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    Not Peer Reviewed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] 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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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. --
    [King John and Hubert talk aside.]
    Hubert, what news with you?
    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.
    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.
    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.
    Indeed, we feared his sickness was past cure.
    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?
    It is apparent foul play, and 'tis shame
    That greatness should so grossly offer it.
    So thrive it in your game, and so farewell.
    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?
    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.
    Enter [the] Bastard and Peter of Pomfret.
    Now, what says the world
    To your proceedings? Do not seek to stuff
    1855My head with more ill news, for it is full.
    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.
    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?
    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.
    [Exeunt Hubert and Peter of Pomfret]
    O my gentle cousin,
    Hear'st thou the news abroad, who are arrived?
    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.
    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.
    [Exit messenger.]
    King John
    My mother dead?
    1905Enter 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.
    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.
    [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.
    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.
    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!