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The Life and Death of King John

3.30  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,275 Ratings  ·  183 Reviews
Edited by the eminent A.R. Braunmuller, this thorough edition of King John--the first scholarly edition in almost fifteen years--makes a significant contribution to the study of Shakespeare's works. Braunmuller offers a wide-ranging critical introduction, which focuses on the play's political relevance in Elizabethan England, its relationship to legal issues of the day, it ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 3rd 1989 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1595)
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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 dr
...more
Ted
Apr 14, 2016 Ted rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, have, elizabethan
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
...more
David Sarkies
Jul 29, 2015 David Sarkies rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shakespeare tragics
Recommended to David by: It's Shakespeare
Shelves: historical
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 tha
...more
Bram
Dec 29, 2009 Bram rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, the-bard
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 ne ...more
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
...more
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 nephe
...more
Jim
Jun 27, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, reread, shakespeare
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; b
...more
Duffy Pratt
It's hard to believe that I still haven't read all of the plays. This was supposed to be one of the worst, and while it isn't all that good, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. I rather enjoyed the elaborate series of betrayals. I guess if you want to write a play that makes royalty look bad, King John is about as good a subject as you could choose. His court, both for and against him, and some for, then against, and then for him again, look equally bad. And the French and the Church come ...more
AGamarra
Este drama histórico narra la historia del rey Juan recordado más por su apelativo de "Sin Tierra", hermano de Ricardo Corazón de León y heredero de la corona inglesa. De su lado están su madre la Reina Leonor, el príncipe Enrique su hijo y Blanca su sobrina.
Al otro lado están los franceses con su rey Felipe II y su hijo el delfín Luis quien se casará con Blanca en un intento de hacer las paces. La pugna entre ambos bandos pronto explotará causado por las impertinencias en parte del rey Juan con
...more
Libby
There are many people in the world who are intimidated by Shakespeare, namely his archaic language and inestimable impact on literature and the English language. To those, I gleefully point to King John and say, "See? Even Shakespeare had bad days!"

I started reading the play on a plane to San Francisco and was dismayed by my inability to grasp the characters and why things were happening. I mean, this is the King John who was the wicked Prince John from Robin Hood and the king who was convinced
...more
Max
Mar 03, 2010 Max rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, 2010, shakespeare
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 sho ...more
Kevin
Feb 20, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thus begins my reading of the so-called "History" plays of one William Shakespeare. Some I have read before, the others have been put off indefinitely...until now! So let us dive in...at the "beginning". Not the earlier plays that Shakespeare wrote, but rather the first play on a historical chronology: King John.

King John is based on that infamous king of England whose rule was so fantastic the Magna Carta was drafted as a result and King John would forever be the effeminate antagonist of Robin
...more
Matthew
King John is one of Shakespeare's least well-known plays, and there are some good reasons for this. We have seen some of its themes explored to better effect in Richard III, and even the Henry VI plays. Hence if we want a more satisfying account of a usurper who seeks to kill a child who is rightful heir to the throne, we should look to the former play. If we want a more fulsome account of England losing a war against France, we will find it in the latter plays.

The play has other serious faults.
...more
Aditya Mallya
Jan 24, 2014 Aditya Mallya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'King John' perfectly embodies one of the great pleasures of reading a great author's collected writings - the discovery that some of his little-known creations are just as good or sometimes better than his most celebrated works. This is a compelling tale of politics and war - a sort of game of thrones played out in venomously poetic language.

"I had a thing to say, but let it go:
The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
Attended with the pleasures of the world,
Is all too wanton and too full of
...more
Mitchell
Mar 31, 2011 Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 c ...more
Dameon Manuel
Nov 27, 2011 Dameon Manuel rated it really liked it
King John is about the efforts of the eponymous king, a classic anti-hero, in navigating the murky realpolitik of west Europe in the early 1200s. Contending with finicky noblemen at home, enterprising relatives with ambitions of coronation and control, foreign armies, and a heavily influential Vatican, King John is completely overwhelmed. In spite of arguably having the military advantage over his foes, the events around him cause him to behave with irrational brashness, leading to the near-subj ...more
Rebecca
So, technically, I didn't read this play.

I used various study guides, then watched the play performed.

This leads me to theorize about what exactly constitutes fairness when determining if one has actually read a book.

Bear with me a moment.

If I read a book in my mind, then I have read that book.
If I read a book out loud, then I have read that book.
If I am reading with someone else (say a child), and we take turns reading passages out loud, then I have read that book.
If I look at the words while s
...more
Matt
Feb 25, 2012 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shakespeare’s interpretation of King John summarizes the period of John’s reign after the death of Richard I until his poisoning. He works to solidify his authority against the aspirations of his nephew, Arthur, who also claims the crown. Unlike Richard III, John vacillates in his ruthlessness, making him more sympathetic, but also more inept, than Shakespeare’s most infamous king.

