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King John was first printed in the First Folio, where it occupies the first place in the division of "Histories." The ten plays belonging to this series form as it were a great national Epic on the crises in English History from the reign of Richard II to that of Richard III, with King John and Henry VIII respectively as the Prologue and Epilogue of the whole. The Editors of the Folio were guided absolutely by chronological sequence in their arrangement of these plays: hence the place of King John.
SOURCE OF THE PLAY
Shakespeare's King John is a recast of an older play entitled The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England, printed for the first time in 1591, and again in 1611 and 1622. It is significant that the title-page of the 1611 edition states that the play was “written by W. Sh. ;" in the later edition boldly expanded to “W. Shakespeare.” 1 The Troublesome Raigne may safely be assigned to about the year 1589, with its pseudo-Marlowan lyrical note and classical frippery so common in the plays of the period, e.g.:
“The whistling leaves upon the trembling trees,
Records Philippus Regius filius: 1 Cp. Shakespeare Quarto Facsimiles, ed. by Dr. F. J. Furnivall, Vols. 40, 41 (Hazlitt's Shakespeare Library; Nichols' Six Old Plays, etc.).
Birds in their flight make music with their wings,
The old "two-sectioned” play may be described as the work of an imitator of Marlowe clinging to pre-Marlowan versification and diction and clownage.
It has many of the faults of the older Chronicle plays, as opposed to the Historical Dramas; chiefly noteworthy
-(i) there is no hero; (ii) no one in whom one can take interest, except perhaps Faulconbridge; (iii) its Anti-Romish spirit which is at times harsh in the extreme; (iv) the doggerel character of much of its dialogue. On the other hand, the old playwright's treatment of his materials shows considerable merit, and to him belongs the invention of Faulconbridge 2 and his mother, his avoidance of Constance's re-marriages, important modifications in Holinshed's characters of Arthur, of Limoges, etc. ; while the comic scene where the Bastard finds the nun locked up in the Prior's chest “to hide her from lay men," and then discovers "Friar Lawrence” locked up in the ancient nun's chest, must, as Dr. Furnivall puts it, have been very telling on the Elizabethan stage; “you can fancy the audience's chuckles over it." Finally, it must be mentioned that the patriotic tone of Shakespeare's play re-echoes the sentiment of his original: especially striking
1 “The Troublesome Raigne" must be carefully distinguished from Bale's "Rynge Johan” (about 1548, printed by the Camden Society, ed. by J. P. Collier), which holds an interesting place in the history of Bale's attempt to build a Protestant drama on the ruins of the Catholic Mystery (cp. Herford's Literary Relations of England and Germany in the xvi. cent., ch. iii.). Shakespeare had certainly never seen this play.
2 Mr. Watkiss Lloyd suggested that some of Faulconbridge's characteristics were got from that raptarius nequissimus and bastard, Falco de Brenta,-or Foukes de Brent, as Holinshed calls him,—who though he was one of the Barons who wrested Magna Charta from King John, yet gave him great help in his fight with his Barons, and backed his son against Lewes.
are the closing words of The Troublesome Raigne which have remained almost intact in the recast:
“Thus England's peace begins in Henry's reign
If England's peers and people join in one,
“KING JOHN” AND “THE TROUBLESOME RAIGNE'
In comparing the two plays we note the following more striking points :-(i) Shakespeare has compressed the ten acts of his original into five, though he only omits four entire scenes, and introduces but one new one (at the end of Act IV): (ii) there is hardly a single line in the two plays exactly alike; by a mere touch, the re-arrangement of the words, the omission of a monosyllable, and the like, Shakespeare has alchemized mere dross: (iii) Shakespeare, for the most part, follows the older play in its treatment of historical fact, but he departs therefrom noticeably in representing Arthur as a child: (iv) certain characters of the play as well as striking incidents have been elaborated and refined, e. g. Constance, Hubert, Pandulph, and espe
1 Much actually takes place in The Troublesome Raigne which Shakespeare merely speaks of, e. g. there is a scene in which the five "moons” actually appear.
2 Surprise is often expressed at the omission of all mention of the Magna Charta in Shakespeare's play, but it is due in the first instance to the author of The Troublesome Raigne.
3 The famous scene of Constance's Lament (Act III. sc. iv.) was evolved from the following crude original:
“My tongue is tuned to story forth mishap:
cially Faulconbridge, whose character Shakespeare has rendered consistent and ennobled; he makes him not merely the central character, but also a sort of Chorus of the play, giving vent to sentiments of truest patriotism, and enunciating the highest national interests, -an embodiment of the typical Englishman, plain, blunt, honest, and loyal: (v) Shakespeare omits altogether the coarse comic scenes which, in the older play, detract from the dignity of the historical surroundings: (vi) the two plays have the same fault in having no hero; John is not the hero of King John.
On the other hand, there are three points in Shakespeare's play not as clear as in the original:-(i) Faulconbridge's hatred of Austria: (ii) his anger at the betrothal of Blanch to the Dauphin: (iii) the reason why the monk poisoned King John. The old play explains clearly (i) that Aus
( tria had been cruel to Caur-de-Lion: (ii) that Blanch had previously been betrothed to Faulconbridge: (iii) that John "contemned" the Pope, and never loved a Friar; (cp. Shakespeare as an Adapter, Edward Rose, Preface to Troublesome Raigne, Part i; Forewords to Troublesome Raigne, Part ii, Dr. Furnivall; Critical Essays on the Plays of Shakespeare, Watkiss Lloyd; Commentaries on the Historical Plays of Shakespeare, Courtney ; Warner's English History in Shakespeare (Longman, 1894), etc.).
DATE OF COMPOSITION
Ring John is mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia (1598). From internal evidence, it belongs to the same group as Richard II and Richard III, especially in the characteristic absence of prose. The large amount of rhyme in Richard II makes it, in all probability, anterior to King John. The play may safely be dated c. 1595.
She weeps again to hear the wrack of Troy:
Elinor's proud brat hath robbed me of my son.” Similarly, the scene in which John suggests to Hubert his murderous design is based on a mere hint of the older play.