King John
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King John

3.27 of 5 stars 3.27  ·  rating details  ·  1,587 ratings  ·  125 reviews
The Arden Shakespeare is the established edition of Shakespeare's work. Justly celebrated for its authoritative scholarship and invaluable commentary, Arden guides you a richer understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's plays.This edition of King John provides, a clear and authoritative text, detailed notes and commentary on the same page as the text, a full introduct...more
Paperback, Second Series, 256 pages
Published October 12th 1967 by Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare (first published December 12th 1941)
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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 ne...more
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
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
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
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
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 c...more
Dameon Manuel
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
Abe Goolsby
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
Mary
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
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
Dan
King John isn't a widely read or performed play, but I'm not sure why. In many ways, the plot looks a lot like Game of Thrones- complicated lines of succession, thrones contested, war, the question of the influence of the Pope, strategic marriages and offspring killed... It features one of the most intensely scary and stressful Shakespearean scenes I've ever read (Act IV, sc. 1, specifically). It also contains some intensely flowery language. A typical response in conversation in Act IV:

Salisbur...more
Jackson Cyril
One of Shakespeare's big underrated plays. I'm surprised that this book isn't studied more often. John and Phillip are both reluctant kings who don't want to fight and choose any option over war, and John especially comes off as an extremely unsavory character who can't inspire loyalty in anyone, and allows his mother too much freedom and power. Constance would actually be a great character if she didn't spend an entire scene crying over her captured (and then dead) son Arthur. The really fascin...more
Aditya Mallya
'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
Salvatore
My favourite era of the Plantagenet reign, especially since it deals with who the hell should and can be king. This play tackles that, as primogeniture was just becoming the fashion, thank you very much Henry II; but the drama is kinda dull - more talk than action, notably the threat of eye-burning/mutilation from Hubert on Arthur. I do enjoy how John is crowned three times (to add to the confusion of who is king), and how characters flip-flop on political points. And the story ends without wrap...more
Don Incognito
My Goodreads friend Mr. Kerwin believes King John is probably Shakespeare's worst play. I suppose it could be, notwithstanding that I've read only between a third and half of Shakespeare's plays; but King John is by no means worthless.Especially if, like me, one reads it only for content and notices the play's artistic features only incidentally.

There is actually one very valuable thing the reader should definitely gain from reading it: an understanding of Shakespeare's political philosophy. Pro...more
Marti Martinson
From a few of the reviews I read, this particular play is not well received. I, however, happen to REALLY like it. I saw it first on the BBC with Leonard Rossiter (famous comedian!) and Claire Bloom (pure class, even when playing a bitch of a mother on "Doc Martin"). This play should only be done in correct period costume: it is grand! All the main characters are easily hateworthy and that is what makes this so fun. I only pity First Citizen, Arthur, and Prince Henry (later Hank the 3rd -- what...more
Jeffrey
This play was mentioned in passing in another book I'm reading in a manner that made it sound interesting. I have read and enjoyed other works by Shakespeare but had not read or seen this one so figured I should give it a quick read. Definitely NOT his best work. Had one good character, but mostly lots of shallow characters doing things that seem very strange as there often seems to be no reason for what they do. Just one scene after another and seems almost like important scenes in between must...more
Catherine  Mustread
A lesser known Shakespeare play with typical condensing of time and action for dramatic effect. The 13th of 38 Shakespeare's plays that I am reading along with the blog.

