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PHILIP, King of France.
QUEEN ELINOR, mother to King John.
Messengers, and other Attendants.
DURATION OF TIME Dramatic Time.-Seven days, with intervals, comprising in all not more than three or four months.
Day 1. I. 1.
Day 3. III. 4.
Interval. 4. IV. 1.-3.
Interval. 5. V. 1.
6. V. 2.-5.
7. V. 6., 7. (Daniel : ‘Time Analysis,' Trans. N. Sh. Society, p. 261.) Historic Time.-The entire reign of John (A.D. 1199-1216).
This list was first drawn up by Rowe.
The LifE AND DEATH OF King John first appeared in the Folio of 1623, where it opens the series of the Histories. The text is relatively accurate, with the exception of some confusion in the indication of the Acts.
The definite limits of the date of King John are as follows:
(1) The older play upon which Shakespeare founded his History, — The Troublesome Reign of King John,-cannot be earlier than c. 1537, for its sounding rhetoric and facile blank verse as well as the explicit language of the preface, quoted below, proclaim it to have been inspired by Marlowe. It was printed in 1591.
(2) Shakespeare's King John is mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598.
But these wide limits admit of being considerably narrowed. Of the ten Histories, six can be dated with some certainty. 2 and 3 Henry VI.and Richard III. are fixed by Greene's diatribe to 1592-3; 1 and 2 Henry IV. and Henry V. by the Essex allusion in Henry V. chorus v. to 1598-9. Far more clearly than Richard II., King John belongs to the interim between the first and second group of Histories. It has palpable links with both. The absence of prose, the rarity of rhyme, the approximation to tragedy, connect it with the earlier, Marlowesque, group; the wealth of humour, the plastic characterisation, with the later. John is modelled with a maturer touch than Richard II. ; but the tragedy of which he is the contriver has striking affinities of situation to that of Richard, and continually recalls it in spite of equally striking diversities of treatment. Constance is not Margaret, nor Arthur Edward, but they are new and poignant melodies upon the same motifs ; the frenzied mother, the assassin uncle, are still dominant and unexhausted themes. On the other hand, the character of Falconbridge links the play yet more closely to the great trilogy of Henry V. The madcap prince who shows himself a master of war and of peace the moment the need arrives, is of the same mould as the blunt soldier one way Plantagenetwhose motley covered the lion's heart of Cordelion ; the mythical Bastard foreshadows the historical conqueror of Agincourt. He opens the cycle of Histories founded upon humour and heroism, as John closes the cycle founded upon anguish and crime. 6
These considerations tend to fix King John near the middle of the probable interval between the last of the earlier group and the first of the later, i.e. about 1595.
King John is probably, of all Shakespeare's Histories, the most distantly related to History. Theological fanaticism, that potent myth-maker, had, since the middle of the century, laid a powerful grasp upon the tradition, already not without its mythic elements, recorded in the Chronicles; and the wonderful transformation which this legend underwent in Shakespeare's hands was certainly not undertaken in the interest of historical truth, Indeed his most striking alterations only serve to detach it more completely from the Chronicles, and to draw it more explicitly into the sphere of irresponsible poetry.
What manner of legend it was that underwent this apotheosis may be gathered from two dramas, one of them certainly unknown to Shakespeare, the other the immediate basis of his work. The English Reformers saw in the worst of the Plantagenets an early Protestant,—an unsuccessful precursor of Henry VIII.;
, and in Bale's incoherent Kyng Johan (c. 1545) the lineaments of the historic John wholly disappear in a single trait enforced with almost frenzied emphasis : his defiance of the Roman "Antichrist.' Doctrinal theology played little part in shaping the Elizabethan drama; but the Protestantism of the Protestant religion' flourished as bravely in the playhouse as in the conventicle; and the events of 1588, which thrilled
every fibre of the national self-consciousness, threw a heightened passion and inspiration, with which religion had very little to do, into the national protest against Rome. Nearly at the same moment the genius of Marlowe revealed the dramatic potency of protest, and filled the stage with imitations of the Titanism of Tamburlaine and Faustus. Both influences had told strongly upon the anonymous author of The Troublesome Reign of King John.1
In the prefixed lines “To the Gentlemen Readers' he expressly invites applause for his hero as a Protestant Tamburlaine :
You that with friendly grace of smoothed brow
1 Reprinted in Hazlitt-Collier, of King Iohn at Swinstead Shakespeare's Library, vol. V., Abbey. As it was (sundry and in Quaritch's facsimiles. times) publikely acted by the The title of the first edition Queenes Maiesties Players . (1591) runs: The Troublesome 1591. It was reprinted in 1611 Raigne of lohn King of England, and 1622 ; the former attributwith the Discoverie of Kinging the play on the title-page Richard Cordelions Base Sonne to 'W. Sh.,' the later even (vulgarly named The Bastard presenting these initials writ Fawconbridge): also the death large.