The Life and Death of King John

Act I

Scene 1: Court scene ; diplomatic conflict between King John and French ambassador, with interventions from John's mother Eleanor; John opts for war, refuses to turn over power to young Arthur. Robert and Philip Faulconbridge come in dispute over land, Philip being Richard Coeur de Lion's bastard son; John and Eleanor invite Philip to join them, leaving the family lands to his younger brother. He accepts and is knighted. The Bastard has a soliloquy on 'observation' before his mother comes and she, hearing that he has already given up the family name, confirms that he is Richard's son, for which he thanks her.

Act II

Scene 1: Military confrontation before Angiers; Arthur introduced by Philip of France to Limoges-Austria (who killed Coeur de Lion). The ambassador to John in Act I arrives only minutes before John and his army. Confrontation between Philip and John, plus mothers Eleanor and Constance. The Bastard also intervenes. Who will Angiers accept as king? John and Philip speak their claims. City will accept whichever proves to be the rightful king! The heralds issue the same challenge, same reply. The French and English armies prepare to fight. Bastard suggests using the two armies together against the city. Accepted; then Hubert (spokesman for Angiers citizens) suggests a marriage of alliance between Blanche of Spain (John's niece) and Lewis the Dauphin of France, to bring France and England together. Accepted; Arthur named Duke of Britain by John, in compensation. Bastard's soliloquy on 'commodity'.
Scene 2: Arthur's mother Constance horrified by the news.


Scene 1: Assembly of both courts together, including protesting Constance. Papal legate arrives to deal with problem of John's actions against Stephen Langton, the Pope's nominee as Archbishop of Canterbury. John asserts absolute quality of national rights and laws, using Protestant words ('usurped authority'). Legate threatens excommunication, urges France to support him against John. Wavering, Philip asks for understanding, some other method. Legate makes sophisticated speeches; Philip decides against England; Blanche laments her divided loyalties. War!
Scene 2: Bastard brings in Austria's head. John entrusts captured Arthur to Hubert, sends the Bastard to get money from the churches in England. John indicates to Hubert that Arthur must die.
Scene 3: France has lost on all sides. Constance now full of bitterness and grief, to the point of madness. Legate Pandulf anticipates Arthur's death, suggests that it will benefit Philip, since Blanche then becomes heir to the throne, and people will be shocked by John's cruelty. Legate urges France to invade England.

Act IV

Scene 1: Grisly preparations for blinding Arthur, pathetic dialogue, Hubert decides not to hurt him.
Scene 2: John crowned again, for more security. The Lords scold him. They have heard of the plot against Arthur; John 'learns' he is dead, the Lords walk out in protest. Messenger announces France's arrival in England, the death of Eleanor, and of Constance. Bastard brings prophet from Pomfret who tells John he will give up his crown by Ascension Day noon. Hubert announces strange sign of 5 moons, and describes how people are in turmoil. John regrets death of Arthur, blames Hubert; Hubert reveals that he is alive. John asks him to tell the lords this.
Scene 3: Arthur dies trying to escape from the castle. Bastard and Lords find him, think it is murder. Hubert arrives, insists he was alive. Lords ride to join France, not believing him. Bastard confused, but sees that the fate of England is the main thing now.

Act V

Scene 1: Ascension Day; John gives up his crown to Pandulf, and receives it from him again, so that he will stop the French invasion. Bastard tells John of the Lords' desertion, death of Arthur... encourages John. John says that the legate will stop the French; Bastard demands battle.
Scene 2: The agreement between the English lords and the Dauphin. Salisbury laments. Pandulf tells Dauphin to go back to France; he refuses. Bastard arrives to challenge the French, in high terms. Battle.
Scene 3: During battle John, sick, leaves the field. The Dauphin's ships are wrecked.
Scene 4: Wounded Melun tells the English lords that they will be killed if the Dauphin wins. Lords return to John.
Scene 5: The Dauphin learns of his losses.
Scene 6: Bastard and Hubert meet in the dark, fail at first to recognize each other. Hubert announces John is poisoned by a monk. Then tells that the lords are all come back, bringing Prince Henry with them. Bastard has lost half the army crossing the Wash.
Scene 7: Henry prepares for John's death. John brought on, in pain. Dies. Bastard prepares for desperate resistance against French. Salisbury announces that Pandulf has just brought terms for peace. All submit to Henry as King. Bastard declares English invincibility.