King John

King John

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The play was in existence by 1598, since it is mentioned by Francis Meres in his list of Shakespearean plays published in that year; however, no early performances are recorded. Indeed, the earliest known performance took place in 1737, when John Rich staged a production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. In 1745, in the atmosphere of the [1]

The Life and Death of King John is one of the Shakespearean histories, plays written by William Shakespeare and based on the history of England. The play dramatizes the reign of King John of England (reigned 1199–1216), son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and father of Henry III of England.

The play was first published in the First Folio in 1623.

Shakespeare's play possesses a close relationship with an earlier history play, The Troublesome Reign of King John (ca. 1589). The consensus among modern scholars is that the earlier play provided a source and model for Shakespeare's work.



The play opens with a demand from the French King Phillip for King John to abdicate in favor of his nephew Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, son of his elder brother Geoffrey. The five acts then depict a dizzying change of alliances, a Papal excommunication and subsequent acceptance, and the play ends finally with King John's slow death after apparent poisoning at the hands of a monk.

Throughout the play, a character known as "The Bastard" delivers a sceptical commentary on nobility, "commodity" (self-interest) and English sovereignty.

It is sometimes considered odd that the Magna Carta is never mentioned in the play, since this is what King John is best remembered for today. However, the Magna Carta was considered in Shakespeare's time, "not as a triumph for liberty, but rather as a shameful attempt to weaken the central monarchy."[2] Also, the focus of the play is on the quarrel over the succession, and Shakespeare would not have thought the Magna Carta relevant to his story. Despite this, it was common for Victorian productions of the play to interpolate a spectacular tableau of the signing of the Magna Carta into the middle of the play.


In the Victorian era, King John was one of Shakespeare's most frequently staged plays, in part because of the opportunities it offers for spectacle and pageantry that suited the style of the Victorian stage. However, the play has now dropped in popularity to the extent that it is one of Shakespeare's least-known plays and stagings of it are very rare.


  • King John
  • Prince Henry, son to the King (the future Henry III)
  • Arthur, Duke of Britain, nephew to the King (Arthur I, Duke of Brittany)
  • Earl of Pembroke (William Marshal)
  • Earl of Essex (Geoffrey Fitz Peter)
  • Lord Bigot
  • Hubert de Burgh
  • Robert Faulconbridge, son of Sir Robert Faulconbridge
  • Philip the Bastard, his half-brother (also called Richard)
  • James Gurney, servant to Lady Faulconbridge
  • Peter of Pomfret, a prophet
  • Philip, King of France (Philip II of France)
  • Louis, the Dauphin (future Louis VIII of France)
  • Lymoges, Duke of Austria (represents Leopold of Austria who captured Richard in his domains, Henry VI of Germany who exacted a ransom for Richard's return, and Viscount Aimar V of Limoges whom Richard was besieging when he was killed.
  • Cardinal Pandolph, the legate of Pope Innocent III.
  • Melune, a French Lord
  • Chatillion, ambassador from France to King John
  • Queen Elinor, widow of Henry II, mother to King John (Eleanor of Aquitaine)
  • Constance, widow of Geffrey (John's elder brother), mother to Arthur (Constance, Duchess of Brittany).
  • Blanch of Spain, daughter to King of Castile, niece to King John (Blanche of Castile)
  • Lady Faulconbridge, widow of Sir Robert Faulconbridge
  • Lords, heralds, etc.


  1. ^ F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; pp. 264-65.
  2. ^ Irving Ribner, The Complete Pelican Shakespeare 1981 p. 175.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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