From The Play's the Thing blog: "The Life and Death of King Johncan be thought of as the chronicle play that got away. Set
in an earlier period of medieval history than the two “tetralogies,” it is even less well known than that other “stand alone” history play,Henry VIII. And despite a vivid life on stage during the nineteenth c...more
§--
It's hard to know how to judge the histories--should we take form into consideration at all, or are they just supposed to be versifications of real events? King John, like Henry VIII, is formally all over the place; but better than Henry VIII in its verses. Does it matter that King John is essentially a soap opera, a plot rollercoaster so dramatic as to seem disorganized? Or should we just be reading it for the little things, for the poetry? I don't know. There are a few brief moments when it be...more
David Grimaud
Though the play is named after King John, it centers on a 13th conflict between the French and English monarchies over "rights" (e.g. Who has the right to the city of Angers? Who has the right to the throne of England?) Rome (the Catholic church, this was before the Church of England) also struggles with both monarchies for its "rights." In fact, this play parallels the events surrounding the competing claims to the throne of Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. (i.e. the passed Henry VIII...more
Marina
The play is about King John, another victim of Shakespeare's unfortunately successful campaign to smear every king of England that wasn't of the House Lancaster (which is funny because the Tudors' claim to that name is flimsy at best).
The titular king John is the son of the famous Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane, herself a character, and an unworthy heir to his hero of a brother, Richard I, Cœur-de-lion.
He attacks the French, makes peace with them, breaks from the church, makes up with the chur...more
Ben Dutton
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Edward
KING JOHN is intermittently interesting as it involves issues of loyalty. John, the English king (yes, the same one who signed the Magna Carta) is trying to hold onto his power against the claims of the French who feel they have equally compelling hereditary and treaty rights. It's historically murky as to who's right. Even within John's family (he was the last son of Eleanor of Aquitaine), there is disagreement. John is pressured, makes some bad decisions (such as ordering the killing of his n...more
Phil
First, I have to acknowledge that this is definitely one of Shakespeare's lesser plays, but it isn't a lesser play because the plot is poorly constructed (like Comedy of Errors, for instance) or the writing is particularly bad. I think it is a lesser play because it is of a very different kind than the major plays. What I mean by that is that when we think of a play like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, or Henry V (any of the major tragedies or history plays), we tend to think of the brill...more
Dorina Hawkes
I know very little about British history. I know very little about French history. So it goes without saying that I know even less about the nations' historical relations to each other.

Having said that, my lack of historical knowledge made reading Shakespeare's King John very difficult. The "who's who" of the story was hard to really catch on to from the historical point of view. As a fiction rather than a history this book was a little more interesting so that was how I had to look at it.

Though...more
Stephen
When I saw that The Life and Death of King John was next on my list, my first thought was, “That’s a play?” I’d never heard of it, nor had a number of my friends. I assumed, correctly, that it was a history, and after dusting some cobwebs out of my brain and rifling through a few catalogs of useless information I had acquired over the years, I was able to recall that King John was the early English King who had put his seal of approval on the Magna Carta. No mean feat.

Some further research into...more
Rachael
The Life and Death of King John (commonly shortened to King John) is one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, especially among his English Histories series. The play is most likely meant to be more of a satire than a tragedy and is filled with tricky turns of phrase and comic relief as provided by the character "Bastard" (also known as Philip Faulconbridge and Richard Plantagenet).

I had just brushed up on this period of English history, so I was aware of who the historical figures portrayed in t...more
Nicholas Whyte
http://nhw.livejournal.com/1111973.html[return][return]I confess I knew nothing at all about this play before last week. It's a somewhat weird meditation on the political process. There is a sort-of viewpoint character, "The Bastard" who is the illegitimate son of John's brother Richard CS�ur de Lion; yet at the same time he consistently argues for a more vigorous and vicious engagement by the English against the French and/or the Pope, including at times when this is obviously a bad idea. So al...more
Núria
Spoilers a destajo.

El Rey Juan es un soso al que otro soso reclama que él tiene más derechos a la corona. Ya la hemos liado. Los dos pretendientes a la corona son bastante calzonazos. Suerte que detrás tienen unas madres que son las que les llevan los pantalones y aportan algo de sal al asunto (aunque esto ya se ha hecho mucho mejor en Coriolano). Pero a media obra las dos madres desaparecen. Quizás en un intento de no ser tan soso, al Rey Juan se le va la pelota y está a punto de provocar un c...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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Romeo and Juliet Hamlet Macbeth A Midsummer Night's Dream Othello

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“He is the half part of a blessed man,
Left to be finished by such as she;
And she a fair divided excellence,
Whose fullness of perfection lies in him. ”
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“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty look, repeats his words,
Remembers me of his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form”
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