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“KING JOHN,” which is the only uncontested play of Shakespeare's not entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. Though enumerated in the list of our author's works by Meres, 1598, commentators have not succeeded in determining the time when it was written. Malone seems to have been of opinion that the maternal lamentations of Lady Constance, for the loss of Arthur, are an expression of the poet's own grief at the death of his son Hammet in 1596; and if this theory were admissible, we should, of course, be bound to conclude that “King John” was not written until after that date. But conjectures of this nature are very fanciful. There are undoubtedly high authorities in literature to justify a poet in availing himself of such an occasion to celebrate an event not strictly connected with his theme; but in those cases the writers worked on great historical subjects. It can scarcely be believed that a man of Shakespeare's incomparable sagacity would have interwoven a merely personal sentiment into a drama intended to interest the public at large. It savours of a reproach to the poet's memory to represent him giving utterance to his own sorrow for the loss of an obscure lad, twelve years old, when depicting the anguish of such a character as Constance for the loss of her princely Arthur. The language and ideas which would be appropriate in the one case would be out of keeping in the other; and those who are best acquainted with Shakespeare's habitual self-negation, will not suspect him of perpetrating this act of bathos.
Johnson has observed, that the description of the English army which Chatillon, the French Ambassador, gives to King Philip, in the first scene of the second act, beginning,
" And all the unsettled humours of the land," —
may have been suggested by the dramatist's acquaintance with the details of the grand fleet despatched against Spain in 1596. But here again we must be cautious in attaching particular meaning to descriptions which would apply with equal truth to almost any expedition. The fleet which the Earls of Nottingham and Essex led against Cadiz was not the only one which had been partly manned by gentlemen. History furnishes too many instances where men
“ Have sold their fortunes at their native homes,
Bearing their birthrights proudly on their backs,"
that they might participate in adventures of a similar kind; and Shakespeare may have derived the materials of Chatillon's description from the chronicles of different periods and various countries. As if to show, indeed, how fallacious such guess-work often is, Johnson has attempted to make a similar deduction from another passage in this play. He conceived that Pandulph's denunciation of King John,
" And meritorious shall that hand be call'd,
Canonized, and worshipp'd as a saint,
might either refer to the bull published against Queen Elizabeth, or to the canonization of Garnet, Fawkes, and their accomplices, who, in a Spanish book which he had seen, are registered as saints. The latter theory would fix the writing of the play after 1605, and is at once demolished by a reference to the corresponding scene of the old piece of “ King John,” printed in 1591, upon which this based, where the Legate denounces John :
“Then I Pandulph of Padua, legate from the apostolike sea doo in the name of Saint Peter and his successor our holy father Pope Innocent, pronounce thee accursed, discharging every of thy subjects of all dutie and fealtie that they doe owe te thee, and pardon and forgiveness of sinne to those or them whatsoever, which shall carrie armes against thee, or murder thee: this I pronounce, and charge all good men to abhorre thee as an excommunicate person.” Such hypotheses as these, however, if they do little towards establishing the chronology of Shakespeare's writings, are forcible confirmations of the fact that he wrote “not for an age, but for all time." His representations are so truthful and life-like that it is the easiest of all undertakings to find a model whence he may be presumed to have drawn them. He describes the ruinous extravagance into which noblemen and gentlemen are seduced in equipping themselves for a foreign enterprise, and the arrogant pretensions of the Catholic Church in dealing with a rebellious monarch, with such fidelity, that we seem to be reading a particular relation of whichever individual occurrence of the kind our memory first brings to notice.
The play of “King John” stands precisely in the same relation to the old drama called “The Troublesome Raigne of John King of England,” &c., that “ The Taming of the Shrew" does to its predecessor, “ The Taming of a Shrew.” In both cases the elder productions were probably current favourites on the stage when Shakespeare first joined it; and in obedience to the customs of the time, and perhaps to the dictates of his employers, he took them up as good dramatic subjects, and availing himself of the general plot and leading incidents of each, transfused a new vitality into the crude materials furnished by some other workman.
