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The bastard Faulconbridge, though not perhaps a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and worldly-minded 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, in spite of his vowed accommodation to the times *, 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 conscience-stricken 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 phrenzy, 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 doating mother:
“ But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy!
Nature and fortune join'd to make thee great ;
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
• Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. p. 362.
“ For he is but a bastard to the time,
That doth not smack of observation," &c. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x, p. 413. Act iii. sc. 1.
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 :
“ Death, death:-O amiable lovely death! -
Father cardinal, I have heard you say,
Pand. You hold too heinous a respect of grief.
Const. Grief fills the room up of my absent child.
such a loss as I,
Independent of the scenes which unfold the striking characters of Constance and Faulconbridge, there are two others in this play which may vie with any thing 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 bis bloody wishes, is conducted in so masterly a manner, 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 purpose;
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. pp. 451.454–456. Act iii. sc. 4.
“ 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 child fix with indelible influence on the mind. Well may it be said, in the language of our poet, that he who can behold this scene without the gushing tribute of a tear,
“ Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils ;
Let no such man be trusted.”
As for the character of John, which, from its meanness and imbecillity, 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 enquiry of his son as to the state of his feelings, mournfully exclaims,
“ Poison’d, — ill fare; - dead, forsook, cast off.”
17. All's Well that Ends WELL: 1598. There does not appear any sufficient reason for altering the date assigned to this play by Mr. Malone, whom we have, therefore, followed in preference to Mr. Chalmers, who has fixed on the succeeding year ; a decision to
Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. p. 447. note 9.
which we have been particularly induced, independent of other circumstances, by the apparent notice of this drama by Meres, under the title of Love's Labour's Wonne, an appellation which very accurately applies to this, but to no other of our author's productions with any similar degree of pertinency. We have reason, therefore, to conclude, as nothing has hitherto been brought forward to invalidate the assumption, that Meres's title was the original designation of this comedy, and was intended by the poet as a counter-title to Love's Labour's Lost. What induced him to dismiss the first, and to adopt the present proverbial appellation, cannot positively be ascertained; but the probability is, as Mr. Malone has remarked, that the alteration was suggested in consequence of the adage itself being found in the body of the play. *
The noblest character in this comedy, which, though founded on a story somewhat too improbable, abounds both in interest and entertainment, is the good old Countess of Rousillon. Shakspeare seems to have drawn this portrait con amore, and we figure to ourselves for this amiable woman, a countenance beaming with dignity, sweetness, and sensibility, emanations from a heart which had ever responded to the impulses of love and charity. In short, her maternal affection for the gentle Helen, her piety, sound sense, and candour, call for our warmest reverence and esteem, which accompany her to the close of the representation, and follow her departure with regret. †
Helen, the romantic, the love-dejected Helen, must excite in every feeling bosom a high degree of sympathy; patient suffering in the female sex, especially when resulting from ill-requited attachment, and united with modesty and beauty, cannot but be an object of interest and commiseration, and, in the instance before us, these are admirably blended in
“ a maid too virtuous For the contempt of empire,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 290.
† “ Of all the characters of Shakspeare," remarks Mr. Felton, “none more resemble his best female advocate (Mrs. Montagu) than the Countess of Rousillon.” — Imperfect Hints, part i. p. 65.
but who, unfortunately, has to struggle against the prejudices of birth, rank, and unfeeling pride, in the very man who is the object of her idolatry, and who, even after the most sacred of bonds should have cemented their destiny, flies with scorn from her embraces.
If in the infancy of her passion the error of indiscretion be attributable to Helen, how is it atoned for by the most engaging humility, by the most bewitching tenderness of heart : “ Be not offended,” she tells her noble patroness,
“ Be not offended; for it hurts not him,
That he is lov'd of me: I follow him not
But when the wife of Bertram, with a resignation and self-devotedness worthy of the highest praise, she deserts the house of her mother-in-law, knowing that whilst she is sheltered there her husband will not return, how does she, becoming thus an unprotected wanderer, a pilgrim bare-foot plodding the cold ground for him who has contemned her, rise to the tone of exalted truth and heroism !
266 Poor lord ! is't I That chase thee from thy country, and expose Those tender limbs of thine to the event Of the none-sparing war? and is it I That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark of smoky muskets?
No, come thou home, Rousillon :
I will be gone:
My being it is, that holds thee hence:
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. viii. pp. 248, 249.
Act i. sc. 3.