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eyes to the fact which he sets forth in the Jack Cade scenes with such relentless humour and truth that, at least in the world as he knew it, it was better to be governed by great men than by a mob which no sooner acts as a mob than it shows itself weak, cruel, fickle, and absurd. Still, if
any one is disposed to think that these scenes go a point or two beyond justice, he may remember, if he likes, that Shakespeare was a practical man and always kept his audiences in view ; and that the part of them which counted most for success or failure was the group of courtly and aristocratic patrons of the theatre.
After Henry VI, Richard III ; an advance, but not into Shakespeare's own dramatic kingdom. It has always been a popular play from the days of Burbage to those of Garrick and later. Its noise and bustle give it a kind of crude effectiveness on the stage ; and the extravagance of its language, incidents and whole conception often attracts the young who are slow to learn how much greater truth is than violence, and the human voice than stage thunder. But unlike most of Shakespeare's work it does not wear well : it does not reveal new strength at even the second or third reading, and certainly not at the fiftieth. Richard is the whole play, and already in the first page he is what he remains to the last. His villanies are not what they are in true drama, the successive fruits of the marriage of character and circumstance. They are all born before their time, unnaturally, out of the head of the monster who is their single parent and proclaims their birth at the beginning and long before they are ripe for action. There are, besides, too many incidents in the play in which extravagance passes into incredibility : the wooing of Anne is at least as absurd as it is famous ; and Richard's persuasion of the queen to give him her daughter equally passes beyond the bounds of possibility. But Shakespeare is still Shakespeare in Richard III, though he tries so hard to be only Marlowe.
Even the incredible scene with Anne ends with the Shakespearean
Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
I'll be at charges for a looking-glass ; and it is a hint of a riper Shakespeare than that of Richard III which makes the crooked plotter break out in the next scene with
Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,
By silken, sly, insinuating Jacks ? Similar strokes elsewhere enable Shakespeare to make his stage villain live as well as move. And however far the scene of the death of Clarence may fall short of Shakespeare's riper and better manner, it is a splendid example of his almost infinite opulence of language and imagination. There is, perhaps, one other thing to note. Shakespeare, who dealt so much in crime, was early occupied with the thought of conscience. We get more than one glimpse in Richard III of what was to play so great a part in Hamlet and Macbeth.
The next play was probably Richard II which is again a play in which one figure fills the whole stage. The king is everything in it; but the everything is as unlike that of Richard III as it could well be. There we have the picture of cunning and violence hurrying furiously from murder to suicide : here we have weakness and folly passing on their primrose path from pleasure, vanity, fine phrases and incompetence to failure, desertion, and death. Richard III acts; Richard II only suffers. Of action he is incapable : for action requires will, and he has nothing but desire. From the first he displays the fickle irresolution always to be observed in men of mere desire and sentiment. Principles of_action, good or bad, of this world or another, he has none; he fosses irresolute ant a sea of fancies with neither god nor devil at his helm. The very first scene shows the stuff of which he is made. He will have Mowbray and Bolingbroke accept a reconciliation ; but when they will not he at once submits, and all the satisfaction his kingship gets is the self-flattering words with which he graces his defeat:
We were not born to sue but to command. . And so all through the play. Again and again he changes at a word. He orders the duel and stops it at the very last moment. He sentences Boling broke to ten years' exile and commutes it to six at a look, without even a spoken word, from Gaunt. In the third Act his conduct, or rather his succession of moods, for he does nothing, is the very picture of irresolution. He has hardly finished posturing with the comforting assurance that the very earth will turn her stones into soldiers at the call of the king, making lovely
speeches to convince himself that
Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king, when at a stroke of bad news he is at once sure that all is lost and advises all to leave him. But that mood instantly passes at a reminder of his kingship :
Is not the king's name twenty thousand names ? And then that, too, is hardly uttered before it is changed to
The worst is death, and death will have his day. And, even after that, there is one more brief recovery, immediately followed by :
Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth
Of that sweet way I was in to despair ! There is the dominant note of the theme : the 'sweet way to despair. For men of his type all is sensation : when he is confronted with the demand for a decision his answer is Ay, no : no, ay’, as in the abdication scene ; he and such
as he neither wish to act nor can. What they ask for and must have is, for their minds a succession of dreams, for their bodies a continuous luxury of sensations, and their
love of passiveness is such that they will make a luxury of *
pain and shame and death itself. The end is Nirvana, always the ultimately welcome haven of the senses which have deluded themselves with the pleasant fancy that they are the whole and not a subordinate part of man :
whate'er I be,
With being nothing. And yet there are people, two at least of whom one would be sorry to call fools, who will have it that this poor creature was a kind of favourite child in the eyes of that rare unity of wisdom and strength which we know by the name of William Shakespeare! They tell us that Richard II failed
a little because he lacked some qualities that were doubtless common among his scullions, but more because he ad certain qualities that are uncommon in all ages '; and that he was certainly 'greater in the divine Hierarchies’ than Henry V, who is 'the one common-place man' in the Histories. Fools such critics are, whatever their distinction, at least in one dangerous way of folly. They cannot endure the humility of seeing with all men's eyes or telling a truth that has been told before. And so they must needs have Richard II as the vessel of porcelain' and Henry V as the vessel of clay'. For their own choice Mr. Yeats and Mr. Masefield are free. Only they must not father it upon Shakespeare. No man has ever known the theatre better than he ; and if he had meant us to admire Richard and despise Henry we should most assuredly not have escaped doing it; but there is no audience from his day to ours which has not instantly and instinctively worshipped Henry and pitied Richard. One
might as well be asked to believe that Shakespeare liked Iago better than the less intellectual Othello, or meant us to prefer Macbeth, who makes such wonderful speeches, far finer even than Richard's, and can do things, too, which Richard cannot, to the plain virtues of Banquo or Macduff. No : Shakespeare knew always what he was doing ; and it is not by mistake or incompetence that he has made it clear to us that the feeling he had meant us to have for his Richard is one not of admiration but of pity.
The mistake of course comes just from that. Because Shakespeare was so profoundly and so widely human he could not but love all or very nearly all his creatures, though pity is the only form love can take with some of them. But it is the merest delusion to fancy, because he has been inside them all and knows how they appear to themselves and can give each of them a voice to state his case, that he accepts their statement or sees them as they see themselves. That is the madness which has made some people fancy he meant Shylock to be a sympathetic figure ; Shylock, almost whose first word, a word spoken only to his own ears, is
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. To Shakespeare Shylock is not the monster of crime, nor Richard II the monster of folly, which he might be to other people. Neither is for him incredible or inexplicable : he has in his hands the thread which unravels the mystery. But that does not mean that he does not judge them and make us do so.
For the rest, the play is remarkable for its beauty. For the first time in the Histories, Shakespeare allows free scope to his poetic powers. It is even possible that Richard II may be the first play of any kind in which they were seen in full and final energy ; for though Romeo and Juliet was probably begun earlier it probably received its last touches