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Summary Act 3

 

SCENE 1

Constance will have none of it as the Earl of Salisbury confirms the news that the Kings of England and France have forged an alliance. Indeed, she refuses to be appeased by her son Arthur, who urges her to take the news with equanimity, and she refuses to oblige Salisbury and let herself be brought before the kings who require her presence. Consequently, the Kings appear before her.

Arguing that Constance has the backing of France, King Philip of France tries to persuade Constance to accept the Dolphin Lewis’ marriage to Blanch of Spain. Constance rebuts King Philip, however, arguing that King Philip, who had promised to fight England for Constance’s cause (which is to claim England’s throne for her son Arthur), has only perjured himself by making peace with England. When the Duke of Austria rebukes Constance, Constance, in turn, rebukes Austria, arguing that Austria is an opportunist who aligns himself with the strongest side and that a calf-skin’s hide becomes him more than the lion’s hide which he is currently wearing and which he had won of Richard Cordelion. Philip the Bastard takes the opportunity to mock Austria only to be mildly censured by King John when the Pope's legate Pandulph appears on the scene.

Pandulph has a message for King John: Accept Rome’s appointment of Stephen Langston as the Archbishop of Canterbury or be known as a heretic and an enemy to Christendom. Despite King Philip urging him to submit to the Pope, King John defies the message, arguing that England is a sovereign state and that she only answers to God and not to God’s self-appointed human proxy. Consequently, Pandulph declares England an enemy to Christendom and strongly urges France to sever her ties with England, consoling Constance.

Meanwhile, King John’s mother Elinor mildly censures King Philip who seems to be of two minds. Austria and France’s Dolphin Lewis urge King Philip to side with the Pope and forget about their recent pact with England. Still of two minds, King Philip urges Pandulph to put himself in King Philip’s shoes and to acknowledge how difficult it would be for France to turn against England, having just taken a sacred oath to be at peace with England, a peace that has come at a heavy price to French lives and blood. King Philip urges Pandulph to offer an alternative option, one that will not put France diametrically opposed to England—but to no avail. Arguing that King Philip’s oath to God should take precedence, Pandulph maintains that if King Philip retains his peace with King John, then he and France will be likewise declared heretics and Christendom’s enemies. Again the Dolphin Lewis urges his father to align France with the Pope, compelling his newly wed wife Blanch to object and to lament the fact that should war commence between England and France she would stand to lose regardless of which side she aligns herself with.

Presently, as Pandulph is on the verge of announcing France as a heretic and an enemy to Christendom, King Philip declares his allegiance to the Pope. Consequently, King John orders Philip the Bastard to deploy the English army for battle and tells King Philip that he has made an unwise choice.

SCENE 2

As he has beheaded the Duke of Austria, Philip the Bastard is persuaded that a devil is responsible for his success when King John, who has taken Arthur captive, appeals for the Bastard’s help regarding King John’s mother Elinor whom the king believes has been taken captive. The Bastard informs King John, however, that he has secured Elinor’s safety, and that it is incumbent upon them now to double their efforts if they are to win the day.

SCENE 3

Having informed his mother Elinor that she will remain safe behind lines and having assured Arthur that he will be well treated, King John commissions Philip the Bastard to go to England and tax greedy clerics for the purpose of raising revenue for the war. Then King John turns to Hubert de Burgh, reminding the latter of how the king values his service. King John makes it be known that he has a favor to ask, but he defers asking it, arguing that now isn’t the right time to ask. Hubert encourages the king to ask, assuring the king that whatever it is that he—Hubert—will perform it even at the risk of losing his life. Consequently, King John hints at how his nephew Arthur’s very existence poses a threat to the king's crown and therefore the king’s peace of mind. King John hints at his consent to have Arthur killed. Hubert avows to kill Arthur.

SCENE 4

The Pope’s legate Pandulph tries to console King Philip and the Dolphin Lewis to no avail. The latter two argue there’s hardly anything the French can hang their hats on when the English have defeated the French, have taken young Arthur captive, and have left for England triumphant. Presently, Constance, whose hair is all tousled, appears to lament her fate. She declares that her only solace is death, prompting the others to argue that she is both mad and is as fond of grief as she is of her son Arthur. Constance argues, however, that she is indeed fond of grief for what else could she feel having lost her son. Moreover, she argues that she would prefer to be mad for to be mad is to feel no grief for her son. As she leaves, for her safety’s sake, King Philip decides to follow Constance.

Meanwhile, Pandulph tries to convince Lewis that the situation couldn’t be more advantageous. Lewis is incredulous at first, but as Pandulph states his case—King John will ultimately have Arthur killed on account of which there will be an emptiness in the English people’s hearts for King John, an emptiness that Lewis and Blanch would do well to fill—Lewis begins to see how the situation may actually work to his favor. Lewis agrees that the French should go to England at once which Pandulph predicts will ensure the death of Arthur, no doubt caused by King John’s unease. 

William Shakespeare