Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: King John (Modern)
  • Editor: Michael Best
  • General textual editor: Eric Rasmussen
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best
  • 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.
    Author: William Shakespeare
    Editor: Michael Best
    Not Peer Reviewed

    King John (Modern)

    Enter King Philip, Lewis, Pandulph, [and] attendants.
    King Philip
    So by a roaring tempest on the flood,
    A whole armada of convicted sail
    1385Is scattered and disjoined from fellowship.
    Courage and comfort! All shall yet go well.
    King Philip
    What can go well, when we have run so ill?
    Are we not beaten? Is not Angiers lost?
    Arthur ta'en prisoner? Divers dear friends slain?
    1390And bloody England into England gone,
    O'erbearing interruption spite of France?
    What he hath won, that hath he fortified.
    So hot a speed, with such advice disposed,
    Such temperate order in so fierce a cause,
    1395Doth want example. Who hath read or heard
    Of any kindred action like to this?
    King Philip
    Well could I bear that England had this praise,
    So we could find some pattern of our shame.
    Enter Constance [with her hair unbound].
    1400Look who comes here: a grave unto a soul,
    Holding th' eternal spirit against her will
    In the vile prison of afflicted breath.
    I prithee lady go away with me.
    Lo, now, now see the issue of your peace.
    1405King Philip
    Patience, good lady. Comfort, gentle Constance.
    No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
    But that which ends all counsel, true redress.
    Death. Death, O amiable, lovely death,
    Thou odoriferous stench, sound rottenness,
    1410Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
    Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
    And I will kiss thy detestable bones,
    And put my eye-balls in thy vaulty brows,
    And ring these fingers with thy household worms,
    1415And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust,
    And be a carrion monster like thy self.
    Come, grin on me, and I will think thou smil'st,
    And buss thee as thy wife. Misery's love,
    O, come to me.
    1420King Philip
    O, fair affliction, peace.
    No, no, I will not, having breath to cry.
    O, that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth:
    Then with a passion would I shake the world,
    And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy
    1425Which cannot hear a lady's feeble voice,
    Which scorns a modern invocation.
    Lady, you utter madness and not sorrow.
    Thou art not holy to belie me so.
    I am not mad. This hair I tear is mine;
    1430My name is Constance; I was Geoffrey's wife;
    Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
    I am not mad. I would to [god] I were,
    For then 'tis like I should forget my self.
    O, if I could, what grief should I forget?
    1435Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
    And thou shalt be canonized, Cardinal.
    For, being not mad, but sensible of grief,
    My reasonable part produces reason
    How I may be delivered of these woes,
    1440And teaches me to kill or hang my self.
    If I were mad, I should forget my son,
    Or madly think a babe of clouts were he.
    I am not mad: too well, too well I feel
    The different plague of each calamity.
    1445King Philip
    Bind up those tresses. O, what love I note
    In the fair multitude of those her hairs,
    Where but by chance a silver drop hath fall'n,
    Even to that drop ten thousand wiry friends
    Do glue themselves in sociable grief,
    1450Like true, inseparable, faithful loves,
    Sticking together in calamity.
    To England, if you will.
    King Philip
    Bind up your hairs.
    Yes that I will. And wherefore will I do it?
    1455I tore them from their bonds, and cried aloud,
    "O, that these hands could so redeem my son
    As they have given these hairs their liberty."
    But now I envy at their liberty
    And will again commit them to their bonds,
    1460Because my poor child is a prisoner.
    [She binds up her hair.]
    And, father Cardinal, I have heard you say
    That we shall see and know our friends in heaven.
    If that be true, I shall see my boy again;
    For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
    1465To him that did but yesterday suspire,
    There was not such a gracious creature born.
    But now will canker-sorrow eat my bud
    And chase the native beauty from his cheek,
    And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
    1470As dim and meager as an ague's fit,
    And so he'll die; and, rising so again,
    When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
    I shall not know him. Therefore never, never
    Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.
