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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF
THE Troublesome Reign of King John was written in two parts, by W. Shakspeare and W. Rowley, and printed 1611. But the present play is entirely different, and infinitely superior to it.
The edition of 1611 has no mention of Rowley, nor in the account of Rowley's works is any mention made of his conjunction with Shakspeare in any play. King John was reprinted in two parts in 1622. The first edition that I have found of this play in its present form, is that of 1623, in folio. The edition of 1591 I have not seen. JOHNSON.
The tragedy of King John, though not written with the utmost power of Shakspeare, is varied with a very pleasing interchange of incidents and characters. The lady's grief is very affecting, and the character of the Bastard contains that mixture of greatness and levity which this author delighted to exhibit. JOHNSON.
Dr. Johnson mistakes when he says there is no mention in Rowley's works of any conjunction with Shakspeare. The Birth of Merlin is ascribed to them jointly; though I cannot believe Shakspeare had any thing to do with it. Mr. Capell is equally mistaken when he says (Pref. p. 15.) that Rowley is called his partner in the title-page of The Merry Devil of Edmonton.
There must have been some tradition, however erroneous, upon which Mr. Pope's account was founded. I make no doubt that
Rowley wrote the first King John; and when Shakspeare's play was called for, and, could not be procured from the players, a piratical bookseller reprinted the old one, with W. Sh. in the titlepage. FARMER.
Though this play have the title of The Life and Death of King John, yet the action of it begins at the thirty-fourth year of his life; and takes in only some transactions of his reign to the time of his demise, being an interval of about seventeen years.
Hall, Holinshed, Stowe, &c. are closely followed not only in the conduct, but sometimes in the very expressions throughout the following historical dramas; viz. Macbeth, this play, Richard II. Henry IV. two parts, Henry V. Henry VI. three parts, Richard III. and Henry VIII. STEEVENS.
A play entitled The troublesome raigne of John King of England, in two parts, was printed in 1591, without the writer's name. It was written, I believe, either by Robert Greene, or George Peele; and certainly preceded this of our author. Mr. Pope, who is very inaccurate in matters of this kind, says that the former was printed in 1611, as written by W. Shakspeare and W. Rowley. But this is not true. In the second edition of this old play in 1611, the letters W. Sh. were put into the title-page, to deceive the purchaser, and to lead him to suppose the piece was Shakspeare's play, which at that time was not published.-See a more minute account of this fraud in An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ix. Our author's King John was written, I imagine, in 1596. The reasons on which this opinion is founded, may be found in that Essay. MALONE. The hystorie of Lord Fauconbridge, &c. is a prose narrative, in bl. 1. The earliest edition that I have seen of it, was printed in 1616.
A book entitled "Richard Cur de Lion," was entered on the Stationers' books in 1558.
A play called The Funeral of Richard Cordelion, was written by Robert Wilson, Henry Chettle, Anthony Mundy, and Michael Drayton, and first exhibited in the year 1598. See The Historical Account of the English Stage, vol. ix. MALONE.