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might enrich his work with the eloquence of a mother's love ;
so he took a like freedom in making Arthur younger than
the facts prescribed, that he might in larger measure pour in
the sweetness of childish innocence and wit. Both of these
departures from strict historic order are highly judicious ; at
least they are amptly redeemed by the dramatic wealth which
comes in fitly through them. And in the case of Arthur there
is the further gain, that the sparing of his eyes is owing to his
potency of tongue and the ])icrcing touch of gentleness ;
whereas in the history he is indebted for this to his strength
of arm. Tiie Arthur of the play is an artless, gentle, natural-
hearted, but high-spirited, elo(iuent boy, in whom we have
the voice of nature pleading for nature's riglits, unrestrained
by i)ride of character or place ; who at first braves his uncle,
because set on to do so by iiis mother ; and afterwards fears
him, yet knows not why, because his heart is too full of "the
holiness of youth " to conceive how any thing so treacherous


ami unnatural can be, as that which he fears. And he not
only has a most tender and loving disposition, such as cruelty
itself can hardly resist, but is also persuasive and wise far
beyontl his years ; though his power of tliought and magic
of speech are so managed as rather to aid the impression of
his childish age. Observe, too, how in the scene with
Hubert his very terror operates in him a sort of preternatural
illumination, and inspires him io a course of innocent and
unconscious cunning, — the perfect art of perfect artlessness.
Of the scene in-question Hazlitt jusdy says, " If any thing
ever were penned, heart-piercing, mixing the extremes of
terror and pity, of that which shocks and that which soothes
the mind, it is this scene." Yet even here the tender pathos
of the loving and lovely boy is marred with some "([uirks of
wit," such as I can hardly believe the Poet would have
allowed in his best days. In Arthur's dying speech, — "O
nie ! my uncle's spirit is in these stones," — our impression
against John is most artfully heightened ; all his foregoing
inhumanity being, as it were, gathered and concentrated into
an echo. — Shakespeare has several times thrown the witch-
ery of his genius into pictures of nursery life, bringing chil-
dren upon the scene, and delighting us with their innocent
archness and sweet-witted pratde ; as in the case of Mamil-
lius in The Winter's Tale, and of Lady Macduff and her son ;
but Arthur is his most powerful and charming piece in that
line. That his great, simple, manly heart loved to play with
childhood, is indeed evident enough. Nor is it the least of
his claims to our reverence, as an organ of Nature's bland
and benignant wisdom.



The reign of King John furnished no characters fully
answering the conditions of high dramatic interest. To
meet this want, therefore, there was need of one or more
representative characters, — persons in whom should be cen-
tred and consolidated various elements of national character,
which were in fact dispersecf through many individuals ; or
a boiling down of the diffused old John Bull into an ideal
specimen. And such is Falconbridge, with his fiery flood of
Norman vigour bounding through his veins, his irrepressible
dance of animal spirits, his athletic and frohcsome wit, his
big, brave, manly heart, his biting sword, and his tongue
equally biting ; his soul proof-armoured against all fear save
that of doing what were wrong or mean.

The Troulf/esome Reign supplied the name, and also a
slight hint towards the character :

Next them a bastard of the King deceased,
A hardy wild-head, rough and venturous.

But the delineation is tlioroughly Shakespearian, is crammed
brimful of the Poet's most peculiar mental life ; so that the
man is as different as can well be conceived from any thing
ever dreamed of in the older play. And, what is specially
worth the noting, Shakespeare clearly embodies in him his
own sentiment of nationality, jwurs his hearty, full-souled
English sj)irit intf) him and through him ; so that the charac-
ter is, at least in the political sense, truly rei)resentative of
the author; — all this, however, without the slightest tincture
of egotism or self-obtrusion ; the pure nationality of the man,
extricated from all jjcrsonal and partisan mixtures. So, to
Falconbridge, l)Oth head and heart, the King, as before


remarked, is truly the Impersonation of the State; and he
surrounds the throne with all those nobilities of thought, and
all those ideas of majesty and reverence, which are wanting
in John himself. He thus regards the crown just as the
wearer ought to regard it. Withal he is fully alive to the
wrong-headedness and moral baseness of the King ; but the
office is to him so sacred as the palladium of national unity
and life, that he will allow neither himself nor others in his
presence to speak disrespectfully of the man.

