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“King John," the earliest of Shakespeare's “ Histories" in the folio of 1623, (where they are arranged according to the reigns of the different monarchs) first appeared in that volume', and the Registers of the Stationers' Company have been searched in vain for any entry regarding it: it is not enumerated by Blount and Jaggard on the 8th November, 1623, when they inserted a list of the pieces, “not formerly entered to other men,” about to be included in their folio: hence an inference might be drawn that there had been some previous entry of "King John” “ to other men,” and, perhaps, even that the play had been already published 2.
It seems indisputable that Shakespeare's "King John" was founded upon an older play, three times printed anterior to the publication of the folio of 1623: “ The first and second part of the troublesome Reign of John, King of England,” came from the press in 1591, 1611, and 1622'. Malone, and others who have adverted to this production, have obviously not had the several impressions before them. The earliest copy, that of 1591, has no name on the title-page : that of 1611 has "W. Sh.” to indicate the author, and that of 1622, “ W. Shakespeare,” the sur-name only at length. Steevens once thought that the ascription of it to Shakespeare by the fraudulent booksellers, who wished it to be taken for his popular work, was correct, but he subsequently abandoned this untenable opinion. Pope attributed it jointly to Shakespeare and William Rowley; and Farmer "made no doubt that Rowley wrote the first King John." There is, however, reason to believe that Rowley was not an author at so early a date : his first extant printed work was a play, in writing which he aided John Day and George Wilkins, called “The Travels of three English Brothers," 1607. In 1591, he must have been very young ; but we are not therefore to conclude decisively that his name is not, at any period and in any way, to be connected with a drama on the incidents of the reign of King John ; for the tradition of Pope's time may have been founded upon the fact that, at some later date, he was instrumental in a revival of the old “ King John.”
It purports to be divided into acts and scenes, but very irregularly: thus what is called Actus Secundus fills no more than about half a page, and Actus Quartus is twice repeated. The later folios adopt this defective arrangement, excepting that in that of 1632 Actus Quintus is made to precede Actus Quartus.
? On the 29th Nov. 1614," a booke called the Historie of George Lord Faulconbridge, bastard son of Richard Cordelion,” was entered on the Stationers' Registers, but this was evidently the prose romance of which an edition in 1016, 4to. is extant. Going back to 1558, it appears that a book, called “Cur de Lion," was entered on the Stationers' Register of that year.
3 “ It was written, I believe (says Malone), by Robert Greene, or George Peele," but he produces nothing in support of his opinion. The mention of “ the Scythian Tamberlaine,” in the Prologue to the edition of the old “ King John,” in 1591, might lead us to suppose that it was the production of Marlowe, who did not die until 1593; but the style of the two parts is evidently different: rhyming couplets are much more abundant in the first than in the second, and there is reason to believe, according to the frequent custom of that age, that more than one dramatist was concerned in the composition of the play.
• The edition of 1591 was printed for Sampson Clarke: that of 1611, by Valentine Simmes, for Julin Helme; and that of 1622, by Aug. Mathews, for Thomas Dewe.
How long the old “ King John” had been in possession of the stage prior to 1591, when it was originally printed, we have no precise information', but Shakespeare found it there, and took the course usual with dramatists of the time", by applying to his own purposes as much of it as he thought would be advantageous. He converted the “two parts” into one drama, and in many of its main features followed the story, not as he knew it in history, but as it was fixed in popular belief. In some particulars he much improved upon the conduct of the incidents: for instance, in the first act of the old “King John," Lady Falconbridge is, needlessly and objectionably, made a spectator of the scene in which the bastardy of her son Philip is discussed before King John and his mother. Another amendment of the original is the absence of Constance from the stage when the marriage between Lewis and Blanch is debated and determined. A third material variation ought not to be passed over without remark. Although Shakespeare, like the author or authors of the old "King John,” employs the Bastard forcibly to raise money from the monasteries in England, he avoids the scenes of extortion and ribaldry of the elder play, in which the monks and nuns are turned into ridicule, and the indecency and licentiousness of their lives exposed. Supposing the old “
$ The edition of 1591 is preceded by a Prologue, omitted in the two later impressions, which makes it quite clear that the old “ King John," was posterior to Marlowe’s “ Tamberlaine:" it begins,
“ You that with friendly grace of smoothed brow
Have entertained the Scythian Tamberlaine,” &c. In the Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, vol. iii. p. 112, reasons are assigned for belieying that Marlowe's “ Tamberlaine” was acted about 1587.