At the present day it can hardly be necessary to vindicate Shakespeare from the charge of having falsified history in those of his performances which are founded on historical subjects. The marvel, indeed, is, how he has contrived to combine the highest dramatic effect with so close an adherence to historic truth. It must be remembered that he wrote without any of the advantages we derive from the researches which modern investigation has brought to bear upon the characters of particular personages and the secrets of peculiar transactions. He has left us, notwithstanding, so many masterly and instructive pictures of historic characters and events, that it may be safely said, the youth of England would be far less acquainted with and interested in the veritable annals of their country, if Shakespeare had never written his series of Historical Plays.
John, King of ENGLAND.
PHILIP, King of FRANCE. PRINCE HENRY, his son ; afterwards HENRY III. LEWIS, the Dauphin ; afterwards LEWIS VIII. ARTHUR, Duke of BRETAGNE, son of GEFFREY, ARCHDUKE of AUSTRIA.
late Duke of BRETAGNE, the elder brother of PANDULPA, the Pope's Legate. KING John.
Melun, a French nobleman. WILLIAM MARESHALL, Earl of PEMBROKE. CHATILLON, ambassador from FRANCE to KING GEFFREY FITZ-PETER, Earl of Essex.
John. WILLIAM LONGSWORD, Earl of SALISBURY.
ELINOR, the widow of HENRY II., and mother of ROBERT BIGOT, Earl of NORFOLK.
King John. HUBERT DE BURGH, Chamberlain to the King. CONSTANCE, mother of ARTHUR. ROBERT FAOLCONBRIDGE, son of Sir ROBERT Blanch, daughter to ALPHONSO, King of CASTILE, FAULCONBRIDGE.
and niece to KING JOHN. PAILIP FAULCONBRIDGE, his half-brother, bastard LADY FAULCONBRIDGE, mother to PHILIP and son of KING RICHARD THE FIRST.
ROBERT FAULCONBRIDGE. JAMES GURNEY, servant to LADY FAULCONBRIDGE. Lords, Ladies, and divers other attendants, Sheriff, PETER of POMFRET, a supposed prophet.
Heralds, Citizens, Officers, Soldiers, and Mes
K. JOHN. Now say, Chatillon, what would France
Chat. Thus, after greeting, speaks the king of
ELI. A strange beginning ;-borrow'd majesty!
embassy. Chat. Philip of France, in right and true behalf
a Chatillon.] In the old copy this naine is spelt Chattylion, Chatillion,
Of thy deceased brother Geffrey's son,
That e'er I heard : shall I produce the men ? Arthur Plantagenet, lays most lawful claim
K. JOHN. Let them approach.- [Exit Sheriff To this fair island, and the territories ;
Our abbeys and our priories shall pay
Re-enter Sheriff, with ROBERT FAULCONBRIDGE, Thy nephew and right royal sovereign.
and PHILIP, his bastard Brother. K. JOHN. What follows, if we disallow of this?
What men are you? Chat. The proud control of fierce and bloody
Bast. Your faithful subject, I ; a gentleman, war,
Born in Northamptonshire; and eldest son,
As I suppose, to Robert Faulconbridge,
A soldier, by the honour-giving hand for blood, Controlment for controlment: so answer France.
Of Caur-de-lion, knighted in the field.
K. JOHN. What art thou ? Chat. Then take my king's defiance from my
ROB. The son and heir to that same Faulmouth, The farthest limit of my embassy.
conbridge. K. JOHN. Bear mine to him, and so depart in
K. JOHN. Is that the elder, and art thou the
heir ? peace.
You came not of one mother, then, it seems. Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France ;
Bast. Most certain of one mother, mighty king, For ere thou canst report I will be there,
That is well known ; and, as I think, one father : The thunder of my cannon shall be heard.
