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BOOK V.

CHAPTER I.

KING JOHN.

by its glowing patriotism and warlike feelings; and he also assigns it for the most part to Shakspere. But he believes that the poet here wrought upon even an older production, or that it was written in companionship with some other dramatic author. In the comic scenes, particularly those between Faulconbridge and the monks and nuns, he can discover little of Shakspere's " facetious grace," but can trace only rudeness and vulgarity. He suffered, however, says Ulrici, the scenes to remain, because they suited the humour of the people. Ulrici perceives, further, a marked difference in the style of this old play and the undoubted works of our poet. In the greater portion, he maintains, the language and characterization are worthy of the great master. Still it is a youthful labour-imperfect, feeble, essentially crude. He considers that the notice of Meres applies to this elder performance. It is a transition to the 'Henry VI.,' in which Shakspere is more himself. Horn is more decided. In this old play Shakspere, in his opinion, manifested his knowledge of the relations between poetry and history, and in his youthful hand wielded the magic wand which was to become so potent in his riper years.

THERE can be no doubt that Shakspere's | Catholicism, which he describes as fanatical, '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, with the Discoverie of King Richard Cordelion's base son, vulgarly named the Bastard Fauconbridge; also the death of King John at Swinstead Abbey.'This play was first printed in 1591. The first edition has no author's name in the titlepage; the second, of 1611, has, "Written by W. Sh. ;" and the third, of 1622, gives the name of "William Shakspeare." We think there can be little hesitation in affirming that the attempt to fix this play upon Shakspere was fraudulent; yet Steevens, in his valuable collection of "Twenty of the Plays" that were printed in quarto, says, "the author (meaning Shakspere) seems to have been so thoroughly dissatisfied with this play as to have written it almost entirely anew." Steevens afterwards receded from this opinion. Coleridge, too, in the classification which he attempted in 1802, speaks of the old 'King John' as one of Shakspere's "transition-works-not his, yet of him." The German critics agree in giving the original authorship to Shakspere. Tieck holds that the play first printed in the folio of 1623 is amongst the poet's latest worksnot produced before 1611; and that production, he considers, called forth a new edition of the older play, which he determines to have been one of the earliest works of Shakspere. Ulrici holds that 'The Troublesome Reign of King John' was written very soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which is shown by its zeal against

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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

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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. This, certainly, was not an accident. It was not what, in the vulgar sense of the word, is called a plagiarism. It was a submission of his own original powers of seizing upon the feelings and understanding of his audience, to the stronger power of habit in the same audience. The history of John had been familiar to them for almost half a century. The familiarity had grown out of the rudest days of the drama, and had been established in the period of its comparative refinement which immediately preceded Shakspere. 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 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 remarkable that we cannot believe in this theory, even with the whole body of German critics in its favour.

Bale's "pageant" of "Kynge Johan' has been published by the Camden Society, under the judicious editorship of Mr. J. P. Collier. This performance, which is in two Parts, has been printed from the original manuscript in the library of the Duke of Devonshire. Supposing it to be written about the middle of the sixteenth century, it presents a more remarkable example even than 'Howleglas,' or 'Hick Scorner' (of which an account is given in Percy's agreeable ‘Essay on the Origin of the English Stage')*, of the extremely low state of the drama only forty years before the time of Shakspere. Here is a play written by a bishop; and yet the dirty ribaldry which is put into the mouths of some of the characters is beyond all description, and quite impossible to be exhibited by any example in these pages. We say nothing of the almost utter absence of any poetical feeling-of the dull monotony of the versification-of the tediousness of the dialogue-of the inartificial conduct of the story. These matters were not greatly amended till a very short period before Shakspere came to "reform them altogether." Our object in mentioning this play is to show that the 'King John' upon which Shakspere built was, in some degree, constructed upon the 'Kynge Johan' of Bale; and that a traditionary 'King John' had thus possessed the stage for nearly half a century before the period when Shakspere wrote his 'King John.' There might, without injury to this theory, have been an intermediate play. We avail ourselves of an extract from Mr. Collier's Introduction to the play of Bale:

"The design of the two plays of 'Kynge Johan' was to promote and confirm the Reformation, of which, after his conversion, Bale was one of the most strenuous and unscrupulous supporters. This design he executed in a manner until then, I apprehend, unknown. He took some of the lead* Reliques of English Poetry,' vol. 1.

