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King John: A Tragedy in Five Acts. with the Stage Business, Cast of Characters, Costumes, Relative Positions, &C. Also, a List of Authorities for Costumes

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This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.


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This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.

30 review for King John: A Tragedy in Five Acts. with the Stage Business, Cast of Characters, Costumes, Relative Positions, &C. Also, a List of Authorities for Costumes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Aishu Rehman

    The play is a wonderful mix of history and ironic commentary, one of two plays of Shakespeare's that is entirely in verse (the other one is RICHARD II, which he wrote just before KING JOHN), and it's tragically poetic and satiric in equal measure. Shakespeare never wrote anything else quite like it. If he wrote better plays, they were also different kinds of plays: this one is unique. KING JOHN has one of Shakespeare's best death scenes and a character, Faulconbridge the bastard son of Richard The play is a wonderful mix of history and ironic commentary, one of two plays of Shakespeare's that is entirely in verse (the other one is RICHARD II, which he wrote just before KING JOHN), and it's tragically poetic and satiric in equal measure. Shakespeare never wrote anything else quite like it. If he wrote better plays, they were also different kinds of plays: this one is unique. KING JOHN has one of Shakespeare's best death scenes and a character, Faulconbridge the bastard son of Richard the Lion Hearted.Faulconbridge is there to make cynical comments, and yet remain loyal to King John, who almost, but not quite, becomes a child murderer in the course of the action. Earlier, the complexities of wartime politics are revealed when a town refuses to admit either the King of England or the King of France as its rightful ruler until the two kings have fought out the question first -- whereupon the two kings decide to agree on a truce, just long enough to wipe the town out together, then go back to fighting one another.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    This is perhaps Shakespeare's worst play, and certainly the worst of the history plays. It has an interesting theme underlying all the conflicts--what are the legitimate sources of power and authority--but throughout the various struggles (between first-born illegitimate and second-born legitimate sons, between an established king and his deceased older brother's minor heir, between the monarchy and the universal church) the connections are not artfully made nor are the distinctions carefully This is perhaps Shakespeare's worst play, and certainly the worst of the history plays. It has an interesting theme underlying all the conflicts--what are the legitimate sources of power and authority--but throughout the various struggles (between first-born illegitimate and second-born legitimate sons, between an established king and his deceased older brother's minor heir, between the monarchy and the universal church) the connections are not artfully made nor are the distinctions carefully drawn. As a consequence, the play often seems little more than a series of episodes. Furthermore, King John contains scenes that are poorly written. Countess Constance makes herself tedious by complaining in one long rhetorical indulgence after another, and her son Prince Arthur pleads with his jailer Hubert not to put out his eyes with such inappropriately clever conceits that the entire scene--obviously meant to be touching and terrifying--is unintentionally funny instead: ARTHUR: Will you put out mine eyes? These eyes that never did nor never shall So much as frown on you. HUBERT: I have sworn to do it; And with hot irons must I burn them out. ARTHUR: Ah, none but in this iron age would do it! The iron of itself, though heat red-hot, Approaching near these eyes, would drink my tears And quench his fiery indignation Even in the matter of mine innocence; Nay, after that, consume away in rust But for containing fire to harm mine eye. Are you more stubborn-hard than hammer'd iron? An if an angel should have come to me And told me Hubert should put out mine eyes, I would not have believed him . . . The only fine thing about this drama is "The Bastard" Richard Faulconbridge--illegitimate son of Coer-De-Lion--a dynamic, totally individualized character who speaks in his own unique voice and who seems to have wandered into "King John" from a later, better play.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I decided to work through the least memorable or least beloved plays while I'm working through the more beloved histories, and frankly, I don't think this one was bad at all. Sure, there's no Magna Carta, even though it would have been signed one year before the King's death, but as it has been said many times before, no one in Shakespeare's time really gave a hoot about the document. So why did this flop of a play even get written? For it was a flop at its inception and no one really wants to see I decided to work through the least memorable or least beloved plays while I'm working through the more beloved histories, and frankly, I don't think this one was bad at all. Sure, there's no Magna Carta, even though it would have been signed one year before the King's death, but as it has been said many times before, no one in Shakespeare's time really gave a hoot about the document. So why did this flop of a play even get written? For it was a flop at its inception and no one really wants to see it on stage, now. Are there any redeeming virtues? Hell yeah. Philip the Bastard. Many soliloquies, the last line in the play, and my god what a mouth he has. :) He has the righteous Plantagenet fire, the hot breast, the military and manly and steadfast nobility that everyone loves and honors... and yet, despite that, he's a Bastard. Let me back up. Most bastards in any of the Shakespearian plays are real bastards. This is the only one that is truly noble, through and through. Wow! What a departure! Plus, he was pretty show-stealing every time he popped his head up on the page, with great quips, true heart, and utter loyalty to the king. Plus we get to see a pretty spry old woman Eleanor of Aquitaine. But that's just for us history buffs. She really doesn't do much except support son the King's decisions and help raise the fortune of Philip the Bastard. :) Which is delightful enough. The rest of the play, though, does appear to have the right kind of propagandist flavor, turning King John into a Protestant by default because he chooses to snub the Cardinal who then proceeds to excommunicate him, but in my eye, that's just the overt window dressing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the story in the play, either. There's wars, reconciliations, humorous dealings at Anjou, bitter sorrow over Arthur, and more war, ending with the declaration that there will never be another successful invasion of England. Pretty rousing. I was entertained. So why the hate? *shrug* maybe people are just idiots. :) Great characters, good story. I guess this is just one of those cases that because Shakespeare wrote it, it must be brilliant instead of just fine, and therefore we must, obviously, rate it low. :)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.” ― William Shakespeare, King John, Act III.4 All I want is the bastard. I want Stoppard to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead King John. The Universe revolves, uncorked around the Bastard not the King. I'm not sure who I want to play the Bastard, but he needs to be Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Edmund Kean all unwrapped, warped, and twisted into one. He needs to be unhinged, demonic, and perfect: a ballet “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.” ― William Shakespeare, King John, Act III.4 All I want is the bastard. I want Stoppard to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead King John. The Universe revolves, uncorked around the Bastard not the King. I'm not sure who I want to play the Bastard, but he needs to be Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Edmund Kean all unwrapped, warped, and twisted into one. He needs to be unhinged, demonic, and perfect: a ballet dancer -- spitting bullets and drenched in virtue's fire. The Bastard Philip demands it. Every play Shakespeare writes gives me