King John ★★★★☆

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Title: King John
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 265
Words: 76K


From Wikipedia

King John receives an ambassador from France who demands with a threat of war that he renounce his throne in favour of his nephew, Arthur, whom the French King Philip believes to be the rightful heir to the throne.

John adjudicates an inheritance dispute between Robert Faulconbridge and his older brother Philip the Bastard, during which it becomes apparent that Philip is the illegitimate son of King Richard I. Queen Eleanor, mother to both Richard and John, recognises the family resemblance and suggests that he renounce his claim to the Faulconbridge land in exchange for a knighthood. John knights Philip the Bastard under the name Richard.

In France, King Philip and his forces besiege the English-ruled town of Angers, threatening attack unless its citizens support Arthur. Philip is supported by Austria, who is believed to have killed King Richard. The English contingent arrives; and then Eleanor trades insults with Constance, Arthur’s mother. Kings Philip and John stake their claims in front of Angers’ citizens, but to no avail: their representative says that they will support the rightful king, whoever that turns out to be.

The French and English armies clash, but no clear victor emerges. Each army dispatches a herald claiming victory, but Angers’ citizens continue to refuse to recognize either claimant because neither army has proven victorious.

The Bastard proposes that England and France unite to punish the rebellious citizens of Angers, at which point the citizens propose an alternative: Philip’s son, Louis the Dauphin, should marry John’s niece Blanche (a scheme that gives John a stronger claim to the throne) while Louis gains territory for France. Though a furious Constance accuses Philip of abandoning Arthur, Louis and Blanche are married.

Cardinal Pandolf arrives from Rome bearing a formal accusation that John has disobeyed the Pope and appointed an archbishop contrary to his desires. John refuses to recant, whereupon he is excommunicated. Pandolf pledges his support for Louis, though Philip is hesitant, having just established family ties with John. Pandolf brings him round by pointing out that his links to the church are older and firmer.

War breaks out; Austria is beheaded by the Bastard in revenge for his father’s death; and both Angers and Arthur are captured by the English. Eleanor is left in charge of English possessions in France, while the Bastard is sent to collect funds from English monasteries. John orders Hubert to kill Arthur. Pandolf suggests to Louis that he now has as strong a claim to the English throne as Arthur (and indeed John), and Louis agrees to invade England.

Hubert finds himself unable to kill Arthur. John’s nobles urge Arthur’s release. John agrees, but is wrong-footed[clarification needed] by Hubert’s announcement that Arthur is dead. The nobles, believing he was murdered, defect to Louis’ side. Equally upsetting, and more heartbreaking to John, is the news of his mother’s death, along with that of Lady Constance. The Bastard reports that the monasteries are unhappy about John’s attempt to seize their gold. Hubert has a furious argument with John, during which he reveals that Arthur is still alive. John, delighted, sends him to report the news to the nobles.

Arthur dies jumping from a castle wall. (It is open to interpretation whether he deliberately kills himself or just makes a risky escape attempt.) The nobles believe he was murdered by John, and refuse to believe Hubert’s entreaties. John attempts to make a deal with Pandolf, swearing allegiance to the Pope in exchange for Pandolf’s negotiating with the French on his behalf. John orders the Bastard, one of his few remaining loyal subjects, to lead the English army against France.

While John’s former noblemen swear allegiance to Louis, Pandolf explains John’s scheme, but Louis refuses to be taken in by it. The Bastard arrives with the English army and threatens Louis, but to no avail. War breaks out with substantial losses on each side, including Louis’ reinforcements, who are drowned during the sea crossing. Many English nobles return to John’s side after a dying French nobleman, Melun, warns them that Louis plans to kill them after his victory.

John is poisoned by a disgruntled monk. His nobles gather around him as he dies. The Bastard plans the final assault on Louis’ forces, until he is told that Pandolf has arrived with a peace treaty. The English nobles swear allegiance to John’s son Prince Henry, and the Bastard reflects that this episode has taught that internal bickering could be as perilous to England’s fortunes as foreign invasion.

My Thoughts:

FINALLY! A Shakespeare play that I fully enjoyed and didn’t feel like pee’ing on after I was done reading it. I don’t know if it was the actual play, the fact that we’ve moved into “recent” history (as opposed to ancient history of Greece, Rome, etc), or what, but I had zero quibbles while reading this.

Lots of drama and people being jerks and lying and backstabbing, but I still understood the context. I guess that was what was missing for a lot of the other plays I read? I couldn’t understand why the characters would do what they did, but here I could completely understand things, even if I thought it was stupid or wrong.