ing and popular events of the reign of King | the crown to Pandulph-and the poisoning John, his disputes with the pope, the suffer- of John by a monk at Swinstead Abbey. ing of his kingdom under the interdict, his The action goes on very haltingly ;-but not subsequent submission to Rome, and his im- so the wordy war of the speakers. A vocabuputed death by poison from the hands of a lary of choice terms of abuse, familiarly used monk of Swinstead Abbey, and applied them in the times of the Reformation, might be to the circumstances of the country in the constructed out of this curious performance. latter part of the reign of Henry VIII. Here the play of 1591 is wonderfully re* * * * This early application of historical formed;—and we have a diversified action, events, of itself, is a singular circumstance, in which the story of Arthur and Constance, but it is the more remarkable when we re- and the wars and truces in Anjou, are brought collect that we have no drama in our lan- to relieve the exhibition of papal domination guage of that date in which personages con- and monkish treachery. The intolerance of nected with, and engaged in, our public | Bale against the Romish church is the most affairs, are introduced. In 'Kynge Johan' fierce and rampant exhibition of passion we have not only the monarch himself, who that ever assumed the ill-assorted garb of figures very prominently until his death, but religious zeal. In the John of 1591 we have Pope Innocent, Cardinal Pandulphus, Ste- none of this violence; but the writer has exphen Langton, Simon of Swinsett (or Swin-hibited a scene of ribaldry, in the incident of stead), and a monk called Raymundus; Faulconbridge hunting out the "angels" of besides abstract impersonations, such as the monks; for he makes him find a nun England, who is stated to be a widow, concealed in a holy man's chest. This, no Imperial Majesty, who is supposed to take doubt, would be a popular scene. Shakspere the reins of government after the death of has not a word of it. Mr. Campbell, to our King John, Nobility, Clergy, Civil Order, surprise, thinks that Shakspere might have Treason, Verity, and Sedition, who may be retained "that scene in the old play where said to be the Vice, or Jester, of the piece. Faulconbridge, in fulfilling King John's inThus we have many of the elements of his- junction to plunder religious houses, finds a torical plays, such as they were acted at our young smooth-skinned nun in a chest where public theatres forty or fifty years after- the abbot's treasures were supposed to be dewards, as well as some of the ordinary ma- posited."* When did ever Shakspere lend terials of the old moralities, which were his authority to fix a stigma upon large gradually exploded by the introduction of classes of mankind, in deference to popular real or imaginary characters on the scene. prejudice ? One of the most remarkable Bale's play, therefore, occupies an interme- characteristics of Shakspere's 'John,' as opdiate place between moralities and historical posed to the grossness of Bale and the ribaldry plays, and it is the only known existing spe- of his immediate predecessor, is the utter cimen of that species of composition of so absence of all invective or sarcasm against early a date." 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!

That the Kynge Johan' of the furious Protestant bishop 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

It may amuse such of our readers as have not access to the play of Bale, or to the 'King John' of 1591, to see an example of the different modes in which the two writers treat

*Remarks on Life and History of Shakspere,' prefixed to Moxon's edition, 1838.

the same subject-the surrender of the crown to Pandulph :

6

THE KYNGE JOHAN' OF BALE.

"P. This outward remorse that ye show here evident

Is a great likelihood and token of amendment. How say ye, Kinge Johan, can ye find now in your heart

To obey Holy Church and give over your froward part?

K.J. Were it so possible to hold the enemies back,

That my sweet England perish not in this shipwreck.

P. Possible, quoth he! yea, they should go back indeed,

And their great armies to some other quarters lead,

Or else they have not so many good blessings

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I rue and pity thy distrest estate:
One way is left to reconcile thyself,
And only one, which I shall show to thee.
Thou must surrender to the see of Rome
Thy crown and diadem, then shall the pope
Defend thee from th' invasion of thy foes.
And where his holiness hath kindled France,
And set thy subjects' hearts at war with thee,
Then shall he curse thy foes, and beat them
down,

That seek the discontentment of the king.

K. J. From bad to worse, or I must lose
my realm,

Or give my crown for penance unto Rome :
A misery more piercing than the darts
That break from burning exhalations' power.
What, shall I give my crown with this right
hand?

No: with this hand defend thy crown and
thee.

