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My “ Shakspearian Reader” was published sixteen years ago, with the hope of making Shakspeare a “Text Book” for schools. The experiment at that time was considered one of doubtful success: the work however has become a standard” in educational literature, and a continuation of selections from the Poet's works is now demanded. In preparing a second series, those Plays have been selected that would best subserve my original design. The Historical, or Chronicle Plays of Shakspeare seemed expressly adapted for this purpose. The ablest writers have declared them to be invaluable adjuncts to the study of English history, presenting, as they do, a truthful narration of events, drawn from accredited chronicles of the times, and vivid pictures of the manners, habits, and customs of the people. This marvellous power of truthful characterization, with which the poet has invested the leading historical personages, makes them invaluable aids to the youthful student.
The original text of Shakspeare is given as fully as the prescribed limits of this volume would allow; the continuity of the action is preserved by explanatory notes. Knowing, from long practical experience, that it is impossible to introduce Shakspeare as an educational work, in its original entirety, the same rigid expurgation and revision have been adopted, as were rendered imperative in my first series. This latter portion of my task has been executed, in a due reverential spirit for the purity and integrity of the text.
TII E LIFE AND DEATH OF
KING JOHN stands first in chronological order in the list of " Histories," or “ Chronicle Plays," written by Shakspeare, founded on the leading events which marked the reigns of the Kings of England whose lives he selected for dramatic illustration,
The old chroniclers, Hall, Holinshed, Stowe, and others, furnished the Poet ample and reliable materials for his principal Historical facts; and at times the very expression of these authorities is copiously used. In preparing King John, Shakspeare was also largely indebted to a chronicle drama he found
upon the stage, entitled “ The Troublesome Raigne of King John." But wbile using this superstructure for his work, he clothes the dry historical details of the chronicler with all the beauty of his own poetio imagination, and invests his characters with a vigor and elevation which give a depth of interest mere dra. matic history could not attain. The action of this Play begins at the thirty-fourth year of John's life ; it takes in the principal transactions of his reign to the time of his death, being an interval of seventeen years.
The tragic interest of the Play mainly rests in the majesty of maternal grief, as exhibited in the character of Constance, and the innocence and winning affection of her son, young Arthur. They are exquisitely elaborated pictures. The predominant interest thrown around these two characters, seems to have prevented Shakspeare from introducing into this Play John's contest with his Barons, and his final signing of the great “ Magna Charta” of English liberty. The struggles of the King with the Papal power, his submission to the Pope, his rosignation of the crown, and the other main incidents of his troublesome reign, are all depicted with historical accuracy.