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very entertaining and original prelude in the play itself. When, amidst so many disguises of real sentiments, and so much insincerity of expression, the poet shows us human nature without a veil, and allows us to take deep views of the inmost recesses of the mind, the impression produced is only the more deep and powerful. The short scene in which John urges Hubert to put out of the way Arthur, his young rival for the possession of the throne, is superlatively masterly; the cautious criminal hardly ventures to say to himself what he wishes the other to do. The young and amiable prince becomes a sacrifice of unprincipled ambition ; his fate excites the warmest
; sympathy. When Hubert, about to put out his eyes with the hot iron, is softened by his prayers, our compassion would be almost overwhelming, were it not sweetened by the winning innocence of Arthur's childish speeches. Constance's maternal despair on her son's imprisonment is also of the highest beauty; and even the last moments of John-an unjust and feeble prince, whom we can neither respect nor admire--are yet so portrayed as to extinguish our displeasure with him, and fill us with serious considerations on the arbitrary deeds and the inevitable fate of mortals.'-SCHLEGEL. 'If King John, as a whole, be not entitled to class
the very first-rate compositions of our author, it can yet exhibit some scenes of superlative beauty and effect, and two characters supported with unfailing energy and consistency.
* The bastard Faulconbridge, though not perhaps a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and worldlyminded in his conduct to excite much of our esteem, has, notwithstanding, so large a portion of the very spirit of Plantagenet in him, so much heroism, gaiety, and fire, in his constitution, and such an open and undaunted turn of mind that we cannot refuse him our admiration; nor, on account of his fidelity to John, however ill-deserved, our occasional sympathy and attachment. The alacrity and intrepidity of his daring spirit are nobly supported to the very last, where we find him exerting every nerve to rouse and animate the consciencestricken soul of the tyrant.
In the person of Lady Constance, Maternal Grief, the most interesting passion of the play, is developed in all its strength ; the picture penetrates to the inmost heart; and seared must those feelings be which can withstand so powerful an appeal ; for all the emotions of the fondest affection and the wildest despair, all the rapid transitions of anguish and approximating frenzy, are wrought up into the scene with a truth of conception which rivals that of nature herself.
• The innocent and beauteous Arthur, rendered doubly attractive by the sweetness of his disposition and the severity of his fate, is thus described by his doting mother :
* But thou art fair, and at thy birth, deat boy,
When he is captured, therefore, and imprisoned by John, and consequently sealed for destruction, who but Shakspeare could have done justice to the agonising sorrows of the parent? Her invocation to Death, and her address to Pandulph, paint maternal despair with a force which no imagination can augment, and of which the tenderness and pathos have never been exceeded.
'Independent of the scenes which unfold the striking characters of Constance and Faulconbridge, there are two others in the play which may vie with anything that Shakspeare has produced; namely, the scene between John and Hubert, and that between Hubert and Arthur. The former, where the usurper obscurely intimates to Hubert his bloody wishes, is conducted in a manner so masterly, that we behold the dark and turbulent soul of John lying naked before us in all its deformity, and shrinking with fear even from the enunciation of its own vile purposes. “It is one of the scenes," as Mr. Steevens has well observed, “to which may be promised a lasting commendation. Art could add little to its perfection; and time itself can take nothing from its beauties."
"The scene with Hubert and the executioners, where the hapless Arthur supplicates for mercy, almost lacerates the heart
itself; and is only rendered supportable by the tender and alleviating impression which the sweet innocence and artless eloquence of the poor c ild fix with indelible influence on the mind.
*As for the character of John, which, from its meanness and imbecility, seems not well calculated for dramatic representation, Shakspeare has contrived, towards the close of the drama, to excite in his behalf some degree of interest and commiseration; especially in the dying scene, where the fallen monarch, in answer to the inquiry of his son as to the state of his feelings, mournfully exclaims, "Poisoned,-ill fare ;-dead, forsook, cast off!”._DRAKE. It is
upon the conventional History of the stage that Shakspere built his play. It is impossible now, except on very general principles, to determine why a poet, who had the authentic materials of history before him, and possessed beyond all men the power of moulding those materials, with reference to a dramatic action, into the most complete and beautiful forms, should have subjected himself, in the full vigour and maturity of his intellect, to a general adherence to the course of that conventional dramatic history. But so it is. The King John of Shakspere is not the King John of the historians, which Shakspere had unquestionably studied ; it is not the King John of his ow imagination, casting off the trammels which a rigid adoption of the facts of those historians would have imposed upon him; but it is the King John, in the conduct of the story, in the juxta-position of the characters, and in the catastrophe-in the historical truth, and in the historical error-of the play which preceded him some few years. This, unquestionably, was not an accident. It was not what, in the vulgar sense of the word, is called a plagiarism. It was a submission of his own original powers of seizing upon the feelings and understanding of his audience, to the stronger power of habit in the same audience. The history of John had been familiar to them for almost half a century. The familiarity had grown out of the rudest days of the drama, and had been established in the period of its comparative refinement, which
immediately preceded Shakspere. The old play of King John was, in all likelihood, a vigorous graft upon the trunk of an older play, which “occupies an intermediate place between moralities and historical plays,"—that of Kynge Johan, by John Bale, written probably in the reign of Edward VI. Shakspere, then, had to choose between forty years of stage tradition, and the employnient of new materials.
He took, upon principle, what he found ready to his hand. But none of the transformations of classical or oriental fable, in which a new life is transfused into an old body, can equal this astonishing example of the life-conferring power of a genius such as Shakspere's.'-KNIGHT.