« PreviousContinue »
THE KING JOHN' of Shakspere was first | imagination, casting off the trammels which printed in the folio collection of his plays, a rigid adoption of the facts of those hisin 1623. We have followed the text of this torians would have imposed upon him; but edition almost literally. 'King John' is it is the King John,' in the conduct of the one of the plays of Shakspere enumerated story, in the juxtaposition of the characters, by Francis Meres, in 1598.
and in the catastrophe- in the historical There can be no doubt that Shakspere's truth, and in the historical error—of the 'King John' is founded on a former play. play which preceded him some few years. That play, which consists of two Parts, is The old play of "The Troublesome Reign' entitled The Troublesome Raigne of John was, in all likelihood, a vigorous graft upon King of England,' and was first printed in the trunk of an older play, which “occupies 1591. The German critics agree in giving an intermediate place between moralities and the original authorship to Shakspere.
historical plays,"—that of ‘Kynge Joban,' by Assuming that Shakspere did not write John Bale, written probably in the reign of the 'King John' of 1591, it is impossible Edward VI. Shakspere, then, had to choose now, except on very general principles, to between forty years of stage tradition and determine why a poet, who had the authentic the employment of new materials. He took, materials of history before him, and pos upon principle, what he found ready to his sessed beyond all men the power of mould hand. But upon this theory, that The ing those materials, with reference to a dra Troublesome Reign' is by another poet, matic action, into the most complete and none of the transformations of classical or beautiful forms, should have subjected him. oriental fable, in which a new life is transself, in the full vigour and maturity of his fused into an old body, can equal this astointellect, to a general adherence to the course nishing example of the life-conferring power of the conventional “history" of the stage. of a genius such as Shakspere's On the But so it is. The ‘King John' of Shakspere other hand, if 'The Troublesome Reign' be is not the ‘King Jobn' of the historians a very early play by Shakspere himself and whom Shakspere had unquestionably stu- we doubt this greatly), the undoubted King died; it is not the 'King John' of his own John' offers the most marvellous example of
HISTORTES. —VOL. I.
the resources of a mature intellect, in the dency to introduce and regulate the conclucreation of characters, in the conduct of a sion.” Again, speaking of the unities of the story, and the employment of language, as critics, be says of Shakspere—“His histories, compared with the crude efforts of an un. being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not formed mind. The contrast is so remark. subject to any of their laws; nothing more able that we cannot believe in this theory, is necessary to all the praise which they exeven with the whole body of German critics pect, than that the changes of action be so in its favour.
prepared as to be understood, that the inciThat the Kynge Johan' of the Protestant dents be various and affecting, and the chabishop Bale was known to the writer of the racters consistent, natural, and distinct. No
King John' of 1591, we have little doubt. other unity is intended, and, therefore, none Our space will not allow us to point out the is to be sought. In his other works he has internal evidences of this; but one minute well enough preserved the unity of action." but remarkable similarity may be men. Taking these observations together, as a tioned. When John arrives at Swinstead general definition of the character of Shak. Abbey, the monks, in both plays, invite him spere's histories, we are constrained to say to their treacherous repast by the cry of | that no opinion can be farther removed from “ Wassail.” In the play of Bale we have no the truth. So far from the "unity of action" incidents whatever beyond the contests be- not being regarded in Shakspere's histories, tween John and the Pope—the surrender of and being subservient to the “chronological the crown to Pandulph-and the poisoning succession," it rides over that succession of John by a monk at Swinstead Abbey. whenever the demands of the scene require The action goes on very haltingly ;-but not "a unity of a higher order, which connects so the wordy war of the speakers. A vocabu the events by reference to the workers, gives lary of choice terms of abuse, familiarly used a reason for them in the motives, and prein the times of the Reformation, might be sents men in their causative character." constructed out of this curious performance. The great connecting link that binds toIn the John of 1591 we have none of this vio gether all the series of actions in the King lence; but the writer has exhibited a scene John' of Shakspere, is the fate of Arthur. of ribaldry, in the incident of Faulconbridge From the first to the last scene, the hard hunting out the “angels" of the monks; struggles and the cruel end of the young for he makes him find a nun concealed in a Duke of Brittany either lead to the action, holy man's chest. This, no doubt, would be or form a portion of it, or are the direct a popular scene. Shakspere has not a word causes of an ulterior consequence. of it. One of the most remarkable charac As an historical picture the King John' teristics of Shakspere's 'John, as opposed is wonderfully true. What a Gothic granto the grossness of Bale and the ribaldry of deur runs through the whole of these scenes ! his immediate predecessor, is the utter ab- | We see the men of six centuries ago, as they sence of all invective or sarcasm against the | played the game of their personal ambition Romish church, apart from the attempt of - now swearing hollow friendships, now the Pope to extort a base submission from breathing stern denunciations ;—now affectthe English king. Here, indeed, we have ing compassion for the weak and the sufferhis nationality in full power;—but how dif ing, now breaking faith with the orphan and ferent is that from fostering hatreds between the mother ;-now two classes of one people!
