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    Not Peer Reviewed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 Arthur on the walls [disguised as a ship-boy].
    The wall is high, and yet will I leap down.
    Good ground be pitiful and hurt me not!
    There's few or none do know me. If they did,
    2000This ship-boy's semblance hath disguised me quite.
    I am afraid, and yet I'll venture it.
    If I get down and do not break my limbs,
    I'll find a thousand shifts to get away.
    As good to die and go as die and stay.
    [He jumps.]
    2005O me, my uncle's spirit is in these stones.
    Heaven take my soul, and England keep my bones.
    Enter Pembroke, Salisbury [with a letter], and Bigot.
    Lords, I will meet him at Saint Edmondsbury.
    It is our safety, and we must embrace
    2010This gentle offer of the perilous time.
    Who brought that letter from the Cardinal?
    The Count Melun, a noble lord of France,
    Whose private with me of the Dauphin's love
    Is much more general than these lines import.
    Tomorrow morning let us meet him then.
    Or rather then set forward, for 'twill be
    Two long days' journey, lords, or ere we meet.
    Enter [the] Bastard.
    Once more today well met, distempered lords,
    2020The King by me requests your presence straight.
    The King hath dispossessed himself of us,
    We will not line his thin bestainèd cloak
    With our pure honors, nor attend the foot
    That leaves the print of blood where e'er it walks.
    2025Return and tell him so. We know the worst.
    What e'er you think, good words I think were best.
    Our griefs and not our manners reason now.
    But there is little reason in your grief.
    2030Therefore 'twere reason you had manners now.
    Sir, sir, impatience hath his privilege.
    'Tis true, to hurt his master, no man else.
    This is the prison.
    [He sees Arthur's body.]
    What is he lies here?
    O, death, made proud with pure and princely beauty!
    2035The earth had not a hole to hide this deed.
    Murder, as hating what himself hath done,
    Doth lay it open to urge on revenge.
    Or, when he doomed this beauty to a grave,
    Found it too precious-princely for a grave.
    Sir Richard, what think you? You have beheld.
    Or have you read, or heard, or could you think?
    Or do you almost think, although you see,
    That you do see? Could thought, without this object
    Form such another? This is the very top,
    2045The height, the crest, or crest unto the crest
    Of murder's arms. This is the bloodiest shame,
    The wildest savagery, the vilest stroke
    That ever wall-eyed wrath, or staring rage
    Presented to the tears of soft remorse.
    All murders past do stand excused in this.
    And this, so sole and so unmatchable,
    Shall give a holiness, a purity,
    To the yet unbegotten sin of times
    And prove a deadly bloodshed but a jest,
    2055Exampled by this heinous spectacle.
    It is a damnèd, and a bloody work,
    The graceless action of a heavy hand --
    If that it be the work of any hand.
    If that it be the work of any hand?
    2060We had a kind of light what would ensue.
    It is the shameful work of Hubert's hand,
    The practice and the purpose of the king,
    From whose obedience I forbid my soul, [He kneels.]
    Kneeling before this ruin of sweet life,
    2065And breathing to his breathless excellence
    The incense of a vow, a holy vow:
    Never to taste the pleasures of the world,
    Never to be infected with delight,
    Nor conversant with ease and idleness,
    2070Till I have set a glory to this hand
    By giving it the worship of revenge.
    Pembroke and Bigot
    [They kneel.] Our souls religiously confirm thy words.
    Enter Hubert. [The lords rise.]
    Lords, I am hot with haste in seeking you,
    2075Arthur doth live; the king hath sent for you.
    O, he is bold and blushes not at death. --
    Avaunt thou hateful villain, get thee gone!
    I am no villain.
    Must I rob the law?
    [He draws his sword.]
    Your sword is bright sir; put it up again.
    Not till I sheathe it in a murderer's skin.
    [Putting his hand on his sword] Stand back Lord Salisbury. Stand back, I say.
    By heaven, I think my sword's as sharp as yours.
    I would not have you, lord, forget yourself,
    Nor tempt the danger of my true defense,
    2085Lest I, by marking of your rage, forget
    your worth, your greatness, and nobility.
    Out dunghill! Dar'st thou brave a nobleman?
    Not for my life. But yet I dare defend
    My innocent life against an emperor.
    Thou art a murderer.
    Do not prove me so;
    Yet I am none. Whose tongue so e'er speaks false,
    Not truly speaks; who speaks not truly, lies.
    [Drawing his sword] Cut him to pieces.
    [Drawing his sword] Keep the peace, I say.
    Stand by, or I shall gall you Faulconbridge.
    Thou wer't better gall the devil Salisbury.
    If thou but frown on me, or stir thy foot,
    Or teach thy hasty spleen to do me shame,
    2100I'll strike thee dead. Put up thy sword betimes,
    Or I'll so maul you and your toasting-iron
    That you shall think the devil is come from hell.
    What wilt thou do, renownèd Faulconbridge?
    Second a villain, and a murderer?
    Lord Bigot, I am none.
    [Indicating Arthur's body] Who killed this Prince?
    'Tis not an hour since I left him well:
    I honored him, I loved him, and will weep
    My date of life out for his sweet life's loss.
    Trust not those cunning waters of his eyes,
    For villainy is not without such rheum,
    And he, long traded in it, makes it seem
    Like rivers of remorse and innocency.
    Away with me, all you whose souls abhor
    2115Th'uncleanly savors of a slaughter-house,
    For I am stifled with this smell of sin.
    Away, toward Bury, to the Dauphin there!
    There tell the king, he may inquire us out.
    Exeunt lords.
    Here's a good world! Knew you of this fair work?
    2120Beyond the infinite and boundless reach
    Of mercy, if thou didst this deed of death,
    Art thou damned, Hubert.
    Do but hear me sir.
    Ha? I'll tell thee what.
    Thou'rt damned as black -- nay nothing is so black --
    2125Thou art more deep damned than Prince Lucifer.
    There is not yet so ugly a fiend of hell
    As thou shalt be if thou didst kill this child.
    Upon my soul --
    If thou didst but consent
    2130To this most cruel act, do but despair,
    And if thou want'st a cord, the smallest thread
    That ever spider twisted from her womb
    Will serve to strangle thee. A rush will be a beam
    To hang thee on. Or wouldst thou drown thyself,
    2135Put but a little water in a spoon
    And it shall be as all the ocean,
    Enough to stifle such a villain up.
    I do suspect thee very grievously.
    If I in act, consent, or sin of thought,
    2140Be guilty of the stealing that sweet breath
    Which was embounded in this beauteous clay,
    Let hell want pains enough to torture me.
    I left him well.
    Go, bear him in thine arms.
    2145I am amazed methinks, and lose my way
    Among the thorns and dangers of this world.
    [Hubert takes up Arthur's body.]
    How easy dost thou take all England up!
    From forth this morsel of dead royalty
    The life, the right, and truth of all this realm
    2150Is fled to heaven, and England now is left
    To tug and scamble, and to part by th'teeth
    The unowed interest of proud-swelling state.
    Now for the bare-picked bone of majesty
    Doth dogged war bristle his angry crest
    2155And snarleth in the gentle eyes of peace.
    Now powers from home and discontents at home
    Meet in one line, and vast confusion waits
    As doth a raven on a sick-fall'n beast,
    The imminent decay of wrested pomp.
    2160Now happy he whose cloak and cincture can
    Hold out this tempest. Bear away that child
    And follow me with speed. I'll to the King.
    A thousand businesses are brief in hand,
    And heaven itself doth frown upon the land.
    Exeunt [with Hubert carrying Arthur's body].