a character I want to carry in my pocket. The Bastard proves I own no pockets large enough for Shakespeare's coin. Enough. I need to cool down. Think rationally. Gather my wits. The play itself was soft. 3-stars, small planets, at most, but I round my review up, as I round my day, week, and May up because I discovered the Bastard Philip today (and Lady Constance wasn't too shabby either). How can you not love THIS, a soliloquy on self-interest? Mad world! mad kings! mad composition! John, to stop Arthur's title in the whole, Hath willingly departed with a part, And France, whose armour conscience buckled on, Whom zeal and charity brought to the field As God's own soldier, rounded in the ear With that same purpose-changer, that sly devil, That broker, that still breaks the pate of faith, That daily break-vow, he that wins of all, Of kings, of beggars, old men, young men, maids, Who, having no external thing to lose But the word 'maid,' cheats the poor maid of that, That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world, The world, who of itself is peised well, Made to run even upon even ground, Till this advantage, this vile-drawing bias, This sway of motion, this Commodity, Makes it take head from all indifferency, From all direction, purpose, course, intent: And this same bias, this Commodity, This bawd, this broker, this all-changing word, Clapp'd on the outward eye of fickle France, Hath drawn him from his own determined aid, From a resolved and honourable war, To a most base and vile-concluded peace. And why rail I on this Commodity? But for because he hath not woo'd me yet: Not that I have the power to clutch my hand, When his fair angels would salute my palm; But for my hand, as unattempted yet, Like a poor beggar, raileth on the rich. Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail And say there is no sin but to be rich; And being rich, my virtue then shall be To say there is no vice but beggary. Since kings break faith upon commodity, Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    No big twists or earth-shattering surprises, but there was a fairly moving scene and some good political maneuvering described. Easy to follow for the most part and that always improves my chances of enjoying one of Shakespeare's plays...or whatever the heck I'm reading, I suppose.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    What! No Magna Carta! 29 July 2015 Okay, I said this many times before but this time one of the commentators at the end of the book pointed out that reading some plays doesn't bring the play out the same way that watching it performed does, but the reason Sylvia Barnett made this comment is because this is one of those plays that is very rarely performed – namely because people simply are not that interested in it. In fact when she was looking at the various productions of this play she noted What! No Magna Carta! 29 July 2015 Okay, I said this many times before but this time one of the commentators at the end of the book pointed out that reading some plays doesn't bring the play out the same way that watching it performed does, but the reason Sylvia Barnett made this comment is because this is one of those plays that is very rarely performed – namely because people simply are not that interested in it. In fact when she was looking at the various productions of this play she noted that when it was produced in the 60s by the Royal Shakespeare company it was an absolute failure. It's not that you can't put on a good production of this play, it's just that when you do people, especially people who know about Shakespeare, look at it and say 'yeah, King John, I think I have to feed my cat that night'. Look, it's not a bad play, it's just that people really don't like it, which is a shame because Shakespeare really does know how to write a good political intrigue. The problem is that there are actually two plays on the same subject, this play and another one written by an anonymous author called < a href="https://archive.org/stream/thetrouble... Troublesome Reign of King John (I knew I could find the text on the internet). It is interesting that there is some debate about which came first, and also who copied who, or whether they drew their inspiration from a third, lost, source (though I would probably fall into the category of rejecting the existence of this ur-text). King John is a play about the question of succession. Despite the fact that John was nominated heir by his father Richard the Lion Heart, as the play unfolds it becomes clear that there are some other claimants to the throne, one prince Arthur, and some guy named Phillip the Bastard. The play is basically about the struggle between John and Arthur over who should have the throne, even though John spends a lot of time running around France beating up the French and also seeking to behead the King of Austria who was responsible for the death of his father. This is actually one of those plays that happens to have one really cool character – Phillip the Bastard (or simply 'The Bastard'). The thing about Phillip is that he is quite a noble character and sticks by King John right until the end. At the beginning he is having a tussle with his brother as to who should inherit their deceased father's estate, that is until it is revealed that his mother had a liaison with the king (as you do) and that he isn't actually a legitimate heir. As such he has a choice – maintain the claim to his father's estate or accept that he is a bastard. He takes the second option and is made a knight of the realm. The thing with Bastards in Shakespeare is that they are generally not painted in a particularly pleasant light – take Edmund from King Lear for example: he is one really nasty piece of work. However Phillip is one of the most noblest characters in the play, and not only that he sticks to John's side despite all of the other nobles deserting him. In fact he has the very last line in the play, a position which in Elizabethan drama is normally reserved for the highest ranking character left alive. Mind you, the real Phillip (Phillip of Cognac – I wonder if he drank a bit of the stuff) is one of those really obscure historical figures that would have disappeared into the mists of antiquity if Shakespeare hadn't immortalised him. Still, considering the fact that he is in King John may still end up consigning him to obscurity. The one thing that really stands out in this play is that the one reason that King John is still remembered today, the signing of the Magna Carta, is completely absent. In fact it is due to the dispute with prince Arthur that all of the lords desert John, not because he is a tyrannical prick that was blowing England's wealth on his wars in France. However I do want to speculate a bit as to why Shakespeare ended up neglecting this rather historical event (and if he were to have included it it would have been somewhere near the end because King John died the year after it was signed). Okay, maybe it had to do with the whole Magna Carta thing disrupting the flow of the play and not having anything to do with the themes that Shakespeare was trying to explore, which is probably more likely than not (and the more I think about it the more I suspect that that is the case). However I have another theory, and that is that the people of Elizabethan England never considered the Magna Carta that big a deal. Remember King John pretty much tore the agreement up as soon as he had the chance and it never really had a huge affect until much later. Anyway, it wasn't the beginning of the Parliamentary system – William the Conqueror had a group of advisors when he first invaded England. The thing with Parliament is that it didn't actually appear in its present form until the Tudors were on the throne, and even then most of them tended to be lackies of the king. However the reason Parliament existed is because the king didn't raise taxes directly from the people, he would raise them from the feudal lords, who would in turn suck the peasantry dry. In fact the Magna Carta did didly squat for the average punter, and it was not until the era of the Stuarts that it started fighting with the king for political power. It is only these days that we look back at the Magna Carta and go 'gee, what a wonderful document'. Back in Shakespeare's day I suspect that the average theatre goer would have said 'Magna Carta? As if that has anything to do with me – it's simply a nobles' thing'.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bram

