Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: King John: A Survey of Criticism
  • Authors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-410-3

    Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Authors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan
    Not Peer Reviewed

    A Survey of Criticism


    Though by no means at the center of the canon, King John has nevertheless managed to develop a significant critical history. Readings and interpretations of King John have been widely varied; Deborah T. Curren-Aquino, in the introduction to her 1994 annotated bibliography--which consists of 1568 items--describes the criticism of the play as indicative of "a literary work with multiple personalities" (xviii). In the twenty years since Curren-Aquino compiled her bibliography, the analyses of the play's "personalities" have become even more numerous and varied.

    The first issue, to which almost all critics must necessarily refer, concerns King John and an anonymous play published on 1591, the Troublesome Reign of King John. While the Textual Introduction provides a more thorough analysis of dating of these two plays, here, I will identify some of the key arguments and players concerning the authorship and order of the plays, a critical crux that has followed King John since the eighteenth century. Secondly, I will examine some of the most significant contextual readings of King John; these consider the play against the biographical, political and religious situations at the time of its composition. Finally, I will focus on the critical readings of some of King John's most memorable characters.