Internet Shakespeare Editions

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  • Title: King John: Textual Introduction
  • Author: 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: Michael Best
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    Textual Introduction

    Speech prefixes

    Scribe X (possibly following Shakespeare) seems to have had some uncertainty about the assignment of a number of speeches.


    As the opposing armies of Philip of France and John of England face off before Angiers, Philip orders a trumpet to summon the citizens. The stage direction reads "Enter a Citizen vpon the walles" (TLN 505) and the speaker, "Cit." then responds with four speeches (TLN 506, 573, 576, 588) leading up to the first battle between France and England. After the Heralds of both countries have boasted about their success, the next speech, still spoken apparently from the walls, is given to Hubert:

    Hubert. Heralds, from off our towres we might behold
    From first to last, the on-set and retyre
    Of both yonr [sic] Armies (TLN 636-8)

    As indicated in this quotation, Hubert's name is given in full (an unusual occurrence), and it is crammed into a tight line with no space after the speech prefix. Thereafter in this scene Hub. speaks a further four times (TLN 677, 731, 738, 796). At no time is the speaker mentioned by name, so he will remain anonymous to the audience, identified only as a citizen speaking from the wall on behalf of the citizens of Angiers. Some five hundred lines later a character named Hubert enters, and is immediately addressed by name; he then plays a major part as King John's confidant and the reluctant executioner of Arthur.

    There is no clear explanation for the change from Citizen to Hubert. The fullest discussion of the crux is Braunmuller's article, "Who is Hubert? Speech-headings in King John, Act II," where he argues that

    • there were probably several citizens on the wall, not just the Citizen,
    • one of these might have been Hubert,
    • who then becomes the spokesperson for the citizens after the battle.

    Accordingly, in his edition, Braunmuller creates the ingenious stage direction, "Enter Citizen[s]of Anger,[including Hubert,]upon the walls" (TLN 505). Later he retains the speech prefix "Hubert" for the speeches after the battle. Thus he is able to keep the readings of the Folio, with both a Citizen and (to the audience) an equally anonymous Hubert. Editors who choose to convert the Citizen to Hubert in his first four speeches (Honigmann, Smallwood, Matchett) argue that Hubert as a character is something of a manipulator, one who acts as the occasion demands. This kind of argument tends to be circular, and depends more on the critic's ingenuity, or the actor's skill, than on any solid textual evidence.

    40Despite a considerable amount of speculation, there is no clear explanation for the oddity of Hubert's sudden appearance on the walls of Angiers. The only plausible suggestion is that someone wrote in the margin a direction that the Citizen's speeches be given to Hubert at the point where his name appears in full, perhaps because a single actor was doubling both parts. Beaurline (189-92) makes the strongest case for this explanation. We do know that compositor B began setting the play at the point where "Hubert" speaks from the walls; the speeches of the Citizen were set later. But although it would be a simple matter for an actor to double the Citizen and Hubert, the substitution for one character's name for another (rather than an actor's name) is rare. Beaurline cites Philostrate/Egeus in the Folio text of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Peter/Balthazar in Romeo and Juliet, and Volemar as an attendant to Fortinbras in Hamlet. Whatever the answer to this puzzle, I have chosen to follow editors who have kept the speech prefix Citizen throughout, because the actor, whoever it is, remains anonymous to the audience.


    There is some confusion about names in act 2, scene 1. Two speeches probably mis-assign speeches intended for the French King, and the opening stage direction treats "Lewis" and "Daulphin" as separate characters. Some confusion may have been the result of the rather awkward doubling of the name Philip for both the French King and the Bastard (I have already discussed the moment at TLN 1290 where King John forgets that he has changed the Bastard's name from Philip to Sir Richard).

    1. Act 2, scene 1, TLN 294: Does Lewis or Philip speak first?

      Enter before Angiers, Philip King of France, Lewis, Daul-
      phin, Austria, Constance, Arthur.
      Lewis. Before Angiers well met braue Austria, (TLN 292-4)

      The assignment of this speech to Lewis rather than King Philip is an odd one. Editors from Theobald on have emended to King Philip at this point. Braunmuller sums up the argument: the Folio normally lists the first speaker in the opening stage direction; protocol would require the King rather than his son provide the initial welcome; the speaker uses the royal plural later in the speech ("our," TLN 300). In addition, Shakespeare seems early in the play to confuse Philip and Lewis (see the next example).

    2. Act 2, scene 1, TLN 449-50:

      Aust. What cracker is this same that deafes our eares
      With this abundance of superfluous breath?
      King Lewis, determine what we shall doe strait.
      Lew. Women & fooles, breake off your conference.
      King Iohn, this is the very summe of all: (TLN 447-51)

      There is clearly an error here, since Lewis is not the king. Braunmuller (Appendix A) points out that compositor C started setting the play at this point, and would not necessarily yet have been familiar with the characters referred to by the manuscript's speech prefixes. Compositor C may have interpreted the prefix "King" (or some shortened variant, as appears frequently in this section) as "Lewis." The only oddity here is that the two kings are on stage at this point, so that a single prefix "King" for King Philip must have been a slip on the part of the scribe.

    3. Act 2, scene 1, TLN 682:

      Fra. A greater powre then We denies all this,
      And till it be vndoubted, we do locke
      Our former scruple in our strong barr'd gates: (TLN 682-4)

      The content makes it clear that this speech is intended for the Citizen, called Hubert consistently at this point. The most likely explanation of this error is that the compositor misread the original "H" as "ff" (the capital "F" in secretary hand).

    Hubert/the Bastard, or who says what in the dark?

    A number of editors have found the Folio speech assignments in 5.6 in error. The original reads thus:

    Enter Bastard and Hubert, seuerally.
    Hub. Whose there? Speake hoa, speake quickely, or
    I shoote.
    Bast. A Friend. What art thou?
    Hub. Of the part of England.
    Bast. Whether doest thou go?
    Hub. What's that to thee?
    Why may not I demand of thine affaires,
    As well as thou of mine?
    Bast. Hubert, I thinke.
    Hub. Thou hast a perfect thought: (TLN 2550-60)

    Editors have remarked on the fact that the Bastard is first mentioned in the stage direction, but does not speak first, and have noted that the questions are unequally divided between the two characters. Various alternatives have been suggested, adducing arguments from rank and character (see table). I see no compelling reason to change the Folio lineation and assignment of speeches, though all of the listed alternatives make sense.

    Folio Vaughn Dyce DoverWilson
    Who's there? Speak ho, speak quickly, or I shoot. Hubert Hubert Hubert Bastard
    A friend Bastard Bastard Bastard Hubert
    What art thou? Bastard Bastard Bastard Hubert
    Of the part of England. Hubert Hubert Hubert Bastard
    Whither dost thou go? Bastard Hubert Bastard Hubert
    What's that to thee? Hubert Bastard
    (repeated by Hubert)
    Hubert Bastard
    Why man not I demand of this affairs / As well as thou of mine? Hubert Hubert Bastard Hubert
    Hubert, I think. Bastard Bastard Bastard Bastard
    Thou hast a perfect thought. Hubert Hubert Hubert Hubert
    Followed by: Followed by:
    Matchett Werstine
    Oxford/Jowett Beaurline
    Rasmussen Braunmuller
    This edition