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this prince. Edward was especially Prince of Coventry; it was his own city; and he gave licence to build its walls and gates, and cherished its citizens, and dwelt among them. As the young poet walked in the courts of the old hall of St. Mary's, itself a part of an extensive palace, he would believe that the prince had sojourned there after he had won his spurs at Cressy; and he would picture the boy-hero, as Froissart had described him, left by his confiding father in the midst of danger to struggle alone, and alone to triumph. And then, it may be, the whole epopee of that great war for the conquest of France might be shaped out in the young man's imagination ; and amidst its chivalrous daring, its fields of slaughter, its perils overcome by almost superhuman strength, kings and princes for prisoners, and the conqueror lowly and humble in his triumph, would there be touching domestic scenes, -Sir Eustace de Pierre, the rich burgher of Calais, putting his life in jeopardy for the safety of the good town, and the vengeance of the stern conqueror averted by his gentle queen, all arranging themselves into something like a great drama. But even here the dramatic interest was not sustained. There was a succession of stirring events, but no one great action to which all other actions tended and were subservient. Cressy is fought, Calais is taken, Poictiers is to come, after the hero has marched through the country, burning and wasting, regardless of the people, thinking only of his father's disputed rights; and then a mercenary war in Spain in a bad cause,
and the hero dies in his bed, and the war for conquest is to generate other wars. These
are events that belong to the chronicler, and not to the dramatist. Romance has come in to lend them a human interest. The future conqueror of France is to be
a weak lover at the feet of a Countess of Salisbury; to be rejected ; to cast off his weakness. The drama may mix the romance and the chronicle together; it has done so; but we believe not that he who had a struggle with his judgment to unite the epic and the dramatic in the history of Henry V. ever attempted to dramatize the story of Edward III.*
See our Notice of the play entitled “The Reign of Edward III.” in “Studies,” book vi., c. iv.
Hall, the chronicler, writing his history of “The Families of Lancaster and York,” about seventy years after the continual dissension for the crown of this noble realm” was terminated, says,—“What nobleman liveth at this day, or what gentleman of any ancient stock or progeny is clear, whose lineage hath not been infested and plagued with this unnatural division ?” During the boyhood of William Shakspere, it cannot be doubted that he would meet with many a gentleman, and many a yeoman, who would tell him how their forefathers had been thus “infested and plagued.”' The traditions of the most stirring events of that contest would at this time be about a century old ; generally diluted in their interest by passing through the lips of three or four generations, but occasionally presented vividly to the mind of the inquiring boy in the narration of some amongst the “hoary-headed eld,”
whose fathers had fought at Bosworth or Tewksbury. Many of these traditions, too, would be essentially local ; extending back even to the period when the banished Duke of Hereford, in his bold march
“From Ravenspurg to Cotswold,” gathered a host of followers in the Counties of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, and Worcester. Fields, where battles had been fought ; towns, where parliaments had assembled, and treaties had been ratified ; castles, where the great leaders had stood at bay, or had sallied forth upon the terrified country—such were the objects which the young poet would associate with many an elaborate description of the chroniclers, and many an interesting anecdote of his ancient neighbours. It appears to us that his dramatic power was early directed towards this long and complicated story, by some principle even more exciting than its capabilities for the
purposes of the drama. It was the story, we think, which was presented to him in the evening-talk around the hearth of his childhood ; it was the story whose written details were most accessible to him, being narrated by Hall with a rare minuteness of picturesque circumstance ; but it was a story also of which his own district had been the scene, in many of its most stirring events. Out of ten English Historical | Plays which were written by him, and some undoubtedly amongst his first perform| ances, he has devoted eight to circumstances belonging to this memorable story.
No other nation ever possessed such a history of the events of a century,-a history in which the agents are not the hard abstractions of warriors and statesmen, but men of flesh and blood like ourselves ; men of passion, and crime, and virtue ; elevated perhaps by the poetical art, but filled, also through that art, with such a wondrous life that we dwell amongst them as if they were of our own day, and feel that they must have spoken as he has made them speak, and act as he has made them act. It is in vain that we are told that some events are omitted, and some transposed ; that documentary history does not exhibit its evidence here, that a contemporary narrative somewhat militates against the representation there. The general truth of this dramatic history cannot be shaken. It is a philosophical history in the very highest sense of that somewhat abused term. It contains the philosophy that can only be produced by the union of the noblest imagination with the most just and temperate judgment. It is the loftiness of the poetical spirit which has enabled Shakspere alone to write this history with impartiality. Open the chroniclers, and we find the prejudices of the Yorkist or the Lancastrian manifesting the intensity of the old factious hatred. Who can say to which faction Shakspere belongs? He has comprehended the whole, whilst others knew only a part.
