Page images
PDF
EPUB

During the tempest of Edward's passion, the Prince of Wales arrives at the Castle of Roxburgh, and the conflict in the mind of the king is well imagined :

Edw. I see the boy. O, how his mother's face,
Moulded in his, corrects my stray'd desire,
And rates my heart, and chides my thievish eye;
Who, being rich enough in seeing her,
Yet seeks elsewhere : and basest theft is that
Which cannot check itself on poverty.-
Now, boy, what news?

Pri. I have assembled, my dear lord and father,
The choicest buds of all our English blood,
For our affairs in France; and here we come,
To take direction from your majesty.

Edw. Still do I see in him delineate
His mother's visage; those his eyes are hers,
Who, looking wistly on me, made me blush ;
For faults against themselves give evidence:
Lust is a fire; and men, like lanthorns, show
Light lust within themselves, even through themselves.
Away, loose silks of wavering vanity!
Shall the large limit of fair Brittany
By me be overthrown? and shall I not
Master this little mansion of myself?
Give me an armour of eternal steel;
I go to conquer kings: And shall I then
Subdue myself, and be my enemy's friend?
It must not be.-Come, boy, forward, advance!
Let 's with our colours sweep the air of France.

Lod. My liege, the countess, with a smiling cheer,
Desires access unto your majesty.

[ Advancing from the door, and whispering him.
Edw. Why, there it goes ! that very smile of hers
Hath ransom'd captive France; and set the king,
The dauphin, and the peers, at liberty.-
Go, leave me, Ned, and revel with thy friends.

[Erit Prince.”

The countess enters, and with the following scene suddenly terminates the ill-starred passion of the king :

Ellw. Now, my soul's playfellow! art thou come,
To speak the more than heavenly word of yea,
To my objection in thy beauteous love ?

Cou. My father on his blessing bath commanded-
Edw. That thou shalt yield to me.
Cou. Ay, dear my liege, your due.
Edw. And that, my dearest love, can be no less
Than right for right, and tender love for love.

Cou. Than wrong for wrong, and endless hate for late.-
But,-sith I see your majesty so bent,

That my unwillingness, my husband's love,
Your high estate, nor no respect respected
Can be my help, but that your mightiness
Will overbear and awe these dear regards,
I bind my discontent to my content,
And, what I would not, I 'll compel I will;
Provided that yourself remove those lets
That stand between your highness' love and mine.

Edw. Name them, fair countess, and, by heaven, I will.

Cou. It is their lives, that stand between our love,
That I would have chok'd up, my sovereign.

Edw. Whose lives, my lady?
Cou.

My thrice loving liege,
Your queen, and Salisbury my wedded husband;
Who living have that title in our love,
That we cannot bestow but by their death.

Edw. Thy opposition is beyond our law.

Cou. So is your desire: If the law
Can hinder you to execute the one,
Let it forbid you to attempt the other :
I cannot think you love me as you say,
Unless you do make good what you have sworn.

Edw. No more; thy husband and the queen shall die.
Fairer thou art by far than Hero was;
Beardless Leander not so strong as I :
He swom an easy current for his love:
But I will, through a helly spout of blood,
Arrive that Sestos where my Hero lies.

Cou. Nay, you 'll do more; you 'll make the river too,
With their heart-bloods that keep our love asunder,
Of which, my husband, and your wife, are twain.

Edw. Thy beauty makes them guilty of their death,
And gives in evidence, that they shall die;
Upon which verdict, I, their judge, condemn them.

Cou. O perjur'd beauty! more corrupted judge!
When, to the great star-chamber o'er our heads,
The universal sessions calls to count
This packing evil, we both shall tremble for it.

Edw. What says my fair love? is she resolute ?

Cou. Resolute to be dissolv’d; and, therefore, this,-
Keep but thy word, great king, and I am thine.
Stand where thou dost, I'll part a little from thee,
And see how I will yield me to thy hands.

[Turning suddenly upon him, and showing two daggers.
Here by my side do hang my wedding knives :
Take thou the one, and with it kill thy queen,
And learn by me to find her where she lies ;
And with the other I 'll despatch my love,
Which now lies fast asleep within my heart:
When they are gone, then I 'll consent to love.
Stir not, lascivious king, to biuder me ;
My resolution is more nimbler far,

Than thy prevention can be in my rescue,
And, if thou stir, I strike; therefore stand still,
And hear the choice that I will put thee to :
Either swear to leave thy most uuholy suit,
And never henceforth to solicit me ;
Or else, by heaven (kneeling], this sharp-pointed knife
Shall stain thy earth with that which thou wouldst stain,
My poor chaste blood. Swear, Edward, swear,
Or I will strike, and die, before thee here.

Edw. Even by that Power I swear, that gives me now
The power to be ashamed of myself,
I never mean to part my lips again
In any word that tends to such a suit.
Arise, true English lady; whom our isle
May better boast of, than e'er Roman might
Of her, whose ransack d treasury hath task d
The vain endeavour of so many pens :
Arise ; and be my fault thy honour's fame,
Which after ages shall enrich thee with.
I am awaked from this idle dream."

