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of revision later. Mr. Dover Wilson, one of the best living authorities on the chronology of the plays, writes to me : ‘If I were lecturing on the development of Shakespeare's art, I should unhesitatingly plump for Romeo as the first dramatic and poetic theme that really carried him off his feet. He was working at it, off and on, over a space of five years, writing some time in the same period the Tragedy of Richard II. Richard may have been written at one go. Anyhow, it seems to have fewer clues pointing to revision. The chances are that Shakespeare was working at the prompt-book of Romeo after he had done with Richard II. But, however that may be, the poetry of Richard II, if a little cloying sometimes, is often as lovely as anything even Shakespeare ever wrote, and has, as we have seen, so intoxicated people specially susceptible to poetic beauty that they have fancied Richard himself to be as beautiful as the poetry made about him. Some of the best known of Shakespearean lines come from this play. Besides Gaunt's great speech it contains other fine things put into the same mouth, such as
0, but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony ; and
All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens : and there is Richard's
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings : and his
Music do I hear ?
That note in which all life, joy and sadness, weakness and strength, hears itself as a harmony, sees itself as a picture, will never again be absent from Shakespeare's work. But
it is not the conspicuous feature of the next historical play. King John contains beautiful things in the speeches of Constance and the scenes in which Arthur appears, but its great achievement is that in it for the first time Shakespeare brings the typical Englishman upon the stage. Indeed, there are three great advances in King John. For the first time England, the ideal heroic England of Shakespeare's own day, comes to the front of the stage. The great speech of Gaunt in Richard II had indeed put it there for a moment, and such a moment as it scarcely has again. But in Richard II there is no foreign enemy and especially no enemy on English soil : there is no Italian priest' presuming to 'tithe and toll in our dominions'; and there is no true-born and natural Englishman, as full of laughter and common sense as of loyalty, to speak in England's name and utter her defiance to all the world.
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
If England to itself do rest but true. It must be admitted that Shakespeare, who invents so rarely, did not even invent that. His King John not only follows very closely an older play (of which it only omits four scenes) in being a story of ignoble treacheries and inglorious wars : it follows it in being wholly patriotic, Protestant, and in fact Elizabethan. Here is the note :
If England's peers and people join in one
Nor Pope, nor France, nor Spain can do them wrong. That shows us what Shakespeare does : he does not invent ; he renews, intensifies, ennobles. So with the Bastard Faulconbridge whom he makes the voice of England. He also comes out of the Troublesome Raigne of King John ; but in Shakespeare's hands he is new born and becomes not only the first pure Englishman but the first true human being, compact of blood and brains and heart, who appears in the Historical plays. He comes laughing on to the stage ; a “rude man', a 'good blunt fellow', a 'madcap'; and in his voice and the large composition of the man', we already hear a note which will sound louder later on when he is divided into two halves, each greater than the original whole, as Falstaff and Henry V. He shows himself at once a man, one who cares more for being himself than for lands and rents : ‘I am I, howe'er I was begot’; a man fit for Elizabethan adventures with Drake and Raleigh, one with a 'mounting spirit ',
The very spirit of Plantagenet : and yet quite as much a man of plain and remorseless fact :
Madam, I was not old Sir Robert's son :
Upon Good Friday and ne'er broke his fast : a pricker of all bubbles of unreality even about himself ;
And why rail I on this Commodity ?
But for because he hath not woo’ed me yet; and still more of course about others, as may be seen all through in his torturing chaff of poor Austria. Yet, practical man as he is, the first to suggest that France and England should join their arms against the 'scroyles of Angiers who flout them both in turn, and the very man to defy bell, book, and candle when the business is to make fat monks pay for the defence of the England in which they live so comfortably, he is as honest in deed as in word. It is not the men who say Gain be my lord' who really worship her : they are criticizing themselves and comparing Gain with other gods when they say it. Her true worshippers are not so much as aware that any other god exists. So the Bastard is not the kind of man whom John could confide his guilty secret to; he knows nothing of the plans of murdering Arthur ; and when he sees him dead he quite agrees with Pembroke about the business, and though he
is a plain man and cannot turn his indignation into eloquence
All murders past do stand excused in this,
To the yet unbegotten sin of times.
It is a damned and a bloody work : and a little later he can overwhelm Hubert with reproaches. Yet his insight does not fail him; he believes Hubert's denial of guilt, and lets him bear the body away. And then, as if to give the touch of natural weakness that will prevent his courage, strength, and humour from becoming inhuman, he breaks out :
I am amazed, methinks, and lose my way
Among the thorns and dangers of this world.
Be great in act, as you have been in thought ;
so shall inferior eyes,
The dauntless spirit of resolution.
Roses was always in English minds, the fear and hate of civil war :
This England never did, nor never shall,
And we shall shock them. King John is a richer play than any previous History. Henry IV, the next of the Histories, is much more than that. It is one of the very greatest of all the works of Shakespeare. It is not merely that Falstaff, though not so great a creation as Hamlet or Macbeth, is even more entirely Shakespearean, more absolutely out of the reach of any other man. It is that he is not only alive himself but the cause of life in other men. Whenever he is present every man comes alive and finds words which show at once what manner of man he is. And every woman, too.
There are not many of them, and they are not very edifying figures. But they are actual flesh and blood, visible and almost tangible. For the first time, with the possible exception of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare gives us women who are not merely, or indeed not at all, beautiful or eloquent or touching, but are amusing. Margaret and Constance, Silvia and Helena and Juliet, who are so many greater things, are not that. In Henry IV Shakespeare proves that he can elicit the answer of life, and therefore the spring of sympathy, out of the coarsest and dullest human clay, a Bardolph, a Justice Shallow, a Doll Tearsheet ; and that is the greatness of the play and the quality which, in its variety and abundance, carries it far beyond any of the earlier Histories.
As a play it still has many faults. As usual the great personages are rather too much like stage figures. Shakespeare would not be himself if he were not often, by soliloquies and otherwise, trying to make us realize that great