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PHILIP, King of France.
Messengers, and other Attendants.
DURATION OF TIME Dramatic Time.-Seven days, with intervals, comprising in all not more than three or four months.
Day 1. I. 1.
Day 3. III. 4.
Interval. 4. IV. 1.-3.
Interval. 5. V. 1.
Interval 6. V. 2.-5.
7. V. 6., 7. (Daniel : ‘Time Analysis,' Trans. N. Sh. Society, p. 261.) Historic Time.---The entire reign of John (A.D. 1199-1216).
Dramatis Persona. This list was first drawn up by Rowe.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF King John first appeared Early
Literary in the Folio of 1623, where it opens the series of the History Histories. The text is relatively accurate, with the Text. exception of some confusion in the indication of the Acts.
The definite limits of the date of King John are Date. as follows:
(1) The older play upon which Shakespeare founded his History,—The Troublesome Reign of King John,—cannot be earlier than c. 1587, for its sounding rhetoric and facile blank verse as well as the explicit language of the preface, quoted below, proclaim it to have been inspired by Marlowe. It was printed in 1591.
(2) Shakespeare's King John is mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598.
But these wide limits admit of being considerably narrowed. Of the ten Histories, six can be dated with some certainty. 2 and 3 Henry VI.and Richard III. are fixed by Greene's diatribe to 1592-3; 1 and 2 Henry IV. and Henry V. by the Essex allusion in Henry V. chorus v. to 1598-9. Far more clearly than Richard II., King John belongs to the interim between the first and second group of Histories. It has palpable links with both. The absence of prose, the rarity of rhyme, the approximation to tragedy, connect it with the
earlier, Marlowesque, group; the wealth of humour, the plastic characterisation, with the later. John is modelled with a maturer touch than Richard II. ; but the tragedy of which he is the contriver has striking affinities of situation to that of Richard, and continually recalls it in spite of equally striking diversities of treatment. Constance is not Margaret, nor Arthur Edward, but they are new and poignant melodies upon the same motifs; the frenzied mother, the assassin uncle, are still dominant and unexhausted themes. On the other hand, the character of Falconbridge links the play yet more closely to the great trilogy of Henry V. The madcap prince who shows himself a master of war and of peace the moment the need arrives, is of the same mould as the blunt soldier one way Plantagenet' whose motley covered the lion's heart of Cordelion; the mythical Bastard foreshadows the historical conqueror of Agincourt. He opens the cycle of Histories founded upon humour and heroism, as John closes the cycle founded upon anguish and crime. These considerations tend to fix King John near the middle of the probable interval between the last of the earlier group and the first of the later, i.e. about 1595.
King John is probably, of all Shakespeare's Histories, the most distantly related to History. Theological fanaticism, that potent myth-maker, had, since the middle of the century, laid a powerful grasp upon the tradition, already not without its mythic elements, recorded in the Chronicles; and the wonderful transformation which this legend underwent in Shakespeare's hands was certainly not undertaken in the interest of historical truth. Indeed his most striking alterations only serve to detach it more completely from the Chronicles, and to draw it more explicitly into the sphere of irresponsible poetry.
Sources and Composition.