The Bastard, a fictional child by Richard I, provides a window into royalty from the audience’s perspective. The ma
...more
Jim Phetterplace
I'd like to call this the actor's monologue play. It seems packed with them. It's a quick read but not a particularly satisfying one. I think many of the critical moments--Arthur persuading Hubert, the followers changing sides--read flat and demand more from the performers than in other plays I've read. This is my first history, so we'll see if that is a common theme.
Abe Goolsby
Apr 07, 2011 Abe Goolsby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not the most memorable of Shakespeare's plays overall, but, as always, there are plenty of morsels to savor. I enjoyed it.

As an interesting aside, I was also working through a commentary on Ecclesiastes at the same time. The events of Act II in this play served as a nice complement to the following passage:

"This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great King against it, and besieged it, and built gre
...more
Elisabeth Bridges
I sort of felt like I was reading "A Comedy of Errors" in history form... I particularly enjoyed the squabbling between two powerful women (seriously, not even the kings of England and France can contain the shade). And the Bastard, of course, is fantastic.





Calf-skin.
Sally
Apr 27, 2015 Sally rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is the first time I've read this play. Its unfamiliarity made it a little difficult to keep the characters straight. Poor Arthur's plaintive entreaties ("Must you put out my eyes with those hot irons, Hubert?") broke my heart.
Christen
Oct 08, 2015 Christen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, classics
I quite liked this play, though I don't know that it's the best of the best. The language seemed rougher to me and the monologues less compelling than in other of the history plays. Yet, I think Shakespeare's mastery of human nature, individual and political, is evident here. The absurdity amused me and I especially liked the Bastard and the Dauphin, Arthur and Hubert. King John and Queen Eleanor where exactly what you might expect from popular representation. I also particularly liked the Basta ...more
Maya Chhabra
May 03, 2016 Maya Chhabra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure this is the right Penguin edition, but--

For one of the less-beloved histories, this was quite funny and entertaining. It was a lot less dull than Henry VI Part I and moved along briskly. The Bastard is a fantastic character and Hubert and John himself both interesting. The supporting characters, from Constance to Arthur to the Dauphin to to Salisbury to Pandulph, are consistently and distinctly characterized.

One thing that I think people miss is that the first half of the play (everythi
...more
Brian
Feb 18, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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 attent
...more
Sarah
Ehh. Okay. Either King John is a really flimsy play or I'm just reading too many histories to be able to switch back and forth between timelines.

So the interesting thing about this play is that it is among the most obscure of Shakespeare's plays. It is rarely cited, performed, or read in a class setting. I think it's a play that has to be truly sought out. And while it does have some of the elements that make Shakespeare who he is metrically and lyrically, it is one of the weakest plays I have
...more
David Bates
Mar 31, 2015 David Bates rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't one of Shakespeare's highly regarded plays, but I like this little mutt. The theme is indecision, with every character making major decisions and then almost instantly going back on them. Constance, the mother of prince Arthur, dies early on from grief (get it? eyeroll). Prince Arthur himself perishes later when, after his would be murderer changes his mind about killing him, after the King who sent the murder had thought better of it, he jumps off a wall trying to escape a castle and ...more
Amanda
Mar 15, 2015 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shakespeare
What a weird play. On one level, very melodramatic and reminiscent of _Richard III_: speeches, mourning, royal concerns. And yet the beginnings of what I love about Shakespeare are here, as well. The Bastard (Falcounbridge) is awesome, fully full of personality and inner workings. Thematically, I love the idea that people are switching sides constantly, and paying for it. Falcounbridge switches from being a Falcounbridge to a Plantagenet, and witnesses the downfall of that family. King John swit ...more
Mary
Jul 16, 2014 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of odd for plotting--there are so many false starts, so many unfulfilled promises, and yet that may be the whole point of it. The Bastard, for a point of inconsistency, begins flippant and detached, but becomes so tied up in the intertwined battles (which are painfully personal, familiar) that he grows solemn and jaded. Constance, too, flares up and fades out of the play, and poor Arthur (spoiler alert) who pleads to elegantly to save his life is dispatched in less than 20 lines by making a ...more
Cheryl
Feb 23, 2014 Cheryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My goal was to read 5 Shakespeare plays that I hadn't studied in school and this was #5. I added it because I had read a tragedy, a comedy, and a couple others and wanted to include one of the history plays. This one made me dizzy! According to the notes, the play compresses 14 years or so of English history into the span of several months, which doesn't help. But the switching of allegiances -- war! peace! war again! King John excommunicated -- then redeemed! All the nobles continually switchin ...more
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William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been tr ...more
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Left to be finished by such as she;
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