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What manner of legend it was that underwent this apotheosis may be gathered from two dramas, one of them certainly unknown to Shakespeare, the other the immediate basis of his work. The English Reformers saw in the worst of the Plantagenets an early Protestant,-an unsuccessful precursor of Henry VIII. ; and in Bale's incoherent Kyng Johan (c. 1545) the lineaments of the historic John wholly disappear in a single trait enforced with almost frenzied emphasis : his defiance of the Roman 'Antichrist.' Doctrinal theology played little part in shaping the Elizabethan drama; but the Protestantism of the Protestant religion'flourished as bravely in the playhouse as in the conventicle; and the events of 1588, which thrilled every fibre of the national self-consciousness, threw a heightened passion and inspiration, with which religion had very little to do, into the national protest against Rome. Nearly at the same moment the genius of Marlowe revealed the dramatic potency of protest, and filled the stage with imitations of the Titanism of Tamburlaine and Faustus. Both influences had told strongly upon the anonymous author of The Troublesome Reign of King John.1
In the prefixed lines “To the Gentlemen Readers' he expressly invites applause for his hero as a Protestant Tamburlaine :
You that with friendly grace of smoothed brow
1 Reprinted in Hazlitt-Collier, of King John at Swinstead Shakespeare's Library, vol. v., Abbey. As it was (sundry and in Quaritch's facsimiles. times) publikely acted by the The title of the first edition Queenes Maiesties Players . (1591) runs: The Troublesome
1591. It was reprinted in 1611 Raigne of lohn King of England, and 1622 ; the former attributwith the Discoverie of King ing the play on the title-page Richard Cordelions Base Sonne to 'W. Sh.,' the later even (vulgarly named The Bastard presenting these initials writ Fawconbridge): also the death large.
And given applause unto an Infidel;
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. It is plain from the title-page that the dis
1 Queen Elinor, in the open- the dead Richard
*the ing lines of the play, speaks of 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. 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-enemiesunited 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 monasteries, and triumphantly retrieve the disasters wrought by John's fatal submission. Thus Caurdelion 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 pointed to the resemblance parallel with Tamburlaine the between Falconbridge's subscourge of the enemies of] God. sequent exploits and those of
11. Holinshed barely records the historical Falco de Brenta (iii. 160, Stone, p. 48) that or Faukes de Breanté, whom Philip bastard sonne to King Holinshed describes as fighting Richard, to whom his father for John against the Barons in had given the castell and honor 1215-6, and subsequently against of Coinacke, killed the Vicount Lewis. of Limoges in revenge of his 2 The whistling leaves upon the father's death.' 2. The Bastards trembling trees, choice (sc. 2.) was perhaps Whistle in consort
I am suggested by Halle's narrative Richards sonne : of the similar choice made by The bubling murmur of the Dunois the bastard son of the
waters fall Duke Orleans (quoted by Stone, Records Philippus Regius ib.). 3. Mr. Watkiss Lloyd filius, etc.
Marlowesque character. There is no tenderness,
The Troublesome Reign thus provided the entire King John. 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, are presented in the earlier play. or replaced by a mere allusion, On the other hand, one of the e.g. the Bastard's visitation of greatest scenes, John's 'suggesthe monasteries. Similarly, the tion' of Arthur's death, is barely five moons,' reported in iv. 2., hinted in the Troublesome Reign.