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fot. Horton Helanos
AUTHOR OF “VELASCO, A TRAGEDY," &c.
IN FIVE ACTS.
BY WILLIAM SHAKS PEARE.
WITH THE STAGE BUSINESS, CAST OF CHARACTERS, COS.
TUMES, RELATIVE POSITIONS, &c.
ALSO, A LIST OF AUTHORITIES FOR COSTUMES,
BY CHARLES KEAN, ESQ.
AS PRODUCED WITH GREAT SPLENDOUR AT THE PARK THEATRE,
NEW YORK :
WM. TAYLOR & CO., No. 2 ASTOR HOUSE.
AND JARVIS BUILDINGS, NORTH ST., BALTIMORE.
NEW ORLEANS :--J. C. MORGAN, AND JOHN SLY.
This play is founded on a historical drama in two parts, puslished in 1591, with the title of “ The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England,” the authorship of which is attributed by Malone to Marlowe, by Farmer to Rowley, and by other commentators to Shakspeare himself. Of these conjectures, it is now the received opinion that the last is untrue. From this old drama, however, did Shakspeare undeniably gather the crude materials, which, after being purged in the crucible of his genius, took the shape of his own accredited production; in which there is not a scene or a character that is not to be found, in its rudimental state, in the older play. But with what wonderful art has he retrenched, expanded, transmuted and vivified these unpromising materials! With his magic pen he touched the dry bones of the old, forgotten chronicle, and lo! forms of undying beauty, majesty, and power, started up, now composing picturesque groups, and now representing incidents which vividly exhibit to us the martial, religious, and political peculiarities of a rude age, and are rendered impressive by their being blended with evocations of human passion, which must always appeal to our sympathies because they must always be true to our nature.
We can but glance at a few of the improvements Shakspeare made upon the hints he borrowed. In the old play, Philip Faulconbridge, when interrogating his mother in regard to his parentage, draws his sword and threatens to kill her if she conceals the truth. How differently does Shakspeare make him elicit the delicate secret—with what irresistible pleasantry, and, at the same time, what gentlemanly tenderness! In another scene of the old play, the same personage is represented as rifling a convent; an incident which has been judiciously rejected, though it affords an opportunity for some amusing surprises, and must have been not unpalatable to the anti-papal taste of the times. Another amendinent is the absence of Lady Faulconbridge from
the scene where the question of her infidelity is discussed before the King. The characters of Constance, Hubert, and Arthur, have been so much improved in the remoulding, that they may be classed among Shakspeare's most original creations. The same may be said of that salient and consummate picture of a bold, gay-spirited soldier, Philip Faulconbridge, the hint for which seems to have been taken from these two descriptive lines:
“Next them a bastard of the king deceased,
A hardie wild-head, rough and venturous.” To modern readers it is a subject of surprise, that neither in the old chronicle play nor in Shakspeare is there any allusion to what is now considered the most momentous event of King John's reign, the signing of Magna Charta. We can only account for this omission by the inference, that, in the times of the writers, the importance of that instrument in connexion with the progress of popular liberty, had not yet been felt or appreciated.
The “ King John” of Shakspeare was not published till 1623 - after his death. It had been acted with success before that Pear, however; and Davies conjectures that Burbage was the original King John, and Taylor, who performed Iago and Hamlet, was the Philip Faulconbridge. Both these characters have had many celebrated representatives since that period. The contemporaries of Garrick speak of his personation of the King in their accustomed tones of panegyric. In the last masterly scene with Hubert, he is said by Davies to have been eminently superior to all other actors. His action was more animated ; and his quick transitions from one passion to another, gave an excellent portrait of the turbulentani distructed mind of John. When Hubert showed his warrant for the death of Arthur, saying,
“Here is your hand and seal for what I did," Garrick snatched the warrant from his hand, and, grasping it hard, in an agony of despair and horror, looked up as if anticipating the judgment of Heaven upon his head for the murder. In the dying scene, he is described as being wonderfully impressive. The tortures of a man under the effects of a mortal poison, were inimitably delineated. Every word of the melancholy news uttered by Faulconbridge, seemed to sever the strings of life one by one, until, the last being broken, the monarch expired before the unwelcome tale was completed. But, notwithstanding the applause of his audiences, Garrick himself seems to have been dissatisfied with the capabilities of the selfish and vacillating character of John; and he finally abandoned it for that of Faulconbridge, although his physical qualifications were unsuited to the part.
How admirably are the gloomy portions of the tragedy relieved by the introduction of this gallant, adventurous soldier of fortune, with his fine animal spirits, his humour, and his intrepidity! And how natural is the change that comes over his mood, after the murder of Arthur and the humiliation of the King! His jesting spirit forsakes him, but not his reckless courage and his quick resentment of the least approach to insult or oppression. Among the modern personators of this character, Charles Kemble is deservedly the most celebrated. Faulconbridge in his hands was not the vulgar braggart he is too often made ; but a gentleman in heart, whose vauntings are the overflow of spirits attendant on a sanguine, vigorous organization, untempered by collision with courts and courtiers.
The impassioned and highly tragic character of Constancethe character whose attribute, as Mrs. Jamieson well obseryes, is power-power in affection, power in defiance, power in grief, power in despair—the character, whose sorrows are so mighty that she summons kings to bow to her throne-found a worthy representative in Mrs. Siddons. According to Campbell, it was not unusual for spectators to leave the house when her part in the tragedy was over, as if they could no longer enjoy Shakspeare himself when she ceased to be his interpreter. She was the embodied image of maternal love and courage, of wronged and righteous feeling, of proud grief and majestic desolation. Her vicissitudes of hurried and deliberate gesture, would have made you imagine that her very body seemed to think. Her elocution varied its tones from the height of vehemence to the lowest despondency, with an eagle-like power of soaring and stooping, and with the rapidity of thought. The great actress herself, in her remarks upon this character, lets us partially into the secret of her success in the impersonation. She says :
“Whenever I was called upon to personate the character of Constance, I never, from the beginning of the play to the end of my part in it, once suffered my dress