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THE PLOT, THE FABLE, AND CONSTRUCTION
KING RICHARD II.
THIS play is extracted from the Chronicle of Holinshed, in which many passages may be found which Shakspeare has, with very little alteration, transplanted into his scenes; particularly a speech of the bishop of Carlisle in defence of king Richard's unalienable right, and immunity from human jurisdiction.
Jonson, who, in his Catiline and Sejanus, has inserted many speeches from the Roman historians, was perhaps induced to that practice by the example of Shakspeare, who had condescended sometimes to copy more ignoble writers. But Shakspeare had more of his own than Jonson; and, if he sometimes was willing to spare his labour, showed by what he performed at other times, that his extracts were made by choice or idleness rather than necessity.
King Richard II. is one of those plays which Shakspeare has apparently revised; but as success in works of invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is
not finished at last with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can it be said much to affect the passions, or enlarge the understanding.
The action of this drama begins with Bolingbroke's appealing the duke of Norfolk, on an accusation of high treason, which fell out in the year 1398; and it closes with the murder of king Richard at Pomfretcastle towards the end of the year 1400, or the beginning of the ensuing year.
It is evident from a passage in Camden's Annals, that there was an old play on the subject of Richard the Second; but I know not in what language. Sir Gelley Merrick, who was concerned in the harebrained business of the earl of Essex, and was hanged for it, with the ingenious Cuffe, in 1601, is accused, amongst other things, " quod exoletam tragœdiam de tragicâ abdicatione regis Ricardi Secundi in publico "theatro coram conjuratis datâ pecuniâ agi curasset."
King RICHARD the Second.
EDMUND of LANGLEY, Duke of YORK;
uncles to JOHN of GAUNT, Duke of LANCASTER; the King. HENRY, surnamed BOLINGBROKE, Duke of HEREFORD, Son to JOHN of GAUNT; afterwards King HENRY IV.
Duke of AUMERLE, son to the Duke of YORK.
Bishop of CARLISLE. Abbot of WESTMINSTER.
Sir PIERCE of EXTON. Sir STEPHEN SCROOP.
Queen to King RICHARD.
Duchess of GLOSTER.
Duchess of YORK.
Lady attending on the Queen.
Lords, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, two Gardeners, Keeper, Messenger, Groom, and other Attendants. SCENE, dispersedly in England, and Wales.