    It's been a while (high school!) since I've read Shakespeare, and the pleasures of his language and verse-flow were almost completely lost on me at that time. Like many youths who are required to read the Bard at an obscenely young age (Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet were assigned in middle school for goodness’ sake), I viewed his verse and language as impediments to the story, which was sometimes pretty interesting to a distracted, pimply youth. But fast-forward a few years and here I am It's been a while (high school!) since I've read Shakespeare, and the pleasures of his language and verse-flow were almost completely lost on me at that time. Like many youths who are required to read the Bard at an obscenely young age (Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet were assigned in middle school for goodness’ sake), I viewed his verse and language as impediments to the story, which was sometimes pretty interesting to a distracted, pimply youth. But fast-forward a few years and here I am nearly worshiping at the aesthetics alter with Harold Bloom. So in short, yes, I enjoyed reading this even if the story and themes weren't as compelling or valuable as those in some of Shakespeare's more famous plays. The flow, the language, the language, the flow: delicious. It seems that this play is one of the least-read in the Bard’s oeuvre, so here’s a brief overview of the story: King John claims the throne of England after the death of his brother Richard (The Lionheart of Crusade fame), whose will stated that John should be the next king. The only problem is that the laws of succession dictate that John’s older brother Geoffrey is next in line and since he’s already dead, his son Arthur is the rightful king. King Philip of France, looking to stir up trouble and increase his power in the region, is backing Arthur’s bid (side note: Arthur doesn’t really give a shit, but his mom’s got a hankering for that queen-mother spot). Some battle ensues. The Bastard (see below) is pumped for continuing the war with France, but someone else suggests that John’s niece marry Philip’s son to secure John’s claim to the throne while France gets some extra land. (Still following?) The pope’s emissary then stirs up more trouble by briefly excommunicating John and forcing France to abandon the newly improved English-French relationship. John fixes things with the Vatican but not before the relationship with France has degenerated and he’s become embroiled in a small controversy at home involving the killing of Arthur (who, as you’ll remember, has a claim on the English throne as well). I won’t spoil the ending, but…nothing terribly exciting happens anyway. I’m not sure how historically accurate this whole story is, but I was surprised that in a play about King John the Magna Carta never managed to come up. That was kind of a big deal, wasn’t it? So but none of the characters are terribly interesting except one: The Bastard. He finds out at the beginning of the play that he is Richard the Lionheart’s illegitimate son, which birth status he loves. So he gives up all of his entitled land to accept this royal (if illegitimate) standing. He’s basically a big, brash guy who loves battle, hates cowardice, and constantly berates and belittles people of legit birth and higher rank. In other words, in an otherwise-dry history play, the Bastard really steals the show. His comic timing is excellent; his frequent interruptions, particularly of the Duke of Austria, are relentless, abusive, and hilarious. Acts II and III offer up some laugh-out-loud moments, and there are many clever double-entendres scattered throughout. In the end, it’s all about the plot-pushing Bastard; he singlehandedly justifies giving this one a shot.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This is not the same King John you know from history. For one thing, there is no Runnymede and no Magna Carta in this play. Secondly, Richard the Lion-Hearted has already died, so there is no Robin Hood, Sheriff of Nottingham, or Guy of Gisbourne. No, The Life and Death of King John is about retaining one's power as king when confronted with the demands of the papacy and of other surrounding monarchs. In the process of trying to hold on to his power, John tries to have his nephew Arthur killed; This is not the same King John you know from history. For one thing, there is no Runnymede and no Magna Carta in this play. Secondly, Richard the Lion-Hearted has already died, so there is no Robin Hood, Sheriff of Nottingham, or Guy of Gisbourne. No, The Life and Death of King John is about retaining one's power as king when confronted with the demands of the papacy and of other surrounding monarchs. In the process of trying to hold on to his power, John tries to have his nephew Arthur killed; but the noble delegated to do the job doesn't have the heart for it. Shortly thereafter, Arthur accidentally falls to his death from the castle walls. In the end, the lingering suspicion is that John had him killed. And shortly after that, John dies off stage having been poisoned by a monk -- and act for which we have not been prepared by William Shakespeare. In the end, John is a powerful man who must struggle with his conscience, and who doesn't quite succeed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    And oftentimes excusing of a fault Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse King John is normally regarded as one of Shakespeare’s earliest and weakest history plays. The plot mainly concerns the king’s conflict with France over his legitimacy, since John inherited the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart, even though the late king’s son, Arthur, was alive and well. This leads to a rather silly confrontation between the two powers, in which they try to get the town of Angiers to And oftentimes excusing of a fault Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse King John is normally regarded as one of Shakespeare’s earliest and weakest history plays. The plot mainly concerns the king’s conflict with France over his legitimacy, since John inherited the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart, even though the late king’s son, Arthur, was alive and well. This leads to a rather silly confrontation between the two powers, in which they try to get the town of Angiers to recognize one of them as the true king, which the townsfolk resolutely refuse to do. The warring factions finally decide to just destroy Angiers—presumably for the satisfaction—until they receive the timely recommendation to marry the prince of France to the princess of England, thus uniting their houses. This is done, and succeeds in suppressing the conflict for about five minutes, until a Cardinal stirs up the war again (which leads to some notable anti-Catholic blasts from Shakespeare). Compared to Shakespeare’s more mature works, the characters in this play are mostly stiff and lifeless, with far less individualizing marks than we expect from the master of characterization. As Harold Bloom says, at this point Shakespeare was very much under the influence of Christophe Marlowe, and follows that playwright in his inflated, bombastic speeches. I admit that the swollen rhetoric often had me laughing, especially during the first confrontation between the English and French parties. The pathetic and spiteful King John is somewhat more interesting, if not more lovable, than the rest, but the real star is Philip Faulconbridge (later Richard Plantaganet), the bastard son of Richard the Lionheart, and the only immediately recognizable Shakespearean character. As with Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona, it is a relief and a delight whenever Philip appears onstage. As far as notable quotes go, this play is the source of our phrase “gild the lily,” though it misquotes the play, which goes: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.” Also notable is this description of grief for a lost child, which many surmise expressed Shakespeare’s grief for his own deceased son, Hamnet, though this is pure speculation: Grief fills the room up of my absent child Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, Remembers me of his gracious parts, Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form

