Imatges de pÓgina
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of minor particulars,-those groupings of characters who were really never brought together, --which the poet knowingly abandons himself to, that he may accomplish the great purposes of his art, the first of which, in a drama especially, is unity of action. Such a licence has Shakspere taken in 'King John;' and who can doubt that, poetically, he was right? But there is a limit even to the mastery of the poet, when he is dealing with the broad truths of history; for the poetical truth would be destroyed if the historical truth were utterly disregarded. For example, if the grand scenes in this Act between Arthur and Hubert, and between Hubert and John, were entirely contradicted by the truth of history, there would be an abatement even of the irresistible power of these matchless scenes. Had the proper historians led us to believe that no attempt was made to deprive Arthur of his sight that his death was not the result of the dark suspicions and cowardly fears of his uncle -that the manner of this death was so clear that he who held him captive was absolved from all suspicion of treachery, then the poet would indeed have left an impression on the mind which even the historical truth could with difficulty have overcome; but he would not have left that complete and overwhelming impression of the reality of his scenes, he could | not have produced our implicit belief in the sad story, as he tells it, of Arthur of Brittany,-he could not have rendered it impossible for any one to recur to that story, who has read this Act of 'King John,' and not think of the dark prison where the iron was hot and the executioner ready, but where nature, speaking in words such as none but the greatest poet of nature could have furnished, made the fire and the iron "deny their office," and the executioner leave the poor boy, for a while, to "sleep doubtless and secure.' Fortunate is it that we have no records to hold up which should say that Shakspere built this immortal scene upon a rotten foundation. The story, as told by Holinshed, is deeply interesting; and we cannot read it without feeling how skilfully the poet has followed it :

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"It is said that King John caused his nephew Arthur to be brought before him at Falaise, and there went about to persuade him all that he could to forsake his friendship and alliance with the French king, and to lean and stick to him his natural uncle. But Arthur, like one that wanted good counsel, and abounding too much in his own wilful opinion, made a presumptuous

answer, not only denying so to do, but also commanding King John to restore unto him the realms of England, with all those other lands and possessions which King Richard had in his hand at the hour of his death. For sith the same appertaineth to him by right of inheritance, he assured him, except restitution were made the sooner, he should not long continue quiet. King John, being sore moved by such words thus uttered by his nephew, appointed (as before is said) that he should be straitly kept in prison, as first in Falaise, and after at Roan, within the new castle there.

"Shortly after King John coming over into England caused himself to be crowned again at Canterbury, by the hands of Hubert, the archbishop there, on the fourteenth of April, and then went back again into Normandy, where, immediately upon his arrival, a rumour was spread through all France, of the death of his nephew Arthur. True it is that great suit was made to have Arthur set at liberty, as well by the French King, as by William de Miches, a valiant baron of Poitou, and divers other noblemen of the Britains, who, when they could not prevail in their suit, they banded themselves together, and joining in confederacy with Robert Earl of Alanson, the Viscount Beaumont, William de Fulgiers, and other, they began to levy sharp wars against King John in divers places, insomuch (as it was thought) that so long as Arthur lived, there would be no quiet in those parts: whereupon it was reported, that King John, through persuasion of his counsellors, appointed certain persons to go into Falaise, where Arthur was kept in prison, under the charge of Hubert de Burgh, and there to put out the young gentleman's eyes.

"But through such resistance as he made against one of the tormentors that came to execute the king's command (for the other rather forsook their prince and country, than they would consent to obey the king's authority therein) and such lamentable words as he uttered, Hubert de Burgh did preserve him from that injury, not doubting but rather to have thanks than displeasure at the king's hands, for delivering him of such infamy as would have redounded unto his highness, if the young gentleman had been so cruelly dealt withal. For he considered, that King John had resolved upon this point only in his, heat and fury (which moveth men to undertake many an inconvenient enterprise, unbeseeming the person of a common man,

much more reproachful to a prince, all men in that mood being more foolish and furious, and prone to accomplish the perverse conceits of their ill possessed hearts; as one saith right well,

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Stultorum est animus, facilè excandescit et audet Omne scelus, quoties concepta bile tumescit), and that afterwards, upon better advisement, he would both repent himself so to have commanded, and give them small thank that should see it put in execution. Howbeit, to satisfy his mind for the time, and to stay the rage of the Britains, he caused it to be bruited abroad through the country, that the king's commandment was fulfilled, and that Arthur also, through sorrow and grief, was departed out of this life. For the space of fifteen days this rumour incessantly ran through both the realms of England and France, and there was ringing for him through towns and villages, as it had been for his funerals. It was also bruited, that his body was buried in the monastery of Saint Andrews of the Cisteaux order.