6 In Henslowe's MS. Diary, under the date of May, 1598, we meet with an entry of a play by Robert Wilson, Henry Chettle, Anthony Munday, and Michael Drayton, entitled “ The Funerals of Richard Cordeliun.” It possibly had no connexion with the portion of history to which Shakespeare's play and the old “ King John” relate.
King John” to have been brought upon the stage not long after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when the hatred of Roman Catholics was at its height, such an exhibition must have been extremely gratifying to the taste of vulgar audiences. Shakespeare might justly hold in contempt such a mode of securing applause ; or, possibly, his own religious tenets (a point which is considered at length, with the addition of some new information, in the biography of the poet) might induce him to touch lightly upon such matters. Certain it is, that the elder drama contains much coarse abuse of the Roman Catholics, and violent invective against the ambition of the pontiff, little of which is found in Shakespeare. It is, however, easy to discover reasons why he would refuse to pander to popular prejudice, without supposing him to feel direct sympathy with the enemies of the Reformation.
Some of the principal incidents of the reign of John had been converted into a drama, with the purpose of promoting the Reformation, very early in the reign of Elizabeth, if not in that of Edward VI. We refer to the play of “ Kynge Johan,” by Bishop Bale, which, like the old "King John,” is in two parts, though we can trace no other particular resemblance. It was printed by the Camden Society, from the author's original MS. (in the library of the duke of Devonshire) in 1838, and is a specimen of the mixture of allegory and history in the same play, perhaps unexampled. As it was, doubtless, unknown both to the author or authors of the old “King John,” as well as to Shakespeare, it requires no farther notice here, than to show at how early a date that portion of our annals had been brought upon the stage.
Upon the question, when "King John" was written by Shakespeare, we have no knowledge beyond the fact that Francis Meres introduces it into his list in 1598. Malone speculated that it was composed in 1596, but he does not place reliance upon the internal evidence he himself adduces, which certainly is of a more than usually vague character. Chalmers, on the other hand, would assign the play to 1598, but the chance seems to be, that it was written a short time before it was spoken of by Meres : should be disposed to assign it to a date between 1596 and 1598, when the old “ King John,” which was probably in a course of representation in 1591, had gone a little out of recollection, and when Meres would have had time to become acquainted with Shakespeare's drama, from its popularity either at the Globe or Blackfriars' Theatres.
KING JOHN. PRINCE HENRY, his Son. ARTHUR, Duke of Bretagne. WILLIAM MARESHALL, Earl of Pembroke. GEFFREY FITZ-PETER, Earl of Essex. WILLIAM LONGSWORD, Earl of Salisbury. ROBERT BIGOT, Earl of Norfolk. HUBERT DE BURGH, Chamberlain to the King. ROBERT FAULCONBRIDGE. PHILIP FAULCONBRIDGE. JAMES GURNEY, Servant to Lady Faulconbridge. PETER of Pomfret. PHILIP, King of France. LEWIS, the Dauphin. Archduke of Austria. CARDINAL PANDULPH, the Pope's Legate. MELUN, a French Lord. CHATILLON, Ambassador from France. ELINOR, Widow of King Henry II. CONSTANCE, Mother to Arthur. BLANCH, Daughter to Alphonso, King of Castile. LADY FAULCONBRIDGE. Lords, Ladies, Citizens of Angiers, Sheriff, Heralds, Officers,
Soldiers, Messengers, and Attendants.
SCENE, sometimes in England, and sometimes in France.
· A list of characters was first added by Rowe.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Northampton. A Room of State in the Palace.
Enter King John, Queen ELINOR, PEMBROKE, Essex,
SALISBURY, and Others, with CHATILLON. K. John. Now, say, Chatillon, what would France
with us? Chat. Thus, after greeting, speaks the king of
Eli. A strange beginning !-borrow'd majesty ?
Chat. Philip of France, in right and true behalf
K. John. What follows, if we disallow of this?
Chat. The proud control of fierce and bloody war, To enforce these rights so forcibly withheld.