Falconbridge is strangely reckless of appearances. But his
heart is evidently much better than his tongue : from his
speech you might suppose gain to be his God of gods ; but
a tar truer language, which he uses without knowing it, tells
you that gain is to him just no god at all : he talks as if he
cared for nothing but self-interest, while his works proclaim
a spirit framed of disinterestedness ; his action thus quietly
giving the lie to his words ; this too in such sort as establislies
the more firmly his inward truth. His course in this behalf
springs pardy from an impulse of antagonism to the prevailing
spirit about him, where he sees great swollen pretences to
virtue without a particle of the thing itself. What he most of
all abominates is the pursuit of selfish and sinister ends under
the garb of religion ; piety on the tongue with covetousness
in the heart fills him with intense disgust ; and his repug-
nance is so strong, that it sets him spontaneously upon assum-
ing a garb of selfishness to cover his real conscientiousness
of mind and purpose. So too, secretly, he is as generous as
the Sun, but his generosity puts on an affectation of rudeness
or something worse : he will storm at you, to bluff you off
from seeing the kindness he is doing you. Of the same stripe
is his hatred of cruelty and meanness : while these things are
rife about him, h.e never gets angry or makes any quarrel


with them; on the contrary, he laughs and breaks sinewy-
jests over them, as if ho thought them witty and smart :
upon witnessing the lieartless and unprincipled bargaining
of the Kings, he passes it off jocosely as a freak of the " mad
world," and verbally frames for himself a plan that " smacks
somewhat of the policy"; then, instead of acting out what
he thus seems to relish as a capital thing, he goes on to
shame down, as far as may be, all such baseness by an ex-
ample of straightforward nobleness and magnanimity. Tlicn
too, with all his laughing roughness of speech and iron stern-
ness of act, so blunt, bold, and downright, he is nevertheless
full of humane and gentle feeling. With what burning elo-
quence of indignation does he denounce the supposed mur-
der of Arthur ! though he has no thought of abetting his
claims to the throne against the present occupant. He
abhors the deed as a crime : but to his keen, honest eje it
is also a stupendous blunder ; and he deplores it as such,
because its huge offensiveness to England's heart is what
makes it a blunder, and because he is himself in full sym-
pathy with the national conscience, which cannut but be
shocked at its hideous criminality. So it may be doubted
whether he more resents the wickedness or the stupidity of
the act. .And how much it imperils the State is revealed to
him in the iiard strain it makes on his own determined

The Poet manages with great art tliat Falconbridge may
be held to John throughout the i)lay by ties which he is too
clear of head and too upright of heart to think of rencjunc-
ing. In the first place, he has been highly trusted and hon-
oured by the King, and he cannot be ungrateful. Then
again, in his clear-sighted and comprehensive pubjic spirit,
the diverse interests that sjjlit others into factions, and plunge


them into deadly strife, are smoothly reconciled : political
regards work even more than personal gratitude, to keep him
steadfast to the King ; and he is ready with tongue and sword
to beat down whatsoever anywhere obstructs a broad and
generous nationality. In the intercourse of State function-
aries, he, to be sure, pays little heed to the delicacies and
refinements of political diplomacy : his plain, frank nature
either scorns them or is insensible to them : but his patriot-
ism is thoroughly sound and true, and knows no taste of
fear ; and whatever foreign assailants dare to touch England
or England's honour, he is for pounding them straight out
of the way, and will think of no alternative but to be pounded
out of the way by them. — As a representative character, he
stands next to Falstaff. Thoroughly Gothic in features and
proportions, and as thoroughly English in temper and spirit,
his presence rays life and true manliness into every part of
the drama. Is it strange that a nation which could grow
such originals should have beaten all the rest of the world in
every thing useful and beautiful and great ?



King John.

Prince Henry, his Son.

Arthur, Duke of Bretagne.

Mareshall, Earl of Pembroke.

Fitz-Peter, Earl of Essex.

Longsword, Elarl of Salisbury.

Bigot, Earl of Norfolk.

HUEERT DE Burgh, Chamberlain.

Robert Falconbridge.

Philip, the Bastard, his Half-

James Gurney, Servant to Lady

Peter of Pomfrct, a Prophet.
Lords, Citizens of Angicrs, Sheriff, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Messengers,

and other Attendants.

Scene. — Sometimes in England, and sometimes in France.

Philip, King of France.
Louis, the Dauphin.
Archduke of Austria.
Pandulph, the Pope's Legate.
Melun, a French Lord.
Chatillon, Ambassador from
France to King John.

Elinor, Mother to King John.
Constance, Mother to Arthur.
Bi,anch, Daughter to Alphonso,

King of Castile.
Lauy Falconbridge.


Scene I. — Northampton. A Room of State in the Palace.

