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"Outside or inside, I will not return
Shockingly must Salisbury's confidence have been shaken by this scene. The legate whom Lewis had invoked "to give a warrant from the hand of heaven, and on his actions set the name of right with holy breath," had already sanctioned the cause of John instead. The revolted baron, indeed, says nothing; but when we next meet with him, he is in a state of surprise at the promising prospects of the English monarch:
"I did not think the king so stored with friends." With these words he opens the scene; and when Count Melun is led in wounded, to disclose the intended treachery of the French court against "the revolts of England," he is prepared to believe the warning, and hesitates not for a second to return to his allegiance. From that moment England is safe. When her princes shall have come home again, then will the Bastard proclaim the national conviction that,
Come the three quarters of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
Shakspere found the character of Faulconbridge in the elder play, but he so remodelled the character as to make it the exponent of the ruling idea of his own. Faulconbridge serves the poet as a kind of chorus; and thus at the end of the second act delivers a lecture on Commodity (or Interest), which Shakspere was careful to add in this place as a soliloquy,
not to be found in the old play. It was to this idea, thus in his usual manner introduced, that he trusted, as the principle of internal unity, by which all the characters and details of the action should be linked together. Such was Shakspere's sublime notion of dramatic unity, and which he so wisely substituted for the empirical unities of the Greek drama, which grew merely out of the conveniences of its limited stage. By it he elevated the English drama above the sphere of the accidental, and gave to it a philosophical life, which will permanently secure its status at the highest attainable level of poetical endeavour, and invested it with an epic character that will be eternal; a life independent of the stage and its conditions, and which will continue to interest the human race, as a written register of human thought and feeling, long after it shall have ceased to be acted.
Shakspere here views the character of the Bastard on the best side. Faulconbridge owes his good fortune to his irregular birth, and therefore is not tempted to resentment on that account, like Edmund in Lear. Of a rough humour in the beginning, but rising soon to the dignity of his new position, he finds in his occupation a motive to seriousness, and enters on his work with the earnestness of a busy man, who has his way in the world to make. Examples teem around him of self-interestedness, and therefore he is not ashamed, but rather encouraged, to regard Gain as his deity. His experience of kings and worldly policies begets in him a spirit of irony, which he is not slow to indulge. Nevertheless, he is
through all faithful to his sovereign and the land, and steadily wins his way upward by force of his fidelity and independence. He is a partisan who is never even tempted to forsake his cause, either by internal motive or external circumstance, but fits into his place as exactly as it fits him. His courage and daring enable him to encounter all dangers, and carry him successfully through all enterprises. To King John he is an invaluable servant, and is esteemed by all for his boldness and honesty, as well as feared for his straightforward and precipitate
The action of this tragedy is partly dependent on the past, and we must go as far back as the reign of Henry II. if we would understand the personal relations of some of the characters. In the previous reign the barons of England, taking advantage of the lax authority of Stephen, set up for themselves as petty sovereigns, built castles, and fortified their mansions. The king, to resist them, called in the aid of foreigners, by which matters were made worse. Meanwhile Matilda, the daughter of Henry I., who had married the Count of Anjou, endeavoured to gain the crown of England, contended for it during fourteen years, and in 1141 ascended the throne, the king having been taken prisoner,—and retained it for a short period. Stephen regained his liberty and his power. Eleven years afterwards, Henry, the son of Matilda, invaded England; but to avoid the continuance of civil war, an understanding was come to that Stephen should reign during his life, but Henry
succeed to the crown. And thus it was that in 1154 the Plantagenet line commenced in England in the person of Henry II.
The new king was exceedingly popular, and restored many of the Saxon laws. In earlier life he followed the council of Thomas à Becket, the most versatile of men, who became successively Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. When he became the latter, he turned upon the monarch who had trusted him, and advocated the absurd claims of the clergy, which Henry had wished to discourage. Becket was thus placed in opposition to the Barons, and ultimately fell a victim to his own temerity and arrogance. Henry, meanwhile, was unhappy in his domestic relations; Eleanor his queen being jealous of his gallantries, and stirring up her children against their father. Henry, Geoffrey, and Richard, his sons, assumed an attitude of rebellion against him; and even his favourite son John was found in a list of traitors' names. Henry II. died cursing his children; and was succeeded by his son Richard, surnamed Cœur-de-Lion.
The new king occupied himself with the Crusades. Returning from Palestine to England, he was seized by the Duke of Austria, and was sold to the Emperor of Germany, by whom he was imprisoned in the castle of Tiernsteign. After thirteen months' confinement he was ransomed by his subjects; and soon after commenced a war with France. Laying siege to the castle of the Baron of Limoges, he was wounded by an arrow, and died of mortification.
And now John, the youngest son of Henry II., succeeded to the throne, although by lineal right Arthur, his brother Geoffrey's child, was the next heir. Such is the state of things which we find at the opening of the tragedy. We find him seated on the throne, with his mother Queen Eleanor (Elinor) at his side, his politic counsellor, giving audience to the French ambassador, who is charged to assert the claim of young Arthur, whose cause has been taken up by Philip, king of France. John answers him indignantly and defiantly. Eleanor then expresses an opinion that the contingency might have been avoided by more adroit management. She was convinced, and had ever said,
"How that ambitious Constance would not cease,
Here are the whole elements of the drama at one view. Eleanor and John, however, are at issue upon one point. The latter exclaims,
"Our strong possession, and our right for us;"
to which Eleanor replies,
"Your strong possession, much more than your right,
So much my conscience whispers in your ear, Which none but heaven, and you, and I, shall hear." John, strong in the assent of his parliament, acts, throughout the drama, on his own opinion. It is only the enemies of England who advocate the contrary; others, like Eleanor, may inwardly confess to its truth, but they are politicly silent. The remainder of the first act is exclusively concerned with the