II. Women and fools, break off your conference:

                                           Pope's edition of King John.



Pope's source texts; The arguments which begin Act II; The interpolator's reflex; Some text imported from Rowley; Act 4 Scene 1; Omitted conceits; Questions of extent and propriety in a conceit.



King John only exists in one editorially significant text, that of the 1623 Folio. While there are minor textual variants in the later folios, they offer no substantial differences such as quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays often do, and for the purposes of this study need not be considered. There was in existence, however, a quarto edition of a another play, entitled The Troublesome Reign of King John──and it is to this edition Pope referred in a footnote at the beginning of his edition:


The Troublesome reign of K. John was written in two parts by W. Shakespear and W. Rowley, and printed in 1611. But the present play is entirely different, and infinitely superior to it.


As is often the case, Pope's subsequent editorial practice suggests a different attitude to that suggested in his note. Although he wrote here that he thought the earlier play partly by Shakespeare, his use of it──as we shall see──was specific and limited to a few lines only. In this light it may be significant that the play does not qualify for an entry in the `Table of the Several Editions of Shakespear's Plays, made use of and compared in this Impression' which was included at the end of the last volume in the set.

            Since the folio texts were the basis for Pope's edition, his editorial task involved little collation, but concentrated instead on identifying those passages of the play which were interpolated by the players and which had ended up in print. Pope's play, The Life and Death of King John, comes as the second `history' play, after The Life and Death of King Lear.


                                                             * * *


            The first moment at which Pope's editing takes us away from the folio-based text to which we have become accustomed comes early in the second act after John has taken the English army to France. In a complicated set-piece scene, the two noble parties at the head of each army meet.


English Party                                                     French Party


King John                                                          King Philip of France

Elinor, his mother                                               Lewis, the Dauphin

Blanch, his niece                                               The Archduke of Austria

The Earl of Pembroke,                           Arthur, K. John's

Philip Faulconbridge,                                nephew

  bastard son of                                                Constance, Arthur's

  Richard the Lionheart                            Mother


It is a large assembly early in the play, and we are as yet barely acquainted with the French camp; still less with the web of relationships and tensions that exist between the characters. It is important then for Shakespeare──if he wanted clarity──to get across the nature of these relationships clearly to the reader, especially since they are the mainspring for so much that follows. The main concern of the parties is, who has a right to the English crown. John has succeeded his brother Geffrey, but the French claim that Geffrey's son Arthur, their charge, is the rightful heir to the English throne. It is this consideration that informs the opening speeches by the representatives of both countries, marked 1 on parallel text 2.1. Pope's editing is initially conservative. He has started a new scene at this point and re-punctuated and modernised the text to make it easily readable. The beginning of the scene is crucially important, and in the context of the play it can be seen to crystallise a central concern: the existence, rôle, and dramatic function of Arthur. The French king exhibits his young charge, and forces John to consider the danger the child represents, by describing him in terms of his father:


Look here upon thy brother Geffrey's face,

These eyes, these brows, were moulded out of his;

This little abstract doth contain that large

Which dy'd in Geffrey; and the hand of time

Shall draw this brief into as large a volume.


At this moment, when John is presented with the very nub of his problem, it is a master-stroke of Shakespeare's to make Philip call for John's attention to be focused on Arthur's visage, since the burning out of Arthur's eyes gives rise to the scene which Pope allocated an approbatory star, thereby marking it as, for him, the artistic apex of the play.

            The next speech of John's, starting near the end of the passage marked 1, defends his position by questioning the authority of Philip's claim. Philip replies that the authority is God-given. Pope has made an emendation here (in the line marked 2). In the folio, France replies that he gets his authority,


From that supernal Judge that stirs good thoughts

In any beast of strong authoritie.


Pope however altered `beast' to `breast'.

