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scene.

Composition."

153 establishment of Faulconbridge's lineage as an illegitimate son of Caur-de-Lion, and his determination to follow the king's fortune in the wars.

The second act exhibits John in action, nothing doubtful of his cause, but brave and self-reliant. We find him opposed by France, and that Austria which had betrayed Richard into the hands of the German emperor; these powers having taken up the cause of Constance and her son, who also in person are on the

The dispute is for the town of Angiers; but the townsmen, answering from the walls, declare their resolve to maintain their neutrality, until the right to the crown of England is determined. Meanwhile, Eleanor and Constance parley, both in violent mood, the first implying the bastardy of Arthur, a taunt which Constance repays with interest, and truth. Austria and Faulconbridge interpose in the quarrel, and add to the war of insolent words. Poor Arthur, meanwhile, is only grieved that he should be made the occasion of contention, which, if left to himself, he would avoid. After some conflict between the two armies, a composition is agreed to, by which it is settled that Lewis the dauphin should wed Blanch of Castile, niece to the king of England, a lady whom Eleanor has brought with her, and by whose advice John concedes to the suggestion. Nor are Arthur's rights wholly forgotten. John promises to create young Arthur duke of Bretagne and earl of Richmond, and make him lord of the fair town of Angiers. With Blanch, likewise, he gives to France Volquessen, Touraine, Maine, Poictiers, and Anjou, five provinces—an arrangement which excites the Bastard's indignation:

“ Mad world! mad kings! mad composition !
John, to stop Arthur's title in the whole,
Hath willingly departed with a part;
And France, whose armour conscience buckled on,
Whom zeal and charity brought to the field,

As God's own soldiers,” swayed by motives of self-interest, consents to be drawn

“ from his own determined aim, From a resolved and honourable war,

To a most base and vile-concluded peace.” Admirably are all these political relations brought before the audience, and clearly illustrated, together with the motives by which each party is influenced; succinctly and yet vitally—in about some eight hundred lines, every one with a pulse of life in it; not all of them Shakspere's certainly, but all of them adopted by him, some of them improved, and some of them added. And this operation is conducted with such skill, that the work seems all of a piece.

And now the hand of Shakspere is to become more conspicuous in this refashionment of an already accepted drama. The lady Constance, the mother of Arthur, arrests his attention; and on her portrait he resolves to expend the resources of his dramatic art. John had vainly thought that the dame, ambitious as she was, would be satisfied with his politic arrangements. Her great soul disdains all compromise, and she pours forth her indignation in strains of matchless eloquence-with which only a poet like Shakspere could supply her— an unequalled wealth of

up to this

The Mouth of England.

155 words expressing thoughts transcendantly sublime and pathetic. Austria comes in for a share of her vituperation, richly merited, as the poet evidently thinks, by the share it had in Richard's capture. The picture drawn of the country, in that of its Archduke, is true of it

very

hour:
" O Austria! thou dost shame
That bloody spoil : thou slave, thou wretch, thou coward ;
Thou little valiant, great in villany!
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!" Such a character, and the conduct, too, which it implies, is partly due to the political and geographical position of the country.

In the midst of these domestic troubles enters Pandulph, the pope's legate, demanding of John why he has refused to sanction the pope's selection of Stephen Langton for the archbishopric of Canterbury. In the answer given to this demand by John the voice of England speaks, and shows how strictly the king is identified with the country. It is not the individual that we hear, but the impersonate people. The politics the words express are eminently Shaksperian--the politics of the Sonnets.

“What earthly name to interrogatories
Can task the free breath of a sacred king?
Thou canst not, cardinal, devise a name
So slight, unworthy, and ridiculous,
To charge me to an answer, as the pope.
Tell him this tale; and from the mouth of England
Add thus much more,—that no Italian priest
Shall tithe or toll in our dominions ;
But as we under heaven are supreme head,

So, under heaven, that great supremacy,
Where we do reign, we will alone uphold,
Without the assistance of a mortal hand.
So tell the pope ; all reverence set apart

To him and his usurped authority.”
This decided Protestantism appears to King Philip
blasphemy; and the legate proceeds to pronounce the
papal interdict. And thus it happens that the prayer
of Constance is heard, who, in her great agony,

had invoked the supreme powers:

Arm, arm, you heavens, against these perjured kings !
A widow cries ; be husband to me, heavens!
Let not the hours of this ungodly day
Wear out the day in peace; but, ere sun set,
Set armed discord 'twixt these perjured kings!

Hear me! O, hear me !"
She was heard; and, behold the result. The treaty
between the kings is broken. Philip is afraid to
continue in friendship with excommunicated John.
So far Constance has her wish;—but it is fatal to
herself. In the conflict that ensues, France is the
loser, and her “pretty Arthur” becomes a captive to
John. Then follows the pouring forth of the be-
reaved mother's sorrows, in all that pathos and
plenitude of eloquence which marked the scene that
opened the act. Infinite pathos ! incomparable elo-
quence! She grieves not alone ; for Lewis the
Dauphin now utters lamentations for his country's
loss; but, unlike her, he is comforted by Pandulph,
who, with all a priest's crafty sophistry, makes him
apprehend a real advantage in the apparent misfor-
tune. And thus concludes the third act, the greatest
act of the tragedy, and, as in other instances, com-
pleting the cycle.

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Rome self-overreached.

157 The fourth act is occupied with the episode of Prince Arthur and his death. In this transaction King John appears as an individual, and we are made acquainted with his personal character, as distinct from his representative one. Policy and self-interest still sway him; but there is a certain majesty in his guilt, and a conscientious humanity in his repentance.

In the fifth act we see him in compelled subservience to Rome. Pandulph has triumphed. Nevertheless Rome has overreached herself. By her alliance with England she has forfeited France. Lewis, justly indignant, sets no bounds to his passion, and determines to satisfy his anger, even on the English nobles who have forsaken John and joined the French

This treachery of the Dauphin, of course, alienates them, and they return to their allegiance. John, however, falls a victim to these complicated events, and dies, poisoned by an Italian monk, before the news of a fresh disaster can reach him. Of this Faulconbridge is the bearer. But in his heroic determination we know that England is safe; besides, the politic Pandulph has already prevailed on the Dauphin to withdraw from his enterprise.

Shakspere's contemporaries did not perceive what we now perceive, that in such alterations of elder plays he manifested a power superior to that possessed by the playwrights by whom the subjects were introduced to the stage. Hence it is that Greene, notwithstanding his own great talents as a dramatist, left a depreciatory notice of Shakspere in his posthumous work, called Groat's-Worth of Irit bought

cause.

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