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And given applause unto an Infidel;
A warlike Christian and your Countreyman.
The appeal was well calculated, and it was enforced by a bold manipulation of history. The sympathy of the spectators was enlisted at the outset by the extravagance of the French claim. The historical Philip had claimed for Arthur only continental provinces; the dramatic Philip demanded England and Ireland also. But the scheme presented one grave difficulty: the English and Protestant Tamburlaine had to be introduced finally submitting to the 'Man of Rome.' The writer was far from ignoring this difficulty, and he called in all his dramatic resources to meet it. He invests John's act with the pathos of tragic error, makes him yield in a moment of physical and mental collapse (my heart is mazed, my senses all foredone'), and lets him, at the point of death, recognise the calamitous consequences (since John did yield unto the Priest of Rome, nor he nor his have prospered on the earth'), and cry with David: 'I am not he shall build the Lord an house,' but that other, sprung of him, 'whose arms shall reach unto the gates of Rome.' But a bolder expedient remained. If John was no Tamburlaine, his brother Richard lived in the popular imagination as a hero of the same colossal mould; and though Richard could not well be brought in in person to aid his successor, an unknown inheritor of his thews and lion-heart might be raised up to play that rôle.1 It is plain from the title-page that ‘the dis
1 Queen Elinor, in the opening lines of the play, speaks of
the dead Richard as 'the scourge of infidels,' a phrase
covery of King Richard Cordelions Base Son' was one of the most popular features of the old play, and it must be allowed to be a happy device; for which the writer found, at most, scattered suggestions in the Chronicles.1 The spectators saw a new Richard arise from obscurity, taught by mystic whisperings of birds and boughs that he is Richard's son; 2 they saw him vow vengeance upon Richard's two arch-enemies— united in a single grotesque effigy, and solemnly 'offer Austria's blood for sacrifice unto his father's ever-living soul'; they saw him renew the fabulous prowess of Richard in the field, fight with 'King Richard's fortune hanging from his helm,' flame amazement in the corrupt mónasteries, and triumphantly retrieve the disasters wrought by John's fatal submission. Thus Courdelion still rules England 'from his urn'; his spirit, like Cæsar's, lives to overthrow the enemies of his country. It is true that in execution all this fell much short of its vigorous conception.
For the rest, The Troublesome Reign makes no attempt to enlarge the somewhat rigid categories of
which expressly suggests the parallel with Tamburlaine the scourge of [the enemies of] God.
11. Holinshed barely records (iii. 160, Stone, p. 48) that 'Philip bastard sonne to King Richard, to whom his father had given the castell and honor of Coinacke, killed the Vicount of Limoges in revenge of his father's death.' 2. The Bastard s choice (sc. 2.) was perhaps suggested by Halle's narrative of the similar choice made by Dunois the bastard son of the Duke Orleans (quoted by Stone, ib.). 3. Mr. Watkiss Lloyd
pointed to the resemblance between Falconbridge's subsequent exploits and those of the historical Falco de Brenta or Faukes de Breanté, whom Holinshed describes as fighting for John against the Barons in 1215-6, and subsequently against Lewis.
2 The whistling leaves upon the trembling trees,
Whistle in consort I am
Richards sonne :
The bubling murmur of the waters fall
Records Philippus Regius filius, etc.
Marlowesque character. There is no tenderness, obvious as the openings for it were in the story of Arthur as told by Holinshed. Holinshed's Arthur is not, it is true, Shakespeare's gentle boy, but a headstrong youth that wanted good counsel, and abounded too much in his own wilful opinion'; and the older dramatist retains this character, making him vigorously intervene in the debate between the kings in defence of his rights. But neither his death nor the grief of Constance approaches pathos, and he pleads with Hubert for his eyes in verses which struggle fatuously for sublimity on the Icarus-wings of sounding Latinisms and mythical allusions. Constance herself has termagant touches which ally her to the Margaret of the Contention and the True Tragedy. She already, however, presents the germ of Shakespeare's Constance, an honour we can hardly assign to the Constance of history, who repudiated her second husband and married a third in the very year in which her dramatic counterpart gives Austria 'a widow's thanks' for championing her son (Stone's Hol. p. 53). The older writer treats history in general with a more than Shakespearean daring. To him is due (to take one interesting example) the complete perversion of the events which preceded Magna Charta. The gathering of the barons at St. Edmundsbury was in reality the occasion of their league to extort the charter from John: the old playwright has brought it into connexion with Lewis's invasion, and made him the recipient of their oaths.