            The editor of the Arden edition, E.A.J. Honigmann, offers a defence of the 1623 Folio. He retains `beast' and attaches a footnote, `A conceit is required to exaggerate John's inhumanity, and beast is as effective as in Caes.: "O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts, / And men have lost their reason"'. It is difficult to see how the debasing `beast' image in Julius Caesar is related to this `beast of strong authoritie' who has `good thoughts'. Pope's thought must have been that France was referring more straightforwardly to himself as having a stirred `breast', and that the 1623 Folio was simply in error. Indeed as early as the Second Folio the reading had been changed to `breast'. The thought here is close to that of the prologue to Act 2 in Henry V:


Now thrive the armourers, and honour's thought

Reigns solely in the breast of every man.[i]


            Pope's next editorial decision is a more drastic one: he degrades the passage marked 3 to the bottom of the page. The material Pope degraded charts the decline of the scene from its measured opposing speeches into a quarrel. The entry into the discussion of the women introduces a more personal level of disagreement than between the Kings. Constance starts at the beginning of passage 3 by accusing John of being a usurper: Elinor replies with a chess pun,


Out insolent! thy bastard shall be King,

That thou may'st be a Queen, and check the world!


It is perhaps the sudden change of tempo and register which gave Pope cause for concern. Maybe he saw that a scene which started with a necessary exposition of the problem which will drive the plot forwards, foundered as characters start trading insults: and while these were not badly written, they did little to further the plot, enhance the characters, or please by their poetry.

            This degraded passage develops into a quarrel between the Archduke of Austria and the Bastard. This quarrel revolves around Austria's wearing the lion-skin of the Bastard's father, Richard the Lionheart. Again, the exchanges, with their witty pick-up of words and verbal capering, are in marked contrast to the formality of the Kings' opening speeches. This can been seen in extract 4:


  Aust. What the devil art thou?

  Bast. One that will play the devil, Sir, with you,

And a may catch your hide and you alone.


and later, in extract 5,


  Bast. ... But, Ass, I'll take that burthen from your back,

Or lay on that shall make your shoulders crack.

  Aust. What cracker is this same that deafs our ears

With this abundance of superfluous breath.


            This last quotation serves as a good opportunity to introduce an idea which I believe must figure in any account of Pope's edition of Shakespeare. A survey of Pope's degraded and omitted passages throughout the plays suggests, as we shall see, that a feature that frequently occurs in them is what I shall term an interpolator's reflex; that is, some reference in the rejected text to its own dubious claims on the reader. Pope's suspicions seem to have been raised whenever one dramatic personage refers to the absurdity, redundancy, wittiness or obtuseness of his own or another's words. An example of just such a reflex happens here, with the lines `What cracker is this same that deafs our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath'. At this point, the character of Austria and the sensibility of the attentive reader unite to question why there has been such an abundance of `wit' in the degraded lines──we recognize Austria's complaint as readers. But for the editor, for the poet-editor, for the poet-editor who holds Shakespeare in high regard, this exchange might have suggested something quite different: that an interpolator was at work and apologising for, or marking, their presence.

            A second interpolator's reflex occurs in the line at the end of extract 5, `Women and fools, break off your conference'. Following this line, the dignified royal exchange resumes, and so does Pope's text. Maybe, Pope reasoned, the interpolator was again drawing attention to his own handiwork; `fools' is an odd word to use here, and indeed the exchange between Austria and the Bastard is verging on foolery with its witty turns of phrase and verbal jests. Questions may have arisen: how suitable is an `abundance of superfluous breath' to Shakespeare? how suitable is it in a scene which is otherwise formal? would some sort of textual signature be expected if an interpolator had been at work? could the actor who played the Bastard be the very `cracker' who is injecting so much wit into the text, rather than playing Shakespeare's superfluous words? Of course other possibilities could also explain the phenomenon. Shakespeare may have been writing to please the crowd, while disdainfully devaluing his own popular material, or intentionally creating a contrast between formal dispute and unruly argument. The very idea of interpolation may, at any juncture, be erroneously suggested by any passage which refers to itself as poor. Whatever Pope did and did not consider, the passage in question was degraded and I would like to suggest that the interpolator's reflex is a significant feature here.

