Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: William Shakespeare
Editor: Michael Best
Not Peer Reviewed

King John (Modern)


Enter [King] John, Pembroke, Salisbury, and other lords. [King John ascends the throne.]
King John Here once again we sit, once again crowned,
And looked upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.
1720Pembroke This "once again," but that your Highness pleased,
Was once superfluous. You were crowned before,
And that high royalty was ne'er plucked off,
The faiths of men ne'er stainèd with revolt;
Fresh expectation troubled not the land
1725With any longed-for change or better state.
Salisbury Therefore to be possessed with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refinèd gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
1730To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
Pembroke But that your royal pleasure must be done,
1735This act is as an ancient tale new told,
And, in the last repeating, troublesome,
Being urged at a time unseasonable.
Salisbury In this the antique, and well-noted face
Of plain old form is much disfigurèd,
1740And like a shifted wind unto a sail,
It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,
Startles and frights consideration,
Makes sound opinion sick and truth suspected
For putting on so new a fashioned robe.
1745Pembroke When workmen strive to do better than well
They do confound their skill in covetousness,
And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by th'excuse,
As patches set upon a little breach
1750Discredit more in hiding of the fault
Than did the fault before it was so patched.
Salisbury To this effect, before you were new crowned
We breathed our counsel. But it pleased your Highness
To overbear it, and we are all well pleased,
1755Since all, and every part of what we would
Doth make a stand at what your highness will.
King John Some reasons of this double coronation
I have possessed you with, and think them strong.
And more, more strong, than lesser is my fear
1760I shall endue you with. Mean time, but ask
What you would have reformed that is not well,
And well shall you perceive how willingly
I will both hear and grant you your requests.
Pembroke Then I, as one that am the tongue of these
1765To sound the purposes of all their hearts,
Both for myself and them, but chief of all
Your safety, for the which myself and them
Bend their best studies, heartily request
Th'enfranchisement of Arthur, whose restraint
1770Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent
To break into this dangerous argument.
If what in rest you have, in right you hold,
Why then your fears, which, as they say, attend
The steps of wrong, should move you to mew up
1775Your tender kinsman and to choke his days
With barbarous ignorance, and deny his youth
The rich advantage of good exercise.
That the time's enemies may not have this
To grace occasions, let it be our suit
1780That you have bid us ask his liberty,
Which for our goods we do no further ask,
Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,
Counts it your weal he have his liberty.
Enter Hubert.
1785King John Let it be so. I do commit his youth
To your direction. --
Hubert, what news with you?
Pembroke This is the man should do the bloody deed;
He showed his warrant to a friend of mine.
The image of a wicked heinous fault
1790Lives in his eye; that close aspect of his
Does show the mood of a much troubled breast,
And I do fearfully believe 'tis done,
What we so feared he had a charge to do.
Salisbury The color of the King doth come and go
1795Between his purpose and his conscience,
Like heralds 'twixt two dreadful battles set.
His passion is so ripe it needs must break.
Pembroke And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
The foul corruption of a sweet child's death.
1800King John [Coming forward] We cannot hold mortality's strong hand.
Good lords, although my will to give is living,
The suit which you demand is gone and dead.
He tells us Arthur is deceased tonight.
Salisbury Indeed, we feared his sickness was past cure.
1805Pembroke Indeed, we heard how near his death he was
Before the child himself felt he was sick.
This must be answered either here or hence.
King John Why do you bend such solemn brows on me?
Think you I bear the shears of destiny?
1810Have I commandment on the pulse of life?
Salisbury It is apparent foul play, and 'tis shame
That greatness should so grossly offer it.
So thrive it in your game, and so farewell.
Pembroke Stay yet, Lord Salisbury, I'll go with thee
1815And find th'inheritance of this poor child,
His little kingdom of a forcèd grave.
That blood which owned the breadth of all this isle,
Three foot of it doth hold. Bad world the while!
This must not be thus borne, this will break out
1820To all our sorrows, and ere long, I doubt.
Exeunt [Pembroke, Salisbury, and other lords].
King John They burn in indignation. I repent.
There is no sure foundation set on blood,
No certain life achieved by others' death. --
[Enter messenger.]
A fearful eye thou hast. Where is that blood
1825That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks?
So foul a sky clears not without a storm.
Pour down thy weather: how goes all in France?
Messenger From France to England. Never such a power
For any foreign preparation
1830Was levied in the body of a land.
The copy of your speed is learned by them,
For when you should be told they do prepare,
The tidings comes that they are all arrived.
King John O, where hath our intelligence been drunk?
1835Where hath it slept? Where is my Mother's care,
That such an army could be drawn in France
And she not hear of it?
My liege, her ear
Is stopped with dust. The first of April died
1840Your noble mother; and as I hear, my lord,
The Lady Constance in a frenzy died
Three days before, but this from rumor's tongue
I idly heard: if true or false I know not.
King John Withhold thy speed, dreadful Occasion!
1845O, make a league with me 'till I have pleased
My discontented peers. What? Mother dead?
How wildly then walks my estate in France!
Under whose conduct came those powers of France
That thou for truth giv'st out are landed here?