"Gone to be married, gone to swear a peace;" Dr. Johnson, in his preface to Shakspere,
now keeping the feast " with slaughtered speaking of the divison, by the players, of
men;"—now trembling at, and now braving, our author's works into comedies, histories,
the denunciations of spiritual power ;-and and tragedies, thus defines what, he says,
agreeing in nothing but to bend “their sharpwas the notion of a dramatic history in those
est deeds of malice” on unoffending and times: “History was a series of actions, with
peaceful citizens, unless the citizens have no other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any ten
• Coleridge's Literary Remains.
some "commodity" to offer which shall sustain this laceration, and that the effects draw them
should pass away when Constance quits the “To a most base and vile-concluded peace." stage? The remembrance of Constance can With what skill has Shakspere, whilst he never be separated from the after-scenes in thus painted the spirit of the chivalrous which Arthur appears; and at the very last, times,– lofty in words, but sordid in acts,-- when the poison has done its work upon the given us a running commentary which in- guilty king, we can scarcely help believing terprets the whole in the sarcasms of the Bas that the spirit of Constance hovers over him, tard! But amidst all the clatter of conven and that the echo of the mother's cries is tional dignity which we find in the speeches even more insupportable than the “burn'd of John, and Philip, and Lewis, and Austria, bosom" and the “parch'd lips," which neithe real dignity of strong natural affections ther his “kingdom's rivers" nor the “bleak rises over the pomp and circumstance of winds" of the north “can comfort with regal ambition with a force of contrast which cold." By the magic of the poet, the interis little less than sublime. The maternal val of fourteen years between the death of terror and anguish of Constance soon be Arthur and the death of John is annihilated. come the prominent objects; and the rival Causes and consequences, separated in the kings, the haughty prelate, the fierce knights, | proper history by long digressions and tethe yielding citizens, appear but as puppets dious episodes, are brought together. The moved by destiny to force on the most bitter death of Arthur and the events which marked sorrows of that broken-hearted mother. the last days of John were separated in their Matchless as is the art of the poet in these cause and effect by time only, over which scenes ;-matchless as an exhibition of ma the poet leaps. In the chroniclers we have ternal sorrow only, apart from the whirlwind manifold changes of fortune in the life of of conflicting passions that are mixed up John after Arthur of Brittany has fallen. In with that sorrow;-are we to believe that Shakspere, Arthur of Brittany is at once Shakspere intended that our hearts should revenged.
KING JOHN. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. l; sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1; Sc. 2; sc. 3 Act IV. sc. 2. Act V. sc. 1; sc. 3 ; sc. 7. PRINCE HENRY, son to King John; afterwards
King Henry III.
Appears, Act V. sc. 7.
late Duke of Bretagne, the elder brother of
Act IV. sc. l; sc. 3.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4. GEFFREY FITZ-PETER, Earl of Essex, chief
justiciary of England.
Appears, Act I. sc. 1.
Act V. sc. 2; SC. 4; sc. 7.
JAMES GURNEY, servant to Lady Fanlcon
Appears, Act I. sc. l.
Appears, Act IV. sc. 2.
PHILIP, King of France.
LEWIS, the Dauphin.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. b.
ARCHDUKE OF AUSTRIA.
MELUN, a French lord.
Appears, Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4. CHATILLON, ambassador from France to ... King John.
Appears, Act 1. sc. 1. Act II. sc. I. ELINOR, the widow of King Henry II., and
mother of King John. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act III. sc. l;
Castile, and niece to King John.
Appears, Act II. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. LADY FAULCONBRIDGE, mother to the Bastard and Robert Faulconbridge.
Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Lords, Ladies, Citizens of Angiers, Sherif,
Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and other attendants.
HUBERT DE BURGH, chamberlain to the King. Appears, Act II. sc. 2 Act III. sc. 2; sc. 3. Act IV. sc. 1 ;
SC. 2; sc. 3. Act V. Sc. 3; SC. 6.
ROBERT FAULCONBRIDGE, son of Sir Robert
Appears, Act I. sc. I. PHILIP FAULCONBRIDGE, half-brother lo Ro
bert Faulconbridge, bastard son to King
Richard I. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. l; sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1; sc. 2; sc. 3. Act IV. sc. 2; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 1 : sc. 2; sc. 6; sc. 7.
SCENE, SOMETIMES IN ENGLAND; SOMETIMES IN FRANCE.
In the original edition we have no ‘Names of the Actors.
Enter KING JOHN, QUEEN ELINOR, PEMBROKE, Essex, SALISBURY, and others,
KING John. Now say, Chatillon, what would France with us?
In my behavioura, to the majesty,
The borrow'd majesty of England here.
• Behaviour. Haviour, behaviour, is the manner of having, the conduct.