long, and slightly hooked; his forehead, high and broad; his eyebrows were strongly marked and very flexible. His demeanor was bold, his gesticulation awkward: he made much use of waving arms and of the extended forefinger of his right hand.

His vocalism

was exceptionally varied. Sometimes his voice was harsh and grating, sometimes dulcet and insinuating, and often his coarse tones suddenly alternated with his smooth ones. He could discharge the barbed arrows of sarcasm with scorching malignity and cruel effect, and he could utter hypocritical kindness with the soft accent of ingratiating sympathy. He lacked refinement alike of mind and manner. He could dissimulate well. A capital portrait of him as Richard was for many years one of the adornments of the vestibule of Daly's Theater, New York. That picture exhibits Richard at the moment when, in Cibber's version of the tragedy, he hears the bell that sounds the death-knell of the Princes in the Tower, and when his visage, naturally, would reveal exultation in his accomplished wickedness, and thus it coincides with authentic testimony as to the actor's appearance. He expressed the joyous malignity of Richard with a fidelity that was terrible. The actor's face seems not to have been one well framed to convey a per

fect impression of plausibility, yet it is difficult to determine, from inspection of the several portraits of him which exist, precisely what his countenance might have revealed. The face of such a man as Richard would not, in Nature, be always an index to his evil mind. Cibber's best bit of invention is that which makes Richard, on entering the throneroom after the death of King Edward, and on observing the grief of the company, apply a handkerchief to his eyes and murmur aside: "With all my heart! I'll not be out of fashion!" At such a point as that Cooke was an actor certain to excel, and it is probable that he did greatly excel when speaking Richard's explicit, comprehensive summary of his own. character, in the lines transferred by Cibber from "King Henry VI, Part Three," Act III, Scene 2:

"Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile,

And cry content to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions."

Cooke, as Richard, wore for court dress a doublet fastened by a broad, jeweled belt, a short cloak edged with ermine, trunk-hose, pointed shoes, and a small, close-fitting velvet hat turned up in front and embellished with a with tall plume. Around his neck he placed a narrow, pleated, white ruff and a broad ribbon sustaining an Order. At his side was a rapier, depending from a shoulder-belt incrusted with jewels. The face was cleanshaven, except for short, narrow sidewhiskers and a small mustache and chintuft. The hair was short. In the latter part of the play, armor necessarily was substituted for the court dress.

Edmund Kean, whose personation of Richard was accounted wonderful, was acquainted with the Garrick tradition as to the acting of the part, and he had seen Cooke on the provincial stage before either Cooke or himself had appeared in London. In 1787 Cooke acted once in London, for some person's benefit, but he did not formally and successfully appear in that capital till 1800, when he was in his fortyfifth year. Kean was on the scene there as a child and as an obscure youth, but he

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed]
« PreviousContinue »