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spirit; tho wild fantastic humour of the first, the wayward and insolent demeanour of the second, contrasted with the meek, modest, and retired disposition of her sister, together with the inextinguishable wit and drollery of the third, form a picture, at once rich, varied, and pre-eminently diverting." —Drake.
"' The Taming of tho Shrew ' has tho air of an Italian comedy: and indeed, the love of intrigue, which constitutes tho main part of it, is derived, mediately or immediately, from a piece of Ariosto. The characters and passions are lightly sketched ; the intrigue is introduced without much preparation, and in its rapid progress impeded by no sort of difficulties; however, in the manner in which Petrucbio, though previously cautioned respecting Katharine, still runs the risk of marrying her, and contrives to tame her, tho character and peculiar humour of the English are visible. The colours are laid somewhat coarsely on, but the ground is good. That the obstinacy of a young and untamed girl, possessed of none of the attractions of her sex, and neither supported by bodily nor mental strength, must soon yield to the still rougher and more capricious but assumed self-will of a man: such a lesson can only be taught on the stage, with all the perspicuity of a proverb.
"The prelude is still more remarkable than the play itself: the drunken tinker removed in his deep to a palace, where he is deceived into the belief of being a nobleman. The invention, however, is not Shakspeare's ; Holborg has handled the same subject in a masterly manner, and with inimitable truth; but he has spun it out to five acts, for which the matter is hardly sufficient. He probably did not borrow from the English dramatist, but like him took the hint from a popular story. There are several comic motives of this description, which go back to a very remote age, without ever becoming antiquated.—Shakspeare proves himself here, as well as everywhere else, a great poet: the whole is merely a light sketch, but in elegance and nice propriety it will hardly ever be excelled. Neither has he overlooked the irony which the subject naturally suggested to him, that the great lord who is driven by idleness and ennui to deceive a poor drunkard, can make no better use of his situation than the latter who every moment relapses into his vulgar habits. The last half of this prelude, that in which the tinker in his new state again drinks himself out of his senses, and is transformed in his sleep into his former condition, from some accident or other is lost. It ought to have followed at the end of the larger piece. The occasional observations of the tinker, during the course of the representation of the comedy, might have been improvisatory ; but it is hardly credible that Shakspeare should have trusted to the momentary suggestions of the players, which he did not hold in high estimation, the conclusion of a work, however short, which he had so carefully commenced. Moreover, the only circumstance which connects the prelude with tho play, is that it belongs to the new life of the supposed nobleman, to have plays acted in his castlo by strolling actors. This invention of introducing spectators on the stage, who contribute to the entertainment, has been very wittily used by later English poets."— Schlegel.
"kino John," which is the only uncontested play of Shakespeare's not entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. Though enumerated in the list of our author's works by Meres, 1598, commentators have not succeeded in determining the time when it was written. Malone seems to have been of opinion that the maternal lamentations of Lady Constance, for the loss of Arthur, are an expression of the poet's own grief at the death of his son Hammet in 1596; and if this theory were admissible, we should, of course, be bound to conclude that "King John" was not written until after that date. But conjectures of this nature are very fanciful. There are undoubtedly high authorities in literature to justify a poet in availing himself of such an occasion to celebrate an event not strictly connected with his theme; but in those cases the writers worked on great historical subjects. It can scarcely be believed that a man of Shakespeare's incomparable sagacity would have interwoven a merely personal sentiment into a drama intended to interest the public at large. It savours of a reproach to the poet's memory to represent him giving utterance to his own sorrow for the loss of an obscure lad, twelve years old, when depicting the anguish of such a character as Constance for the loss of her princely Arthur. The language and ideas which would be appropriate in the one case would be out of keeping in the other; and those who are best acquainted with Shakespeare's habitual self-negation, will not suspect him of perpetrating this act of bathos. ■
Johnson has observed, that the description of the English army which Chatillon, the French Ambassador, gives to King Philip, in the first scene of the second act, beginning,—
"And all the unsettled humours of the land,"—
may have been suggested by the dramatist's acquaintance with the details of the grand fleet despatched against Spain in 1596. But here again we must be cautious in attaching particular meaning to descriptions which would apply with equal truth to almost any expedition. The fleet which the Earls of Nottingham and Essex led against Cadiz was not the only one which had been partly manned by gentlemen. History furnishes too many instances where men
"Have sold their fortunes at their native homes,
that they might participate in adventures of a similar kind; and Shakespeare may have derived the materials of Chatillon's description from the chronicles of different periods and various countries. As if to show, indeed, how fallacious such guess-work often is, Johnson has attempted to make a similar deduction from another passage in this play. He conceived that Pandulph's denunciation of King John,—
"And meritorious shall that hand be call'd,
might either refer to the bull published against Queen Elizabeth, or to the canonization of Garnet, Fawkes, and their accomplices, who, in a Spanish book which he had seen, are registered as saints. The latter theory would fix the writing of the play after 1605, and is at once demolished by a reference to the corresponding scene of the old piece of " King John," printed in 1591, upon which this is based, where the Legate denounces John :—
"Then I Pandulph of Padua, legate from the apostolike sea doe in the name of Saint Peter and his successor our holy father Pope Innocent, pronounce thee accursed, discharging every of thy subjects of all duties and fealtie that they doe owe te thee, and pardon and forgiveness of sinne to those or them whatsoever, which shall carrie armes against thee, or murder thee: this I pronounce, and charge all good men to abhorre thee as an excommunicate person."
Such hypotheses as these, however, if they do little towards establishing the chronology of Shakespeare's writings, are forcible confirmations of the fact that he wrote " not for an age, but for all time." His representations are so truthful and life-like that it is the easiest of all undertakings to find a model whence he may be presumed to have drawn them. He describes the ruinous extravagance into which noblemen and gentlemen are seduced in equipping themselves for a foreign enterprise, and the arrogant pretensions of the Catholic Church in dealing with a rebellious monarch, with such fidelity, that we seem to be reading a particular relation of whichever individual occurrence of the kind our memory first brings to notice.
The play of "King John" stands precisely in the same relation to the old drama called "The Troublesome Eaigne of John King of England," &c, that " The Taming of the Shrew" does to its predecessor, " The Taming of a Shrew." In both cases the elder productions were probably current favourites on the stage when Shakespeare first joined it; and in obedience to the customs of the time, and perhaps to the dictates of his employers, he took them up as good dramatic subjects, and availing himself of the general plot and leading incidents of each, transfused a new vitality into the crude materials furnished by some other workman.
At the present day it can hardly be necessary to vindicate Shakespeare from the charge of having falsified history in those of his performances which are founded on historical subjects. The marvel, indeed, is, how he has contrived to combine the highest dramatic effect with so close an adherence to historic truth. It must be remembered that he wrote without any of the advantages we derive from the researches which modern investigation has brought to bear upon the characters of particular personages and the secrets of peculiar transactions. He has left us, notwithstanding, so many masterly and instructive pictures of historic characters and events, that it may be safely said, the youth of England would be far less acquainted with and interested in the veritable annals of their country, if Shakespeare had never written his series of Historical Plays.
John, King of England.
Prince Henry, hi* son; (afterwards Henry III.
late Duke of Bretagne, the elder brother of
ton of King Richard The First.
Philip, King of France.
Elinor, the widow of Henry II., and mother of
and niece to Kino John.
Heralds, Citizens, Officers, Soldiers, and Met