  10. 5 out of 5

    João Fernandes

    I went to see this play at the Shakespeare Globe a few months ago, and I've been meaning to read it ever since. It was the first time I saw a performance of a Shakespearian play and it was incredible, I mean everyone left with a pleasantly bewildered look on their face. Of course, this play doesn't even come close to the double tetralogy of the War of the Roses. It is no Richard II or Henry V, but it is still an intelligent play. The Life and Death of King John is a play that touches on the issue I went to see this play at the Shakespeare Globe a few months ago, and I've been meaning to read it ever since. It was the first time I saw a performance of a Shakespearian play and it was incredible, I mean everyone left with a pleasantly bewildered look on their face. Of course, this play doesn't even come close to the double tetralogy of the War of the Roses. It is no Richard II or Henry V, but it is still an intelligent play. The Life and Death of King John is a play that touches on the issue of legitimacy. From the hilarious faux Faulcounbridge, who chooses to be a royal bastard over a trueborn son of a knight, to the issue of the succession following Richard Coeur de Lion's death. It is important to note that neither John nor his nephew Arthur have a stronger claim than the other. By the bylaws of the late medieval era Arthur, as the son of the eldest brother, succeeds over his father's younger brother. But in the 12th century succession wasn't as straightforward, and John is not necessarily an usurper, only becoming an anti-hero due to the treatment and death of Arthur - which didn't even occur directly by his order. Surprisingly, evil King John is not evil at all. Robin Hood does a great job dissing the guy, but he's actually a morally grey character in this play, mostly because he is shown as a... Protestant hero. How so, you ask? Even though this is a play about kingship in the 1200-1300s, John is shown almost as a Machiavellian prince, who orders the death of an infant to secure his crown, but also avoids bloodshed. Mostly, he is the prototype for the 'king is the divine intermediary of God' principle of Anglicanism. He rejects the Pope's power, and directly attacks the principle behind Indulgences. He was such a Protestant-king wet dream I swear I thought Shakespeare would either invite Elizabeth I to play him or have a scene with him nailing his thesis on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    My junior class performed this for curricular drama class this year! (So I've read it about 50 times) This play was super fun to put on and I'm so thankful for all of my classmates! It actually went way better than I thought it would. (: I played Blanche and was married off for a marriage alliance that I DID NOT WANT haha. I also Stage Managed for this one and helped a ton with lights and sounds. Overall, this was probably the production that I was most involved in and I'm so happy I gained even My junior class performed this for curricular drama class this year! (So I've read it about 50 times) This play was super fun to put on and I'm so thankful for all of my classmates! It actually went way better than I thought it would. (: I played Blanche and was married off for a marriage alliance that I DID NOT WANT haha. I also Stage Managed for this one and helped a ton with lights and sounds. Overall, this was probably the production that I was most involved in and I'm so happy I gained even more skills from it (: It wasn't my fav Shakespeare play out there... but it was entertaining!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I enjoyed this but I now need to read a non-fiction book about King John so I know what happened. At one point I couldn't even tell if England was fighting France (a reasonable assumption) or if they were fighting a common enemy (much less reasonable). I didn't exactly figure out what happened there.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zachary F.

    And oftentimes excusing of a fault Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse, As patches set upon a little breach Discredit more in hiding of the fault Than did the fault before it was so patch'd. -Act 4, Scene 2 Anyone who believes that artistic genius is an innate characteristic, the kind of trait a person is born with rather than one they develop and grow into, should try reading Shakespeare’s plays chronologically. That’s what I’ve been doing very gradually over the last few years, and, while And oftentimes excusing of a fault Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse, As patches set upon a little breach Discredit more in hiding of the fault Than did the fault before it was so patch'd. -Act 4, Scene 2 Anyone who believes that artistic genius is an innate characteristic, the kind of trait a person is born with rather than one they develop and grow into, should try reading Shakespeare’s plays chronologically. That’s what I’ve been doing very gradually over the last few years, and, while the endeavor hasn’t lessened my love of Shakespeare or my belief in his standing as one of the greatest voices in English literature, it has made me acutely aware of just how often the Bard stumbled as he picked his way towards greatness. King John might just be the biggest of those stumblings I’ve encountered so far. Whereas other weak plays can at least rely on their humor ( The Two Gentlemen of Verona , The Comedy of Errors ) or their thought-provoking character clashes ( Richard II , The Taming of the Shrew ) or even just their pure, bloody spectacle ( Titus Andronicus ) to keep up the reader/viewer’s interest, King John has almost nothing to prop it up but the language itself—and even that isn’t up to the standard set by Will’s best work. The characters are dull and ill-defined, the action arbitrary and hard to follow, the dialogue self-indulgent and ornate no matter the situation. For almost the first time since beginning this project I found myself actively annoyed by the play and its characters, and it was only the unintentional silliness of some of the scenes and the poetry of even Shakespeare’s poorest verse that kept me engaged at all by the end. Elsewhere, Shakespeare tells us that some are born great. Maybe that’s true on occasion, but most of us, Shakespeare included, have to put in the work. That’s just fine with me—as Will himself knew, a flawed hero is much more compelling than a perfect one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zadignose

    Shakespeare does what Shakespeare does: He demonstrates great insight into human psychology, including capriciousness, hypocrisy, and inconstancy, while giving eloquent voice to rage and despair. The princes are not the principals. The auxiliary characters are the principals, especially Bastard and Constance, while Hubert also adds significantly to the depth of the play's themes. Narratively, it starts somewhat absurdly, and ends rather anti-climactically--and I don't care whether the death of Shakespeare does what Shakespeare does: He demonstrates great insight into human psychology, including capriciousness, hypocrisy, and inconstancy, while giving eloquent voice to rage and despair. The princes are not the principals. The auxiliary characters are the principals, especially Bastard and Constance, while Hubert also adds significantly to the depth of the play's themes. Narratively, it starts somewhat absurdly, and ends rather anti-climactically--and I don't care whether the death of John is staged as a spectacle and treated as a dramatic climax, it's really just a terminus to the play and not particularly tragic in itself. But this is not to slight the play. The play's worth is not in the skeletal framework of its narrative, the interest is not wholly in the question of who will win and who will lose, and it is quite suitable to present history as a series of events that hinge on chance circumstances. Thematically, one of the principal points is to display how shifting and unpredictable alliances, public sympathies, and natural forces can bend our destinies this way and that; dynasties are founded or foundered by fickle fate. Two other interesting thematic threads are: how commodity overthrows integrity, and the question of whether physical attractiveness equates to nobility of spirit while ugliness accords with baseness. Bastard gives voice to the play's outrage at the dishonor of commodity (i.e., material gain's triumph over honor): "That smooth-fac'd gentleman, tickling commodity,--Commodity, the bias of the world; The world, who of itself is peised well, Made to run even upon even ground, Till this advantage, this vile-drawing bias, This sway of motion, this commodity, Makes it take head from all indifferency, From all direction, purpose, course, intent: And this same bias, this commodity, This bawd, this broker, this all-changing word, Clapp'd on the outward eye of fickle France, Hath drawn him from his own determin'd aid, From a resolv'd and honourable war, To a most base and vile-concluded peace." George Orwell saw in this a fair reflection of the political realities of his own world in 1942, and so of course I see in it a reflection of our world today as well, as this is presumably timeless. But in typical Shakespearean fashion, though Bastard is prompted to think and speak cynically... "Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail, And say, There is no sin but to be rich; And being rich my virtue then shall be, To say, There is no vice but beggary: Since kings break faith upon commodity, Gain, be my lord!--for I will worship thee." ... yet Bastard is uncorrupt in act, as he is the one who chose the opposite, giving up material gain and security in favor of honor. Regarding the virtue of beauty, the play's perspective at first appears ambivalent, seeming to endorse it in word, but subtexually undermining the same, particularly through Hubert, more noble in deed than King John yet singled out for the cruelest of assignments because his rough appearance suggests--wrongly--that he is cruel. He's not the only example, but he's the most prominent. Along the way, Shakespeare engages is his accustomed wit, including punning seamen for semen, and contriving a couple of contrasting dilemmas, one in which a city must choose the rightful king by observing a war and naming the winner--thus the winner will be their champion--and a new-married princess who must choose sides between those she loves--thus the winner in their conflict will be her hated enemy. Of Shakespeare's other plays that I've read, this most directly reminds me of King Lear and Richard II.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Rollins

