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by the clock; but is there not something infinitely more awful and impressive in the idea of the solemn, single, boom of a church clock, knelling the death of time, and startling the hushed and drowsy ear of Night, than in the clangour of a whole peal of bells? Steevens thought so :“The repeated strokes have less of solemnity than the single notice, as they take from the horror and awful
silence here described as so propitious to the dreadful purposes of the King. Though the hour of one be not the natural midnight, it is yet the most solemn moment of the poetical one; and Shakespeare himself has chosen to introduce his Ghost in Hamlet,
• The bell then beating one.'
(1) SCENE I.
Silence! no more. Go closely in with me;
Much danger do I undergo for thee. [Exeunt.] Let the reader who would appreciate in some degree the infusive, enriching faculty which Shakespeare possessed -marvellous almost as his wisdom, and creative powercompare the foregoing scene with its original in the old drama : “ Enter Arthur to Hubert de Burgh.
[They is: ue forth
• Hubert, these are to commaund thee, as thou tendrest our quiet in minde, and the estate of our person, that presently upon the receipt of our commaund, thou put out the eies of Arthur Plantaginet !'
Arthur. Ah monstrous damned man! his very breath infects the
Contagious venome dwelleth in his heart,
intent that his words should be better beleeved, or whether Then do thy charge, and charged be thy soule
upon too much trust of his owne cunning) he offered himWith wrongfull persecution done this day.
selfe to suffer death for it, if his prophesie prooved not You rowling eyes, whose superficies yet
true. Hereupon being committed to prison within the I do behold with eies that nature lent:
castell of Corf, when the day by him prefixed came withSend foorth the terror of your moovers frowne,
out any other notable damage unto King John, he was by To wreake my wrong upon the murtherers That rob me of your faire reflecting view :
the kings commandement drawne from the said casteil Let hell to them (as earth they wish to me)
into the towne of Warham, and there hanged, togither Be darke and direfull guerdon for their guilt,
with his sonne. And let the black tormenters of deepe Tartary
“ The people much blamed King John for this extreame Upbraide them with this damned enterprise,
dealing, bicause that the heremit was supposed to be a Inflicting change of tortures on their soules. Delay not Huberl, my orisons are ended,
man of great vertue, and his sonne nothing guiltie of the Begin I pray thee, reave me of my sight:
offence committed by his father (if any were) against the But to performe a tragedie indeede,
king. Moreover some thought that he had much wrong to Conclude the period with a mortall stab.
die, bicause the matter fell out even as he had prophesied ; Constance farewell, tormenter come away,
for the day before the Ascension day, King John had reMake my dispatch the tyrants feasting day.
signed the superioritie of his kingdome (as they tooke the Hubert.
matter) unto the pope.”—HOLINSHED, under the year 1213. I faint, I feare, my conscience bids desist:
(3) SCENE III.- Heaven take my soul, and England keep Faint did I say? feare was it that I named :
my bones !] Shakespeare, in his incidents, adheres closely My king commaunds, that warrant sets me free:
to the old play :-
“Enter young Arthur on the walls. Goe cursed tooles, your office is exempt,
Now help good hap to farther mine entent, Cheere thee yong lord, thou shalt not loose an eie,
Crosse not my youth with any more extremes : Though I should purchase it with losse of life.
I venter life to gaine my libertie, Ile to the king, and say his will is done,
And if I die, world's troubles have an end. And of the lauyor tell him thou art dead,
Feare gins disswade the strength of my resolve, Goe in with me, for Hubert was not borne
My holde will faile, and then alas I fall,
And if I fall, no question death is next:
Better desist, and live in prison still.
Prison said I? Nay, rather death than so:
Comfort and courage come again to me,
Ile venter sure : tis but a leape for life."
How the ill-fated Arthur really lost his life we have no The issue that thy kindnesse undertakes:
authentic evidence. Holinshed only says,—"Touching Depart we, Hubert, to prevent the worst.