"But when the Britains were nothing pacified, but rather kindled more vehemently to work all the mischief they could devise, in revenge of their sovereign's death, there was no remedy but to signify abroad again that Arthur was as yet living, and in health. Now when the king

heard the truth of all this matter, he was nothing displeased for that his commandment was not executed, sith there were divers of his captains which uttered in plain words, that he should not find knights to keep his castles, if he dealt so cruelly with his nephew. For if it chanced any of them to be taken by the King of France, or other their adversaries, they should be sure to taste of the like cup. But now touching the manner in very deed of the end of this Arthur, writers make sundry reports. Nevertheless certain it is, that in the year next ensuing, he was removed from Falaise unto the castle or tower of Roan, out of the which there was not any that would confess that ever he saw him go alive. Some have written that as he essayed to have escaped out of prison, and proving to climb over the walls of the castle, he fell into the river of Seine, and so was drowned. Other write, that through very grief and languor he pined away and died of natural sickness. But some affirm that King John secretly caused him to be murdered and made away, so as it is not thoroughly agreed upon, in what sort he finished his days; but verily King John was had in great suspicion, whether worthily or not, the Lord knoweth."

Wisely has the old chronicler said, "verily King John was had in great suspicion, whether worthily or not, the Lord knoweth ;" and wisely has Shakspere taken the least offensive mode of

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Arthur's death, which was to be found noticed in the obscure records of those times. It is, all things considered, most probable that Arthur perished at Rouen. The darkest of the stories connected with his death is that which makes him on the night of the 3rd April, 1203, awakened from his sleep, and led to the foot of the castle of Rouen, which the Seine washed. There, say the French historians, he entered a boat, in which sate John, and Peter de Maulac, his esquire. Terror took possession of the unhappy boy, and he threw himself at his uncle's feet;— but John came to do or to witness a deed of horror, and with his own hand he slew his nephew, and the deep waters of the river received the body of his victim.

In Act III. the dramatic action exhibits to us the "holy legate of the pope" breaking the peace between John and Philip, demanding of John

"Why thou against the church, our holy mother,
So wilfully dost spurn; and, force per force,
Keep Stephen Langton, chosen archbishop
Of Canterbury, from that holy see?"

The great quarrel between John and the pope, with reference to the election of Stephen Langton, did not take place till 1207, about six years after Arthur was taken prisoner at Mirebeau. Pandulph was not sent into France "to practise with the French king" against John, till 1211; and the invasion of England by the Dauphin (which is suggested by Pandulph as likely to be supported by the indignation of the English on the death of Arthur), did not take place till 1216, the year of John's death. The poet has leapt over all those barriers of time which would have impeded the direct march of his own poetical history. Coleridge has well explained the principle of this :-" The history of our ancient kings, the events of their reigns I mean, are like stars in the sky;-whatever the real interspaces may be, and however great, they seem close to each other. The stars-the events-strike us and remain in our eye, little modified by the difference of dates. An historic drama is, therefore, a collection of events borrowed from history, but connected together in respect of cause and time, poetically and by dramatic fiction." Again: "The events themselves are immaterial, otherwise than as the clothing and manifestation of the spirit that is working within. In this mode, the unity resulting from succession is destroyed, but is supplied by a unity of a higher order, which connects the

events by reference to the workers, gives a reason for them in the motives, and presents men in their causative character.""

