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Summary Act 4

 

SCENE 1

Hubert de Burgh, who has been commissioned to murder Arthur, instructs his assistants to appear upon his signal and bind Arthur to a chair at which point Hubert, using hot irons, will take out Arthur’s eyes. Thus, the executioners hide behind a curtain as Hubert beckons forth Author who takes note of Hubert’s sadness. Hubert admits that he has been happier, compelling Arthur to reflect on how no one has more reason to be unhappy than Arthur himself. Fearful of a failing resolve should he allow Arthur to continue talking, Hubert tries to expedite his task only to find himself being persuaded by Arthur, who, having discovered that Hubert is obliged to take out his eyes, makes an impassioned plea to spare them. Indeed, when Hubert signals for the executioners, Arthur, promising to cooperate, persuades Hubert to dismiss them. Ultimately, Arthur prevails upon Hubert’s mercy. Indeed, Hubert assures Arthur that he will not be harmed even for all the world’s treasures.

SCENE 2

The Earls of Pembroke and Salisbury criticize King John for undertaking a second coronation. They argue the second coronation is redundant, and that it only reflects badly on the king as it implies that his reign previous to the second coronation was illegitimate. Regardless, eager to please the peers of England, King John encourages Pembroke and Salisbury to name their suits with the understanding that the king will grant them their suits without much ado. Subsequently, Pembroke and Salisbury both express a wish to have Arthur given his liberty on the grounds that his confinement is actually a detriment to King John’s reign what with Arthur’s popularity among both the peers and the people of England.

Consequently, King John doesn’t hesitate to grant them their wish when Hubert de Burgh enters the scene, causing Pembroke and Salisbury to surmise that Hubert may have already murdered Arthur. By and by, King John, who having confided in Hubert, informs Pembroke and Salisbury of Arthur’s death; he attributes it to a pre-existing sickness. However, the earls are unconvinced. Indeed, they argue the king is responsible for Arthur’s death and they leave in a state of great anger and disappointment.

King John reflects on life’s uncertainty, of how violence seldom settles a matter when a messenger arrives with dire news: The French, led by the Dolphin, have arrived on England’s soil, and according to rumors the king's mother has just recently died, as had Arthur’s mother Constance, which would explain the reason King John had received no intelligence of France’s approach until now. King John is in the process of recovering from the devastating effect of the news when Philip the Bastard, who is accompanied by Peter of Pomfret, a prophet, appears.

Unfortunately for King John, the Bastard has more bad news. While collecting tax monies from the clergy, the Bastard sensed a unrest among the people who spoke of fears and rumors—fears and rumors undoubtedly incited by Peter of Pomfret who presaged that King John would give up his crown the Thursday forty days after Easter. When King John questions Peter on what grounds he would dare to speak such treasonous words, Peter responds because he knew that it will all come true. Consequently, King John orders Hubert to imprison Peter, and having Peter’s execution date set for the Thursday forty days after Easter, to return immediately. Presently, King John orders the Bastard to go and try to persuade the earls of Pembroke and Salisbury to look favorably upon the king.

Hubert returns. He imparts more bad news of the people’s unrest only to be taken to task by the king for undertaking the murder of Arthur. Nonplussed, Hubert produces the written warrant authorizing him to kill Arthur. King John argues, however, that he had only entertained the idea because of Hubert’s grim aspect; that Hubert had only to say a word of dissent for the king to realize what an unthinkable act he was contemplating; that Hubert had proven himself to be a disgrace; and that Hubert would do well to banish himself this instant as the king will have nothing to do with him henceforth. Subsequently, Hubert reveals the fact that Arthur still lives; that he hadn’t the heart to kill an innocent child; and that the king owes him--Hubert--an apology for slandering his—Hubert’s—character.

Attributing his harsh words to his distressed state of mind, the King apologizes to Hubert and urges him to hastily go to the peers of England to inform them that Arthur lives.

SCENE 3

Resolved to escape from his uncle’s threat, Arthur attempts to repel down a high city wall only to fall to his death. His corpse is espied by Lord Bigot and the Earls of Salisbury and Pembroke who have agreed to join the Dolphin at Saint Edmundsbury, which is a two days’ journey. They lament the boys’ fate when Philip the Bastard and Hubert de Burgh appear one after the other to urge the English peers to attend on the King. Attributing Arthur’s death to King John, the English peers make it unequivocally clear that they will not attend to the king who has dared to commit such an outrage. As to Hubert, Salisbury, convinced that it was Hubert who had done the actual killing at the king’s behest, draws his sword against Hubert despite Hubert’s impassioned plea that he had in fact done everything to assure the boy's safety from harm. Salisbury decides to let the matter rest for now when the Bastard draws his sword on Hubert’s defense. But when the English peers depart to join the Dolphin, the Bastard strongly censures Hubert on the chance that he’s lying, and that he had indeed been the cause of Arthur’s death. As Hubert carries Arthur’s corpse away, the Bastard bemoans for King John whose welfare depended on Arthur’s welfare. 

William Shakespeare