            Pope's omission leaves a large white space in the parallel text──such a large space as is difficult to reconcile with his comment on degraded passages that `one can intirely omit them without any chasm, or deficience in the context'. As well as focusing on the material that has been removed, we must see whether the reformed scene offers itself as a convincing whole. If we are to understand Pope's treatment of this scene as a whole, then we must try to appreciate what he might have thought its function. In both its plot and image, it serves very well as a preparation for the remainder of the play, especially if we consider that the attitude of John to Arthur is of the greatest importance. By degrading what he might have considered redundant, Pope presents a version of this scene whose logic is pared to its essence, and which is therefore more functional in establishing the central plot-mechanism that leads to John's eventual fall.

            A further instance of Pope's textually intrusive editorial procedure comes later in this same scene, where Pope decided to import some lines from the earlier play, The Troublesome Reign of King John. Pope's assertion in his prefatory note, that this play was `written by W. Shakespeare and W. Rowley' here modulates to the more cautious comment of the footnote. Shakespeare is now `said to have had a have had a hand in' the play. We can speculate that reading The Troublesome Reign led Pope to doubt the claims of the title page──the very fact that he has put a cautious note might indicate this.

            Before coming to the details of the editing here, it is necessary to look at the larger reasons why Pope considered any deviation from the folio text necessary. His contention, is that the quarrel between Austria (`Lymoges' in the early play) and the bastard has no basis in the `present play'. Perhaps Pope meant by `the present play' his own edition, for in the folio there certainly are some hints of the basis of the quarrel. The problem for Pope is that these hints lie in the passages he has degraded earlier. On parallel text 2.1, extracts 4 and 5 clearly revolve around the Bastard's anger that Austria should be wearing a lion-skin. And although the references are somewhat oblique, presumably the situation as it happens in the folios would be perfectly intelligible on stage.

            So in a sense, Pope has created a difficulty for himself, and in order to present a text which he finds artistically acceptable, he has to import from one dubious source while excluding material which he believed interpolated. Pope himself has become an interpolator, and the resulting text has little or no better claim to authenticity than the folios. On the evidence before us, it would be difficult to claim Pope's text made better sense of the `argument', since both the folio and Pope's text give reason enough why the Bastard should have this quarrel with Austria. Interestingly the next editor of Shakespeare, Lewis Theobald who was generally at pains to reject Pope's emendations large and small, was impressed by his interpolation. He seems to have agreed that the folio text itself was insufficiently clear and (unusually) also chose to include the imported lines from Rowley that Pope does.

            Further evidence for the suspicion with which Pope viewed the Rowley text, comes from the degree of alteration he makes even to the interpolated passage, as can be seen in parallel text 2.2. The more bombastic extracts 1 and 2 have been omitted entirely. From a critical viewpoint we, like Pope, might regard them as the worst excesses of an largely unknown Elizabethan playwright suffering from logorrhea. But the same scrutiny applied to the earlier omissions in parallel text 2.1, might find that the supposed Shakespearean passages which Pope omitted are little better. Similarly, the Rowley lines Pope has salvaged must have seemed to him to be by no means unworthy of Shakespeare, especially, perhaps the introspective verses which form the centre of the speech:


How doth Alecto whisper in my ears;

Delay not Richard, kill the villain strait,

Disrobe his of the matchless monument,

The father's triumph o'er the savages.


Judged by modern standards of editing, Pope's decision to cut from the one existing full text of the play, and inlay a passage from another, dubious play, represents a level of intervention that is not acceptable. However, if we are to obey Pope's suggestion in An Essay on Criticism that we should `Survey the Whole, nor seek slight Faults to find', then his decision can be seen differently. The net result of Pope's editing is to present a shorter and arguably less redundant scene which presents only the confrontation between the two opposing royal parties. The material he has removed contribute nothing to the advance of the plot, and the dialogue is not particularly impressive on any level. These are the reasons for removing this text. The case for retaining it will rest on an editor's wish to preserve authentic material. But Pope's conception of what was `authentic' was informed by a critical estimation of what Shakespeare could and could not write, and not by any faith in the text. For Pope, the critical estimation he had of Shakespeare was a higher authority than the possibly corrupt text before him, and such drastic intervention could be, for him, a way of coming closer to Shakespeare.


