King John



  • A history play by Shakespeare, written in about 1596;the first recorded performance was a revival staged in 1737. Shakespeareappears to have based his work on an anonymous play called TheTroublesome Raigne of John King of England (1591), although thetrue relationship between the two works is much debated. The wittyand abrasive character of 'Bastard' Faulconbridge was added by Shakespeare,who also toned down the element of anti-Catholic propaganda in theother play. After a long absence from the stage, King John was revivedby Charles Kemble in 1823 and remained a favourite for the rest of the century;it is now seldom seen.

    John's throne appears to be threatened when the claims ofhis young nephew, Arthur of Bretagne, are supported by King Philipof France. After an abortive invasion of France, John arranges tomarry his niece to the Dauphin and cedes Philip some of his minorFrench possessions. However, this fragile peace is shattered whenthe Pope excommunicates John and calls on the French to attack England.When the French army is defeated, Arthur falls into the hands of John,who orders his murder (in the event Arthur dies while escaping fromprison). Assuming that John is responsible for his nephew's death,many of the English nobles desert to the French side. John himself diesof poison administered by a monk.