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Bretagne (the elder Brother of King Joux).
Richard the First.
Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants.
NOTHING can be more idle or frivolous than to draw comparisons between the
historical plays of Shakspere, and such as, being founded on tales or legends which attracted his attention by their seeming aptness for his purpose, are evidences of the amazing fertility of his genius. In the construction of his plays of the latter class, he had sometimes a wild fable to regulate ; always dull, soulless agents to vivify and discriminate, so that they might become human beings, and characters; and very frequently—to give fulness, propriety, and completeness to his design-he had absolutely new characters to conceive. No title can be pleaded for the creatures of fiction in support or in preservation of their individuality. The fancy of one may alter what the fancy of another has made or suggested ; and Shakspere taking advantage of a license whereby he escaped the drudgery of his art, reanimated scenes and circumstances of the most extraordinary and sometimes of a preternatural description; making the great and the small take their share therein-live and move and have their being in them—all profoundly steeped in the depths of human nature, that thereby they might live for ever. His sole purpose in writing these romantic dramas was to give delight to his audience by the present. ment of an interesting story, evolved by the agency of natural characters.
But, in forming his historical plays, Shakspere had a very different end in view. His purpose was, to produce in a dramatic form a succession of real
events, set forth in the very truth, and fraught with the philosophic lessons and warnings of history. Historical plays were no novelties. For several years before Shakspere appeared, they had been a favourite amusement of the people; albeit they were, with one exception (Marlowe's “ EDWARD II.,” which is of a higher strain, and of a defined purpose), very crude productions, little better than servile transcripts from the old chronicles, embellished by no art, and illustrated by no attempt at character.
Plays had been previously written, and were familiar to the audience, on most of the historical subjects chosen by Shakspere. What of that? He saw,-meagre though they were,—that they were delightful to the spectators, because they were representations, however imperfect, of real events that had occurred in their common country. Not withheld by a sickly dread of being charged with plagiarism or presumption, or by a morbid ambition to be deemed altogether original, he took them in hand, designing to remodel them, so that they might be indeed pictures painted, not wretched reprints, from history. In effect, he re-wrote these plays, closely following Hall, Holinshed, Stowe, and other chroniclers, not only in the conduct of their history, but sometimes in their very expressions; and, here and there, he extracted a few lines from the old plays on the same subject. But in all that constitutes the essence of a play, they are as entirely his own as “ Lear," or " OTHELLO," or “ THE TEMPEST."
We have already seen, in his historical plays of “ CORIOLANUS," "Julius Cæsar," and " ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA," with what fidelity he adhered to Plutarch. The same integrity of intellect pre. sided at his scenes drawn from English history. If he would not wittingly alter the events, or even their order of succession, still less would he, for the sake of " dramatic effect,” or what not, tamper with the historical personages. Such as they appeared to him by the lights of history to be such as they might be inferred to have been-even so were they drawn, with an unflinching, inflexible pen, with an inexorable truth. Shakspere, indeed, sometimes introduces fictitious characters into his historical plays ; but, if they delay, they never divert the main action; and where they mingle with it, they on no occasion interrupt, but over co-operate with it.
These few general remarks are ventured as introductory to the magnificent series of Shaksperian dramas derived from English history. Particular mention of the play of “King John” will be found at the conclusion of the Notce.
ACT 1. scene I.—Northampton. A Room of State in K. John. Silence, good mother; hear the em. the Palace.
Chat. Philip of France, in right and true behalf Enter KING JOHN, QUEEN ELINOR, PEMBROKE,
Of thy deceased brother Geffrey's son, EsSEX, SALISBURY, and others, with CHATIL
Arthur Plantagenet, lays most lawful claim LON.
To this fair island, and the territories ; King John. Now, say, Chatillon, what would To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine : France with us?
Desiring thee to lay aside the sword Chat. Thus, after greeting, speaks the King of Which sways usurpingly these several titles, France,
And put the same into young Arthur's hand, In my behaviour, to the majesty
Thy nephew and right royal sovereign. (The borrowed majesty) of England here.
K. John. What follows, if we disallow of this ? Eli. A strange beginning :-"Borrowed ma- Chat. The proud controloffierce and bloody war, jesty!"
To enforce these rights so forcibly withheld.