[Ereun!." the maner in verie deed of the end of this Arthur, writers
make sundrie reports. Neverthelesse certeine it is, that in (2) SCENE II.
the yeare next insuing, he was remooved from Falais And here's a prophet, that I brought with me
unto the castell or tower of Rouen, out of the which From forth the streets of Pomfret. ]
there was not any that would confesse that ever he saw “There was in this season an heremit, whose name was him go alive. Some have written that as he assaied to Peter, dwelling about Yorke, a man in great reputation have escaped out of prison, and prooving to clime over the with the common people, bicause that either inspired with wals of the castell, he fell into the river of Saine, and so some spirit of prophesie as the people beleeved, or else was drowned. Other write, that through verie greefe and having some notable skill in art magike, he was accustomed . languor he pined awaie and died of natural sicknesse. to tell what should follow after. And for so much as But some affirme, that King John secretelie caused him to oftentimes his saiengs prooved true, great credit was given be murthered and made awaie, so as it is not throughly to him as a verie prophet,” &c. “ This Peter about the agreed upon, in what sort he finished his daies : but verelie firste of January last past, had tolde the king, that at the King John was had in great suspicion, whether worthilie feast of the Ascension it should come to passe, that he or not, the Lord knoweth.”—Chronicles, under the year should be cast out of his kingdome; and (whether, to the 1202.
(1) SCENE II.
the gallant monarch is in arms, And, like an eagle o'er his aiery, tovers
To souse annoyance that comes near his nest.] The only explanation of this passage usually given is that “aiery signifies a nest;" but, regarded as the purely technical phraseology of Falconry, the lines will be found susceptible of much more meaning than this interpretation attributes to them. By the ordinary punctuation of the second line,
" And like an eagle o'er his aiery towers," — it would seem, too, as if the words were supposed to refer to the elevation of the nest, and were equivalent only to “airy towers ;” while it is clear that Shakespeare uses tover here as does in another part of the resent play,“ Ha, majesty! how high thy glory towers,"
Act II. Sc, 2,
in the sense of a hawking-technical, descriptive of the
One river, plash, or mere, where store of fowl doth lie,-
But when the Falconers take their hawking-poles in hand,
John. And crossing of the brook, do put it over land :
Philip, some drinke, oh for the frozen Alpes,
To tumble on and coole this in ward heate,
That rageth as the fornace seven-fold hote.
To burne the holy tree in Babylon, And oft from neck to tail the back in 'wo doth shred."
Power after power forsake their proper power, With respect to the verb torrers, as expressive of the Onely the heart impugnes with faint resist flight of an eagle, a falcon, &c., it would appear then to
The fierce in vade of him that conquers kings, have formerly denoted, not merely a soaring to a great Helpe God, ( paine! die John, () plague height, but to fly spirally. When the latter only is
Inflicted on thee for thy grievous sinnes. implied, it should be spelt tour, which Cotyrave, 1660, Philip, a chaire, and by and by a grave,
My legges disdaine the carriage of a king. explains as “a turn, round, circle, compasse, wheeling,
Bastard. revolution.” After the preceding extract from Drayton, a short note
A good my liege, with patience conquer griefe, only will be required to illustrate the original sense of the
And beare this paine with kingly fortitude. word Souce. Beaumont and Fletcher employ it as a
John. hawking-phrase in " The Chances,” Act IV. Sc. 1,-
Methinkes I see a catalogue of sinne, “Her conscience and her fears creeping upon her,
Wrote by a tiend in marble characters, Dead as a fowle at souce she'll sink.
The least enough to loose my part in heaven.
Methinkes the divell whispers in mine eares, Spenser uses it to describe the heavy and irresistible blows And tells me, tis in vaine to hope for grace, of the hammer in the House of Care :
I must be damn'd for Arthur's sodaine death, "In which his worke he had six servants prest,
I see I see a thousand thousand men About the and vile standing evermore
Come to accuse me for my wrong on earth,
And there is none no mercifull a ( od
That will forgive the number of my sinnes.
How have I liv'd, but by another's losse?
What have I lov'd, but wracke of others weale? To souce is also still well known in the domestic meaning Where have I done a deede deserving well? of plunging, and throwing provisions into salt and water, How, what, when, and where, have I bestow'd a day, from the Latin Solsum ; which sense agrees with the pre- That tended not to some notorious ill! cipitate plunge of a bird of prey on a water-fowl. The My life repleate with rage and tyrannie, German Sausen, however, may rather be considered as the
Craues little pittie for so strange a death.