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With such like outrages, neither honest, true, between the 'King John' of 1591, and the

nor good.

These things considered, I am compelled this hour

To resign up here both crown and regal power.

*

*

*

*

K. J. Here I submit me to Pope Innocent the thred [third],

Desiring mercy of his holy fatherhead.

P. Give up the crown, then, it shall be the better for ye:

He will unto you the more favourable be."

66

THE KING JOHN' OF 1591.

'King John' of Shakspere, if the general reader would not be likely to weary of such minute criticism. But we may, without risk, select two specimens. The first exhibits the different

mode in which the character of the Bastard is treated in the two plays. In the play of 1591 he is a bold, mouthing bully, who talks in "Ercles' vein," and somewhat reminds one of "Ancient Pistol." There is not a particle in this character of the irrepressible gaiety— the happy mixture of fun and sarcasm-the laughing words accompanying the stern deeds

Pandulph. John, now I see thy hearty-which distinguish the Bastard of Shak

penitence,

spere. We purposely have selected a short

parallel extract; but the passages furnish a key to the principle upon which a dull character made brilliant. Our poet has let in the sunlight of prodigious animal spirits, without any great intellectual refinement, (how different from Mercutio!) upon the heavy clod that he found ready to his hand:

6
THE KING JOHN' OF 1591.

"Lym. Methinks that Richard's pride and
Richard's fall

Should be a precedent t' affright you all.

Bast. What words are these? how do my
sinews shake?

My father's foe clad in my father's spoil!
A thousand furies kindle with revenge
This heart that choler keeps a consistory,
Searing my inwards with a brand of hate :
How doth Alecto whisper in mine ears,-
Delay not, Philip, kill the villain straight;
Disrobe him of the matchless monument
Thy father's triumph o'er the savages!
Base herdgroom, coward, peasant, worse than
a threshing slave,

What mak'st thou with the trophy of a king?"

" SHAKSPERE'S KING JOHN.' "Aust. Peace!

Bast.

Aust.

Hear the crier.

What the devil art thou? Bast. One that will play the devil, sir, with you,

An 'a may catch your hide and you alone. You are the hare of whom the proverb goes, Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard. I'll smoke your skin-coat, an I catch you right; Sirrah, look to 't; i' faith, I will, i' faith.

Blanch. Oh, well did he become that lion's robe,

That did disrobe the lion of that robe!

Bast. It lies as sightly on the back of him As great Alcides' shoes upon an ass :But, ass, I'll take that burthen from your back,

Or lay on that shall make your shoulders crack."

The second extract we shall make is for the purpose of exhibiting the modes in which the same passion is dealt with under the same circumstances. The situation in each play is where Arthur exhorts his mother to

be content, after the marriage between Lewis and Blanch, and the consequent peace between John and Philip:

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THE KING JOHN' or 1591.

"Art. Madam, good cheer, these drooping languishments

Add no redress to salve our awkward haps:
If Heaven have concluded these events,
To small avail is bitter pensiveness:
Seasons will change, and so our present grief
May change with them, and all to our relief.
Const. Ah, boy, thy years I see are far too
green

To look into the bottom of these cares:
But I, who see the poise that weigheth down
Thy weal, my wish, and all the willing means
Wherewith thy fortune and thy fame should
mount,-

What joy, what ease, what rest can lodge in

me,

With whom all hope and hap do disagree?

Art. Yet ladies' tears, and cares, and solemn shows,

Rather than helps, heap up more work for

woes.

Const. If any power will hear a widow's plaint,

That from a wounded soul implores revenge,
Send fell contagion to infect this clime,
This cursed country, where the traitor's breath,
Whose perjury (as proud Briareus)
Beleaguers all the sky with misbelief.
He promised, Arthur, and he sware it too,
To fence thy right, and check thy foeman's
pride;

But now, black-spotted perjure as he is,
He takes a truce with Elinor's damn'd brat,
And marries Lewis to her lovely niece,
Sharing thy fortune, and thy birth-day's gift,
Between these lovers: ill betide the match!
And as they shoulder thee from out thine
own,

And triumph in a widow's tearful cares,
So Heavens cross them with a thriftless course!
Is all the blood spilt on either part,
Closing the crannies of the thirsty earth,
Grown to a love-game and a bridal feast?"

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