Enter King John, Queen Imjnok, Pkmhroke, Essex, Sai.is-
iiUKV, ami others, witli Chatillon.

A'. John. Now, say, Chatillon, what would P'rance with

38 Kixc. JOHN.


Chat. Thus, after greeting, speaks the King of France,
In my behaviour,' to the majesty,
The borrow'd majesty of England here.

Eli. A strange beginning : borrow'd majesty !

K.John. Silence, good mother; hear the embassy.

CJiat. Philip of France, in right and true behalf
Of thy deceased brother Geffrey's son,
Arthur Plantagenet, lays most lawful claim
To this fair island and the territories, —
To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine ;
Desiring thee to lay aside the sword
Which sways usurpingly these several titles,
And put the same into young Arthur's hand,
Thy nephew and right royal sovereign.

K.John. What follows, if we disallow of this?

Chat. The proud control- of fierce and bloody war,
T' enforce these rights so forcibly withheld.

K.John. Here have we war for war, and blood for blood,
Controlment for controlment : so answer France.

Chat. Then take my King's defiance from my mouth.
The farthest limit of my embassy.

K. John. Bear mine to him, and so depart in peace :
Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France ;

1 " In the speech and action I am now going to use." So in v. 2, of this
play : " Now hear our English King ; for thus his royalty doth speak in

- Control here means coercion or constraint. Hooker often uses the word
in the kindred sense of to rebuke, censure, or chastise; as in Preface, ii. 4:
"Authority to convent, to control, Xo punish, as far as excommunication,"
&c. And viii. 7 : " They began to control the ministers of the Gospel for
attributing so much force and virtue to the Scriptures o*' God read." Also
in Dook vii. 16, 6: " Whicli letters he justly taketh in marvellous evil part,
and therefore severely controlleth his great presumption in making liimself
a judge of a judge."


For, ere thou canst report I will be there,
The thunder of my cannon ^ shall be heard :
So, hence ! Be thou the trumpet of our wrath,
And sullen ■* presage of your own decay. —
An honourable conduct let him have : —
Pembroke, look to't. — Farewell, Chatillon.

\_Exeunt Chatit.lon and Pembroke.

Eli. What now, my son ! have I not ever said
How that ambitious Constance would not cease
Till she had kindled France and all the world
Upon the right and party of her son ?
This might liave been prevented and made wliolc
With very easy arguments of love ;
Which now tiie manage^ of two kingdoms must
With fearful bloody issue arbitrate.

K. John. Our strong possession and our right for us.

Eli. \_Asiiie to John.] Your strong possession much more
than your right.
Or else it must go wrong with you and me :

' The Poet here antedates the use of gunpowder by more than a hundred
years. So, again, in ii. i, wc liavc the expression, " bullets wrapp'd in fire."
John's reign began in 1 199, and cannon arc said to have been first used in
the battle of Crcssy, 1346. Shakespeare was never studious of historical
accuracy in such points : he aimed to speak the language that was most
intelligible to his audience, rendering the ancient engines of war by their
modem equivalents.

< Gloomy, dismal, doleful arc among the old senses of sullen. So in
2 Henry IV., i. I : " ,\nd his tongue sounds ever after as a sullen bell, re-
membcr'd knolling a departing friend." Also in Milton's sonnet to Law-
rence: "And by the fire help waste a sullen day." — Trumpet, in the line
before, is put for trumpeter. Often so. And, in the line after, conduct for
escort : also a frequent usage. See Twelfth Night, page 105, note 20.

'• .Manage for management, conduct, or administration ; a frcfiuent usage.
So in The Merchant, iii. 4 : " I commit into your hands the husbandry and
manage of my liousc until my lord's return,"


So much my conscience whispers in your car,
Which none but Heaven and you and I shall hear.

Enter the ?k\Qx\{{ of Northamptonshire who whispers Essex.

Essex. My liege, here is the strangest controversy.
Come from the country to be judged by you,
That e'er I heard : shall I produce the men?

K. John. Let them approach. — \Exit Sheriff.

Our abbeys and our priories shall pay
This expedition's charge. —

Re-enter Sheriff, 7vith Robert Falconbridge, and Philip liis

bastard Brother.

AViiat men are you ?

Bast. Your faithful subject I, a gentleman
Born in Northamptonshire, and eldest son,
As I suppose, to Robert Falconbridge,
A soldier, by the honour-giving hand
Of Coeur-de-lion knighted in the field.

K.John. What art thou?

Rob. The son and heir to that same Falconbridge.