    Once again my claim to have read the entire Shakespearean canon comes up short. I do not remember having read this before but then again I am getting old. I am not sure what I would do without out my DK Kings and Queens of England and Scotland. This play is quite confusing with all kinds of hangers-on and bastards, none of whom seem to be threatening and yet King John is threatened on every side especially by the French(as usual for the Plantagenets.) As A.A. Milne says, "King John was not a Once again my claim to have read the entire Shakespearean canon comes up short. I do not remember having read this before but then again I am getting old. I am not sure what I would do without out my DK Kings and Queens of England and Scotland. This play is quite confusing with all kinds of hangers-on and bastards, none of whom seem to be threatening and yet King John is threatened on every side especially by the French(as usual for the Plantagenets.) As A.A. Milne says, "King John was not a good man." He doesn't seem to be particularly bad (by Plantagenet standards which are pretty low) except when he is ordering poor Arthur's eyes burned out. 2017 Update on Arkangel recording: It was excellent, but it does help to have a print copy to keep everyone straight.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    I understand this isn't a favorite among Shakespeare fanatics, but I happened to like this over his other histories that I have read. For starters, I actually knew who the title character was before reading this play or looking him up afterwords. I also liked this play because Robin Hood wasn't in this nor was he even mentioned. You know, not everything King John related has to be stolen by Robin Hood's charm. If your looking for play that is about Robin Hood, the Magna Carta, or Richard the I understand this isn't a favorite among Shakespeare fanatics, but I happened to like this over his other histories that I have read. For starters, I actually knew who the title character was before reading this play or looking him up afterwords. I also liked this play because Robin Hood wasn't in this nor was he even mentioned. You know, not everything King John related has to be stolen by Robin Hood's charm. If your looking for play that is about Robin Hood, the Magna Carta, or Richard the Lionheart, look elsewhere.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    somewhere between 3 and 4 - say 3 1/2 Who King john was (History behind the play) John was the youngest child of King Henry II (ruled 1154-1189) and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry and Eleanor had six other children (plus another son who died in infancy): - The first male heir, Henry “the young king”, who Henry II actually caused to be crowned King of England in 1170. This Henry is considered a titular king only, since Henry II continued as the recognized ruler throughout his son’s “reign”, which somewhere between 3 and 4 - say 3 1/2 Who King john was (History behind the play) John was the youngest child of King Henry II (ruled 1154-1189) and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry and Eleanor had six other children (plus another son who died in infancy): - The first male heir, Henry “the young king”, who Henry II actually caused to be crowned King of England in 1170. This Henry is considered a titular king only, since Henry II continued as the recognized ruler throughout his son’s “reign”, which ended in 1183 with the “young king’s” death. - Matilda, who married Henry Duke of Saxony and was the mother of Emperor Otto IV - The second male heir, Richard, who when Henry II died in 1189 assumed the crown as Richard I “Lionheart” (1189-1199) - The third male heir, Geoffrey, who became Duke of Brittany, and died before his father, in 1186. Geoffrey and his first wife, Constance of Brittany, had a son, Prince Arthur of Brittany. Remember him. - Eleanor, who married Alfonso VIII, King of Castile. - Joanna, who had two husbands, the first William II, King of Sicily. - The fourth male heir, John. This is a history. So let’s review the history leading up to King John’s reign. Here’s an overview of the prior two kings of England: Henry II, John’s father, and Richard I, his brother.(view spoiler)[ Henry II was one of the more accomplished monarchs of the middle ages. He had his faults of course (only saints didn’t), but he read books, seemed to care about the common people, and was concerned about getting England to function as a system governed by laws (at least compared to his predecessor, Stephen). When Henry II ascended to the throne in 1154, he held dominion over what has been called an ‘Atlantic empire’ (of the Angevin Empire). This included parts a Wales, a small part of Ireland, and a whole lot of territory in France. Some of the French territory became his by virtue of his marriage to Eleanor. Most of it had come under English control earlier, and included basically the entire western half of France except for Brittany. In 1169 Henry made plans to divide up this kingdom among his sons. “Henry the Young King was to take Normandy, England and Anjou; Richard was to have the duchy of Aquitaine, his mother’s lands; Geoffrey was to hold Brittany as the vassal of the Young King … John was excluded from the equation.” (PC, 125) In 1173 the young Henry, along with John and the other brothers, rebelled against these plans, with their mother’s support. A plot was hatched with Louis VII of France. Henry was able to defeat these machinations within a year. But, Winston Churchill writes in his history that Henry’s sons were “typical sprigs of the Angevin stock. They wanted power and well as titles, and they bore their father no respect.” (HESP, 213) So, in various combinations and with varying, though slight, degrees of success, the sons rebelled against Henry three more times in the over the next several years, right up until Henry’s death in 1189 – always with the support of both Eleanor and either Louis VII or his successor (from 1180) Phillip II. Henry had a forgiving spirit, and seemed to treat these rebellions as simple instances of “boys will be boys”. In later years, however, he seemed to throw most of his hopes towards his youngest son John. But when Henry II finally was defeated by the last rebellion against him at Le Mans in 1188, he found among the list on conspirators John’s name also, and “he abandoned the struggle for life.” (HESP, 214) Richard, the eldest surviving heir, attended his father’s corpse at Fontevrault Abbey, shed hardly a tear, and became King. Of course Phillip II wasted no time in turning Richard, his former ally against Henry, into a new adversary. Of course! It was now Richard who was the ruler of England and the western half of France. But while this new relationship between them began heating up, Richard made clear that he had no immediate interest in these petty struggles, because … In 1187 Jerusalem had been taken by the army of Saladin, ending the so-called First Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been established at the conclusion of the First Crusade in 1099. Churchill says, “The shock … resounded throughout Europe… [The Pope’s] legates traversed the Courts enjoining peace among Christians and war against the infidel … The kings of France and England agreed upon a joint Crusade.” (Though in the case of Philip & Henry, they didn’t stop fighting.) (HESP, 227) Soon after Richard I had ascended to the English throne, he resolved to fulfill this promise made by his father. In 1190, before leaving for the Holy Land, “he bound his brother John not to enter England while he was away and declared his nephew Arthur [of Brittany] his heir.” (OX, 159) Phillip II resolved to fulfill his crusading oath also, though one senses that he had far more interest in affairs closer to Paris. At any rate, they set out more or less together, and spent the first winter in Sicily, bickering about this and that - including in particular Richard’s decision to marry Berengaria of Navarre, breaking off his long-standing betrothal to Philip's half-sister Alys. In the spring of 1191 they left Sicily separately for the Holy Land. Richard’s legendary adventures on the Third Crusade cemented his place in the history of Europe. For example, when Richard arrived at the siege of Acre, in June 1191, he immediately took charge of construction of siege engines (Wiki 1), which reduced the fortress such that a month later it surrendered. Shortly afterwards, Phillip II left the Holy Land for France, partially because of ill-health but also because of incessant quarrels with Richard. In the fall, and winter of 1191-92, various leaders of the Crusader forces, and two adversaries for leadership of the “Kingdom of Jerusalem”, were involved in various disputes, with reasons not only connected to local events, but also stretching