KING JOHN IS A GOOD PLAY. I had never read King John, and had heard no good things about it. Seeing it confirms my view that lesser Shakespeare plays are good plays. As with the lightly-regarded Titus Andronicus and Henry VI plays, there were lots of vivid scenes, and a complex story line. There were foreshadowings of a number of future plays—Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Lear….A problem that history deals the playwright is that King John was a weak and indecisive king. Another problem for the playwright is that the action of the play (reflecting much of King John’s reign) involves diplomacy, negotiations and betrayals on the part of the English and French kings and the Papal emissary, all of which calls for formal speeches. Shakespeare develops a character from a play he used as a source: the Bastard (a bastard son of Richard the Lionheart). Tony Tanner says that the character has been compared by different critics to Petruchio, Berowne, Mercutio, Autolycus, Jaques, Touchstone, Falstaff and Henry V. The Bastard is a character an audience can identify with, but, as newcomer to the court, he also provides an outsider’s comment on medieval courts.The picture of medieval courts is persuasive—diplomacy leading to broken truces and broken vows. The Bastard’s commentary also solves the problem presented by the heightened rhetoric at the court by undercutting and mocking it. (One aside: ” Zounds! I was never so bethumped with words/ Since I first called my brother’s father dad.” Note the short informal word at the end).

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