My only hesitation now is that if I liked this so much, perhaps I’m setting the bar too high for the rest of the Histories? Of course, with works like Henry V coming down the pipeline, that shouldn’t be a concern of mine. But I’m a worrier, so I’m going to worry about something that doesn’t matter one whit.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

44 thoughts on “King John ★★★★☆

  1. I’ve read quite a bit by this guy, and feel this his history plays are the hardest to like, so don’t expect much if you continue to mine this seam. And Henry V doesn’t have the impact of, say, Rocky V, Shakespeare didn’t get the commercial value of a soundtrack album…

    Liked by 3 people

          1. No, I started to respond on my phone and then it rang! Sorry about that! Mm was not my full message. Actually, I love the Henry V soundtrack, and the Rocky IV soundtrack, and Led Zepplin IV, so I guess it’s just anything with Roman numerals…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Psychic Grandma says you lie. You just don’t want to admit I silenced you with the Power of Puns!

              But Roman Numerals are cool. Anything with a roman numeral is automatically better. Like the 1994 videogame Doom II.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. I’m really surprised you’ve heard of his failed line of games. He really tried to get them off the ground but the world just wasn’t ready for them yet. He was a man ahead of his time. Most people though don’t even know they ever existed. You can still find copies of them for wicked cheap on backshelves of of those “going out of business” computer stores to this day.

                  I’d have to look into the chronology, but I “think” Ralph came after John. I’m not a huge history buff though.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. King Ralph isn’t a direct sequel to King John, but it set in the same cinematic universe. King Lear completes the trilogy. It’s hard to believe that Shakespeare write such great games when consoles were very primaries; if you’re tried to play the Atari version of Two Noble Kinsmen, you’ll know what I mean…

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Atari was just a bit before my computer times. I got in on the ground floor of the X86 series of computers. Plus, my parents frowned on wasting time and money on something like a game console.

                      Two Noble Kinsmen was a horrible book so I simply can’t imagine the game would be any better. I’ll have to pass. Plus, I’d have to buy an old atari system and you wouldn’t believe what “classic” game consoles are going for these days. I sold my old N64 two years ago for about triple what I paid for it 😀


                    2. Absolutely. I always played my games on easy. I wanted to win and finish the game. I think I tried Crushingly Hard for Merry Wives as well, just to see, and I’m pretty sure I ended that experiment by drowning in the river instead of throwing Falstaff in 😀


                    3. But how to you get the gold coins if you don’t throw Falstaff in the river? If you climb up the barrells, you get a bonus level of Measure for Measure that’s totally playable; Shakespeare was known for his secret levels, that’s why he’s up there with Crash Bandicoot in my book!

                      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve watched several movie versions too, so that helps. I’m pretty sure that nothing by Shakespeare is accurate beyond some of the wide, broad ideas. He definitely was more into entertainment on the stage 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Length, for the most part, isn’t a problem for me. I mean, I’m reading the Wheel of Time for goodness sake, hahahaaa.
          And at least I can understand people acting like people. Unlike humor, that isn’t nearly so subjective 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, his comedies just aren’t funny to me either. Btw, his comedies not being funny is a standing joke in Ben Elton’s (imo excellent) tv comedy Upstart Crow. I don’t know if you have come across that one.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I read Henry V, and watched the Branaugh movie version, back in highschool, so I know I will like that as well. I really suspect I’m going to end up liking these “Histories” more than anything so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just started getting into Shakespeare this summer. I am not familiar with King John, but I am pretty familiar with Henry V. I did not care for the Branaugh movie. I did like the Olivier film, but I like the 70’s radio play version best. I also greatly enjoyed Henry IV, 1 & 2 via Orson Welles ‘Chimes at Midnight’.

    Happy Trails!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been thinking of doing this ever since highschool, so it is about time for me 😀
      I’m just glad I’m getting to some plays that I’m enjoying.

      Hope your Shakespeare journey turns out well too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve liked all the histories so far. I think I’ve read about five of them and my favourite so far is Richard II. Have you watched The Hollow Crown? I think they do a great job with the adaptations and make the plays come alive, or at least I get that impression from the couple of episodes I saw. King John is one play I haven’t read yet so now I’m looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That bodes well for me then 😀
      I have not seen the Hollow Crown. My “watching” time is almost non-existent these days. If I have time to watch something, I end up reading, as I’d rather do that 🙂

      I hope when you read this that it is a good fit. Like I said, I don’t know how good this actually is because I don’t have any of the other histories to compare it too. But I enjoyed it, so for me, that is high praise 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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