back to things taking place in Europe. (What else would be expected of these “leaders”, always looking out for their own interests?) The third Crusade was only partially successful. Later in 1192 news reached Richard that Phillip II and his brother John were again making trouble in his French provinces. Anxious to get back, Richard concluded in September an agreement with Saladin which allowed unarmed Christians to enter Jerusalem, while the Muslims would remain in control of the city. (view spoiler)[This section is largely based on Wiki 2. (hide spoiler)] In October Richard left the Holy Land for Europe. The ship he traveled on with a few retainers was wrecked, and he set out across Central Europe by land. In December he was arrested and imprisoned by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, for offenses he had committed to Austria in the Holy Land. A few months later Leopold handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, who viewed Richard as a cash cow and demanded 150,000 marks as ransom. This ransom was raised largely through the efforts of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, by taxes and confiscation of church treasuries. While it was one its way to being delivered, Henry VI was approached with a counter-offer by John and Philip: 80,000 marks to simply hold Richard captive until Michaelmas of 1194. This offer the emperor turned down, and Richard was released in February of 1194. Philip sent John a message: “Have a care - the Devil is unloosed.” (HESP, 236) The warning was unnecessary. When Richard returned to his realms, he forgave John, and in fact named him as his successor, changing his mind about his nephew Arthur. Well, let’s wrap this up. Richard spent his remaining years uninterested in England, except as a source of funds for his struggles defending his “empire” on the continent against Philip. In 1199, Richard was apprised that a treasure had been unearthed near the castle of Chaluz, back in England. Richard hied off to collect this prize. The lord of Chaluz resisted, and as Richard rode around the castle, a bolt from a crossbow struck him in the shoulder by his neck. Churchill relates,Gangrene set in … He arranged his affairs … declared his brother John to be his heir, and made all present to swear fealty to him. He ordered the archer who had shot the fatal bolt … to be brought before him. He pardoned him, and made him a gift of money … now he received the offices of the Church with sincere and exemplary piety, and died in the forty-second year of his age on April 6, 1199 … The archer was flayed alive. (HESP, 240-41) (hide spoiler)] The play Just a few comments here. My Introduction says that the source of the play is a 1591 play printed in two parts called The Troublesome Reign of John King of England … (the title going on and on and on). Shakespeare changed the dialogue entirely, with the exception of a few phrases and a single line, “but followed the plot very closely and repeated the episodes in the same order”. The character of the Bastard is compared to both Edmund in King Lear and to Falstaff… “he is an important character in the development of Shakespeare’s art. Hitherto Shakespeare had treated history very seriously … In King John he successfully thrusts a comic character into the highest scenes of the play.” In conclusion, the Intro says, “… it is not a great play; for indeed the reign of John Plantagenet, though exceedingly troublesome, was not well suited for a play of any kind.” I’m currently reading my second history, Richard II. In that Intro, it’s stated that “Shakespeare here presents history “the personal conflict of two individuals”. When I read that, I immediately thought back to King John, the next history Shakespeare wrote after Richard II. We can see the a similar theme in King John, where the two individuals are in fact two mothers. Queen Elinor (that is Eleanor of Aquitaine), King John’s mother; and Constance (that is, Constance of Brittany), the mother of Arthur, King John’s nephew, both of whom promote their sons as the rightful king. Because of course Philip, the King of France (another leading character in the play), who had allied with John against Richard way back when Richard was in the Holy Land, became John’s antagonist once John himself became lord over England’s French dominions. And the instrument Philip used in this conflict was John’s nephew Arthur, and the promotion of Arthur, by his mother, as the rightful king of England, Arthur being the issue of John’s older brother Geoffrey. (Got all that?) Why did Shakespeare write this play? The reign of King John occurred four hundred years prior to the Elizabethan age of Shakespeare’s time. None of the other monarchs he portrayed reigned more than about half that far in the past. Students of history remember King john for only one thing. It was King John who was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which is now enshrined as an almost holy document in the history of England, and of modern Western society. But in Shakespeare’s time, the Magna Carta was seldom mentioned in England. And in his play it is not mentioned at all! The signing of this document plays no part whatsoever in the story. I thought the play was sort of an up and down affair. Parts of it interested me a lot, from a purely historical point of view. But I also sensed that most readers, and myself also at times, would just not care much about the events and people portrayed. References for the historical spoiler: HESP - History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. I The Birth of Britain. PC - The Plantagenet Chronicles OX - The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy Wiki 1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_C... Wiki 2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    The Life and Death of King John is a very good play. It's similar to my recently reviewed Richard II in that there are no outright heroes or villains; it is instead a play about fallible men attempting to control events that are beyond their capacity. The central character is King John. Not unintelligent but not a good king. He's unable to command the respect of his nobles, and even his villainies are small-minded and weak. Compare his treatment of Arthur with Richard III's treatment of his The Life and Death of King John is a very good play. It's similar to my recently reviewed Richard II in that there are no outright heroes or villains; it is instead a play about fallible men attempting to control events that are beyond their capacity. The central character is King John. Not unintelligent but not a good king. He's unable to command the respect of his nobles, and even his villainies are small-minded and weak. Compare his treatment of Arthur with Richard III's treatment of his nephews. Both kings order their deaths, yet John rues his order when his barons protest and recants. And then the coward blames his henchman Hubert for the "misunderstanding." (It's pointless in the end as Arthur throws himself from the battlements of the castle where he's incarcerated.) The most interesting part is that of Richard Plantagenet, the bastard son of Richard I (a wholly fictitious character). He's brave, resourceful, intelligent, pragmatic and an English patriot. Clearly the only thing keeping him from the throne is the fact that he was born on the wrong side of the sheets. What prevents him from being a shining hero like Henry V is his pragmatism. While his bravery and wisdom are unquestioned, he has a hard-headed streak of cynicism that makes it difficult to believe he has the introspection to make the soul-searching soliloquy about the burdens of kingship that Henry does in Henry V Act IV, scene ii. Despite that, Richard does get the final word in a patriotic speech the equal of Gaunt's in Richard II and Henry's St. Crispin's Day lines: O, let us pay the time but needful woe, / Since it hath been beforehand with our griefs. / This England never did, nor never shall, / Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, / But when it first did help to wound itself. / Now these her princes are come home again, / Come the three corners of the world in arms, / And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue, / If England to itself do rest but true. The real villain of the play is the papal legate, Cardinal Pandulf, whose first appearance in Act III shatters the fragile, new-minted peace between France and England. Later he encourages the dauphin Louis to pursue his claim to the English throne (through his marriage to Blanche of Castile) when Arthur is captured, only to abandon him when the Pope gets what he wants - John's submission to papal suzerainty. An undeservedly neglected play, I would recommend King John strongly.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)

