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at the upper end; and the players came forward from under a curtain, which was also at the back part of the stage. There was no scenery, such as is now used :-instead of this, some property,—a piece of furniture, or a movable, representing some natural object,-was thrust forward on the stage to give a cue to the imagination, and call upon it to supply the rest. But the wardrobe was expensive, and each dress was suited to the character. Of the ability of the players we can now have no proof but the testimony of contemporary writers; and these give us reason to think that many of them possessed the requisites of their art in the highest perfection.
Jumping o'er times;
To attract auditors by the promise of representing portions of English history was a project that readily suggested itself to the players in the days of Elizabeth. The people were rising in intelligence, and in the estimation of their own greatness as a nation ; and their curiosity respecting the events of past reigns was sharpened by the glories of that under which they lived; while they were in a great measure precluded from easy access to historical information by such means as we enjoy, because their habits were not literary, and books were scantily diffused. In days still earlier, the miracleplays or mysteries had been employed to teach the laity the events of sacred history; and the players had these obvious models before their eyes, when they proposed to represent the chronicled events of English history for the information and amusement of the populace. The first representations were, no doubt, as rude in contrivance and execution as the miracle-plays had been; depending, for their interest, solely on the belief of the spectators in the truth of the actions mimicked on the stage; and having no connection of scene with scene but the credited order of the original events. After a time, the interest, from these sources, flagged ; and the players, finding that something more than the bald facts of history, and still balder dialogue, was necessary to make plays of this kind permanently interesting, employed men of genius to work up the scenes ; and, among others, they employed SHAKSPEARE. It is unnecessary to describe in what this working up consisted, since examples of it follow : it is sufficient to say that it did not consist in reconstructing
the materials into means for developing an artful plot: the writers still adhered to the original purpose of this sort of performances ; still they kept-notwithstanding the sacrifices to fancy on minor points—still they kept to the main facts of history; still the scenes were held together only by the order of original facts; and still, in assigning a certain number of these scenes to one play, they were guided by little else than convenience of representation. A play did not always close, because the king, whose name it bore, died ; neither was it always the case, that a king, some portion of whose reign entered into a play, gave his name to that portion. In fact, the chronicle plays were scarcely meant as so many distinct works, but rather as parts of one great series, however the links were in some places wanting ; and it will therefore hardly be a deviation from the original intention, to deem the following selections as so many scenes of dramatised English history.
Those reigns in the Chronicles were first chosen for the purpose of being dramatised, which presented striking events, or which flattered the national pride. At length, when several reigns had been thus brought forward, an intention appears to have arisen of completing the series; but whether, in furtherance of this intention, any dramatic author ever made a beginning with William the Conquercr, may be doubted. The first Norman king had nothing in his character or actions to recommend him to a populace still Saxon in their habits and prejudices; nor was his son, William Rufus, on any account more in their favour. The next of his sons who succeeded on the English throne, had better recommendations; for Henry had married Matilda, the niece of Edgar Atheling; and, in his quality of King of England, was, in turn, Conqueror of Nor. mandy. Accordingly, we learn that there existed plays bearing the name of this prince, composed, as it appears, by some earlier writer than Shakspeare. Whether Stephen of Blois, the last king of the Norman line, ever found a dramatic poet to bring his name into the series, is not ascertained. It is certain that no play now remains to signalize any part of the period from 1066 to 1154, during which this race of kings beld the English throne. The remainder of the twelfth ceutury was occupied by the first two kings of the Plantagenet line; kings that have frequently figured on the modern stage-Henry the Second as the paramour of the fair Rosamund; Richard as the hero of romantic adventures in returning from the Crusades. It is doing Henry injustice to connect his name only with a love-story, which, in its greater part, is fabulous. Without violating the truth of history, the facts of his reign were important and stirring enough to have furnished matter for a chronicle-play, particularly in connection with the striking features of Becket's history, and the tragical interest arising from the undutifulness and the death bed repentance of young Henry: yet no such play remains. And even of Richard, the darling of Troubadour history, we have no dramatic memorial, of Elizabethan date, except the name “ Richard Cordelyon," the recorded title of a lost play. Thus, then,
through the difficulty, or the unattractiveness of the subjects, or through loss by the lapse of time, we have no plays acted on the stage in Shakspeare's day, that take up English history earlier than the beginning of the thirteenth century. The reign of John, which commenced almost with this century (1199), had already been dramatised by an author now unknown, when Shakspeare began to try his pen ; and among other plays which were improved or re-written by him, was the one in question. With extracts from this play as we find it among those ascribed to Shakspeare, and with such adaptations as our purpose requires, we therefore begin our Readings from the Chronicle Plays.
THE CONTENDING INTERESTS UNDER WHICH THE REIGN OF JOHN CON
MENCED, REPRESENTED BY SCENES IMAGINED TO OCCUR BEFORE
HISTORICAL MEMORANDA, In the ARCHDUKE of Austria, two historical personages are included, LEOPOLD, who had treacherously made Richard Cæur-delion a prisoner in returning from the Holy Land; and the VISCOUNT of Lymoges, through whom Richard met his death.
CONSTANCE is widow of Geoffrey, the third of the four sons of Henry the Second, of whom Henry and Geoffrey died in their father's lifetime. Her son ARTHUR is represented by Shakspeare as a young child, though in the latter events of his life, which the play comprises, he had attained to man's estate.
ELEANOR is the widow of Henry the Second : BLANCHE is her grand-daughter, through the wife of Alphonso, king of Castile.
PHILIP FAULCONBRIDGE is, in great part, a poetical creation, but the character was suggested by reported facts; such, for instance, as the assertion in the chronicles of Holingshed, that Richard Cæur-delion had a natural son, who killed the Viscount de Lymoges, to revenge the death of his father. In the play, King John, admitting his relationship, dubs him Sir Richard Plantagenet.
We are to imagine a meeting between the following personages, each party numerously attended, and followed by armed forces :
On the one side, Philip Augustus, king of France ; Lewis the dauphin; the Lady Constance; and prince Arthur :
On the other side, the Archduke of Austria.
In the course of the scene, Chatillon enters with his suite, as returning from an embassy to England :
And subsequently, King John makes his appearance and enters, with a large armed force, accompanied by his mother Eleanor, his niece Blanche of Castile, and Faulconbridge, whom he has placed near himself as commander of the forces.
The first speakers are Philip, Arthur, Austria, and Constance.
[Philip.] Before Angiers well met, brave Austria.
Arthur, that great forerunner of thy blood,
[Arthur.] Heaven shall forgive you Coeur-de-lion's death
The rather, that you give his kindred life,
Welcome before the gates of Angiers, duke! [Austria.] A noble boy! Who would not do thee right ?
Upon thy cheek I lay this zealous kiss,
Till Angiers, and the right thou hast in France,
[Constanre.] 0, take his mother's thanks, a widow's thanks,
Till your strong arm shall help to give him strength
[Philip.] Who is 't approaches ? Lo! upon thy wish, Our messenger Chatillon is arriv’d.
[a pause.] What England says, say briefly, gentle lord.
Chatillon advances and speaks.
But stir them up against a mightier task.