King John–Act V


King John repents to the bishop as an attempt to keep peace with France, who has led most of his allies into revolt. Always a man of business, this John. And he dies as he lived–working on state matters.

Aside from King John’s disconnect from the spiritual life (and that “kill the kid” incident, which I think was a spur of the moment act of fear) I don’t see him as a particular villain. I was expecting to see a more notorious picture painted of him, and given the feelings about the Catholic Church when Shakespeare is writing, he seems to be a kind of fated-to-doom character.

Oh, and since I brought up the Church, the day that the war sets on in the beginning is the beginning of the Triduum (the three day solemnity/celebration of Easter) which paints a very interesting picture. You know, with all the war and marriage and death.


I was surprised that the Bastard Phillip turns out to be a legitimate servant to his king. I bring this up, because the last lines are spoken by him. “This England never did, nor never shall,/Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,/But when it first did help to wound itself” (V.vii.112-114). I’m leaving this really as food for thought. England shall not be conquered, unless it is by the mistakes she makes herself. Hmm. At the end of a history play (and my knowledge of English history is not extremely extensive prior to, well, really the Victorian era–but I’m reading this to attempt to make up for that…as well as this) these three lines left me pondering on how this is pertinent to a kind of “English understanding of being English.” Perhaps my friends across the pond may be of service?


King John–Acts III & IV

My apologies, I have been rigorously working on getting my life together and make myself a career in something a little more academic than bar-tending. Prayers, if you can!


So, Act III satisfied my “the war ended to quickly” proposition, thanks to the entrance of a bishop. Rome visits, excommunicates, and causes a huge complication of which fundamental religious honoring to take–the alliance between England and France that has at it’s foundation the Church’s Sacrament of marriage VERSUS the authority figure from the Vatican directly telling King Phillip that he’ll be excommunicated with King John. Poor Blanch.

So, we have these two poles that the audience gets to swing between: France and England. France’s leader concerns himself primarily with matters of the soul above the matters of state, both in his breaking of the alliance and with Louis’ trust in the bishop’s prophecy that England will fall. Ol’ John is excommunicated for putting his own matters of state above the Church and he has no concern for his soul, so long as he has looked out for his body and reputation (the assigning of Arthur’s assassination).


Act IV reads like a tragedy–the too late realization that killing an innocent kid might be a mistake. King John, on the cusp of losing his allies, states, “They burn in indignation. I repent:/There is no sure foundation set on blood;/No certain life achiev’d by others’ death (IV.ii.105-107). Arthur’s alive and let go! Then he’s actually dead. And no one saw him fall. So, obviously, King John was up to mischief, setting himself on a foundation of blood that he only too late realized was not in his best interests.

Oh, and the whole thing is taking place during late, very close to the feast day of the Ascension. I’m wondering if Blanch’s lamenting her wedding feast turning into a blood bath has more to it than meets the eye….

King John–Act II

Am I a bad person for being a little disappointed in how well this war for “the true king of England” ended? Probably. But, my feelings are not my thoughts. Moving on.


My main focus is on Hubert (or, the First Citizen, on my Kindle…which I almost prefer him being nameless, in a way. If anyone has information on what the First Folio names him as, I would really appreciate it.) and both what is said about him and what he says.

For starters, this train of thought started because of the comment made by the ol’ Bastard: “By heaven, these scroyles of Angiers flour you, kings,/And stand securely on their battlements,/As a theatre, whence they gape and point/At your industrious scenes and acts of death”(II.i.373-376). While reading these lines, I was thinking, “As a member of the audience, I feel compelled to be on the side of this town. I’m watching the fight. And I’m not even rooting for a specific character to win the kingship.” Hubert is also the voice of reason among the kings, and it is his idea that brings about peace…And he has a sweet line that goes,

A greater power then we denies all this;
And till it be undoubted, we do lock
Our former scruple in our strong-barr’d gates;
King’d of our fears, until our fears, resolved,
Be by some certain king purged and deposed.(II.i.368-372)’

I think I might just be in love with Hubert/the First Citizen’s inability to judge the merit of which king is proper without them proving it. But that’s modern. In the feudal system, Arthur ought to be king. There’s an amazing tension here, between merit and blood-line nobility.


My after-thought is solely: Constance seems to be the only one who actually cares about righting the wrongs of the throne.

Until tomorrow.

King John–Act I

Mmm, smell that sweet, sweet verge of war opening. Toto, we’re not reading a comedy anymore.

King John

Few historical bits:

  1. John was the youngest of his brothers. Which makes him the least likely heir to the throne. But, being the favorite, and everyone dying, he inherited the throne
  2. John was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, because he wanted his authority over the Church’s. (That’s really really the bare bones of what I can gather. The actual story is messier and complicated.) John’s seen as a pre-Protestant martyr, etc.
  3. You’ve seen the Disney Robin Hood? The thumb-sucking lion that’s a big ol’ jerk–that’s King John.

Either Shakespeare is going to paint us a nice picture of John, but I find that unlikely. To quote is mother, “A strange beginning: ‘borrow’d majesty’!” (I.i.5).

The scene shifts from the looming war with France–because, well, it is evidently not King John’s birthright–to the will of Sir Robert regarding which son inherits his land. Phillip dons knighthood under the king that is the brother of his actual father. And then, he’s left alone. Monologue time.

But this is worshipful society
And fits the mounting spirit like myself,
For he is but a bastard to the time
That doth not smack of observation;
And so am I, whether I smack or no;
And not alone in habit and device,
Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
But from the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth:
Which, though I will not practise to deceive,
Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn;
For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising. (I.i.205-216)

The age is a bastard himself to time–the age of flattery and ascension into positions from flattery. I’ve never known Shakespeare to paint a bastard son that is a good man, at least looking as Much Ado or King Lear, so I can only see Phillip, now Richard, being a conniver and a liar. However, I wonder since he comes from a nobleman’s blood, if perhaps he’ll come out better. I’m not placing my money on it.

KingJohn 1

The play ends with the denouncing of one name for another. And the question of who owns what land by birth. And given that the full name of the play is The Life and Death of King John, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty for Johnnie boy.