                                                             * * *


Act 4 Scene 1 of The Life and Death of King John has been prefaced with a star by Pope, indicating that he considered it a shining example of Shakespeare's art where the beauty lay not in parts but in the whole. The scene describes the encounter between the boy prince Arthur and his commissioned executioner, Hubert, who intends to burn out his eyes; Arthur's speech moves Hubert to mercy and the boy is left unharmed. This scene can be found in the 1623 Folio edition, and Pope's, in parallel text 2.3.

            The scene finds Pope making some small-scale alterations to remove redundancy and even the verse into ten syllable units. In extract 1, for example, Hubert's folio greeting `Good morrow, little Prince' has been emended to `Morrow little Prince'. As well as achieving a decasyllable on two lines, Pope's edition immediately differentiates the two characters: their greetings nicely characterising on the one hand, Arthur's innocence (or assumption of it), and on the other, Hubert's conscientious unease at the act he has bound to perform, shown by his inability to return `good morrow'.

            Extract 2 is another example of evening the verse, although here Pope has chosen to replace the folio text's decasyllabic line with one that is more iambically fluid. The effect is not simply syllabic, however, as the change comes at the climax of Arthur's first assault on Hubert's conscience. Pope's edition deprives Arthur of a more rhetorically forceful line, with its first syllable stress, thereby moderating the tone at the crux of the speech.

            The whole scene can be viewed as an almost musical entity, with its two principal characters and their speeches standing for two opposing states of mind, in much the same way that two musical subjects might be contrasted. Like music, there is development, with the lyricism and innocence of Arthur modifying and subduing the stern Hubert. With such idea of musical progression in mind, it may be possible to approach Pope's most far-reaching changes to the scene, the exclusion of the passages marked 3, 4 and 6. The first passage (No. 3) that he excluded, is an extended conceit, in which the iron of the poker itself is personified and thereby endowed with the merciful qualities which Arthur must show Hubert he lacks:


Ah, none but in this Iron Age, would do it:

The Iron of it selfe, though heate red hot,

Approaching neere these eyes, would drinke my teares,

And quench this fierie indignation,

Even in the manner of mine innocence:

Nay, after that, consume away in rust,

But for containing fire to harme mine eye:

Are you more stubborn hard, than hammer'd Iron?


The iron `though heate red hot' would drink tears from Arthur's eyes and so `quench' his `fierie indignation'. But that is not the end of the matter. The iron, wet with tears, will `consume away in rust', in rust which is also, somehow, the rust of shame `for containing fire to harme' Arthur's eyes. In Pope's view Arthur had suddenly become a wit. His wit is verbal──depending on the accident of language which allows the heat of fire to betoken `fierie indignation'. Pope may have relegated the lines because he had taken his cue, his sense of the law governing Arthur's speech, from Hubert's descriptions of Arthur's words as `innocent prate' which were in danger of awaking his mercy. Arthur needs `words' capable of taking `possession' of Hubert's `bosom'. Evidently for Pope, the folio text's conceit here was at odds with the internal demands of the drama.

            Pope's award of an approbatory star to the scene suggests that it was elevated, in his opinion, into the company of the very greatest poetry. Pope may have had in mind other similar moments of this quality in other works──Priam's appeal to Achilles, say. With such models in mind, it is not difficult to see the lines of greatness sketched right in the folio text: an uninterrupted progress from implacable decree to mercy, progressing by rhetorical skill and an appeal to humanity.

            As Pope may have seen it, however, the folio texts had aberrations which distinguished them from this ideal model, and Arthur's extended conceit is one such: the progress of humanity is interrupted for a descent into conceit; Arthur's miraculously lucid rhetoric was diminished to a flashy wit.

