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Thread: King John

  1. #1
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    King John

    My enthusiasm for Shakespeare having been re-awakened by seeing Henry IV Pts 1&2 by the RSC, I began re-reading those 2 plays. Then I thought I didn't know King John so I've bought the text and reading it at the moment.

    I then realised it was the one Shakespeare play I'd never seen on stage. The Globe in London is doing it later this season.

    According to the intro in my Oxford World Classics copy, King John is unusual in that it is a play that was much more frequently played in the C19 and early C20 than it has been for the past 50 years. (It figures in Penelope Fitzgerald's magnificent short nove At Freddie's.)

    Anyone got any ideas about it?

    (I'll post here when I've finished.)
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Not much except, Shaky did a hatchet job on the guy but then Elizabeth Tudor was on the throne and it’s not wise to upset a red head.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I've got half way through to the scene where the Papal legate excommunicates John and he defies the Pope in terms which Elizabeth would have approved. As Elizabeth had herself been excommunicated and defied the Pope (and the Spanish), Shakespeare seems to be identifying John with Elizabeth.

    Which is a bit odd, given John's reputation as the ultimate Bad King. (He has his nephew murdered just like Richard III, who was replaced by Elizabeth's grandfather, so she - and her loyal subjects - wouldn't have like the identification.

    Apparently it was much performed in the C19 with a lot of stage pagentary and supposedly accurate medieval dressing and as a support for English defiance of foreigners, ie the French.

    As the fashion for stage productions has completely changed in the last 80 years (we get our large scale pagentry on the screen) and political sympathies have changed, that may explain it being performed less frequently.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    This time I took a book of Shakespeare's plays from the library - Histories Vol. I - which includes Henry VI, 1, 2, & 3, Richard II and King John. I started Henry VI and Shakespeare's words kept sweeping me along till I came to Act III and realized that I hadn't got the plot and had no idea who was who or what they were up to, so I stopped and started reading the introduction to get some of the basic historical details. Anyway, I doubt if I'll make it all the way to King John, so I actually came here to wish you Happy Reading, and also, how lucky you are! I've never seen any Shakespeare play on stage.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I think Shakespeare's plays are best watched rather than read. Most of the plays that I have seen have been on recordings. I don't think I would get any further if I only had to read them. I haven't seen King John, but I'll see if there is a DVD in the library.

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    I've said this in the past, but I love reading Shakespeare out loud. Not only do you get the luscious sound of his language but also a better (and more intuitive) understanding of the characters through doing your own vocal characterizations (although it makes your spouse think you've gone over the edge at last).

    By the way, I haven't been offering my usual blither on this thread, Jonathan, because I've never read King John. As you say, it's a neglected play. Henry IV One and Two are among my favorite works of literature, though. I would put them very high in my personal canon, as a former Prince Hal myself. And of course they're both beyond funny.

    Mona: Don't miss these plays--they are so much better than the Henry the Sixes. They form a kind of trilogy with Henry V (all three plays are mostly about him), which, although it is considered one of his great plays, lacks a certain heart-breaking quality if you haven't read the other two first.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 01-30-2015 at 11:09 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I'm on a Shakespeare reading roll at the moment - all those lords in Henry VI are confusing, aren't they? Than I started Richard III and it was obviously streets ahead of Henry VI.

    Having made a hit with Richard III, Shakespeare must have been thinking of nephew murdering uncles when he wrote King John.

    But whereas Richard is gleefully wicked, John somehow lacks character. (And as soon as his nobles realise the nephew is in danger they object.) John repents as well, although too late as Arthur dies in any case jumping off a wall to escape.

    But John is very round about in planning the murder. Here is the extraordinary speech in which he sounds the potential murderer in which images are piled up to end by saying John is not going to say anything.


    I had a thing to say, but let it go:
    The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
    Attended with the pleasures of the world,
    Is all too wanton and too full of gawds
    To give me audience: if the midnight bell
    Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth,
    Sound on into the drowsy race of night;
    If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
    And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs,
    Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
    Had baked thy blood and made it heavy-thick,
    Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
    Making that idiot, laughter, keep men's eyes
    And strain their cheeks to idle merriment,
    A passion hateful to my purposes,
    Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
    Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
    Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
    Without eyes, ears and harmful sound of words;
    Then, in despite of brooded watchful day,
    I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts:
    But, ah, I will not!
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    By the way, I haven't been offering my usual blither on this thread, Jonathan, because I've never read King John. As you say, it's a neglected play. Henry IV One and Two are among my very works of literature, though. I would put them very high in my personal canon, as a former Prince Hal myself. And of course they're both beyond funny.

    Mona: don't miss these plays--they are so much better than the Henry the Sixes. They form a kind of trilogy with Henry V (all three plays are mostly about him), which, although it is considered one of his great plays, lacks a certain heart-breaking quality if you haven't read the other two first.
    Pompey, thanks, I'll definitely be reading them sometime. You had me with the words "beyond funny"!
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Registered User Clopin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    I think Shakespeare's plays are best watched rather than read. Most of the plays that I have seen have been on recordings. I don't think I would get any further if I only had to read them. I haven't seen King John, but I'll see if there is a DVD in the library.
    This I've never understood, with Shakespeare or any dramatist... I like reading plays but I don't think I've ever enjoyed a staged or filmed production of any play ever.

