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THE Troublesome Reign of King John was written in two parts, oy W. Shakspeare and W. Rowley, and printed 1611. But the present play is entirely different, and infinitely superior to it.
POPE. The edition of 1611 has no mention of Rowley, nor in the account of Rowley's works is any mention made of his conjunction with Shakspeare in any play. King John was reprinted, in two parts, in 1622. The first edition that I have found of this play, in its present form, is that of 1623, in folio. The edition of 1591 I have not seen. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson mistakes, when he says there is no mention, in Rowley's works, of any conjunction with Shakspeare. The Birth of Merlin is ascribed to them jointly, though I cannot believe Shakspeare had any thing to do with it. Mr. Capell is equally mistaken, when he says, (Pref. p. 15) that Rowley is called his partner in the title-page of The Merry Devil of Edmonton.
There must have been some tradition, however erroneous, upon which Mr. Pope's account was founded. I make no doubt that Rowley wrote the first King John; and, when Shakspeare's play was called for, and could not be procured from the players, a piratical bookseller reprinted the old one, with W. Sh. in the titlepage. FARMER.
The elder play of King John was first published in 1591. Shakspeare has preserved the greatest part of the conduct of it, as well as some of the lines. A few of those I have pointed out, and others I have omitted as undeserving notice. The number of quotations from Horace, and similar scraps of learning scattered over this motley piece, ascertain it to have been the work of a scholar. It contains likewise a quantity of rhyming Latin, and ballad-metre; and in a scene where the Bastard is represented as plundering a monastery, there are strokes of humour, which seem, from their particular turn, to have been most evidently produced by another hand than that of our author.
Of this historical drama there is a subsequent edition in 1611, printed for John Helme, whose name appears before none of the genuine pieces of Shakspeare. I admitted this play some years ago as our author's own, among the twenty which I published from the old editions ; but a more careful perusal of it, and a fur
ther conviction of his custom of borrowing plots, sentiments, &c. disposes me to recede from that opinion. Steevens.
A play entitled The Troublesome Raigne of John King of England, in two parts, was printed in 1591, without the writer's name. It was written, I believe, either by Robert Greene, or George Peele ; and certainly preceded this of our author. Mr. Pope, who is very inaccurate in matters of this kind, says that the former was printed in 1611, as written by W. Shakspeare and W. Rowley, But this is not true. In the second edition of this old play, in 1611, the letters W. Sh. were put into the title-page to deceive the purchaser, and to lead him to suppose the piece was Shakspeare's play, which, at that time, was not published, -See a more minute account of this fraud in An Attempt to Ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ii. Our author's King John was written, I imagine, in 1596. The reasons on which this opinion is founded may be found in that Essay. MALONE.
Though this play have the title of The Life and Death of King John, yet the action of it begins at the thirty-fourth year of his life, and takes in only some transactions of his reign to the time of his demise, being an interval of about seventeen years.
THEOBALD. It takes in the whole of his reign, which lasted only seventeen years : his accession was in 1199, and his death in 1216.
MALONE. Hall, Holinshed, Stowe, &c. are closely followed, not only in the conduct, but sometimes in the very expressions, throughout the following historical dramas; viz. Macbeth, this play, Richard II. Henry IV. two parts, Henry V. Henry VI. three parts, Richard III. and Henry VIII.
A booke called The Historie of Lord Faulconbridge, bastard Son to Richard Cordelion, was entered at Stationers' Hall, Nov. 29, 1614; but I have never met with it, and therefore know not whether it was the old black letter bistory, or a play upon the same subject. For the original King John, see Six old Plays on which Shakspeare founded, &c. published hy S. Leacroft, Charing-cross. STEEVENS.
The Historie of Lord Faulconbridge, &c. is a prose narrative, in bl. 1. The earliest edition that I have seen of it was printed in 1616.
But by an entry on the Stationers' Registers, 29th November, 1614, it appears that there had been an old edition of the tract entitled The History of George W. Faulconbridge, the son of Richard Cordelion, and that the copy had been assigned by [William] Barley to Thomas Beale.
A book entitled Richard Cur de Lion was entered on the Stationers' books in 1558.