William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

260.

William Richardson, on Richard III’s wooing

1779

From the Mirror, no. 66 (25 December 1779). The editor, Henry Mackenzie, describes the piece as sent ‘by a correspondent, from whom, if I mistake not, I have formerly received several ingenious communications’. Richardson claimed the authorship in his Essays on some of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Characters, To which is Added, An Essay on the Faults of Shakespeare (1798), p. 218, in which this essay is reprinted (pp. 209-18).

On Richardson see the head-note to No. 246 above.

Few of Shakespeare’s tragedies have obtained higher reputation than The Life and Death of Richard the Third. Yet, like every other performance of this wonderful poet, it contains several passages that can hardly admit of apology. Of this kind are the instances it affords us of vulgarity and even indecency of expression.

At the same time, in censuring Shakespeare we ought to proceed with peculiar caution; for on many occasions those passages which, on a cursory view, may be reckoned blemishes, on a closer examination will appear very different, and even lay claim to considerable excellence. In his imitations of Nature he is so very bold, and so different from other poets, that what is daring is often, in a moment of slight attention, deemed improbable; and what is extraordinary is too rashly pronounced absurd. Of this, in the work above mentioned the strange love-scene between Richard and Lady Anne, the widow of Prince Edward Plantagenet, affords a striking example. It seems, indeed, altogether unnatural that Richard, deformed and hideous as the poet represents him, should offer himself a suitor to the widow of an excellent young prince, whom he had murdered, at the very time she is attending the funeral of her father-in-law, whom he had also slain, and while she

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