Or, who will say that John deceasde too soone? real etymon of the word. It signifies to rush with
Who will not say, he rather livid too long? whistling sound like the blustering of the wind : which Dishonour did attaint me in my life, is remarkably expressive of the whirr made by the wings of And shame attendeth John unto his death. a falcon when swooping on his quarry.
Why did I scape the fury of the French,
And dide not by the temper of their swords? (2) SCENE IV.- With contemplation and levout desires. ]
Shamelesse my life, and shamefully it ends, This circumstance is historical :-“ About the same time,
Scorned by my foes, disdained of my friends, or rather in the yeare last past as some hold, it fortuned
Bastard. that the vicount of Melune, a French man, fell sicke at Forgive the world and all your earthly foes, London, and perceiving that death was at hand, he called And cail on Christ, who is your latest friend. unto him certeine of the English Barons, which remained
John. in the citie, upon safegard thereof, and to them made this
My tongue doth falter; Philip, I tell thee man, protestation : lament (saith he) your destruction and Since John did yeeld unto the priest of Rome, desolation at hand, bicause ye are ignorant of the perils Nor he nor his have prospered on the earth: hanging over your heads. For this understand, that Curst are his blessings, and his curse is blisse. Lewes, and with him 16 earles and barons of France,
But in the spirit I crie unto my God, have secretlie sworne (if it shall fortune him to conquere
As did the kingly prophet Dariri cry,
(Whose hands, as mine, with murder were attaint) this realme of England and to be crowned king) that he
I am not he shall build the Lord a house, will kill, banish and confine all those of the English Or roote these locusts from the face of earth: nobilitie (which now doe serve under him, and persecute But if my dying heart deceive me not, their owne king) as traitours and rebels, and furthermore From out these loynes shall spring a kingly branch will dispossesse all their linage of such inheritances as they
Whose armes shall reach unto the gates of Rome,
And with his feete treades downe the strumpets pride, now hold in England. And bicause (saith he) you shall
That sits upon the chaire of Babylon. not have doubt hereof, I which lie here at the point of
Philip, my heart strings breake, the poysons flame
At Worcester must his body be interred ;
For so he vill'd it.] died.”—HOLINSHED, under the year 1216.
According to Holinshed, King John was buried at Croxton In the old play, the dying nobleman declares his motives
Abbey, in Staffordshire ; but a stone coffin, containing his for this confession to be,
body, was discovered in the Cathedral Church of Worcester, “The greatest for the freedome of my soule,
July 17, 1797.
(5) SCENE VII.
Vought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.]
This conclusion is borrowed from the old play :--
· Let England live but true within it selfe,
And all the world can never wrong her state.
Lewes, thou shalt be bravely ship to Fraunce, (3) SCENE VII.- The King dies.] The chroniclers, who For never Frenchman got of English ground wrote within sixty years after his death, make no mention
The twentith part that thou hast conquered. of John having died by poison. Shakespeare found the
Dolphin, thy hand: to Worster we will march :
Lords all, lay hands to beare your soveraigne incident in “The Troublesome Raigne," &c., and it is in
With obsequies of honour to his grave : teresting to contrast his treatment of the king's dying
If England peeres and people joyne in one, scene with that of the older workman:
Nor pope, nor France, nor Spaine can do them wiong.''
CRITICAL OPINIONS ON KING JOHN.
“ If King John,' as a whole, be not entitled to class among the very first-rate compositions of our author, it can yet exhibit some scenes of superlative beauty and effect, and two characters supported with unfailing energy and consistency.
“The bastard Faulconbridge, though not, perhaps, a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and worldly-minded in his conduct to excite much of our esteem, has, notwithstanding, so large a portion of the very spirit of Plantagenet in him ; so much heroisn, gaiety, and fire, in his constitution; and, in spite of his avowed accommodation to the times,
. For he is but a bastard to the time,
That doth not smack of observation,' &c. such an open and undaunted turn of mind, that we cannot refuse him our admiration ; nor, on account of his fidelity to John, however ill-deserved, our occasional sympathy and attachment. The alacrity and intrepidity of his daring spirit are nobly supported to the very last ; where we find him exerting every nerve to rouse and animate the conscience-stricken soul of the tyrant.
