Immagini della pagina
[ocr errors]

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. 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 success. The thunders of Pandulph on either side do not affect the issue. The earlier dramatist treats the crafty legate with malignant hatred, as a 'curse happily evaded; the later manages him with fine irony, as the wielder of an imposing but not really formidable authority, easily rendered innocuous, incapable of injuring a people true to themselves. And though John still meets his death at the hands of a monk, the act is dismissed with a studiously casual allusion, so that the “resolved villain' seems merely the executant of Nemesis. Whereas in the Troublesome Reign he dies to satisfy the vengeance of an incensed ecclesiastic, who has vowed never to let escape the king that never loved a friar, the man that did contemn the pope.' Naturally, Shakespeare ignores the 'moral' which this suggests to the Bastard :

1 Cf. John's dying speech Nor he nor his have prospered on (Tr. R. p. 316) :

Curst are his blessings, and his curse Since John did yield unto the Priest

of Rome,

the earth;

is bliss.


This is the fruit of Poperie, when true kings
Are slain and shouldered out by Monks and friars.

Nor does his John indulge any vision of a more fortunate Protestant successor.

The Shakespearean Pandulph, finally, would suffice to show that Shakespeare was no longer under the spell of the fiery but nowise subtle intellect of Marlowe. If Marlowe was the first English dramatist who commanded the language of impetuous passion, Shakespeare was the first master of the language of polished and astute debate, of high-bred conversation, of courtly ceremony. The earlier John retains not a little of the lofty insolence of Tamburlaine: how kingly on the other hand is the later John's dismissal of Chatillon ;-dignified defiance, injunction, valiant forecast, courteous attention and farewell, all concentrated in eight lines (i. 1). The two great creations Constance and Arthur, also, are touched with an intensity of pathos still strange to the Shakespeare of Henry VI, and of Richard III. The situation of Margaret after Tewkesbury, of Elizabeth after the murders in the Tower, resemble that of Constance; but Margaret utters her passion for vengeance more poignantly than the agony of her loss, and Elizabeth's outraged motherhood finds expression merely in sullen resentment. Constance is the Juliet of maternal love. Love for Arthur dominates her whole being, and the agony of bereavement finds utterance through phrases that burn in the fire of an imagination familiar with wild grief. Arthur's situation similarly recalls that of the young princes. The Arthur of the Troublesome Reign does, in fact, bear himself like the young Duke of York in Richard III., boldly bearding his dangerous uncle, and incurring reproof from Elinor for his vehemence (Peace, Arthur, peace,' etc., Troublesome Reign, p. 240). Shakespeare has endowed his Arthur not with the charm of precocious talent, but with the pathos and shrinking tenderness of childhood: 'I am not worth this coil that's made for me'; and, instead of incurring reproof, it is he who, almost in Elinor's words, appeals to his own fiery advocate to cease pleading : ‘Good my mother, peace!' Of the death of the princes we have in the earlier play no more than a brief though exquisite picture; but Arthur's perilous captivity is displayed in the most tender and sympathetic dramatic detail; and the pathos of the scene is derived, not from an accumulation of harrowing details, as to some extent it is in the grim finale of Edward II., but from the ideal loveliness of childlike character which unfolds itself under the stress of Hubert's threat.




SCENE I. KING John's palace.

Essex, SALISBURY, and others, with CHATILLON.
K. John. Now, say, Chatillon, what would

France with us ?
Chat. Thus, after greeting, speaks the King

of France
In my behaviour to the majesty,
The borrow'd majesty, of England here.

Eli. A strange beginning : 'borrow'd majesty!'
K. John. Silence, good mother; hear the

Chat. Philip of France, in right and true

behalf Of thy deceased brother Geffrey's son, Chatillon. In Ff he is

3. my behaviour,

the tone called 'the Chattylion of France.' and character which I here Like English words in -ion, the assume.' name could be either of three or 7. in right and true behalf, of four syllables.

on behalf of the just claims.




Arçhur. Mantagenet,. Jays most lawful claim
To this fair island and the territories,
To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine,
Desiring thee to lay aside the sword
Which sways usurpingly these several titles,
And put the same into young Arthur's hand,
Thy nephew and right royal sovereign.

K. John. What follows if we disallow of this?
Chat. The proud control of fierce and bloody

To enforce these rights so forcibly withheld.
K. John. Here have we war for war,

and blood for blood, Controlment for controlment : so answer France. Chat. Then take my king's defiance from my

mouth, The farthest limit of my embassy. K. John. Bear mine to him, and so depart in

peace :
Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France ;
For ere thou canst report I will be there,
The thunder of my cannon shall be heard :
So hence ! Be thou the trumpet of our wrath
And sullen presage of your own decay.
An honourable conduct let him have:
Pembroke, look to 't. Farewell, Chatillon.

[Exeunt Chatillon and Pembroke,
Eli. What now, my son ! have I not ever said
How that ambitious Constance would not cease
Till she had kindled France and all the world,
Upon the right and party of her son ?
This might have been prevented and made whole



territories, feudal de

mission as envoy. pendencies.

29. conduct, escort. 17. control, constraint. 22. my embassy, my com- 30. Chatillon (four syllables).

« IndietroContinua »