The remarks of Ulrici upon this portion of the play are conceived upon his usual principle of connecting the action and characterization of Shakspere's dramas with the development of a high moral, or rather Christian, principle. He is sometimes carried too far by his theory, but there is something far more satisfying in the criticism of his school than in the husks of antiquarianism with which we have been too long familiar:—" We see, in the first two acts, how the powerful king (who in his rude greatness, in his reckless iron energy,

reminds us of the delineations of character in the elder · King John,'· Henry VI.,' and · Richard III.') sinks down into the slough of common life before the virtue and faithfulness of a powerless woman ; how he, suddenly enchained by an unworthy passion, abandons his great plans in order to write verses and spin intrigues. All human greatness, power, and splendour, fall of themselves, if not planted upon the soil of genuine morality; the highest energies of mankind are not proof against the attacks of sin, when they are directed against the weak unguarded side- this is the substance of the view of life here taken, and it forms the basis of the first Part. But true energy is enabled again to elevate itself; it strengthens itself from the virtues of others, which by God's appointment are placed in opposition to it. With this faith, and with the highest, most masterly, deeply-penetrating, and even sublime picture of the far greater energy of a woman, who, in order to save her own honour and that of her royal master, is ready to commit self-murder, the second act closes. This forms the tran

sition to the following second Part, which shows us the true heroic greatness, acquired through self-conquest, not only in the king, but also in his justly celebrated son. For even the prince has also gone through the same school : he proves this, towards the end of the second act, by his quick silent obedience to the order of his father, although directly opposed to his wishes."

In the third act we are at once in the heart of war; we have the French camp, where John with his court hears of the arrival of Edward's fleet, and the discomfiture of his own. The descriptions of these events are, as we think, tedious and overstrained ; at any rate they are undramatic. The writer is endeavouring to put out his power, where the highest power would be wasted. There is less ambition, but much more force, in the following speech of a poor Frenchman who is flying before the invaders :

“Fly, countrymen, and citizens of France !
Sweet-flow'ring peace, the root of happy life,
Is quite abandon'd and expuls’d the land:
Instead of whom, ransack-constraining war
Sits like to ravens on your houses' tops ;
Slaughter and mischief walk within your streets,
And, unrestrain'd, make havoc as they pass :
The form whereof even now myself beheld,
Now, upon this fair mountain, whence I came.
For so far as I did direct mine eyes,
I might perceive five cities all on fire,
Corn-fields, and vineyards, burning like an oven :
And, as the leaking vapour in the wind
Turned aside, I likewise might discern
The poor inhabitants, escap'd the flame,
Fall numberless upon the soldiers' pikes :
Three ways these dreadful ministers of wrath
Do tread the measures of their tragic march ;
Upon the right hand comes the couquering king,
Upon the left his hot unbridled son,
And in the midst our nation's glittering host ;
All which, though distant, yet conspire in one

To leave a desolation where they come." Before the battle of Cressy we have an interview between the rival kings. The debate is not managed with any very great dignity on either side. Upon the retiring of John and his followers, the Prince of Wales is solemnly armed upon the field :

“ And, Ned, because this battle is the first
That ever yet thou fought'st in pitched field,
As ancient custom is of martialists,
To dub thee with the type of chivalry,
In solemn manner we will give thee arms."

The famous incident of the battle of Cressy, that of the king refusing to send succour to his gallant son, is thus told by Froissart:

" They with the prince sent a messenger to the king, who was on a little wind. mill hill; then the knight said to the king, “Sir, the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Oxford, Sir Reynold Cobham, and other, such as be about the prince your son, are fiercely fought withial, and are sore handled, wherefore they desire you, that you and your battle will come and aid them, for if the Frenchmen increase, as they doubt they will, your son and they sball have much ado.' Then the king said, ' Is my son dead or hurt, or on the earth felled?' No, sir,' quoth the knight, ' but he is hardly matched, wherefore be hath need of your aid.' “Well,' said the king, return to him and to them that sent you hither, and say to them, that they send no more to me for any adventure that falleth, as long as my son is alive; and also say to them, that they suffer him this day to win his spurs, for, if God be pleased, I will this journey be his, and the honour thereof, and to them that be about him.' Then the knight returned again to them, and showed the king's words, the which greatly encouraged them, and repined in that they had sent to the king as they did.” The dramatist has worked out this circumstance with remarkable spirit; it is, we think, the best business scene in the play-not overwrought, but simple, and therefore most effective :

Drums. Enter King EDWARD and Audley.
Edw. Lord Audley, whiles our son is in the chase,
Withdraw your powers unto this little hill,
And here a season let us breathe ourselves.

Aud. I will, my lord. [Exit Audley. Retreat,

Edw. Just-dooming heaven, whose secret providence
To our gross judgment is unscrutable,
How are we bound to praise thy wondrous works,
That hast this day giv’n way unto the right,
And made the wicked stumble at themselves!

Enter Artois hastily.
Art. Rescue, king Edward! rescue for thy son!

Edw. Rescue, Artois ? what, is he prisoner ?
Or, by violence, fell beside his horse ?

Art. Neither, my lord; but narrowly beset
With turning Frenchmen, whom he did pursue,
As 't is impossible that he should 'scape,
Except your highness presently descend.

Edw. Tut! let him fight; we gave him arms to-day,
And he is labouring for a knighthood, man.

Enter Derby hastily.
Der. The prince, my lord! the prince! O, succour him;
He's close encompass'd with a world of odds!

Edw. Then will he win a world of honour too,
If he by valour can redeem him thence :
If not, what remedy? We have more sons
Than one, to comfort our declining age.

« PreviousContinue »