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He loked aboute as he were madde;
It would appear scarcely necessary to entreat the reader to bear in mind, -before we place in apposition the events which these scenes bring before us, and the facts of history, properly so called, that the Histories of Shakspere are Dramatic Poems. And yet, unless this circumstance be watchfully regarded, we shall fall into the error of setting up one form of truth in coutradiction to, and not in illustration of, another form of truth. It appears to us a worse than useless employment to be runnivg parallels between the poet and the chronicler, for the purpose of showing that for the literal facts of history the poet is not so safe a teacher as the chronicler; and yet we have had offered to us a series of laborious essays, that undertakes to solve these two problems,-“What were Shakspere's authorities
for his history, and how far has he departed from them? And whether the plays may be given to our youth as properly historical.”* The writer of these essays decides the latter question in the negative, and maintains that these pieces are “quite unsuitable as a medium of instruction to the English youth;' and his great object is, therefore, to contradict, by a body of minute proofs, the assertion of A. W. Schlegel, with regard to these plays, that “ the principal traits in every event, are given with so much correctness, their apparent causes and their secret motives are given with so much penetration, that we may therein study history, so to speak, after nature, without fearing that such lively images should ever be effaced from our minds.” Schlegel appears to us to have hit the true cause why the youth of England have been said to take their history from Shakspere. The “lively images” of the poet present a general truth much more completely than the tedious narratives of the annalist. The ten English “histories “ of Shakspere—“the magnificent dramatic épopée, of which the separate pieces are different cantos”-stand in the same relation to the contemporary historians of the events they deal with as a landscape does to a map. Mr. Courtenay says, “ Let it be well understood that, if in any case I derogate from Shakspere as an historian, it is as an historian only." Now, in the sense in which Mr. Courtenay uses the word “historian," — by which he means one who describes past events with the most accurate observances of time and place, and with the most diligent balancing of conflicting testimony-Shakspere has no pretensions to be regarded. The principle, therefore, of viewing Shakspere's history through another medium than that of his art, and pronouncing, upon this view, that his historical plays cannot be given to our youth as “ properly historical,” is nearly as absurd as it would be to derogate from the merits of Mr. Turner's beautiful drawings of coast scenery, by maintaining and proving that the draughtsman had not accurately laid down the relative positions of each bay and promontory. It would not be, to our minds, a greater mistake to confound the respective labours of the landscape-painter and the hydrographer, than to subject the poet to the same laws which should govern the chronicler. There may be, in the poet, a higher truth than the literal, evolved in spite of, or rather in combination with, his minute violations of accuracy; we may in the poet better study history, “ so to speak, after nature," than in the annalist,--because the poet masses and generalizes his facts, subjecting them, in the order in which he presents them to the mind, as well as in the elaboration which he bestows upon them, to the laws of his art, which has a clearer sense of fitness and proportion than the laws of a dry chronology. But, at any rate, the structure of an historical drama aud of an historical varrative are so essentially different, that the offices of the poet and the historian must never be confounded. It is not to derogate from the poet to say that he is not an historian ;-it will be to elevate Shakspere when we compare his poetical truth with the truth of history. We have no wish that he had been more exact and literal.
The moving cause of the main action in the play of ‘King John ’is put before us in the very first lines. Chatillon, the ambassador of France, thus demands of John the resignation of his crown :
Philip of France, in right and true behalf
To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine.”
by a dowry of twenty thousand golden oncie which the Sicilian King paid in advance to him; but, at any rate, the infant Duke of Britanny was recognised in this deed, by Richard, as “our most dear nephew, and heir, if by chance we should die without issue."* When Richard did die, without issue, in 1199, Arthur, and his mother Constance, who was really the duchess regnant of Brittany, were on friendly terms with him, although in 1197 Richard had wasted Brittany with fire and sw
sword; but John produced a testament by which Richard gave him the crown. The adherents of John, however, did not rely upon this instrument; and, if we may credit Matthew Paris, John took the brightest gem of the house of Anjou, the crown of England, upon the principle of election. His claim was recognised also in Normandy. Maine, Touraine, and Anjou, on the other hand, declared for Arthur; and at Angiers the young prince was proclaimed King of England. As Duke of Brittany Arthur held his dominion as a vassal of France ;—but Constance, who knew the value of a powerful protector for her son, offered to Philip Augustus of France that Arthur should do homage not only for Brittany, but also for Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou. Philip encouraged the pretensions of Arthur to the provinces for which he had offered homage, and he met his young vassal at Mans, where he received his oath, bestowed on him knighthood, and took him with him to Paris.
We may assume this point of the bistory of Arthur as determining the period when Shakspere's play of ‘King John'commences. The hostility of Elinor to Constance is manifested in the first scene :
" What now, my son ? have I not ever said,
Ilow that ambitious Constance would not cease,
Holinshed assigns the reason for this enmity :-"Surely Queen Elinor, the King's mother, was sore against her nephew Arthur, rather moved thereto by envy conceived against his mother, than upon any just occasion given in the behalf of the child; for that she saw if he were king how his mother Constance would look to bear most rule within the realm of England, till her son should come to lawful age to govern of himself.”
Philip the Bastard, whose character infuses so much life and spirit into these scenes, is thus noticed in Holinshed ; nor is there any other mention of him :“ The same year also (the first of John), Philip, bastard son to King Richard, to whom his father had given the castle and honour of Coynack, killed the Viscount of Lymoges, in revenge of his father's death, who was slain (as ye have heard) in besieging the castle of Chalus Cheverell."
SCENE I.-France. Before the Walls of Angiers.
Enter on one side, the ARCHDUKE OF AUSTRIA, and Forces;
on the other, PHILIP, King of France, and Forces; LEWIS,
Lew. Before Angiers well met, brave Austria.
Arth. God shall forgive you Caur-de-lion's death,
Lew. A noble boy! Who would not do thee right?
Aust. Upon thy cheek lay I this zealous kiss,