After the first two or three pages of Hall's “ Chronicle,” we are plunged into the midst of a scene, gorgeous in all the pomp of chivalry; a combat for life or death, made the occasion of a display of regal magnificence such as had been seldom presented in England. The old chronicler of the two Houses puts forth all his strength in the description of such scenes. He slightly passes over the original quarrel , between Hereford and Norfolk : the pride, and the passion, and the kingly craft, are left for others to delineate ; but the sumptuous theatre and lists royal” at the city of Coventry are set forth with wondrous exactness. We behold the High Constable and the High Marshal of England enter the lists with a great company of men in silk sendall
, embroidered with silver, to keep the field. The duke of Hereford appears at the barriers, on his white courser barbed with blue and green velvet, embroidered with swans and antelopes of goldsmith's work; and there he swears
* “Richard II.," Act 11., Scene 111.
upon the Holy Evangelists that his quarrel is true and just ; and he enters the lists, and sits down in a chair of
green velvet. Then comes the King, with ten thousand men in harness; and he takes his seat upon a stage, richly hanged and pleasantly adorned. The Duke of Norfolk hovers at the entry of the lists, his horse being barbed with crimson velvet, embroidered with lions of silver and mulberry-trees : and he, having also made oath, enters the field manfully, and sits down in his chair of crimson velvet. One reader of Hall's pompous description of the lists at Coventry will invest that scene with something richer than velvet and goldsmith's work. He will make the champions speak something more than the formal words of the chivalric defiance; and yet the scene shall still be painted with the minutest ceremonial observance. We in vain look, at the present day, within the streets once enclosed by the walls of Coventry, for the lists where, if Richard had not thrown down his warder, the story of the wars of the Roses might not have been written. Probably in the days of the young Shakspere the precise scene of that event might have been pointed out. The manor of Cheylesmore, which was granted by Edward III. to the Black Prince for the better support of his honour as Duke of Cornwall, descended to his son Richard ; and in the eighth year of his reign, “the walls on the south part of this city being not built, the mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty thereof humbly besought the King to give them leave that they might go forward with that work, who thereupon granted licence to them so to do, on condition that they should include within their walls his said manor-place standing within the park of Cheylesmore, as the record expresseth, which park was a woody ground in those times.” Encroached upon, no doubt, was this park in the age of Elizabeth. But Coventry would then have abundant memorials of its ancient magnificence which have now perished. He who wrote the glorious scene of the lists upon St. Lambert's day in all probability derived some inspiration from the genius loci.
The challenger and the challenged are each banished. John of Gaunt dies, and the King seizes upon the possessions of his dangerous son. Then begins that vengeance which is to harass England with a century of blood. Hall and Froissart make the Duke of Lancaster, after his landing, march direct to London, and afterwards proceed to the west of England. There can be no doubt that they were wrong; that the Duke, having brought with him a very small force, marched as quickly as possible into the midland counties, where he had many castles and possessions, and in which he might raise a numerous army among his own friends and retainers. The local knowledge of the poet, founded upon traditionary information, would have enabled him to decide upon the correctness of the statement which shows Bolingbroke marching direct from Ravenspurg to Berkeley Castle. The natural and easy dialogue between Bolingbroke and Northumberland exhibits as much local accuracy in a single line as if the poet had given us a laboured description of the Cotswolds :
“I am a stranger here in Glostershire.
These high wild hills, and rough uneven ways,
Draw out our miles, and make them wearisome." + In a few weeks England sustains a revolution. The King is deposed; the great Duke is on the throne. Two or three years of discontent and intrigue, and then insurrection. Shrewsbury can scarcely be called one of Shakspere's native localities, yet it clear that he was familiar with the place. In Falstaff's march from London to Shrewsbury the poet glances, lovingly as it were, at the old well-known
“The red-nosed innkeeper at Daventry” had assuredly filled a glass of sack for him. The distance from Coventry to Sutton-Coldfield was accurately known by him, when he makes the burly commander say—“Bardolph, get thee before to * Dugdale.
† "Richard II.," Act II., Scene III.