    I think I just find actors annoying, my Hamlet is not Derek Jacobi or Doctor Who or some idiot in striped pyjamas.
    So with the courage of a clown, or a cur, or a kite jerkin tight at it's tether

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    It is probably that I have more difficulty reading words than hearing words. I am more in the habit of reading technical documents which I can do rather quickly. With those kinds of documents there are ideas that need to be extracted and I try to get those ideas as quickly as possible. When I do that with literature, I miss a lot of the sound involved in reading the work. With reading, I want to know what is going on. I want to get the plot, rather than taking it slow and enjoying the sound and meaning which I am forced to do when I see a play.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Coo. where do I start. I think YesNo has got the right idea. Shakespeare didn't have any of his plays published - for him they were primarily something to be acted.

    I "did" Shakespeare at school and at university, so I acquired a number of texts of individual plays, but since then I haven't taken them down for the shelf to read. In London I've been very lucky to have seen many productions of his plays live.

    However, that means a lot of the detailed meaning passes one by, for which you need notes. (And in the histories you need a family tree, particularly of all those sons of Edward III.)

    So DVD ought to be the ideal way of going about it. Watch the play and look up the reference on Wiki simultaneously.

    However I just have a reluctance to watch film or TV, I've only just started reading the texts again (although I was encouraged partly by Pompey's example and partly be seeing Henry IV Pts 1 & 2 by the Royal Shakespeare Company and wanting to check our the text).
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Well you know, where access art is concerned, you need to go with what works for you. For me, when I hear that Shakespeare's plays weren't meant to be read, my first thought is: neither was the Odyssey, neither was the Iliad, neither was Gilgamesh, neither was the Arabian Nights; and even if Shakespeare's plays weren't oral works, as those were, they were poetry written by a poet who composed as a writer alone. Performance art was, arguably, an add on. And even if it wasn't, it is still possible to connect with the poet's mind--to hear Shakespeare's voice--more effectively (for me) through reading than by watching a stage production, where there are competing voices (of the director, the actors, the guy sitting behind you. ).

    That doesn't mean, of course, that plays aren't the thing. There is nothing as brilliant as a well made Shakespearean play, just as there is little as disappointing as a stinker. Jonathan once mentioned a problem one sometimes gets with the comedies: some companies try to camp them up to make them "funny" in a modern sense, losing the charm of Shakespeare's alternately subtle and farcical humor. Then there's (for me) the problem of modern and post-modern dress. Not a problem when I read. I know what Falstaff and Prince Hal looked like when they heard the chimes at midnight. For all my many faults, one of my virtues is that I am not often jealous. But I confess full and shameless envy of Jonathan's access to the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. But even so, you will find me reading.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  13. #13
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Mona -

    Do try Henry IV, it's in a totally different league to Henry VI, (although I wouldn't call it that hilarious). However both plays are dealing with the dynastic fallout after Edward III and his seven or so sons, and their consequent squabble as to who should succeed. The situation in Henry IV is easier to understand - there's only one opposition party of the Percies, Glendower and Mortimer (Mortimer being the descendent of Edward III).

    To understand the situation in Henry IV you could read Richard II, which gives the background, albeit a play of a very, very different nature. (It is the one History play that is a tragedy tout court.)

    A bit of homework on the background and a look at a family tree is worthwhile for any History play. There's at least two scenes in Henry VI when I felt the actors could do with a flip chart on stage.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    I wouldn't recommend Mona's reading Richard II until after Henry IV 1&2 and Henry V. As Jonathan suggests, it is of different world than that trilogy, even though the historical events of Richard II fall before Henry IV, and some of them are important to what follows. All you need to know, though, is that the legitimate king, Richard II, was deposed by Bolingbrook--Henry IV. In the Henry IV plays, the king's conscience is somewhat troubled by what he has done; and he has to put down certain revolts; but the real story has to do with his heir apparent and juvenile delinquent son, Hal (later Henry V) who doesn't really want to be king, and doesn't really like his father, and mostly just wants to drink and whore (and worse) with his buddy (and surrogate father) Sir John Falstaff, a roguish coward with a fearlessly good opinion of himself, and a pack of lowlife companions, including the famous Pistol.

    The three plays (Henry IV 1&2 and Henry V) are the hilarious and moving story (for me, at least) about how Prince Hal grows out of his wild youth, makes peace with his aging father, and accepts his duty and destiny as England's most glorious king (as the Elizabethans saw it), the victor of Agincourt, and conqueror of France. But along with the patriotic theme (which grows intense in the third play), there is always a subversive subtext, sometimes expressed by Falstaff or Pistol, that mocks or decries the absurdity and horror of martial glory. One wonders which side Shakespeare actually took.

    In any case, if Mona enjoys these three plays, she may want to go back and read Richard II as a kind of prequel. The poetry is beautiful, but as a work of art it cannot contend with what follows.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 02-02-2015 at 05:45 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I think my Vol.I starts off with Henry VI because they're going in the order in which the plays were written or something. I just finished reading part1 and I thought it was great! It's been a while since I read any Shakespeare and I really enjoyed it. I got used to the characters quite soon, and I'm familiar with some of them from Shaw's Saint Joan - the 'Dolphin', Warwick, and that curiously named character The Bastard of Orleans - but how different they are here, especially Joan!

    Thanks for the suggestions, Jon and Pompey. I'm certainly going to read the Henry IVs, and who knows, might even end up reading all eight plays this year if everything goes well.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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