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Sources and Composition.
earlier, Marlowesque, group; the wealth of humour, the plastic characterisation, with the later. John is modelled with a maturer touch than Richard II.; but the tragedy of which he is the contriver has striking affinities of situation to that of Richard, and continually recalls it in spite of equally striking diversities of treatment. Constance is not Margaret, nor Arthur Edward, but they are new and poignant melodies upon the same motifs; the frenzied mother, the assassin uncle, are still dominant and unexhausted themes. On the other hand, the character of Falconbridge links the play yet more closely to the great trilogy of Henry V. The madcap prince who shows himself a master of war and of peace the moment the need arrives, is of the same mould as the blunt soldier
one way Plantagenet' whose motley covered the lion's heart of Cordelion; the mythical Bastard foreshadows the historical conqueror of Agincourt. opens the cycle of Histories founded upon humour and heroism, as John closes the cycle founded upon anguish and crime. These considerations tend to fix King John near the middle of the probable interval between the last of the earlier group and the first of the later, i.e. about 1595.
King John is probably, of all Shakespeare's Histories, the most distantly related to History. Theological fanaticism, that potent myth-maker, had, since the middle of the century, laid a powerful grasp upon the tradition, already not without its mythic elements, recorded in the Chronicles; and the wonderful transformation which this legend underwent in Shakespeare's hands was certainly not undertaken in the interest of historical truth. Indeed his most striking alterations only serve to detach it more completely from the Chronicles, and to draw it more explicitly into the sphere of irresponsible poetry.
What manner of legend it was that underwent this apotheosis may be gathered from two dramas, one of them certainly unknown to Shakespeare, the other the immediate basis of his work. The English Reformers saw in the worst of the Plantagenets an early Protestant,—an unsuccessful precursor of Henry VIII. ; and in Bale's incoherent Kyng Johan (c. 1545) the lineaments of the historic John wholly disappear in a single trait enforced with almost frenzied emphasis: his defiance of the Roman 'Antichrist.' Doctrinal theology played little part in shaping the Elizabethan drama; but the 'Protestantism of the Protestant religion' flourished as bravely in the playhouse as in the conventicle; and the events of 1588, which thrilled every fibre of the national self-consciousness, threw a heightened passion and inspiration, with which religion had very little to do, into the national protest against Rome. Nearly at the same moment the genius of Marlowe revealed the dramatic potency of protest, and filled the stage with imitations of the Titanism of Tamburlaine and Faustus. Both influences had told strongly upon the anonymous author of The Troublesome Reign of King John.1
In the prefixed lines To the Gentlemen Readers' he expressly invites applause for his hero as a Protestant Tamburlaine :
You that with friendly grace of smoothed brow
1 Reprinted in Hazlitt-Collier, Shakespeare's Library, vol. v., and in Quaritch's facsimiles. The title of the first edition (1591) runs: The Troublesome Raigne of Iohn King of England, with the Discoverie of King Richard Cordelions Base Sonne (vulgarly named The Bastard Fawconbridge): also the death
of King Iohn at Swinstead
And given applause unto an Infidel ;
For Christ's true faith indur'd he many a storme,
And set himselfe against the Man of Rome,
The appeal was well calculated, and it was enforced by a bold manipulation of history. The sympathy of the spectators was enlisted at the outset by the extravagance of the French claim. The historical Philip had claimed for Arthur only continental provinces; the dramatic Philip demanded England and Ireland also. But the scheme presented one grave difficulty: the English and Protestant Tamburlaine had to be introduced finally submitting to the 'Man of Rome.' The writer was far from ignoring this difficulty, and he called in all his dramatic resources to meet it. He invests John's act with the pathos of tragic error, makes him yield in a moment of physical and mental collapse (my heart is mazed, my senses all foredone'), and lets him, at the point of death, recognise the calamitous consequences (since John did yield unto the Priest of Rome, nor he nor his have prospered on the earth'), and cry with David: 'I am not he shall build the Lord an house,' but that other, sprung of him, 'whose arms shall reach unto the gates of Rome.' But a bolder expedient remained. If John was no Tamburlaine, his brother Richard lived in the popular imagination as a hero of the same colossal mould; and though Richard could not well be brought in in person to aid his successor, an unknown inheritor of his thews and lion-heart might be raised up to play that rôle. It is plain from the title-page that 'the dis
1 Queen Elinor, in the opening lines of the play, speaks of
the dead Richard as 'the
covery of King Richard Cordelions Base Son' was one of the most popular features of the old play, and it must be allowed to be a happy device; for which the writer found, at most, scattered suggestions in the Chronicles.1 The spectators saw a new Richard arise from obscurity, taught by mystic whisperings of birds and boughs that he is Richard's son; 2 they saw him vow vengeance upon Richard's two arch-enemies— united in a single grotesque effigy, and solemnly 'offer Austria's blood for sacrifice unto his father's ever - living soul'; they saw him renew the fabulous prowess of Richard in the field, fight with 'King Richard's fortune hanging from his helm,' flame amazement in the corrupt monasteries, and triumphantly retrieve the disasters wrought by John's fatal submission. Thus Courdelion still rules England from his urn'; his spirit, like Cæsar's, lives to overthrow the enemies of his country. It is true that in execution all this fell much short of its vigorous conception.
For the rest, The Troublesome Reign makes no attempt to enlarge the somewhat rigid categories of
which expressly suggests the parallel with Tamburlaine the scourge of [the enemies of] God.
1 1. Holinshed barely records (iii. 160, Stone, p. 48) that 'Philip bastard sonne to King Richard, to whom his father had given the castell and honor of Coinacke, killed the Vicount of Limoges in revenge of his father's death.' 2. The Bastard s choice (sc. 2.) was perhaps suggested by Halle's narrative of the similar choice made by Dunois the bastard son of the Duke Orleans (quoted by Stone, ib.). 3. Mr. Watkiss Lloyd
pointed to the resemblance
2 The whistling leaves upon the
The bubling murmur of the
Marlowesque character. There is no tenderness, obvious as the openings for it were in the story of Arthur as told by Holinshed. Holinshed's Arthur is not, it is true, Shakespeare's gentle boy, but a headstrong youth 'that wanted good counsel, and abounded too much in his own wilful opinion'; and the older dramatist retains this character, making him vigorously intervene in the debate between the kings in defence of his rights. But neither his death nor the grief of Constance approaches pathos, and he pleads with Hubert for his eyes in verses which struggle fatuously for sublimity on the Icarus-wings of sounding Latinisms and mythical allusions. Constance herself has termagant touches which ally her to the Margaret of the Contention and the True Tragedy. She already, however, presents the germ of Shakespeare's Constance, an honour we can hardly assign to the Constance of history, who repudiated her second husband and married a third in the very year in which her dramatic counterpart gives Austria 'a widow's thanks' for championing her son (Stone's Hol. p. 53). The older writer treats history in general with a more than Shakespearean daring. To him is due (to take one interesting example) the complete perversion of the events which preceded Magna Charta. The gathering of the barons at St. Edmundsbury was in reality the occasion of their league to extort the charter from John: the old playwright has brought it into connexion with Lewis's invasion, and made him the recipient of their oaths.
The Troublesome Reign thus provided the entire King John. material of King John. Shakespeare has followed his original almost scene for scene, retaining the outer mechanism of the plot unchanged, or at most dismissing into the background events which the earlier dramatist exhibited with genial prolixity on the