    This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews. In a sentence: Poor man’s Richard III. More elaborate description: John’s a carbon copy of Richard and it felt hilarious to see it like that. Richard III was published in 1591 and King John went out in 1595. To me, it just felt like an attempt to recapture what he had done with that. It just came out weak and reminding me constantly of a better play. It was also super confusing. I couldn’t get down characters or the plot. Maybe because I don’ This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews. In a sentence: Poor man’s Richard III. More elaborate description: John’s a carbon copy of Richard and it felt hilarious to see it like that. Richard III was published in 1591 and King John went out in 1595. To me, it just felt like an attempt to recapture what he had done with that. It just came out weak and reminding me constantly of a better play. It was also super confusing. I couldn’t get down characters or the plot. Maybe because I don’t know the history as well as I’d like. Maybe because things just weren’t well stated. Maybe because it went off and did its own thing despite history. Language was beautiful, everything else was lacking.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mitchell

    Fourth time reading this play. It never had much of an impact on me but now I see it as a cross between the early tetralogy of history plays (Henry VI, parts 1,2 & 3 and Richard III) and the later, glorious tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V). There is the satirical delight in exposing the raw mechanics of power-grabbing and political manipulation that you see in the earlier plays. There is wicked humor reminiscent of the best of Richard III. But there is a subtler Fourth time reading this play. It never had much of an impact on me but now I see it as a cross between the early tetralogy of history plays (Henry VI, parts 1,2 & 3 and Richard III) and the later, glorious tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V). There is the satirical delight in exposing the raw mechanics of power-grabbing and political manipulation that you see in the earlier plays. There is wicked humor reminiscent of the best of Richard III. But there is a subtler comment on the world that comes from the mouth of Falconbridge, mostly referred to as the Bastard. His clear-eyed yet enthusiastic embrace of the cynical side of politics is refreshing in a world of people more used to expressing themselves in pious circumlocution. I find it interesting that in many Shakespeare plays, especially in the tragedies and histories, the last lines are usually given to the highest born who is still living. In this play, although there are princes and dauphins aplenty, The Bastard gets the last word.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Max

    The thing about King John that I'm not finding overtly discussed in the criticisms of the play (that I've read) is that it's essentially a comedy. Shakespeare takes a rote plot about regal machinations and twists it by creating the character of the Bastard Faulconbridge, a witty creation who comments on the action from his pragmatist's perspective. I really do think Shakespeare is going for satire here, and if you can read it as such, the play is well worth it. The mother of a usurped prince The thing about King John that I'm not finding overtly discussed in the criticisms of the play (that I've read) is that it's essentially a comedy. Shakespeare takes a rote plot about regal machinations and twists it by creating the character of the Bastard Faulconbridge, a witty creation who comments on the action from his pragmatist's perspective. I really do think Shakespeare is going for satire here, and if you can read it as such, the play is well worth it. The mother of a usurped prince shows up and her histrionics inspire not pathos but rather the amusements of hyperbole. The play is wordy, and much about the subtleties of argument. Modern audiences tend to reject it because it lacks a central character. John is wishy-washy, and none of his cohorts are worth rooting for. But still-- played with an ear for its humorous subtext, the Bastard can salvage this business. I know the play works because I want to read it more. I want to study it. I want to get inside its motivations. King John is a strangely funny little play.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Suzannah

    Today, the reign of John Plantagenet is famous for two things: Robin Hood and the Magna Carta. You will not hear a whisper of either thing in this play. Historically, "the greatest knight" William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, fought on John's behalf and ultimately conquered the rebel barons. You will not see much of him either, and he does not appear in anything that resembles his historical role. The plot revolves around Arthur Plantagenet, John's nephew via his elder brother Geoffrey. As the son Today, the reign of John Plantagenet is famous for two things: Robin Hood and the Magna Carta. You will not hear a whisper of either thing in this play. Historically, "the greatest knight" William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, fought on John's behalf and ultimately conquered the rebel barons. You will not see much of him either, and he does not appear in anything that resembles his historical role. The plot revolves around Arthur Plantagenet, John's nephew via his elder brother Geoffrey. As the son of an older brother, the eight-year-old Arthur is a prior heir to the English crown, and his mother Constance has forged an alliance with the French king to put him on the throne which his uncle has claimed. When John manages to shake Arthur's French support and captures the boy himself, he decides to have the young prince murdered. But rumours of Arthur's death horrify the English nobles into abandoning John and supporting Prince Louis of France's claim on the throne instead. Like many of Shakespeare's less-known plays, King John has some real shortcomings. Many of these characters are very bad at decision-making. Prince Arthur is not only too stupid to live, but he's also insufferably precious. In hindsight, I realise that everything I know about this play comes from Victorian popular culture, and it's no surprise to learn that the play was incredibly popular in the nineteenth century. The Victorians loved a good medieval pageant, especially one with a touching and angelic mother character, and the scene in which Arthur pleads with his jailer not to put out his eyes was a huge hit for them. Reader, I had trouble keeping a straight face. (Read my detailed review at Vintage Novels)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lukas Sotola