Under the Dauphin.
King John
Thou hast made me giddy
With these ill tidings.
Now, what says the world
To your proceedings? Do not seek to stuff
1855My head with more ill news, for it is full.
Bastard But if you be afeard to hear the worst,
Then let the worst unheard fall on your head.
King John Bear with me cousin, for I was amazed
Under the tide, but now I breathe again
1860Aloft the flood and can give audience
To any tongue, speak it of what it will.
Bastard How I have sped among the clergymen,
The sums I have collected shall express.
But as I traveled hither through the land,
1865I find the people strangely fantasied,
Possesed with rumors, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.
And here's a prophet that I brought with me
From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found
1870With many hundreds treading on his heels,
To whom he sung in rude harsh-sounding rhymes,
That ere the next Ascension Day at noon,
Your Highness should deliver up your crown.
King John Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?
1875Peter Foreknowing that the truth will fall out so.
King John Hubert, away with him. Imprison him,
And on that day at noon whereon he says
I shall yield up my crown, let him be hanged!
Deliver him to safety and return,
1880For I must use thee.
O my gentle cousin,
Hear'st thou the news abroad, who are arrived?
Bastard The French, my lord. Men's mouths are full of it.
Besides, I met Lord Bigot and Lord Salisbury,
With eyes as red as new-enkindled fire,
1885And others more, going to seek the grave
Of Arthur, whom they say is killed tonight
On your suggestion.
King John
Gentle kinsman, go
And thrust thyself into their companies.
I have a way to win their loves again.
1890Bring them before me.
I will seek them out.
King John Nay, but make haste, the better foot before.
O, let me have no subject enemies
When adverse foreigners affright my towns
1895With dreadful pomp of stout invasion.
Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels,
And fly like thought from them to me again.
Bastard The spirit of the time shall teach me speed.
King John Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman. --
1900Go after him, for he perhaps shall need
Some messenger betwixt me and the peers,
And be thou he.
With all my heart, my liege.
King John
My mother dead?
Enter Hubert.
Hubert My lord, they say five moons were seen tonight:
Four fixèd, and the fifth did whirl about
The other four in wondrous motion.
King John
Five moons?
Old men and beldams in the streets
Do prophesy upon it dangerously.
Young Arthur's death is common in their mouths,
And when they talk of him, they shake their heads
And whisper one another in the ear.
1915And he that speaks doth grip the hearer's wrist,
Whilst he that hears makes fearful action
With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes.
I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus,
The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,
1920With open mouth swallowing a tailor's news,
Who, with his shears and measure in his hand,
Standing on slippers which his nimble haste
Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet,
Told of a many thousand warlike French
1925That were embattailèd and ranked in Kent.
Another lean, unwashed artificer
Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur's death.
King John Why seek'st thou to possess me with these fears?
Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur's death?
1930Thy hand hath murdered him. I had a mighty cause
To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him.
Hubert No had, my lord. Why, did you not provoke me?
King John It is the curse of kings to be attended
By slaves that take their humors for a warrant
1935To break within the bloody house of life,
And on the winking of authority
To understand a law, to know the meaning
Of dangerous majesty, when perchance it frowns
More upon humor than advised respect.
1940Hubert [Showing the warrant] Here is your hand and seal for what I did.
King John O, when the last account 'twixt heaven and earth
Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal
Witness against us to damnation.
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
1945Make deeds ill done! Hadst not thou been by,
A fellow by the hand of nature marked,
Quoted, and signed to do a deed of shame,
This murder had not come into my mind.
But taking note of thy abhorred aspect,
1950Finding thee fit for bloody villainy,
Apt, liable to be employed in danger,
I faintly broke with thee of Arthur's death,
And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince.
1955Hubert My lord --
King John Had'st thou but shook thy head, or made a pause
When I spake darkly what I purposèd,
Or turned an eye of doubt upon my face,
As bid me tell my tale in express words,
1960Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off,
And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me.
But thou didst understand me by my signs,
And didst in signs again parley with sin,
Yea, without stop didst let thy heart consent,
1965And consequently thy rude hand to act
The deed, which both our tongues held vile to name.
Out of my sight, and never see me more.
My Nobles leave me, and my state is braved,
Even at my gates, with ranks of foreign powers;
1970Nay, in the body of this fleshly land,
This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath,
Hostility and civil tumult reigns
Between my conscience and my cousin's death.
Hubert Arm you against your other enemies.
1975I'll make a peace between your soul and you.
Young Arthur is alive. This hand of mine
Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand,
Not painted with the crimson spots of blood.
Within this bosom never entered yet
1980The dreadful motion of a murderous thought,
And you have slandered nature in my form,
Which, howsoever rude exteriorly,
Is yet the cover of a fairer mind
Than to be butcher of an innocent child.
1985King John Doth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers,
Throw this report on their incensèd rage,
And make them tame to their obedience.
Forgive the comment that my passion made
Upon thy feature, for my rage was blind,
1990And foul imaginary eyes of blood
Presented thee more hideous than thou art.
O, answer not, but to my closet bring
The angry lords with all expedient haste.
I conjure thee but slowly: run more fast!