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near such a man.” It might with as good reason be said—“No king could live near such a man.” His eye would have pene. trated through the pomp of circumstances and veil of opinion. As it is, he has represented such a person to the life-his plays are in this respect the glass of history-he has done them the same justice as if he had been a privy councillor all his life, and in each successive reign. Kings ought never to be seen upon the stage. In the abstract, they are very disagreeable characters: it is only while living that they are the best of kings." It is their power, their splendor, it is the apprehension of the personal consequences of their favor or their hatred, that dazzles the imagination and suspends the judgment of their favorites or their vassals ; but death cancels the bond of allegiance and of interest ; and seen as they were, their power and their pretensions look monstrous and ridiculous. The charge brought against modern philosophy as inimical to loyalty is unjust, because it might as well be brought against other things. No reader of history can be a lover of kings. We have often wondered that Henry VIII., as he is drawn by Shakspeare, and as we have seen him represented in all the bloated deformity of mind and person, is not hooted from the English stage.
King John is the last of the historical plays we shall have to speak of; and we are not sorry that it is. If we are to indulge our imaginations, we had rather do it upon an imaginary theme; if we are to find subjects for the exercise of our pity and terror, we prefer seeking them in fictitious danger and fictitious distress. It gives a soreness to our feelings of indignation or sympathy, when we know that in tracing the progress of sufferings and crimes, we are treading upon real ground, and recollect that the poet's “ dream” denoted a foregone conclusion-irrevocable ills, not conjured up by the fancy, but placed beyond the reach of poetical justice. That the treachery of King John, the death of Arthur, the grief of Constance, had a real truth in history, sharpens the sense of pain, while it hangs a leaden weight on the heart and the imagination. Something whispers us that we have no right to make a mock of calamities like these, or to turn the truth of things into the puppet and plaything of our fancies. “ To consider thus" may be “to consider too curiously ;" but still we think that the actual truth of the particular events, in proportion as we are conscious of it, is a drawback on the pleasure as well as the dignity of tragedy.
KING JOHN has all the beauties of language and all the richness of the imagination to relieve the painfulness of the subject. The character of King John himself is kept pretty much in the back ground; it is only marked in by comparatively slight indi. cations. The crimes he is tempted to commit are such as are thrust upon him rather by circumstances and opportunity than of his own seeking : he is here represented as more cowardly than cruel, and as more contemptible than odious. The play embraces only a part of his history. There are, however, a few characters on the stage that excite more disgust and loathing. He has no intellectual grandeur or strength of character to shield him from the indignation which his immediate conduct provokes: he stands naked and defenceless, in that respect, to the worst we can think of him : and besides, we are impelled to put the very worst construction on his meanness and cruelty by the tender picture of the beauty and helplessness of the object of it, as well as by the frantic and heart-rending pleadings of maternal de. spair. We do not forgive him the death of Arthur because he had too late revoked his doom and tried to prevent it, and per. haps because he has himself repented of his black design, our moral sense gains courage to hate him the more for it. We take him at his word, and think his purposes must be odious indeed, when he himself shrinks back from them. The scene in which King John suggests to Hubert the design of murdering his nephew, is a master-piece of dramatic skill, but it is still inferior, very inferior to the scene between Hubert and Arthur, when the latter learns the orders to put out his eyes. If anything ever was penned, heart-piercing, mixing the extremes of terror and pity, of that which shocks and that which soothes the mind, it is this scene.
Arthur's death afterwards, when he throws himself from his prison walls, excites the utmost pity for his innocence and frirnd. less situation, and well justifies the exaggerated denunciations of Falconbridge to Hubert, whom he suspects wrongfully of the deed.
" There is not yet so ugly a fiend of hell
The excess of maternal tenderness, rondered desperate by the fickleness of friends and the injustice of fortune, and made stronger in will, in proportion to the want of all other power, was never more finely expressed than in Constance. The dignity of her answer to King Philip, when she refuses to accompany his messenger, “ To me and to the state of my great grief, let kings assemble,” her indignant reproach to Austria for deserting her cause, her invocation to death, “that love of misery," however fine and spirited, all yield to the beauty of the passage, where, her passion subsiding into tenderness, she addresses the Cardinal in these words :
“O father Cardinal, I have heard you say
K. PHILIP. You are as fond of grief as of your child.
CONSTANCE. Grief fills the room up of my absent child:
The contrast between the mild resignation of Queen Katherine to her own wrongs, and the wild, uncontrollable affliction of Constance for the wrongs which she sustains as a mother, is no less naturally conceived than it is ably sustained throughout these two wonderful characters.
The accompaniment of the comic character of the Bastard was well chosen to relieve the poignant agony of suffering, and the cold, cowardly policy of behavior in the principal characters of this play. Its spirit, invention, volubility of tongue, and for. wardness in action, are unbounded. Aliquando suflaminandus erat, says Ben Jonson of Shakspeare. But we should be sorry if Ben Jonson had been his licenser. We prefer the heedless magnanimity of his wit infinitely to all Jonson's laborious caution. The character of the Bastard's comic humor is the same in essence as that of other comic characters in Shakspeare; they always run on with good things, and are never exhausted; they are always daring and successful. They have words at will and a flow of wit, like a flow of animal spirits. The difference between Falconbridge and the others is that he is a soldier, and brings his wit to bear upon action, is courageous with his sword as well as tongue, and stimulates his gallantry by his jokes, his enemies feeling the sharpness of his blows and the sting of his sarcasms at the same time. Among his happiest sallies are his descanting on the composition of his own person, his invective against “commodity, tickling commodity," and his expression of contempt for the Archduke of Austria, who had killed his father, which begins in jest but ends in serious earnest. His conduct at the siege of Angiers shows that his resources were not confined to verbal retorts. The same exposure of the policy of courts and camps, of kings, nobles, priests, and cardinals, takes place here as in the other plays we have gone through, and we shall not go into a disgusting repetition.
This, like the other plays taken from English history, is written in a remarkably smooth and flowing style, very different from some of the tragedies--Macbeth, for instance. The passages consist of a series of single lines, not running into one another. This peculiarity in the versification, which is most common in the three parts of Henry VI., has been assigned as a reason why those plays were not written by Shakspeare. But the same structure of verse occurs in his other undoubted plays, as in Richard II. and in King John. The following are instances
"That daughter there of Spain, the lady Blanch,