Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Michael Best
Not Peer Reviewed

Textual Introduction

The text and the theater

Non-theatrical features of the text

While editors in recent years have become more cautious about assigning specific characteristics to the different kinds of manuscripts used by compositors in setting up a text, it is reasonable to assume that some features of a text are more likely to be the result of an author's point of view rather than theater practice. King John includes a number of stage directions that refer rather vaguely to generic characters, especially in groups; such indications will be sufficient for an author, but will be less helpful in the theater. The number of these directions is quite significant:

Enter a Citizen vpon the walles. (TLN 505)Enter K. of England, Bastard, Queene, Blanch, Pembroke, and others. (TLN 379)Enter the two Kings with their powers, at seuerall doores. (TLN 646)Enter France, Dolphin, Pandulpho, Attendants. (TLN 1382)Enter King Iohn and Pandolph, attendants. (TLN 2166)Enter (in Armes) Dolphin, Salisbury, Meloone, Pem-/broke, Bigot, Souldiers. (TLN 2250)Enter Hubert and Executioners. (TLN 1570)Enter Dolphin, and his Traine. (TLN 2524)Enter Iohn, Pembroke, Salisbury, and other Lordes. (TLN 1717)

This last stage direction with its cheerfully vague "other Lordes" highlights one oddity of the text. Two lords, Salisbury and Pembroke, are consistently on stage and make substantial contributions to a number of scenes in the latter part of the play; the other named lords, Essex and Bigot, appear more sporadically and speak less. Essex appears only in the first scene of the play and has only one speech; Bigot is present but silent in 5.2, 5.4, and 5.7. Braunmuller makes the sensible suggestion that "the English Lords are theatrically important as a group (of three probably) rather than as individuals modeled on historical personages" (23).

Speech prefixes for three significant characters in the play vary between generic and specific names. Lewis, the Dauphin, appears as Dol., Dolph., Lew., and Lewis.; King Philip is Fra., Fran., France., Phil., Philip.; Eleanor is more varied: Ele., Elea., Eleanor., Eli., Old Qu., Qu., Qu. Mo., Que., Queen. While this variety is unlikely to cause problems in the theater, it does suggest more the processes of composition than of theatrical practice. Randal McLeod (Random Cloud) uses the further example of variation in speech prefixes and characters' names, focusing on changes and inconsistencies in the names given Philip/Sir Richard Faulconbridge/Bastard, in a characteristically entertaining discussion of the dangers inherent in taking evidence of changing speech prefixes as definitive indication of the manuscript behind the print version. On his initial entry (TLN 58ff) the Bastard's first seven speeches designate him as "Philip" or "Phil"; as soon as Queen Eleanor gives him the option of being recognized as the illegitimate son of Richard the Lionheart, his speech prefixes become "Bast" (TLN 146) and remain so for the rest of the play. His name (as distinct from his speech prefix) also changes when he is knighted, much to his amusement, from Philip to Richard:

10Well, now can I make any Joan a lady.
"Good den, Sir Richard," "God-a-mercy fellow."
An if his name be George, I'll call him Peter;
For new-made honor doth forget men's names:
'Tis too respective, and too sociable
For your conversion. (TLN 194-99)

It may be that Shakespeare changed the name to avoid confusion with the other Philip in the play, Philip, King of France--both names are Philip in TRKJ. There is, however, a later moment in the play when the Bastard is once again called Philip rather than Richard:

[Bast.] Austrias head lye there,
Enter Iohn, Arthur, Hubert
While Philip breathes.
Iohn. Hubert, keepe this boy: Philip make vp,
My Mother is assayled in our Tent,
And tane I feare. (TLN 1287-92)

The first "Philip" could perhaps refer to King Philip, rather to the Bastard speaking of himself in the third person and forgetting his name-change, but the second use of the name is clearly an error. Possibly Shakespeare, meaning the first mention of Philip for the French King, used the name again while it was fresh in his mind. This edition keeps both uses of the name, noting the confusion in the commentary.

Finally, as well as this consistent generalization of minor characters, the text misses out a number of sound cues, something that would be problematic in a manuscript used in the theater (see Braunmuller, Appendix C).

Possible theatrical features of the text

1. Censorship

15There are clear signs that the text was modified in accordance with the Act to Restrain Abuses of Players of 1606, which forbade the use of god's name on stage. The clearest examples in the play concern the probable substitution of "heaven" for "God": in TLN 1082-3, for example, "heaven" is followed by the pronoun "him," indicating an obvious change:

But as we, vnder heauen, are supreame head,
So vnder him that great supremacy . . .

Similarly, the Bastard refers to "he" after using the word "heauen":

Bast. The Dolphin is preparing hither-ward,
Where heauen he knowes how we shall answer him. (TLN 2669-70)

The existence of censored lines could suggest that the manuscript may have been at least in part prepared for performance, since the Act applied only to stage plays, not printed works. For this reason, Taylor argues ("'Swounds" 60) that censorship is an indication that a manuscript has been prepared for the theater. If the manuscript is indeed a late transcription, however, his further conclusion concerning theatrical influence on the scribes is less convincing; any scribe working after the law requiring expurgation of earlier plays and after the fashion of act breaks had taken hold might be accustomed to making changes accordingly, whether the transcription was for the printer or the theater.