But, for the certain knowledge of that truth, So hence! be thou the trumpet of our wrath, And sullen“ presage of your own decay.-
I put you o'er to Heaven, and to my mother ;
Of that I doubt, as all men's children may.
Eli. Out on thee, rude man! thou dost shame
And wound her honour, with this diffidence.
Bast. I, madam ? no, I have no reason for it ; Till she had kindled France, and all the world,
That is my brother's plea, and none of mine ;
The which if he can prove, 'a pops me out Upon the right and party of her son ?
At least from fair five hundred pound a-year: This might have been prevented, and made whole,
Heaven guard my mother's honour, and my land! With very easy arguments of love ;
K. JOHN. A good blunt fellow.—Why, being Which now the manage of two kingdoms must With fearful bloody issue arbitrate.
Doth he lay claim to thine inheritance ? K. JOHN. Our strong possession, and our right,
Bast. I know not why, except to get the land.
But once he slander'd me with bastardy: El. Your strong possession, much more than
But whe'r I be as true begot, or no, your right;
That still I lay upon my mother's head; Or else it must go wrong with you and me:
But, that I am as well begot, my liege, So much my conscience whispers in your ear,
(Fair fall the bones that took the pains for me !) Which none but Heaven, and you, and I, shall
Compare our faces, and be judge yourself. hear.
If old sir Robert did beget us both,
And were our father, and this son like him,
0, old sir Robert father, on my knee
K. JOHN. Why, what a madcap hath Heaven Essex. My liege, here is the strangest con
lent us here! troversy,
ELI. He hath a trick of Cour-de-lion's face ; Come from the country to be judged by you, The accent of his tongue affecteth him :
* And sullen presage ] That is, doleful, melancholy presage.
and his tongue
Remember'd knolling a departing friend."
and to him put The manage of my state."
The Tempest, Act I. Sc. 2. But whe'r I be as true begot,-) This contraction of whetha is frequent both in Shakespeare and his contemporaries; but they seem usually to have written it where.
Do you not read some tokens of my son
Where how he did prevail, I shame to speak ; In the large composition of this man?
But truth is truth : large lengths of seas and shores K. JOHN. Mine eye hath well examinèd his parts, Between my father and my mother lay,– And finds them perfect Richard.—Sirrah, speak, As I have heard my father speak himself,What doth move you to claim your brother's land ? When this same lusty gentleman was got. Bast. Because he hath a half-face, like my Upon his death-bed he by will bequeath'd father ;
His lands to me; and took it, on his death, With that half-face * would he have all my land : That this, my mother's son, was none of his ; A half-fac'd groat, five hundred pound a-year! (1) And, if he were, he came into the world Rob. My gracious liege, when that my father Full fourteen weeks before the course of time. liv'd,
Then, good my liege, let me have what is mine, Your brother did employ my father much,- My father's land, as was my father's will.
Bast. Well, sir, by this you cannot get my land; K. John. Sirrah, your brother is legitimate ; Your tale must be, how he employ'd my mother. Your father's wife did after wedlock bear him ;
Rob. And once dispatch'd him in an embassy And, if she did play false, the fault was hers; To Germany, there, with the emperor,
Which fault lies on the hazards of all husbands To treat of high affairs touching that time. That marry wives. Tell me, how if my brother, The advantage of his absence took the king, Who, as you say, took pains to get this son, And in the mean time sojourn’d at my father's ; Had of your father claim'd this son for his ?
a With that half-face-] This is a correction of Theobald's; the folio, 1623, reading, “ with half that face."
b And took it, on his death,–] Steevens is the only one of the commentators who notices this expression; and he interprets it to nean, "entertained it as his fixed opinion, when he was dying." We believe it was a common form of speech, and signified that he swore, or oath, upon his death, of the truth of his belief. Thus Falstaff, "Merry Wives of Windsor," Act II. Sc. 2, says,
and when mistress Bridget lost the handle of her fan,
I took 't upon my honour thou had3t it not." And Prince Henry.
Upon my death