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Shakespeare's Characters: Pandulph (King John)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 12. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co.

Pandulph, the legate, stands in group with the feudal princes like the representative of the adult fraud and heartlessness of priestcraft; the inheritor of high faculties cultivated to refined ill purposes from the old Roman pontifices; the root of evil living among the ashes of the empire and springing up amongst and poisoning the better and unsophisticated tendencies of the northern nations, apprentices in civilization it is true but also novices in deceit. In his elaborate explaining away of perjury, his authorization by religious sanction of secret, treacherous murder and revolt, and in his cold-blooded complacency as he speculates on the certain murder of Arthur if dextrously provoked and the advantages to result to Holy Church therefrom, we have most striking contrast to the spirit of honour, of hatred of cruelty, and of compassion for the weak and afflicted, that characterizes the English Barons. The power of the natural affections over a rude nature is expressed most glowingly in the relenting of Hubert, but scarcely more touchingly than by the tears of Salisbury at the distress of Constance, or in his bitterness of heart at his false position as an enemy:—
"Where honourable rescue and defence
Calls out upon the name of Salisbury,"
and by the generous indignation of the barons, his companions, and of Faulconbridge no less, at the jeopardy and murder of Arthur. Formal religion is arrayed in the person of its official minister against the religion of humanity and sympathy; and the corruption of an artfully organized administration offends the spectator by assuming the honours and prerogatives of devotion and piety, when at war with all the feelings that by their essential qualities and in their own right are properly devout, moral and pious; and hence neither in falling off from their allegiance nor in returning to it do the barons admit the slightest weight, or even refer to the authority of Pandulph, a sign of the future which is quite as significant as the hankering of the kings and nobles after ecclesiastical hoards, which seconded the popular movement so efficiently at last.
Lloyd: Critical Essays on the Plays of Shakespeare.


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