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which ascribed his last illness to be the result of anguish of mind occasioned by this loss; but he supposes the accident to have befallen the forces under the Bastard :
Myself, well mounted, hardly have escaped.” The death of John, by poison administered by a monk, is thus described by Holinshed, upon the authority of Caxton :
“ — There be which have written that after he had lost his army he came to the abbey of Swineshead, in Lincolnshire, and there, understanding the cheapness and plenty of corn, showed himself greatly displeased therewith; as he, that for the hatred which he bare to the English people, that had so traitorously revolted from him unto his adversary Lewis, wished all misery to light upon them, and thereupon said in his anger that he would cause all kind of grain to be at a far higher price ere many days should pass. Whereupon a monk that heard him speak such words, being moved with zeal for the oppression of his country, gave the king poison in a cup of ale, whereof he first took the assay, to cause the king not to suspect the matter, and so they both died in manner at one time.”
The attempt of Lewis to possess himself of the English throne was maintained for two years ; and the country was not freed from the French till after “ peace was concluded on the eleventh day of September (1218), not far from Stanes.”
We have given, at the head of this Illustration, the portrait of Henry III. from his great seal ; and we subjoin that of the Dauphin, from bis seal engraved in the
(Lewis, Dauphin of France.]
Dr. Johnson, in his preface to Shakspere, speaking of the division, 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 : 66 History was a series of actions, with other than chronological succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclusion." Again, speaking of the unities of the critics, he says of Shakspere“ His histories, being neither tragedies nor 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 Shakspere'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."* It is this principle which in Shakspere has given offence, as we have shown, to those who have not formed a higher notion of an historical play than that the series of actions should be the transcript of a chronicle, somewhat elevated, and somewhat modified, by the poetical form, but “ without any tendency to introduce and regulate the conclusion.”
The great connecting link that binds together all the series of actions in the King John' of Shakspere --which does not hold any actions, or series of actions, which arise out of other causes, 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
* Coleridge's Literary Remains, vol. ii. p. 160.
lead to the action, or form a portion of it, or are the direct causes of an ulterior consequence. We must entreat the indulgence of our readers whilst we endeavour to establish this principle somewhat in detail.
In the whole range of the Shaksperian drama there is no opening scene which more perfectly exhibits the effect which is produced by coming at once, and without the slightest preparation, to the main business of the piece :-
“ Now say, Chatillon, what would France with us ?" In three more lines the phrase 5 borrow'd majesty at once explains the position of John; and immediately afterwards we come to the formal assertion by France of the “ most lawful claim ” of “ Arthur Plantagenet”
66 To this fair island, and the territories;
To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine." As rapid as the lightning of which John speaks is a defiance given and returned. The ambassador is commanded to 56 depart in peace;"> the king's mother makes an important reference to the “ ambitious Constance;" and John takes up the position for which he struggles to the end,
“ Our strong possession, and our right, for us." The scene of the Bastard is not an episode entirely cut off from the main action of the piece; his loss of “ lands,” and his “ new-made honour,” were necessary to attach him to the cause of John. The Bastard is the one partisan who never deserts him.
The second act brings us into the very heart of the conflict on the claim of Arthur. 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
56 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 some commodity” to offer which shall draw them
"" To a most base and vile-concludel peace.” With what skill has Shakspere, whilst he thus painted the spirit of
the chivalrous times,-lofty in words, but sordid in acts,-given us a running commentary which interprets the whole in the sarcasms of the Bastard! But amidst all the clatter of conventional dignity which we find in the speeches of John, and Philip, and Lewis, and Austria, the real dignity of strong natural affections rises over the pomp and circumstance of regal ambition with a force of contrast which is little less than sublime. In the second act Constance is almost too much mixed up with the dispute to let us quite feel that she is something very much higher than the “ ambitious Constance." Yet even here, how sweetly does the nature of Arthur rise up amongst these fierce broils, --conducted at the sword's point with words that are as sharp as swords,—to assert the supremacy of gentleness and moderation :-
Có Good my mother, peace!
I am not worth this coil that's made for me. This is the key-note to the great scene of Arthur and Hubert in the fourth act. But in the mean time the maternal terror and anguish of Constance become the prominent objects; and the rival kings, the haughty prelate, the fierce knights, the yielding citizens, appear but as puppets moved by destiny to force on the most bitter sorrows of that broken-hearted mother. We have here the true characteristic of the drama, as described by the philosophical critic,-“ fate and will in opposition to each other." Mrs. Jameson, in her very delighful work, “ The Characteristics of Women,' has formed a most just and beautiful conception of the character of Constance :
“ That which strikes us as the principal attribute of Constance is power-power of imagination, of will, of passion, of affection, of pride: the moral energy, that faculty which is principally exercised in self-control, and gives consistency to the rest, is deficient ; or rather, to speak more correctly, the extraordinary development of sensibility and imagination, which lends to the character its rich poetical colouring, leaves the other qualities comparatively subordi. nate. Hence it is that the whole complexion of the character, notwithstanding its amazing grandeur, is so exquisitely feminine. The weakness of the woman, who by the very consciousness of that weakness is worked up to desperation and defiance, the fluctuations of temper and the bursts of sublime passion, the terrors, the impatience, and the tears, are all most true to feminine nature. The energy of Constance, not being based upon strength of character, rises and falls with the tide of passion. Her haughty spirit swells against resistance, and is excited into frenzy by sorrow and disap
pointment; while neither from her towering pride nor her strength of intellect can she borrow patience to submit, or fortitude to endure.”
How exquisitely is this feminine nature exhibited when Constance affects to disbelieve the tale of Salisbury that the kings are
gone to swear a peace;” or rather makes her words struggle with her half-belief, in very weakness and desperation !
“ Thou shalt be punish d for thus frighting me,
For I am sick, and capable of sears;
But they will quake and tremble all this day.“ Here is the timid, helpless woman, sick even at the shadows of coming events; but when the shadows become realities, the haughty will,
“ Like a proud river peering o'er his bounds,"? asserts its supremacy in little matters which are yet within its control:
Pardon me, madam,
here I and sorrows sit;
“ Arm, arm, you heavens, against these perjur’d kings!" She casts away all fear of consequences, and defies her false friends with words that appear as irrepressible as her tears. When Pandulph arrives upon the scene she sees the change which his mission is to work only through the medium of her own personal wrongs :
6 Good father cardinal, cry thou, amen,
To keen curses : for, without my wrong,
There is no tongue hath power to curse him right."" Reckless of what may follow, she, who formerly exhorted Philip,
“ Stay for an answer to your embassy,
Lest unadvis'd you stain your swords with blood," is now ready to encounter all the perilous chances of another war, and to exhort France to fall off from England, even upon her knee “ made hard with kneeling.” This would appear like the intensity of selfishness, did we not see the passion of the mother in every act