    Telling a much-condensed version of the story of the tumultuous reign of King John of England (who historically was the king forced to sign the Magna Carta), this has never been one of Shakespeare’s most well-regraded works. One must concede that it has hardly a dull moment and could make for an enjoyable theatrical experience. The Bastard of Faulconbridge is a worthy Shakespearean character, with something approaching an interior life and a sense of humor, and Constance’s fierce fight for her Telling a much-condensed version of the story of the tumultuous reign of King John of England (who historically was the king forced to sign the Magna Carta), this has never been one of Shakespeare’s most well-regraded works. One must concede that it has hardly a dull moment and could make for an enjoyable theatrical experience. The Bastard of Faulconbridge is a worthy Shakespearean character, with something approaching an interior life and a sense of humor, and Constance’s fierce fight for her son, Arthur’s, claim to the English throne, is compelling if somewhat repetitive. Aside from that, it is mostly unremarkable among the Bard’s oeuvre. While there are a few memorable lines, the speeches in this play tend to be tedious rather than eloquent, and there is little in the way of interesting political or human themes. While this was entertaining, it is mostly of interest for its place in Shakespeare’s developing skill as a dramatist.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caught Between Pages

    This is more of an accurate play-by-play than an aestheticised representation of history (like other Shakespearean histories. I don't think it worked in its favor. More than anything, I'm confused by (view spoiler)[Arthur (hide spoiler)] 's character. He died by suicide, but I couldn't piece together his motivation. Oh well. One play closer to crossing an item off my bucket list.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    There are some good scenes and speeches but I’ve had enough of France and England bickering about who is the rightful heir to which ever throne. It’s just sort of meh to me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ben Smitthimedhin

    I was really close with this one. I figured I would quit after realizing that I was at the last Act and still didn't know what was going on.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Saw my first SHAKESPEARE performance at the RSC Swann Theatre, that surely counts for something right?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Acosta-Fox

    Underrated; reads like a very contemporary take on politics.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Heather Blair

    I love Shakespeare. I've probably read both The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing a half a dozen times each, if not more. But...I never read any of the histories. I confess, I thought they'd be dull, or at least too hard to follow(all those bloodlines!) A friend of mine recently expressed amazement at this and told me the histories are his favorites. Listening to him wax on, I decided, what the hell? I'd give it a go. Damn, am I glad I did. This is the first of the histories and per the general I love Shakespeare. I've probably read both The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing a half a dozen times each, if not more. But...I never read any of the histories. I confess, I thought they'd be dull, or at least too hard to follow(all those bloodlines!) A friend of mine recently expressed amazement at this and told me the histories are his favorites. Listening to him wax on, I decided, what the hell? I'd give it a go. Damn, am I glad I did. This is the first of the histories and per the general consensus, seems most folks think it's the worst. I loved it. I mean, we all know King John is evil. (Magna Carta aside—which incidentally is never mentioned in this play—if you've watched any version of Robin Hood, you know that much). But it's HOW deliciously, nasty evil the SOB is that intrigued me. This play has lots of whiplash, France and England are going to slaughter each other, no wait, they're going to slaughter Algiers, no wait, they're going to get married and everything will be rosy. Then comes the Church & fucks that all up. lol Yes, I did have a bit of trouble keeping track of who is who at first and how they are related, but I kept a family tree beside me and by 50% I was pretty tight. My favorite character was the Bastard of Richard the Lionheart, he had a lot of LOL lines that had me rolling. Then the Queens were a lot of claws-out fun. And poor Hugh....! On to Richard II for me!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    “King John” is often overlooked when one reads Shakespeare, and it should not be, as it has some great things to add to the canon. By the way, I give "King John" a 3.5 star rating compared to other Shakespeare, not to literature as a whole. The Bard is in a class of his own. The Pelican series edition of this play has a very nice introduction by Claire McEachern in which she gives an informative discourse on the character of Philip the Bastard. Although Philip usually gets all the critical “King John” is often overlooked when one reads Shakespeare, and it should not be, as it has some great things to add to the canon. By the way, I give "King John" a 3.5 star rating compared to other Shakespeare, not to literature as a whole. The Bard is in a class of his own. The Pelican series edition of this play has a very nice introduction by Claire McEachern in which she gives an informative discourse on the character of Philip the Bastard. Although Philip usually gets all the critical attention in this piece my favorite character is Constance, sister in law to King John and the mother of John’s rival for the English throne. Act III:1 give Constance a chance to really show her stuff. She has some blistering moments, and Act III as a whole is by far the most engaging and strongest in the play. Constance’s exit from the piece is her best scene and Shakespeare writes a grieving mother’s storm of emotions as strongly as in any of his other works. At its core “King John” is really a play about the medieval issues brought about by “Pope v. Prince” and how secular and religious power used each other for gain. You can almost feel Shakespeare’s Protestant Elizabethan audience hissing at the machinations of the Catholic villain Cardinal Pandulph as he manipulates the French and English royal powers in some of the plays most intriguing scenes. Another fine moment is Act III:3 when King John and Hubert share a conversation that is delicious in its duplicity, and all of it achieved with minimal words. Despite a weak Act V (the only reason I feel this is not a 4 star effort by Shakespeare) the play ends on a patriotic note, sounding a clarion call for Englishmen to always unite in common cause. One can see how “King John” was an early indication of Shakespeare’s skill and why it still endures. As for the Pelican Shakespeare series, they are my favorite editions as the scholarly research is usually top notch and the editions themselves look good as an aesthetic unit. It looks and feels like a play and this compliments the text's contents admirably. The Pelican series was recently reedited and has the latest scholarship on Shakespeare and his time period. Well priced and well worth it.

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