K.John. Is that the elder, and art thou the heir?
You came not of one mother, then, it seems.

Bast. Most certain of one mother, mighty King,
That is well known ; and, as I think, one father :
But for the certain knowledge of that truth,
I put you o'er to Heaven and to my mother.

Eli. Out on thee, rude man ! thou dost shame thy mother
And wound her honour with this diffidence.

Bast. I, madam ? no, I have no reason for it :
That is my brother's plea, and none of mine ;
The which if he can prove, 'a pops mc ouc


At least from fair five hundred pound a year :
Heaven guard my mother's honour and my land 1

K. John. A good blunt fellow. — Why, being younger born,
Doth he lay claim to thine inheritance ?

Bast. I know not why, except to get the land.
But once he slander'd me with bastardy :
But wher'' I be as true begot or no,
That still I lay upon my mother's head.

K.John. Why, wliat a madcap hath Heaven sent us here !

Eli. He hath a trick '' of Coeur-de-lion's face \
The accent of his tongue affecteth him :^
Do you not read some tokens of my son
In the large composition of this man?

K.John. Mine eye hath well examined his parts,
And finds them perfect Richard. — Sirrah, speak.
What doth move you to claim your brother's land?

Bast. Because he hath a half- face, like my father,
With tliat half-face would he have all my land :
A half-faced groat ^ five hundred pound a year !

Rob. My gracious liege, when that my father lived,
Your brother did employ my father much, —

Bast. Well, sir, by this you cannot get my land.

Rob. — And once dispatch'd him in an embassy

• A frequent contraction of lohelhtr.

"^ Trick, as here used, is properly an heraldic term for mark or note ;
hence meaning a peculiarity of countenance or expression.

* To affect .a thing is, in one sense, to draw or incline towards it ; that is,
to resemble it. The meaning lierc is, that the Bastard's speech has a smack
of his alleged father's.

» Tlic groats of Henry VII. differed from other coins in having a Jialf-
face.ox profile, instead of a full-face. Hence the phrase half-faced groat
came to l)c used of a meagre visage. So in The Downfall of Robert Earl
of Huntingdon, 1601 ; " You halffac d groat , you Ihin-chcck'd chifly face."


To Germany, there with the Emperor
To treat of high affairs touching that time.
Th' advantage of his absence took the King,
And in the mean time sojourn'd at my father's.
Upon his death-bed he by will beqneath'd
His lands to me ; and took it on his death,'**
That this my mother's son was none of his : *

Then, good my liege, let me have what is mine.
My father's land, as was my father's will.

K.John. Sirrah, your brother is legitimate,
Your father's wife did after wedlock bear him :
Your father's heir must have your father's land.

Rob. Shall, then, my father's will be of no force
To dispossess that child which is not his?

Eli. Wher hadst thou rather,' ' be a Falconbridge,
And like thy brother, to enjoy thy land.
Or the reputed son of Coeur-de-lion,
Lord of thy pressnce,'^ and no land besides?

Bast. Madam, an if my brother had my shape,
And I had his. Sir Robert his,'^ like him ;

1" This appears to have been a common form of making oath, or swear-
ing to a thing. So in i Henry IV., v. 4 : " I'll take it upon my death, I gave
him this wound in the thigh."

11 Wlicr, again, for whether. And in alternative questions whether is
often used as equivalent to which, or which of the two. So that the mean-
ing here is, " Which wouldst tliou prefer, to be a Falconbridge," &c.

12 Presence is here equivalent to person ; and the meaning is lord in
right of thy own person. The lord of a thing is, properly, flie owner of it ;
and lords are commonly such in virtue of the lands and titles that belong to
them. As the son of a king, Falconbridge will be a lord by personal right,
whether he has any lands or not. Sir Henry Wotton's Happy Man has a
similar expression : " Lord of himself, tliough not of lands."

13 Sir Robert his is merely equivalent to Sir Robert's; his being the old
sign o£ the genitive.


And if my legs were two such riding-rods,

My arms such eel-skins stuff'd ; my face so thin,

That in mine ear I durst not stick a rose,

Lest men should say, Look, where three-farthings goes ! ^^

And, to '^ his shape, were heir to all this land ;

Would I might never stir from off this place,

I'd give it every foot to have this face :

I would not be Sir Nob in any case.

Eli. I like thee well : wilt thou forsake thy fortune,
Bequeath thy land to him, and follow me ?
1 am a soldier, and now bound to France.

Bast. Brother, take you my land, I'll take my chance :
Your face hath got five hundred pound a year ;
Yet sell your face for five pence, and 'tis dear. —
Madam, I'll follow you unto the death.

