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THE hiftorical facts of this play, (fays Mrs. Lenox) are all taken from Holingfhed, and the characters all clofely copied from that author; that of Richard the Third has been cenfured as monstrous, the picture of a fiend and not a man; and too exquifitely wicked to be reprefented on the stage. 'Tis certain, however, that Shakespear has not aggravated the vices and cruelty of this prince; he paints him fuch as hiftory has tranfmitted him to us; and if his character fhocks us more in the fcene than the ftory, 'tis because the colours of the poet are more lively, his expreffion ftronger, and the lights he fhews him in more diverfified; but the fubject in both is the fame. The qualities of his mind and perfon are thus fummed up by Holingbed.
As he was fmall and little of stature, fo was he of body greatly-deformed, the one fhoulder higher than the other, his face was fmall, but his countenance cruel, and fuch that the first aspect a man would judge it to smell and favour of malice, fraud and deceit; when he stood mufing, he would bite and chaw his nether lip; as who faid, that his fierce nature always chafed, stirred and was ever unquiet: befide, that the dagger which he wore, he would (when he ftudied) with his hand pluck up and down in the fheath to the midft, never drawing it fully out. He was of a ready, pregnant, and quick wit, wielie to feire, and apt to diffemble: he had a proud mind, and an arrogant ftomach, the which accompanied him even to his death, rather choosing to suffer the fame by dint of fword, than being forfaken and left helpless of his unfaithful companions, to preserve by cowardlie flight, fuch a frail and uncertain life, which by malice, ficknefs, or condign punishment, was like fhortly to come to confufion."
This character is the very fame with that drawn of him by Shakespear; but the latter is made more striking by the wonderful propriety of the manners and fentiments he every where, throughout the play, attributes to him. If Shakespear is in any inftance to be blamed for keeping too clofe to the hiftorian, it is for dignifying the laft moments of this bloody tyrant with fuch fhining proofs of fortitude and valour, as, notwithstanding the deteftation we conceived at his cruelties; muft force from us an involuntary applaufe. The hiftory tells us he fought bravely in that battle which decided his fate, and, overpowered as he was by numbers, difdained to fave his life by flight.
THIS (fays Johnfon) is one of the moft celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised moft, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has fcenes noble in themfelves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But fome parts are trifling, others shocking, and fome improbable.
THIS tragedy (fays Theobald), though it is called the Life and Death of this Prince, comprifes, at moft, but the last eight years of his time; for it opens with George duke of Clarence being clapped up in the Tower, which happened in the beginning of the year 1477; and clofes with the death of Richard at Bofworthfield, which battle was fought on 22d of August, in the year 1485.
Being purg'd, a fire fparkling in lovers eyes;
SCENE V. On Dreams.
O then I fee queen Mab hath been with you.
(1) Fancy's, &c.] This has been read Fairies, but Mr. Warburton altered it to Fancy: the lines following.
Which are the children of an idle brain
evidently prove the truth of the reading. Befide, as the is the queen of the fairies, it would rather be beneath her dignity to be their midwife too. The word shape is used in the next line very licentiously for form, fixe, or magnitude.
In fhape no bigger than an agat-ftone
(2) O'er a courtier's nofe.] Tho' lawyer's is here ufed in almost all the modern editions, it is very obfervable, that in the old ones the word ufed is, Courtier's; but the modern editors, having no idea what the poet could mean by a courtier's felling out a fuit, notwithstanding he had introduced the lawyer's before, gave them another place in his fine fpeech. Mr. Warburton has very well explained it, by obferving that "in our author's time, a court-folicitation was called fimply a fuit; and a procefs, a fuit at law to distinguish it from the other. The king (fays an anonymous cotemporary writer of the life of Sir William Cecil) called him [Sir William Cecil] and after long talk with him, being much delighted with his answers, willed his father to find [i. e. fmell out] a fuit for him. Whereupon he became fuitor for the reverfion of the Cultos Brevium office in the Common-pleas. Which the king willingly granted it, being the first fuit he had in his life." Nor can it be objected, as Mr. Warburton alfo obferves, that there will
And then dreams he of finelling out a fuit:
be a repetition in this fine fpeech, if we read courtiers, as there is, if we read lawyers, it having been said before,
On courtiers knees that dream on curtfies ftraight.
Because they are shewn in two places under different views ; ̈ in the first their foppery, in the fecond their rapacity is ridiculed." Befides, we may add, that in the first line he feems to allude to the court ladies, in thefe under confideration to the gentlemen. The custom being fo much out of ufe, it is not amifs that in the modern readings of this fpeech, and alfo on the stage, we find the doctors introduced,
O'er Doctors fingers, who ftraight dream on fees.
But there feems no doubt of the genuineness of the word in the
Lucretius, Book IV.
Tho' the following paffages have fomething fimilar in general to this celebrated fpeech, yet they ferve only to fhew the fuperiority of Shakespear's fancy, and the vast range of his boundless imagination. If the Reader will confult the 4th book and 959th line of Lucretius, he will find more on the fubject than I have quoted: Shakespear has an expreffion in Othello, concerning dreams, which is conformable to what Lucretius and Petronius obferve, and which is an inftance of his great knowledge of nature: here he pronounces, dreams are nothing, there, when Othello's paffions are to be raised, 'tis remark'd that they.
Denote a foregone conclufion.
See Othello, A. 3. S. 8.
Et quoi quifque fere ftudio, &c.
And writing down my thoughts, conftant employs.