The Troublesome Reign thus provided the entire material of King John. Shakespeare has followed his original almost scene for scene, retaining the outer mechanism of the plot unchanged, or at most dismissing into the background events which the earlier dramatist exhibited with genial prolixity on the
stage. But he has essentially altered the significance of the action, and immensely strengthened and vitalised what he retained. We may say, generally, that, while the Troublesome Reign is patriotic, Protestant, and Marlowesque, King John is the work of a man whose patriotism was more fervent, whose Protestantism was less fanatical, and who had definitely broken through the charmed circle of Marlowe. Shakespeare entirely adopts the bold device of his predecessor for saving the unpatriotic surrender of John. The Bastard plays an even more imposing part, and his energy pervades and animates the whole drama. As a character he belongs altogether to Shakespeare. The earlier Falconbridge's alternate accesses of mysticism and horseplay disappear in the brimming vitality of this frank and burly Plantagenet. Shakespeare's Bastard discovers his father not from rustling leaves, but by the contrast between his own giant frame and that of his mannikin brother, slays Austria without invoking his father's shade, and does battle without the ægis of his father's fortune. The grounds of his animosity to Austria are indeed rather hinted than explained. And with these mystic touches disappears the horseplay of the scene in the monastery. But the character of Falconbridge is put to uses of which the earlier writer did not dream. His prototype is indeed already in some sense the mouthpiece of England, and rudely anticipates the magnificent closing assurance that
This England never did, nor never shall,
1 Four scenes are omitted, or replaced by a mere allusion, e.g. the Bastard's visitation of the monasteries. Similarly, the 'five moons,' reported in iv. 2.,
are presented in the earlier play. On the other hand, one of the greatest scenes, John's 'suggestion' of Arthur's death, is barely hinted in the Troublesome Reign.
Shakespeare's Falconbridge, however, stands not merely for the cause of England but for English character; for bluff, straightforward manliness against subtle shifts and unmeaning phrase: he has his jest at the rhetoric of the Angers citizen who
Talks as familiarly of roaring lions
As maids of thirteen do of puppy-dogs;
and the subtle diplomatic chicaneries of Pandulph are thrown into relief with caustic effect by the trenchant humour of the Bastard's famous exposure of 'commodity.' Notwithstanding the jocose profession which closes that speech, private ends have little to do with his action; and with great judgment Shakespeare excised the earlier playwright's explanation of his indignation at the match between Blanch and Lewis as arising from a previous betrothal of Blanch to himself.
But while King John is informed with a yet keener patriotism, it is less aggressively Protestant than the Troublesome Reign. The gross burlesque of Falconbridge's raid upon the 'fat Franciscans' is altogether excised. John's relations with Rome. remain unchanged, but it is no longer here that the principal ethical purport of the play is to be found. In the eyes of the earlier writer, John's surrender of his birthright to Philip, his surrender of his crown to Pandulph, and his betrayal of Arthur, seem coordinate causes of his fall.1 Shakespeare exposes his errors with at least equal trenchancy, but makes clear that the more deadly step is not the surrender but the crime. It is this which alienates his subjects, and gives the French invasion its sole chance of
1 Cf. John's dying speech (Tr. R. p. 316):Since John did yield unto the Priest of Rome,
Nor he nor his have prospèred on the earth;
Curst are his blessings, and his curse is bliss.