This edition is conservative in emending by replacing "heaven" with "god," since in most cases the substitution (if it was a substitution) makes complete sense, and can leave the lines' scansion untroubled if "heaven" is pronounced as a single syllable. The following is a list of occurrences of "heaven" that may be examples of expurgation, but which this edition has left unchanged:

[Eleanor] So much my conscience whispers in your eare,
Which none but heauen, and you, and I, shall heare. (TLN 48-49)20[Bastard] But for the certaine knowledge of that truth,
I put you o're to heauen, and to my mother; (TLN 69-70)[Constance] Arme, arme, you heauens, against these periur'd Kings,
A widdow cries, be husband to me (heauens) (TLN 1032-33)[King Philip] No longer then we well could wash our hands,
To clap this royall bargaine vp of peace,
Heauen knowes they were besmear'd and ouer-staind
With slaughters pencill; (TLN 1165-68)[Constance] I doe pray to thee, thou vertuous Daulphin,
Alter not the doome fore-thought by heauen. (TLN 1244-45)[Arthur] Is it my fault, that I was Geffreyes sonne?
No in deede is't not: and I would to heauen
I were your sonne, so you would loue me, Hubert: (TLN 1595-97)25 Art. O heauen: that there were but a moth in yours,
A graine, a dust, a gnat, a wandering haire,
Any annoyance in that precious sense: (TLN 1670-72) Art. O heauen! I thanke you Hubert. (TLN 1713) Bast. With-hold thine indignation, mighty heauen,
And tempt vs not to beare aboue our power. (TLN 2595-96)

In two instances, as indicated above, this edition restores "god" because "heauen" is followed by the singular pronoun "him" or "he":

[King John] But as we, vnder heauen, are supreame head,
So vnder him that great supremacy
Where we doe reigne, we will alone vphold
Without th'assistance of a mortall hand: (TLN 1082-85)]Bast. The Dolphin is preparing hither-ward,
Where heauen he knowes how we shall answer him. (TLN 2669-70)]

One way of deciding whether a change has been introduced purely because of expurgation is to look at other works, before and after 1606, to see if the phrase was in general use in its own right. The Literature Online (LION) database provides a powerful tool in this kind of search; I have restored "god" in two further instances where the LION database records the phrase only in drama published after 1606; the same phrase with "god" occurs with far greater frequency:

[Constance] I am not mad, I would to heauen I were,
For then 'tis like I should forget my selfe: (TLN 1432-43)

("I would to heauen": 5 hits, all in drama after 1606. "I would to god": 17 hits in poetry, 23 in drama.)

[Arthur] For heauen sake Hubert let me not be bound: (TLN 1654)

("For heauen sake": 4 hits, all in drama after 1606. "For gods sake":25 in poetry, 104 in drama.)

30Finally, in this instance the connection between the Legate of the Pope and god are so close that the original wording seems significantly more likely to have referred directly to god.

[Lewis] Looke where the holy Legate comes apace,
To giue vs warrant from the hand of heauen, (TLN 2317-18)

2. Act/scene breaks

Another possible indication that the underlying manuscript for King John was intended for the theater is the fact that the play is divided into act and scene breaks in a fashion that suggests that these were in the manuscript rather than added in the printing house. Later theater practice in the indoor theaters introduced breaks between acts. There is also evidence, however, that many of the act and scene breaks in the Folio were added to non-theatrical texts; Lucas Erne has revived an interest in the importance of the Folio texts as aimed at a literate, reading public. The fact that even those plays in the Folio which have no act and scene divisions uniformly begin with the formula "Actus Primus Scaena Prima" suggests that the appearance of act and scene breaks may have intended to suggest a more readerly text. King John, however, fits awkwardly into the argument that the manuscript was prepared for the theater since some of the act and scene breaks indicated in the Folio are puzzling. No editor has yet come up with a wholly plausible explanation for the confusion, even after meticulous examination of the interactions between the two scribes and the two compositors who set the manuscript.

The second act as originally marked is very short (77 lines), and is clearly an error. The first act is correspondingly very long (919 lines); the usual response of editors has been to interpret the "Scaena Secunda" at TLN 291 as an error for an act division, with the third act beginning where it is marked, and the direction "Actus Secundus" at TLN 920 an error for the second scene of Act 2. These errors most likely stem, at least in part, from the manuscript, since the two headings were set by different compositors, "one working forwards through the text, the other backwards" (Jowett, 318). In each case a numeral "2" or "ii" would have been used (act two / scene two), so some mix-up is understandable; the problem seems not to have been obvious enough that it was noticed while the play was being set, or in proof. Some editors have chosen to change the Folio's choice for the beginning of Act 3, since Constance is apparently left determinedly sitting on the stage ("Here is my throne; bid kings come bow to it") but is given an entrance along with the kings and their attendants at the beginning of the next scene ("Enter King Iohn, France, Dolphin, Blanch, Elianor, Philip, Austria, Constance"). In a play with continuous action, as was the norm at the time the play was written, Constance's continued presence on stage would have presented no problem; perhaps the retroactively imposed act break inspired the anomalous entrance. That actors might remain on stage during an act break is clearly signaled by the stage direction at the end of Act 3 in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "They [the four lovers] sleepe all the Act" (MND TLN 1507).

There have been many restructurings of the play to make the breaks more rational; I follow the simplest path by keeping the Folio marking for the beginning of Act 3, and making "Scaena Secunda" Act 2. All other scene breaks in the Folio are reasonably straightforward and are followed by most editions.