            Pope's critical thinking may in this instance have been similar to that demonstrated by Addison in his essay on `mixt wit' in the 62nd Spectator, where he argued that `true wit generally consists in the resemblance of ideas, and false wit in the resemblance of words':


Mixt Wit is a Composition of Pun and true Wit, and is more or less perfect, as the Resemblance lies in the Ideas or in the Words. Its Foundations are laid partly in Falsehood and partly in Truth; Reason puts in her Claim for one Half of it, and Extravagance for the other. The only Province therefore for this kind of Wit, is Epigram, or those little occasional Poems that in their own Nature are nothing else but a Tissue of Epigrams.[ii]


In making his decision to degrade this speech, Pope must have considered the quality and propriety of the conceits in the scene as a whole, and in this larger context their effect became questionable. It may have seemed as if some intrusive virtuoso ornamentation had been introduced into a favourite musical piece: a clear and pleasing progression is interrupted by material which is spurious, and spurious in a way which cannot enhance or deepen the impression of the whole.

            Presumably much the same considerations applied to passage 4, where again the hot irons are personified in an extended conceit:


And if you do, you will but make it blush,

And glow with shame on your proceedings, Hubert:

Nay, it perchance will sparkle in your eyes:

And, like a dogge that is compell'd to fight,

Snatch at his Master that doth tarre him on.


Here, the quality of the conceit is poorer. The idea of the iron `blushing' is close to that of its `fiery indignation' in passage 3──this in itself might have seemed a suspicious repetition. The following comparisons, where the iron `sparkles' and behaves like `a dogge that is compell'd to fight' seems even less plausible; the lines do however pay some superficial resemblance to those surrounding them, with their alternation of single line statements starting `and' and `nay'. An interpolator would have noticed and copied this, it seems.

            Pope's objections however cannot have been to conceits in themselves, for one conceit of a personified iron, he retained. His approbatory star marks this retained conceit as highly exalted, and at an opposite pole therefore to the degraded passages. This is the retained conceit (passage 5):


No, in good sooth, the fire is dead with grief.

Being create for comfort, to be us'd

In undeserv'd extreams; see else your selfe,

There is no malice in this burning coal;

The breath of heav'n hath blown its spirit out,

And strew'd repentant ashes on its head.


This conceit is no less witty than those excluded, it is rather that the wit is used to different ends. If anything, the hyperbole is even more extreme. Arthur attributes human beneficence to the burning coal and divine beneficence to the air itself. On the other hand, the comparisons are insistently literal. In this case, the coal is burning while the heat of the `fiery indignation' of the poker is a purely verbal conceit. The Christian thought underpinning the image of repentant ashes is complete in itself. Arthur is reminding Hubert that the world was created as a moral entity (hence the coal `being create for comfort') and reminding him of the Christian observances attendant upon Ash Wednesday. The visual image and the thought are mutually interdependent.

            We have here then Pope in the act of distinguishing between two passages superficially similar in form. One of them is distinguished as representing the best, and the other the worst of the material he had to edit. At the very least this must be able to tell us something about Pope's sensibility. One view might be that Pope was displaying a critical sense which was peculiar to him, or which was peculiar to `the age' and which was exemplified by him. (Such a view, however, would assume that Pope's editorial practice is informed by an aberration in some true line of sensibility which extends, unbroken, from Shakespeare to us moderns, otherwise we could be in no position to judge.) Some light is shed on Pope's editorial distinction here by some passages from An Essay on Criticism, where false wit and true wit are contrasted.


Some to Conceit alone their taste confine,

And glitt'ring Thoughts struck out at every Line;

Pleas'd with a Work where nothing's just or fit;

One glaring Chaos and wild Heap of Wit:

Poets like Painters, thus, unskilled to trace

The naked Nature and the living Grace,

With Gold and Jewels cover every Part,

And hide with Ornaments their Want of Art.

True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest,

What oft was Thought, but ne'er so well Exprest,

Something, whose Truth convinced at Sight we find,

That gives us back the Image of our Mind

As Shades more sweetly recommend the Light,

So modest Plainness sets of sprightly Wit:                                       (289-302)


            Pope's distinction here attempts to make clear the thin line between false and `true' wit; both are adornment, but while overly conceited poets and versifiers `hide with Ornaments their Want of Art', poets of true wit dress nature `to Advantage'. Pope's description of `True wit' claims it is something which `gives us back the image of our mind'; so we might assume that the wit of the admitted Shakespearean passages possess this quality while the other, degraded, conceits are like the `glaring chaos' which Pope imagines in his Essay. The passages from King John may be taken as a test case, informing our understanding of this difficult distinction in the Essay as well as being informed by it. What exactly could Pope have meant by `gives back the image of the mind'?──and in what way does his edition of Shakespeare improve on the folio in this respect?

