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In Five Acts,
BY WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
PRINTED FROM THE ACTING COPY, WITH REMARKS,
To which are added,
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COSTUME,-CAST OF THE CHARACTERS,
RELATIVE POSITIONS OF THE PER-
FORMERS ON THE STAGE, AND THE WHOLE OF THE STAGE
As now performed at the
THEATRES ROYAL, LONDON.
EMBELLISHED WITH A PORTRAIT OF
MR. MACREADY, AS KING JOHN.
JOHN CUMBERLAND, 19, LUDGATE HILL.
KING JOHN is founded on an old play, entituled, "The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England, with the Discoverie of King Richard Cordelion's base Son, vulgarly named the Bustard Fawconbridge: also, the Death of King John at Swinstead-Abbey. Imprinted at London, for Sampson Clarke, 1591." Doctor Farmer conjectures that Rowley was the author of this piece; but Malone, with greater reason, assigns it to Marlowe. A subsequent edition, printed in 1611, has the letters W. Sh. inserted in the titlepage; but this is evidently the trick of a fraudulent bookseller, to foist it on the public as the genuine production of Shakspeare. But, as Pope justly remarks, the acknowledged play of Shakspeare is entirely different, and infinitely superior to it.
The hero of this tragedy belongs to a period of British history that can never be forgotten-the wresting of Magna Charta from a treacherous and cruel tyrant, and thereby confirming the rights and liberties of the English nation. Whether, in this bold achievement, the barons had in view, independent of their own immediate interests, the welfare of future generations, it is not our purpose to inquire. Magna Charta is unquestionably the most valuable legacy that a rude and barbarous age ever bequeathed to posterity.
The plot of King John is from the English historians: on this foundation Shakspeare has raised a superstructure of great variety and beauty. If the towering majesty that distinguishes some of his grander productions be not always discernible in this, there are certain parts that bear fall evidence of the master's hand and terror and pity, two of the most powerful attributes of tragedy, are excited in no ordinary degree by the unrelenting cruelty of John, and the maternal sorrows of Lady Constance.
The portrait of King John is maintained with historical truth. He has all the ferocity of Richard, without any of his bravery-cruel, fickle, and treacherous-irrresolute, save in the commission of eviland then pursuing his dark purposes without pity or remorse; for, in the scene with Hubert, where he reproaches his minion with the death of young Arthur, and impatiently exclaims
"It is the curse of kings, to be attended
By slaves, that take their humours for a warrant
To break within the bloody house of life"
it is not compunction for the deed, but dread of the consequences, that wring from him those passionate expressions. The incursions of France, with a powerful army into his dominions-the unexpected death of his mother-the desertion of his most attached courtiershave broken down his spirit: added to these disasters, his superstitious fears are awakened by signs and wonders equally inysterious and alarming:
66 My lord, they say five moons were seen to-night:
The other, in wondrous motion.
Old men, and beldams, in the streets
Did prophesy upon it dangerously."
In the vain hope of appeasing the wrath of man—and the still vainer one, of heaven-he becomes reconciled with the Romish church; and, if the authority of history may be relied on, falls by the treachery of one of that communion, into whose arms he had thrown himself for pardon and protection.
There is no character in the writings of Shakspeare that bears stronger evidence of his peculiar manner than the Bastard Faulconbridge. He is a singular compound of heroism, levity, and—if his accommodating himself to the spirit of the times deserve so harsh a term-servility. He is, in truth, a soldier of fortune; acknowledging no law but that of honour, which, in a military sense, has somewhat of an equivocal signification. He compromises his own interest, and his mother's fame, for the proud distinction of being esteemed the base-born son of the Lion-hearted Richard; and enlists himself under the banners of a tyrannical usurper, for the vaunted display of personal prowess against the injured and unprotected. Yet, with all these blemishes, Shakspeare has painted him in such bewitching colours he has given him such nobleness of spirit-so much candour and frankness-such exquisite powers of wit and raillery-that his very errors are turned to good account, and, like the irregularities of Falstaff, form the most seductive parts of his character. To reconcile such seeming incongruities, is one of the many triumphs of Shakspeare. He knew that character consists not of one, but of various humours; and to blend them skilfully, without violating nature or probability, was an art that he left for the study and emula tion of all future dramatists.
But the great charm of this play, is the Lady Constance: a character conceived with Shakspeare's profoundest art, and finished with his utmost skill. Every feeling of her bosom-every emotion of joy or sorrow-have their origin in maternal tenderness. In that allpowerful passion every thing is centered: her anxious solicitudeher bitter reproaches-her phrenzy-her despair. Can indignation and contempt borrow stronger terms than her reply to Austria: "O Lymoges! O Austria! thou dost shame
That bloody spoil. Thou slave, thou wretch, thou coward:
Thou ever strong upon the stronger side!
Thou fortune's champion, that dost never fight,
But when her humorous ladyship is by
To teach thee safety!
Thou wear a lion's hide! doff it for shame,
And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs."
Where is sorrow depicted with greater pathos, than her distraction for the death of Arthur; and grief unutterable and past consolation, never produced an image more solemn and majestic than the following:
"To me, and to the state of my great grief,
Here I and sorrow sit
Here is my throne-bid kings come bow to it."
The belief that those whom we have loved, and have been beloved by, on earth, shall meet, and recognise each other in a happier state of existence a belief, gloriaus for the consolation that it affords, and perfectly consistent with our ideas of immortality-is thus pathetically alluded to by Lady Constance, in her reply to Cardinal Pandulph :
"O, father cardinal, I have heard you say