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and word. It is thus that the very weakness of Constance—the impotent rage, the deceiving hope—become clothed with the dignity that in ordinary cases belongs to patient suffering and reasonable expectations. Soon, however, this conflict of feelingalmost as terrible as the " hysterica passio” of Lear-is swallowed up in the mother's sense of her final bereavement :
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son !
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure !" Matchless as is the art of the poet in these scenes ;--matchless as an exhibition of maternal sorrow only, apart from the whirlwind of conflicting passions that are mixed up with that sorrow ;-matchless in this single point of view when compared with the * Hecuba" which antiquity has left us,* and with the “ Merope" which the imitators of the Greek drama have attempted to revive ;-are we to believe that Shakspere intended that our hearts should sustain this laceration, and that the effects should pass away when Constance quits the stage? Are we to believe that he was satisfied that his “ incidents should be various and affecting,” but “independent on each other, and without any tendency to produce and regulate the conclusion ?” Was there to be no unity of feeling” to sustain and elevate the action to the end ? Was his tragedy to be a mere dance of Fantoccini ? No, no. The remembrance of Constance can never be separated from the after-scenes in which Arthur appears; and at the very last, when the poison has done its work upon the guilty king, we can scarcely help believing that the spirit of Constance hovers over him, and that the echo of the mother's cries is even more insupportable than the “ burn’d bosom ” and the “ parched lips,” which neither his “s kingdom's rivers” nor the “ bleak winds” of the north can 56 comfort with cold.”
Up to the concluding scene of the third act we have not learnt from Shakspere to hate John. We may think him an usurper.
* In the “ Troades' of Euripides.
Our best sympathies may be with Arthur and his mother. But he is bold and confident, and some remnant of the indomitable spirit of the Plantagenets gives him a lofty and gallant bearing. We are not even sure, from the first, that he had not something of justice in his quarrel, even though his mother confidentially repudiates - his right.” In the scene with Pandulph we completely go with him. We have yet to know that he would one day crouch at the feet of the power that he now defies; and he has therefore all our voices when he tells the wily and sophistical cardinal
“ That no Italian priest Shall tithe or toll in our dominions.'' But the expression of one thought that had long been lurking in the breast of John sweeps every feeling but that of hatred, and worse than hatred ; and we see nothing, hereafter, in the king, but the creeping, cowardly assassin, prompting the deed which he is afraid almost to name to himself, with the lowest flattery of his instrument, and showing us, as it were, the sting which wounds, and the slaver which pollutes, of the venomous and loathsome reptile. The
• Come hither, Hubert-0, my gentle Hubert,
We owe thee muchthe
“ By heaven, Hubert, I am almost ashamod
To say what good respect I have of thee”. make our flesh creep. The warrior and the king vanish. If Shakspere
had not exercised his consummate art in making John move thus stealthily to his purpose of blood-if he had made the suggestion of Arthur's death what John afterwards pretended it was---- the winking of authority”-the “ humour”
“ Of dangerous majesty, when, perchance, it frowns,”— we might have seen him hemmed in with revolted subjects and foreign invaders with something like compassion. But this exhibition of low craft and desperate violence we can never forgive.
At the end of the third act, when Pandulph instigates the Dauphin to the invasion of England, the poet overleaps the historical succession of events by many years, and makes the expected death of Arthur the motive of policy for the invasion :
66 The hearts
of the pa
Here is the link which holds together the dramatic action still entire; and it wonderfully binds up all the succeeding events of the play.
In the fourth act the poet has put forth all his power thetic in the same ultimate direction as in the grief of Constance. The theme is not now the affection of a mother driven to frenzy by the circumstances of treacherous friends and victorious foes; but it is the irresistible power of the very helplessness of her orphan boy, triumphing in its truth and artlessness over the evil nature of the man whom John had selected to destroy his victim, as one
“ Fit for bloody villainy,
Apt, liable, to be employed in danger." It would be worse than idle to attempt any lengthened comment on that most beautiful scene between Arthur and Hubert, which carries on the main action of this play. Hazlitt has truly said, “ If anything ever was penned, heart-piercing, mixing the extremes of terror and pity, of that which shocks and that which soothes the mind, it is this scene.” When Hubert gives up his purpose, we do not the less feel that
“ The bloody fingers' ends of John " have not been washed of their taint:
“ Your uncle must not know but you are dead," tells us, at once, that no relenting of John's purpose had prompted the compassion of Hubert. Pleased, therefore, are we; to see the retribution beginning. The murmurs of the peers at the “ again crown’d,"—the lectures which Pembroke and Salisbury read to their sovereign-are but the preludes to the demand for “ the enfranchisement of Arthur.” Then come the dissembling of John,
“We cannot hold mortality's strong hand,”and the bitter sarcasms of Salisbury and Pembroke:
“ Indeed we fear’d his sickness was past cure.