            Part of the answer to this question lies in a suggestion which is latent in Pope's own image. By suggesting that false and true wit have in common `adornment', Pope's image──by its own wit──bring to mind the idea of personal adornment and the idea of being over-dressed (for false wit) or becomingly dressed (for true wit). The last two lines of the extract bear on this idea too: `modest Plainness sets of sprightly Wit'. Pope's own image exemplifies its own precepts by keeping his own image plain: the comparison between words and adornment is stated by not pursued. The comparative part of a conceit, it seems, is best seen instantly as if lit by a lightning flash, and not tediously pursued to the utmost degree. Examples of this comes in Peri Bathous `The Art of Sinking in Poetry', where extended conceits are cited ironically as examples of how to write dull poetry:


... whenever you start a Metaphor, you must be sure to Run it down, and pursue it as far as it can go. If you get the Scent of a State Negotiation, follow it in this manner.

                        The Stones and all the Elements with thee

                        Shall ratify a strict Confederacy;

                        Wild Beasts their savage Temper shall forget,

                        And for a firm Alliance with thee treat;

                        The finny Tyrant of the spacious Seas

                        Shall send a scaly Embassy for Peace:

                        His plighted Faith the Crocodile shall keep,

                        And seeing thee, for Joy sincerely weep.                          Job. p. 22.[iii]


In this example, it is easy to understand how the degree of comparison of the image seems ridiculous──the extended image only serves to emphasise that the thing is not like what it is being compared to, while the image itself seems improperly artificial to the thing described.

            Pope's examples in Peri Bathous nevertheless illustrate an important point, that the process of making a conceit is similar to that of making a joke. Hence, Pope may quote verbatim seriously intended poetic conceits to humorous effect; the extent of a conceit is crucial to its effect. It would be unfortunate indeed if the attempt at poeticism in the scene from King John spurred laughter, especially at such an important moment.

            So if extent and propriety are two important tests of a conceit's worth, then we must assume that to some extent it is these criteria which Pope applied when editing The Life and Death of King John, and that in some way they must have borne on Pope's decision to exclude, and include the passages under discussion. As in the earlier scene, the editing here presents forcefully an important characteristic of Pope's edition which will be seen in all the following plays: his eventual criteria for what was Shakespearean, was not the printed text, but his critical conception of Shakespeare. Thus what we as readers are presented with is not so much an edition of a text, but a reading of a text, a reconstruction. Whether or not this is of value will depend ultimately on what we are seeking from an editor, and whether or not we are of the same mind as Pope when evaluating the text. Even denying the worth of Pope's efforts with respect to this particular play, his editing nevertheless suggests graphically how his critical opinions as expressed elsewhere, actually worked, and how we might stand in relation to them.

            To the portrait of Pope's Shakespeare that we have so far been able to draw──as a careless writer who was nevertheless supremely skilled──we can now add further detail. Pope, it is clear, regarded each play as having a different editorial problem──each was governed by its own internal logic and laws. His interpolation of what seemed to him necessary narrative material from Rowley demonstrates Pope's interest in Shakespeare as a writer with a story to tell. The story however is conducted and sustained both in larger development of narrative and in the detail, including the metaphoric detail, of the verse itself. It is in this sustaining of what Johnson called the progress of the fable[iv] that Pope's Shakespeare shows himself to be at least Homer's equal.

                                                 Notes for Chapter 2



[i]. Pope's edition, Act 2 Scene 1. In Pope this prologue was moved forward a scene so that it prefaced the change of scene to Southampton, and not a low-life scene with Bardolph, Nim, Pistol and the Hostess.

[ii]. The Spectator, No. 62 (Friday, May 11, 1711)

[iii]. The verse quotation is from Blackmore's Job.

[iv]. in his Preface to Shakespeare.