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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

King John

Setting: 1199-1216 AD

London, England


My really abridged plot summary: We've got some real political intrigue at play here. So: France wants John to abdicate the throne for his young nephew- Arthur, and they threaten #war. John grants lands to "The Bastard" because it is speculated that his dad was Richard the Lionhearted . Philip of France and King John go to war and nobody wins. They team up to conquer the town of Angers. Peace occurs when Philip's son, Louis, marries John's niece, Blanch. At the wedding, an ambassador of the Pope arrives and excommunicates John. Philip breaks his alliance with John (because Catholicism). The English capture Arthur and John orders Hubert to execute him. Arthur's mother, Constance, has a breakdown. Hubert can't do it and fakes Arthur's death, but luckily John changes his mind. Unfortunately, while trying to escape, Arthur fell from a tower and died. Hubert is still accused of killing him by some of the Lords. John makes a deal with Pandolf (the Pope's boi) to reconcile with Rome, if he calls the French army off. Louis still attacks though. A French Lord tells the English troops (who have recently abandoned John) that Louis plans to kill all of them if he wins. John is poisoned by a monk (because he tried to demolish the monasteries) and he dies miserably. Pandolf brings a peace treaty from Louis after his reinforcements were lost at sea. Finally, the Lords and the Bastard swear allegiance to Henry, and this is just the first installment in a long cycle of the Histories.

My favorite quotes:

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale

Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man;

And bitter shame hath spoil'd the sweet world's taste,

That it yields naught but shame and bitterness.

-Lewis, III.iv

Be great in act, as you have been in thought

-Bastard, V.i


  • Overall Impression: 7- This is not my favorite History play, but I think that the story is actually really well-rounded and interesting. It has a nice mix of (potential) comedy, conflict, and politics.

  • Use of Language: 6- I don't think that the poetry in this play really rivals most of Shakespeare's other works. It isn't bad, it just isn't anything super memorable.

  • Protagonist Arc: 8- Something really interesting about this play is that there are arguably two protagonists, John in the first half and the Bastard in the second half. John is an interesting character because the main thing that we associate with him historically is the Magna Carta, but he is not a good guy. He's really honestly a villain in his own story, but not as compelling as Richard III. The Bastard is the protagonist of the second half of the show. King John is no longer the one in power during the second half of the show, he gives military control to the Bastard, so he becomes the power-holder. This makes a really interesting dramatic narrative, but possibly could be one of the reasons directors tend to avoid this show.

  • Female Characters: 7- I was relatively pleasantly surprised by the women in this play. They are not as relevant as I would like, but Constance is really compelling. She is one of the only empathetic characters in this play, and she really goes through it. We also have some great banter between her and John's mother, Queen Elinor. I wish we got more from Blanch.

  • Fits Genre: 9- I thought this was an excellent History, but it is slightly historically inaccurate, but... so are all of the Histories. It is what it is I suppose.

  • Overall Enjoyment: 8- I liked this play, I think political intrigue, especially when the Church gets involved is so interesting. I would recommend it if you like Richard III.

  • Hype Worthy: 8- This play is so underrated. It isn't my favorite History, and it isn't as thematically engrossing as some of his other plays, but I think the storytelling is very effective.

  • Emotional Impact: 7- This is not the most emotionally jarring play, Constance's breakdown after Arthur is kidnapped is honestly pretty gut-wrenching though. Again, the Histories tend to be fairly tragic, they follow the outline of Greek Tragedy with kings falling from grace...

Total: 60/80

Average: 7

*4 out of 5 stars*

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