Eli. Nay, I would have you go before me thither.

Bast. Our country manners give our betters way.

K. John. \\'hat is thy name?

Bast. Philip, my liege, — so is my name begun, —
Philip, good old Sir Robert's wife's eld'st son.

K.John. I'Vom henceforth bear his name whose form
tliou bear'st :
Kneel thou down Phili]), but arise more great, —
Arise Sir Richard and Planlagenet."'

H Alluding to tlic lliroc-farthing pieces of Klizaljeth, which, being of sil-
ver, were of course very thin. These ])ieces had a profile of the Queen on
the obverse side, and a rose on the reverse. Staunton notes that, " ,-is with
the profile of the sovereign it bore the emblem of a rose, its similitude to a
wcazcn-faced beau with that flower stuck in his ear, according to a courtly
fashion of Shaki-speare's day, is sufJiciently inlelligiljle and humorous."

'* Here to has the force of /« addition to ; a frequent usage.

1* Plantagenet was originally an epithet conferred upon a member of the
House of Anjou from his wearing a stalk of the broom-plant, //<i«/a^v«u/n
in his cap or bonnet.


Biisf. Brother by th' mother's side, give me your hand :
My father gave me honour, yours gave land.

Eli. The very spirit of Plantagenet ! —
I am thy grandam, Richard ; call me so.

Basi. Madam, by chance, but not by truth : what though?
Something about, a little from the right,^''
In at the window, or else o'er the hatch ; '^
^^'ho dares not stir by day must walk by night ;
And have is have, however men do catch ;
Near or far off, well won is still well shot.

K.John. Go, Falconbridge : now hast thou thy desire;
A landless knight makes thee a landed scjuire. —
Come, madam, — and come, Richard ; we must speed
For France, for France ; for it is more than need.

Bast. Brother, adieu : good fortune come to thee ! —

\_Excunt all but the Bastard.
A foot of honour better than I was.
But many a many foot of land the worse.
Well, now can I make any Joan a lady :
Good lieii,^^ Sir Richard ; — God-a-mercy, fellow !

'" Tliat is, " I am your grandson, though, to be sure, somewhat irregu-
larly io\ but that matters little, since what a man has, he has, however he
came by it; and, in a shooting-matcli, it makes no difference whether one
hits close or wide of the mark, so long as he wins the game." Such is in
substance Johnson's explanation. Here, as often, truth is put for honesty.
So true man often means honest man.

1* Tiiese were proverbial phrases applied to persons born illegitimately.
So in The Family of Love, 1608 : " Woe worth the time that ever I gave
suck to a child that came in at a window!' And in The Witches of Lanca-
shire, 1634: " I would not have you think I scorn my grannam's cat to leap
over the hatch!'

19 Good den VI a.s a common colloquialism ior good even. — God-a-mercy
is an old colloquialism for God have mercy; that is, " God />ardon vie!'
Here it stands as a sort of apology for non-recognition. — Joan, in the line
before, is used as a common term meaning about the same as wench.


And if his name be George, I'll call him Peter ;

For new-made honour doth forget men's names ;

'Tis too respective and too sociable

For \our conversion.^o Now your traveller, —

He and his toothpick at my Worship's mess ;

And, when my knightly stomach is sufficed,

Why, then I suck my teeth, and catechize

M^y picked man, of countries : -^ My dear sir,

Thus, leaning on mine elbow, I begin,

I shall beseech you — that is Question now ;

20 Conversion here means change of condition, such as the speaker has
just undergone in being transferred to a higher rank. Respective is mind-
ful ox considerate ; a very frequent usage. The language of the passage is
elhptical ; the meaning being, that remembering mens names impHes too
much thought of others, and too much community of feeling, for one that
lias just been lifted into nobility of rank. The Bastard is ridiculing the
affectations of aristocratic greenhorns. See Critical Notes.

■•21 Picked is scrupulously nice, fastidious, or coxcombical ; as in Love's
Labours Lost, v. i : " He is too picked, too spruce, too odd, too affected, as
it were, too peregrinate." " My picked man " here is a man who pranks up
his behaviour with foreign airs, or what may pass for such ; and the mean-
ing is, catechize him of, or about, the countries he claims to have seen. In
Shakespeare's time, which was an age of newly-awakened curiosity, with
but small means of gratifying it, travellers were much welcomed to the
tables of the rich and noble, for the instruction and entertainment of their

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Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareShakespeare's history of King John → online text (page 5 of 13)