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THE KING JOHN' of Shakspere was first printed in the folio collection of his plays, in 1623. We have followed the text of this edition almost literally. King John' is one of the plays of Shakspere enumerated by Francis Meres, in 1598.
There can be no doubt that Shakspere's King John' is founded on a former play. That play, which consists of two Parts, is entitled The Troublesome Raigne of John King of England,' and was first printed in 1591. The German critics agree in giving the original authorship to Shakspere.
Assuming that Shakspere did not write the 'King John' of 1591, it is impossible now, except on very general principles, to determine why a poet, who had the authentic materials of history before him, and possessed beyond all men the power of moulding those materials, with reference to a dramatic action, into the most complete and beautiful forms, should have subjected himself, in the full vigour and maturity of his intellect, to a general adherence to the course of the conventional "history” of the stage. But so it is. The ‘King John' of Shakspere is not the 'King John' of the historians whom Shakspere had unquestionably studied; it is not the 'King John' of his own
imagination, casting off the trammels which a rigid adoption of the facts of those historians would have imposed upon him; but it is the 'King John,' in the conduct of the story, in the juxtaposition of the characters, and in the catastrophe-in the historical truth, and in the historical error-of the play which preceded him some few years.
The old play of 'The Troublesome Reign' was, in all likelihood, a vigorous graft upon the trunk of an older play, which “occupies an intermediate place between moralities and historical plays,"—that of 'Kynge Johan,' by John Bale, written probably in the reign of Edward VI. Shakspere, then, had to choose between forty years of stage tradition and the employment of new materials. He took, upon principle, what he found ready to his hand. But upon this theory, that “The Troublesome Reign' is by another poet, none of the transformations of classical or oriental fable, in which a new life is transfused into an old body, can equal this astonishing example of the life-conferring power of a genius such as Shakspere's On the other hand, if 'The Troublesome Reign' be a very early play by Shakspere himself (and we doubt this greatly), the undoubted 'King John'offers the most marvellous example of
HISTORTES. —TOL. I.
the resources of a mature intellect, in the creation of characters, in the conduct of a story, and the employment of language, as compared with the crude efforts of an unformed mind. The contrast is so remark. able that we cannot believe in this theory, even with the whole body of German critics in its favour.
That the 'Kynge Johan' of the Protestant bishop Bale was known to the writer of the • King John' of 1591, we have little doubt. Our space will not allow us to point out the internal evidences of this; but one minute but remarkable similarity may be mentioned. When John arrives at Swinstead Abbey, the monks, in both plays, invite him to their treacherous repast by the cry of “ Wassail.” In the play of Bale we have no incidents whatever beyond the contests between John and the Pope—the surrender of the crown to Pandulph--and the poisoning of John by a monk at Swinstead Abbey. The action goes on very haltingly ;-but not so the wordy war of the speakers. A vocabulary of choice terms of abuse, familiarly used in the times of the Reformation, might be constructed out of this curious performance. In the John of 1591 we have none of this violence; but the writer has exhibited a scene of ribaldry, in the incident of Faulconbridge hunting out the "angels" of the monks ; for he makes him find a nun concealed in a holy man's chest. This, no doubt, would be a popular scene. Shakspere has not a word of it. One of the most remarkable characteristics of Shakspere's 'John, as opposed to the grossness of Bale and the ribaldry of his immediate predecessor, is the utter absence of all invective or sarcasm against the Romish church, apart from the attempt of the Pope to extort a base submission from the English king. Here, indeed, we have his nationality in full power ;—but how different is that from fostering hatreds between two classes of one people !
Dr. Johnson, in his preface to Shakspere, speaking of the divison, by the players, of our author's works into comedies, histories, and tragedies, thus defines what, he says, was the notion of a dramatic history in those times: “History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any ten
dency to introduce and regulate the conclusion.” Again, speaking of the unities of the critics, he says of Shakspere—"His histories, being neither tragedies por comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters consistent, natural, and distinct. No other unity is intended, and, therefore, none is to be sought. In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of action." Taking these observations together, as a general definition of the character of Shak. spere's histories, we are constrained to say that no opinion can be farther removed from the truth. So far from the “unity of action” not being regarded in Shakspere's histories, and being subservient to the “chronological succession," it rides over that succession whenever the demands of the scene require "a unity of a higher order, which connects the events by reference to the workers, gives a reason for them in the motives, and presents men in their causative character."
The great connecting link that binds to gether all the series of actions in the ‘King John' of Shakspere, is the fate of Arthur. From the first to the last scene, the hard struggles and the cruel end of the young Duke of Brittany either lead to the action, or form a portion of it, or are the direct causes of an ulterior consequence.
As an historical picture the 'King John' is wonderfully true. What a Gothic grandeur runs through the whole of these scenes ! We see the men of six centuries ago, as they played the game of their personal ambition
- now swearing hollow friendships, now breathing stern denunciations ;-now affecting compassion for the weak and the suffering, now breaking faith with the orphan and the mother;—now
“Gone to be married, gone to swear a peace;" now keeping the feast " with slaughtered men;"—now trembling at, and now braving, the denunciations of spiritual power ;-and agreeing in nothing but to bend "their sharpest deeds of malice" on unoffending and peaceful citizens, unless the citizens have
• 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 & 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
KING JOHN. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. l; sc. 2. Act III, se. 1;
sc. 2; sc. 3. Act IV. sc. 2. Act V. sc. l; sc. 3; sc. 7. PRINCE HENRY, son to King John; afterwards
King Henry III.
Appears, Act V. sc. 7. ARTHUR, Duke of Bretagne, son of Geffrey,
late Duke of Bretagne, the elder brother of King John. Appears, Act II. sc. 1. Act III. sc. 1; sc. 2; sc. 3.
Act IV. sc. 1; sc. 3. WILLIAM MARESHALL, Earl of Pembroke. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2; sc. 3.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4. GEFFREY FITZ-PETER, Earl of Essex, chief
justiciary of England.
Appears, Act I. sc. I.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4; sc. 7.
JAMES GURNEY, servant to Lady Faalcon
Appears, Act I. sc. 1.
Appears, Act IV. sc. 2.
PHILIP, King of France.
LEWIS, the Dauphin.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 5.
ABCHDUKE OF AUSTRIA.
MELUN, a French lord.
Appears, Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4. CHATILLON, ambassador from France to
King John. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 1. 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. 1;
sc. 3. CONSTANCE, mother to Arthur. Appears, Act II. sc. 1. Act III. sc. I; sc. 4. BLANCH, daughter to Alphonso, King of
Castile, and niece to King John.
Appears, Act II. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. LADY FAULOONBRIDGE, mother to the Bastard and Robert Faulconbridge.
Appears, Act I. sc. I. Lords, Ladies, Citizens of Angiers, Sheriff,
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. 1. PHILIP FAULCONBRIDGE, half-brother to 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 bave no ‘Names of the Actors.
Enter King John, QUEEN ELINOR, PEMBROKE, Essex, SALISBURY, and others,
KING Joan. 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.