King John, Romeo and Juliet,
A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost show Shakespeare's controlled and laughingly detached balance in the treatment of love and in an interpretative concern with language and with his own art; but King John, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II show a less critical and a more sympathetic interpretation not only of young love but also of emotions and ideas that might preoccupy Shakespeare's contemporaries or be of the greatest interest to them. In King John, for example, a tour de force of speech, in the widest sense of the word, binds together the most disparate of emphases until Shakespeare's recreation of John's story, with its clash of irreconcilables, is compounded with ironies and becomes an Elizabethan's political nightmare. With this drama, as with Romeo and Juliet and Richard II, Shakespeare uses language and spectacle less for their own sake, or for the ideas and ideals they might reflect, or for the critical amusement they might arouse, than as the means for creating a dramatic experience that might be emotionally meaningful and memorable. In these dramas, Shakespeare does not achieve his mature artistry, but he is on the border of that achievement.
As has been indicated in an earlier discussion, memories of ephemeral mirth could have given a familiar comic force to the appearance of the bastard in King John, just as they play about the grotesque variations of conventional types in Love's Labour's Lost and support the antics of a suprahuman dizzard in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Certainly the humor in the portrayal of Faulconbridge animates his appearance in Shakespeare's play and differentiates him strikingly from the earlier bastard in the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John (ca. 1588). 1 In addition to what has been noted, overtones of popular merriment result from the bastard's second speech, wherein Philip elaborates the maxim that it is a wise father who knows his own son. Thereby a comic process is begun that paradoxically ridicules