Indeed we heard how near his death he was,
Before the child himself felt he was sick.” 66 This must be answer'd” is as a knell in John's ears. Throughout this scene the king is prostrate before his nobles ;--it is the prostration of guilt without the energy which too often accompanies it. Contrast the scene with the unconquerable intellectual activity of Richard III., who never winces at reproach, seeing only the success of his crimes and not the crimes themselves, -as, for example, his
answer in the scene where his mother and the widow of Edward upbraid him with his murders,-
“ A flourish, trumpets! strike alarums, drums !
Let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women
Rail on the Lord's anointed.” The messenger appears from France :-the mother of John is dead;
-“ Constance in a frenzy died;" the “ powers of France have arrived “under the Dauphin.” Superstition is brought in to terrify still more the weak king, who is already terrified with “ subject enemies and “ adverse foreigners.” The “ prophet of Pomfret and the 66 fiye moons affright him as much as the consequences of young Arthur's death."
He turns upon Hubert in the extremity of his fears, and attempts to put upon his instrument all the guilt of that deed. Never was a more striking display of the equivocations of conscience in a weak and guilty mind. Shakspere is here the true interpreter of the secret excuses of many a criminal, who would shift upon accessories the responsibility of the deviser of a wicked act, and make the attendant circumstances more powerful for evil than the internal suggestions. When the truth is avowed by Hubert, John does not rejoice that he has been spared the perpetration of a crime, but he is prompt enough to avail himself of his altered position:
6 haste thee to the peers." Again he crawls before Hubert. But the storm rolls on.
The catastrophe of Arthur's death follows instantly upon the rejoicing of him who exclaimed, “ Doth Arthur live ?" in the hope to find a safety in his preservation upon the same selfish principle upon which he had formerly sought a security in his destruction. In a few simple lines we have the sad dramatic story of Arthur's end :
“ The wall is high; and yet will I leap down :-
I am afraid ; and yet I 'll venture it.” How marvellously does Shakspere subject all his characters and situations to the empire of common sense! The Arthur of the old play, after receiving his mortal hurt, makes a long oration about his mother. The great dramatist carries on the now prevailing feeling of the audience by one pointed line :-
- O me! my uncle's spirit is in these stones.”' If any other recollection were wanting, these simple words would
make us feel that John was as surely the murderer of Arthur, when the terrors of the boy drove him to an inconsiderate attempt to escape from his prison, as if the assassin, as some have represented, rode with him in the dim twilight by the side of a cliff that overhung the sea, and suddenly hurled the victim from his horse into the engulfing wave;—or as if the king tempted him to descend from his prison at Rouen at the midnight hour, and, instead of giving him freedom, stifled his prayers for pity in the waters of the Seine. It is thus that we know the anger of “ the distemper’d lords” is a just anger, when, finding Arthur's body, they kneel before that “ ruin of sweet life,” and vow to it the “ worship of revenge." The short scene between Salisbury, Pembroke, the Bastard, and Hubert, which immediately succeeds, is as spirited and characteristic as anything in the play. Here we see invincible knights of old ” in their most elevated character-fiery, implacable, arrogant, but still drawing their swords in the cause of right, when that cause was intelligible and undoubted. The character of Faulconbridge here rises far above what we might have expected from the animal courage and the exuberant spirits of the Faulconbridge of the former acts. The courage is indeed here beyond all doubt :
" Thou wert better gall the devil, Salisbury :
But we were scarcely prepared for the rush of tenderness and humanity that accompany the courage, as in the speech to Hubert:
“ If thou didst but consent
Enough to stifle such a villain up." It is this instinctive justice in Faulconbridge,—this readiness to uplift the strong hand in what he thinks a just quarrel,—this abandonment of consequences in the expression of his opinions that commands our sympathies for him whenever he appears upon the
The motives upon which he acts are entirely the antagonist motives by which John is moved. We have, indeed, in Shakspere none of the essay-writing contrasts of smaller authors. We have