Page images
PDF
EPUB

case, the plays were written within a very short time of one another. Comparison of the methods and characteristics of the two plays yields the following results: There is a greater consistency and unity in the treatment of Richard's character. He is, all through, the weak, sentimental poseur, whose weakness we pity, and whose poses we despise; but we sympathise with him in his misfortunes because they are brought about not by crime but by incompetence, not by deliberate malice but as a result of sentimental impotence. On the other hand, John is at one and the same time the swift and resolute warrior leaping fearlessly upon his enemy, the champion of his country against Papal aggression, and the vacillating coward far worse than the murderer of Arthur, toadying to Pandulph and detracting from our sympathy with his awful death by the childishness of his unkingly lamentations. John is neither the hero nor the villain of the piece but an unpleasant mixture of both.

Again, the characters in Richard appear to be drawn by a hand at once firmer and more subtle.

We get to know Bolingbroke gradually and surely as the play progresses, every action and almost every word add little by little to our conception of his character, and that conception is only completed with the last scene of the last Act. There is no parallel to this in King John. We know Faulconbridge as well at the end of the first scene as we do when we close the book. It may be said that every scene is a new revelation of John's character. Granting that, we still find that the revelation is not consistent, natural and inevitable as it is in the case of Bolingbroke. These arguments and others of a similar kind that might be adduced make for the later date of Richard.

As opposed to that view it may be held that the mixture of tragedy and comedy in the play brought about by Shakespeare's treatment of the character of the Bastard is a sign of more mature work; besides, the continual and fatiguing drop into rhyme in the earlier part of Richard and the uncalled-for puns and conceits in unwelcome places also seem to indicate that Richard was earlier than John. Again, if we examine more closely the table of tests just given, and compare only the figures relating to Richard and John, we find that the first and last are in favour of the earlier date of Richard while the other two are against it. The tests therefore are at least not against the earlier date of Richard II.

A comparison between two similar passages, King John, II. i. 23 et seq. and Richard II., II. i. 40 et seq., may give a slight hint as to their order. Shakespeare never goes back, and in such cases the more elaborate and fuller passage is always the later. In this case the Richard passage is far more: fully developed than that in John ; this seems therefore to make for the later date of Richard.

The definite truth, however, “by our best eyes cannot be censured," and we must therefore candidly date John with a hyphen, 1593-5.

We have dealt with the dry bones of the play as Shakespeare took them over from the Troublesome Raigne, but we have still to deal with the flesh and blood in which he clothed them.

Once again it is the old story of genius, like the “glorious sun” playing

. . the alchemist,
Turning with splendour of his precious eye
The meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold.

It is true that the play has its defects. We have already partly mentioned the greatest of these,—it has no real “hero." John ought to be the hero. He is "cast" for it, but cannot play the part. Faulconbridge, although prominent, is not quite prominent enough, and, as the provider of continual “comic relief,” is not dignified enough Arthur, in order that the pathos of his situation may be more fully developed—in the scene with Hubert it is absolutely essential that Arthur should be an innocent child-is kept too young, and dies too soon. This want of a commanding central figure gives a certain regrettable looseness of structure to the play. The minor faults of construction we have already noticed, and with them we are at the end of our fault-finding.

When we come to ask what are the strong points of the play, we do not know whether to admire most that breathing of life into the clay figures of the Raigne, which stirred into being men and women worthy to take their places in the front ranks of Shakespeare's wondrous array of human creations; or that exhibition of supreme mastery of all the detail of stage-craft to be found in every rejection, acceptation or alteration of the arrangement of the original. Probably the best way to appreciate these things would be to read both plays together, scene for scene and speech for speech; we can hardly illustrate them within

the limits of an Introduction. But, apart from comparison, it is quite easy to recognise the touch of genius in the presentation of the character of that “hardy wild head, tough and venturous," as the Raigne calls him,—the Bastard; in the revelation of the depths of Constance's love and grief; in the pathetic and innocent pleadings of Arthur for his eyes; and, indeed, in the glib sophistry of Pandulph.

For the detailed stage history of the play the reader is referred to the Irving Shakespeare. We know nothing of it previous to 1736, when Cibber rehearsed an adaptation of it entitled Papal Tyranny under King John ; but this failed to weather a storm of denunciation from opponents of any tampering with Shakespeare, and “King John in silence modestly expire(d)," as Pope took care to inform the world. But in 1745 the aged Cibber saw his play actually staged, he himself taking the part of Pandulph.

In 1737 Shakespeare's King John was produced by Rich at Covent Garden, and Walker's Faulconbridge was declared to have been a finer performance than that of his successors Garrick, Sheridan, Delane and Barry.

Between 1737 and 1846 the play was often revived. The Constance of Mrs. Cibber and Mrs. Siddons, the King John of Garrick, Macready and Charles Kean, and the Faulconbridge of Kemble being notable performances.

Mr. Tree's revival of the play at the Haymarket in 1899 aroused considerable interest, inasmuch as several alterations were made. The play was divided into three Acts instead of five, the new divisions being made with

reference to Arthur-Act I. ended with his capture, Act II. with his death, Act III. with John's death as a consequence of Arthur's. Two tableaux were introduced, one of the battle before Angiers, and a second (which is very difficult to defend) of the signing of Magna Charta, before the last Act.

As regards the Charter, it does seem strange to us, no doubt, that Shakespeare and his predecessor completely ignored it. But we must remember that in their day the importance of the Charter had not begun to be understood. In any case, its introduction into Mr. Tree's version on account of its historical and constitutional importance hardly seems justified when we remember that it has nothing whatever to do with the plot or development of the play. Some cleverly conceived and very effective minor“ business” was also introduced, and the revival had a longer life than any other.

In preparing this edition I have availed myself freely of the labours of my predecessors, and of the works of the army of critics and editors of Shakespeariana, of which latter class the Shakespeare's Holinshed, of Mr. Boswell-Stone, stands as a splendid example.

As regards readings, the fact that there is no Quarto of King John makes the correction of corrupt passages a matter of pure conjecture, and, consequently, we have had made many “giddy, loose suggestions.” In all cases I have endeavoured to be as conservative of the text as possible, and besides, I have had no hesitation in sitting firmly on the fence where explanations seem unsatisfactory

« PreviousContinue »