"In the person of Lady Constance Maternal Grief, the most interesting passion of the play, is developed in all its strength; the picture penetrates to the inmost heart ; and seared must those feelings be, which can withstand so powerful an appeal ; for all the emotions of the fondest affection and the wildest despair, all the rapid transitions of anguish, and approximating frenzy, are wrought up into the scene with a truth of conception which rivals that of nature herself.
“ The innocent and beauteous Arthur, rendered doubly attractive by the sweetness of his disposition and the severity of his fate, is thus described by his doting mother :
* But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy!
And with the half-blown rose.'
When he is captured, therefore, and imprisoned by John, and consequently sealed for destruction, who but Shakspeare could have done justice to the agonizing sorrows of the parent? Her invocation to Death, and her address to Pandulph, paint maternal despair with a force which no imagination can augment, and of which the tenderness and pathos have never been exceeded.
“ Independent of the scenes which unfold the striking characters of Constance and Faulconbridge, there are two others in the play which may vie with anything that Shakspeare has produced ; namely, the scene between John and Hubert, and that between Hubert and Arthur. The former, where the usurper obscurely intimates to Hubert his bloody wishes, is conducted in a manner so masterly that we behold the dark and turbulent soul of John lying naked before us in all its deformity, and shrinking with fear even from the enunciation of its own vile purposes. It is one of the scenes,' as Mr. Steevens has well observed, “to which may be promised a lasting commendation. Art could add little to its perfection; and time itself can take nothing from its beauties.'
“The scene with Hubert and the executioners, where the hapless Arthur supplicates for mercy, almost lacerates the heart itself; and is only rendered supportable by the tender and alleviating impression which the sweet innocence and artless eloquence of the poor child fix with indelible influence on the mind. Well may it be said, in the language of our poet, that he who can behold this scene without the gushing tribute of a tear,-
'Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils ;
Let no such man be trusted.'
“ As for the character of John, which, from its meanness and imbecility, seems not well calculated for dramatic representation, Shakspeare has contrived, towards the close of the drama, to excite in his behalf some degree of interest and commiseration ; especially in the dying scene, where the fallen monarch, in answer to the inquiry of his son as to the state of his feelings, mournfully exclaims,
“ The dramas derived from the English history, ten in number, form one of the most valuable of Shakspeare's works, and partly the fruit of his maturest age. I say advisedly one of his works, for the poet evidently intended them to form one great whole. It is, as it were, an historical heroic poem in the dramatic form, of which the separate plays constitute the rhapsodies. The principal features of the events are exhibited with such fidelity ; their causes, and even their secret springs, are placed in such a clear light, that we may attain from them a knowledge of history in all its truth, while the living picture makes an impression on the imagination which can never be effaced.
“In King John the political and warlike events are dressed out with solemn pomp, for the very reason that they possess but little of true grandeur. The falsehood and selfishness of the monarch speak in the style of a manifesto. Conventional dignity is most indispensable where personal dignity is wanting. The bastard Faulcon bridge is the witty interpreter of this language ; he ridicules the secret springs of politics without disapproving of them; for he owns that he is endeavouring to make his fortune by similar means, and wishes rather to belong to the deceivers than the deceived, for in his view of the world there is no other choice. His litigation with his brother respecting the succession of his pretended father, by which he effects his acknowledgment at court as natural son of the most chivalrous king of England, Richard Caur-de-Lion, forms a very entertaining and original prelude in the play itself. When, amidst so many disguises of real sentiments, and so much insincerity of expression, the poet shows us human nature without a veil, and allows us to take deep views of the inmost recesses of the mind, the impression produced is only the more deep and powerful. The short scene in which John urges Hubert to put out of the way Arthur, his young rival for the possession of the throne, is superlatively masterly; the cautious criminal hardly ventures to say to himself what he wishes the other to do. The young and amiable prince becomes a sacrifice of unprincipled ambition ; his fate excites the warmest sympathy. When Hubert, about to put out his eyes with the hot iron, is softened by his prayers, our compassion would be almost overwhelming, were it not sweetened by the winning innocence of Arthur's childish speeches. Constance's maternal despair on her son's imprisonment is also of the highest beauty; and even the last moments of John,-an unjust and feeble prince, whom we can neither respect nor admire,—are yet so portrayed as to extinguish our displeasure with him, and fill us with serious considerations on the arbitrary deeds and the inevitable fate of mortals.". SCHLEGEL.