The reader may, perhaps, be pleased with an example of the manner in which Shakspere follows the chronicles, when the historical and the poetical truth are in unison. We will give him the story of Peter of Pomfret, and the incident of the five moons, from Holinshed:

"There was in this season (1213, An. Reg. 15) an hermit whose name was Peter, dwelling about York, a man in great reputation with the common people, because that, either inspired with some spirit of prophecy as the people believed, or else having some notable skill in art magic, he was accustomed to tell what should follow after. This Peter, about the

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first of January last past, had told the king, that at the feast of the Ascension it should come to pass, that he should be cast out of his kingdom. And he offered himself to suffer death for it, if his words should not prove true. Hereupon being committed to prison within the castle of Corfe, when the day by him prefixed came, without any other notable damage unto King John, he was, by the king's commandment, drawn from the said castle unto the town of Warham, and there hanged together with his son. Some thought that he had much wrong to die, because the matter fell out even as he had prophesied; for the day before Ascension-day King John had resigned the superiority of his kingdom (as they took the matter) unto the pope, and had done to him homage, so that he was no absolute king indeed, as authors affirm. One cause, and that not the least which moved King John the sooner to agree with the pope, rose through the words of the said hermit, that did put such a fear of some great mishap in his heart, which should grow through the disloyalty of his people, that it made him yield the sooner."

"About the month of December, there were seen in the province of York, five moons, one in the east, the second in the west, the third in the north, the fourth in the south, and the fifth, as it were, set in the middest of the other, having many stars about it, and went five or six times incompassing the other, as it were the space of one hour, and shortly after vanished away."

'Literary Remains,' vol. ii. pp. 160, 1.

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We subjoin the portraits of two of the "angry | Rosamond de Clifford, is from his effigy in Salislords" who figure in this Act. Salisbury and bury Cathedral. That of William Marshall, Earl Pembroke are especially mentioned by Holin- of Pembroke the "Rector regis et regni” in the shed as having revolted from John, and joined next reign-is from his effigy in the Temple Lewis. The portrait of William Longespée, Church. Earl of Salisbury-the son of Henry II. by

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ACT V.

"SCENE II.-"Have I not here the best cards for of his majesty." From a passage discovered in

the game?"

THERE is a general notion that cards were invented for the amusement of Charles VI. of France, who suffered an almost constant depression of spirits, nearly allied to insanity. This opinion was derived from an entry in an account-book of the treasurer to that unhappy king, about 1393, in which we find "fifty-six sols of Paris given to Jacquemin Gringonneur, painter, for three packs of cards, gilt and coloured, and of different sorts, for the diversion

an old manuscript copy of the romance of 'Renard le Contrefait,' it appears that cards were known in France about 1340; and there is no doubt that they were commonly used in France and Spain, about the end of the fourteenth century. The earliest printed cards known are those engraved by the celebrated artist known as "the Master of 1466;" and parts of a pack, in most beautiful preservation, were shown to us by Mr. Tiffin, of the Strand, who kindly permitted us to copy the following specimens:

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18 SCENE III.-"To my litter straight." Holinshed relates, after Matthew Paris, that the king "was not able to ride, but was fain to be carried in a litter, presently made of twigs, with a couch of straw under him, without any bed or pillow." Matthew of Westminster informs us that John was conveyed from the abbey of Swineshead, "in lecticâ equestri "-the horselitter. The representation in the following page of one form of this litter is from a drawing in the MS. History of the Kings of France (Royal, 16 G. 6), written at the commencement of the fourteenth century. In the original the drawing appears to represent Queen Crotilde, who in her last illness was carried to Tours, where she died.

HISTORIES.-VOL. I.

19 SCENE IV. "Upon the altar at St. Edmund's

Bury."

This celebrated altar is represented in our engraving at the end of the Illustrations of the

Costume' at page 104. The shrine is taken from Lydgate's 'Life of St. Edmund,' Harl. MS. 2278; the manner of taking the oath from an illumination in the Metrical Hist. of Richard II.,' representing the Earl of Northumberland at Conway Castle swearing on the gospels to secure safe conduct to Richard on his journey to London; Harl. MS., 1319; the costume from the effigies of Salisbury, Pembroke, and other contemporary monuments.

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