Phillip's Reviews > King John

King John by William Shakespeare
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's review
Dec 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: drama

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 brilliant character portraits and psychological development of the characters. King John features little of this psychological development. Structurally it's more like A Midsummer Night's Dream or Twelfth Night, where a lot of stuff happens and it is less that crucial that we know a ton about the individual personalities of the players than that we know some broad character traits. I would say the main theme of King John is the danger of continuously changing policy, and to show this theme Shakespeare gives us a plethora of examples from the reign of King John, and in reality it is not a boring play because the events are mostly wars, murders, and power struggles with the Pope. The only thing I think that keeps this from being a more popular play is the absence of the individual psychological portrait--while all the events have the potential to be interesting, we aren't really invested in any of the characters.

Also, I read this play in a copy of the Collected Works (i.e., not the edition pictured here) and the version I read didn't have any explanatory notes, which was kind of a cool way to read an Elizabethan play. Many people would struggle with reading Shakespeare without explanatory notes, and I know I missed some of the references and richness of the text, but it was a good exercise to not have the notes to lean on, it made me work just a bit harder to figure out on my own what was going on.

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