    You hold too heinous a respect of grief.
    He talks to me that never had a son.
    King Philip
    You are as fond of grief as of your child.
    Grief fills the room up of my absent child:
    Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
    1480Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
    Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
    Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.
    Then have I reason to be fond of grief?
    Fare you well. Had you such a loss as I,
    1485I could give better comfort than you do.
    [She unbinds her hair.]
    I will not keep this form upon my head,
    When there is such disorder in my wit.
    O lord; my boy, my Arthur, my fair son,
    My life, my joy, my food, my all the world,
    1490My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure.
    King Philip
    I fear some outrage, and I'll follow her.
    There's nothing in this world can make me joy.
    Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
    Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man;
    1495And bitter shame hath spoiled the sweet word's taste
    That it yields naught but shame and bitterness.
    Before the curing of a strong disease,
    Even in the instant of repair and health,
    The fit is strongest. Evils that take leave
    1500On their departure most of all show evil.
    What have you lost by losing of this day?
    All days of glory, joy, and happiness.
    If you had won it, certainly you had.
    No, no. When Fortune means to men most good
    1505She looks upon them with a threat'ning eye.
    'Tis strange to think how much King John hath lost
    In this which he accounts so clearly won.
    Are not you grieved that Arthur is his prisoner?
    As heartily as he is glad he hath him.
    Your mind is all as youthful as your blood.
    Now hear me speak with a prophetic spirit,
    For even the breath of what I mean to speak
    Shall blow each dust, each straw, each little rub
    Out of the path which shall directly lead
    1515Thy foot to England's throne. And therefore mark:
    John hath seized Arthur, and it cannot be,
    That whiles warm life plays in that infant's veins,
    The misplaced John should entertain an hour,
    One minute, nay one quiet breath of rest.
    1520A scepter snatched with an unruly hand
    Must be as boisterously maintained as gained.
    And he that stands upon a slippery place
    Makes nice of no vile hold to stay him up.
    That John may stand, then Arthur needs must fall.
    1525So be it, for it cannot be but so.
    But what shall I gain by young Arthur's fall?
    You, in the right of Lady Blanche your wife,
    May then make all the claim that Arthur did.
    And lose it, life and all, as Arthur did.
    How green you are, and fresh in this old world!
    John lays you plots. The times conspire with you,
    For he that steeps his safety in true blood
    Shall find but bloody safety, and untrue.
    This act, so evilly borne, shall cool the hearts
    1535Of all his people and freeze up their zeal,
    That none so small advantage shall step forth
    To check his reign but they will cherish it.
    No natural exhalation in the sky,
    No scope of nature, no distempered day,
    1540No common wind, no customèd event,
    But they will pluck away his natural cause
    And call them meteors, prodigies, and signs;
    Abortives, presages, and tongues of heaven,
    Plainly denouncing vengeance upon John.
    Maybe he will not touch young Arthur's life,
    But hold himself safe in his prisonment.
    O sir, when he shall hear of your approach,
    If that young Arthur be not gone already,
    Even at that news he dies; and then the hearts
    1550Of all his people shall revolt from him
    And kiss the lips of unacquainted change,
    And pick strong matter of revolt and wrath
    Out of the bloody fingers' ends of John.
    Methinks I see this hurley all on foot,
    1555And O, what better matter breeds for you
    Than I have named. The Bastard Falconbridge
    Is now in England ransacking the church,
    Offending charity. If but a dozen French
    Were there in arms they would be as a call
    1560To train ten thousand English to their side;
    Or as a little snow, tumbled about,
    Anon becomes a mountain. O noble Dauphin,
    Go with me to the King. 'Tis wonderful,
    What may be wrought out of their discontent
    1565Now that their souls are top-full of offence.
    For England go. I will whet on the King.
    Strong reasons makes strange actions: let us go,
    If you say ay, the King will not say no.