Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Summary Act 5



As a sign of his submission to the Pope, King John removes his crown and hands it to the Pope’s legate Pandulph, who hands it back to King John with the understanding that King John rules England under the Pope’s auspices. Subsequently, King John urges Pandulph to honor his side of the bargain, i.e. to put a stop to England’s incursion by the French, which Pandulph claims to be the co-author of.

Alone, King John reflects on how Peter of Pomfret’s prophecy is only partly true in that King John has given up his crown voluntarily (as opposed to coerced into giving it up) when Philip the Bastard appears with bad news: All but Dover castle has been claimed by the French, and the few of the remaining King John’s friends are in a panic. When King John asks about his nobles and of how they reacted to the news that Arthur sill lives, the Bastard informs the king that Arthur has actually died most likely by foul practice, compelling the king to conclude that Hubert had lied to him and that he had murdered Arthur. Presently, King John informs the Bastard of the deal he had made with the Pope and of his hope to quell England’s incursion by France thereby. The news grieves the bastard who exhorts King John to show the French a sign of bold defiance if only to prove to the French that King John’s spirit is as undaunted as ever. Somewhat persuaded, King John authorizes the Bastard to assemble and deploy the English forces as he—the Bastard—sees fit.


Even as the Dolphin Lewis formalizes the English nobles’ alliance with the French, the Earl of Salisbury laments the circumstances that have compelled him and his fellow English peers to take up arms against their own country. Lewis acknowledges Salisbury’s and his fellow peers’ misgivings, but he urges them to take heart, arguing that their share of glory and wealth will equal Lewis’ when they have dethroned King John.

Presently, Pandulph arrives to persuade Lewis to lay down his arms on account of King John who has submitted his will to the Pope. Lewis is defiant, however, and argues that he has no intention of stopping now as it would be foolish of him to give up that which has been gained. Consequently, Philip the Bastard, who has come on Pandulph’s heels, rebukes the English noblemen who have dared to side themselves with the French, and reminds Lewis just whom exactly he is dealing with, i.e. an English king who has made all of France quake in fear and who will do so again. Nonetheless, Lewis dismisses the Bastard as a braggart and deploys his forces for the inevitable showdown with King John.


King John confides in Hubert who informs the King that the war with the French is going badly, exacerbating the king’s feverish illness. Presently a messenger arrives from Philip the Bastard who would have the king removed to safer grounds. The king decides to remove himself to Swinstead. The messenger tries to console the king with news of a sea wreck that has undermined the French efforts to reinforce their forces. However, on account of his feverish illness, King John finds it hard to take consolation.


Seeing as how the English led by Philip the Bastard are proving themselves to be a formidable foe, the Earls of Salisbury and Pembroke and Lord Bigot resolve to double their efforts on behalf of the French cause when a French nobleman Count Melune, who is mortally wounded, appears to warn them of their imminent danger: The Dolphin Lewis will betray them and have their heads cut off if the French manage to win the conflict. Salsbury’s, Pembroke’s, and Bigot’s doubts are dispelled by Melune’s argument that as he is dying, he has no reason to lie. Presently, having resolved to return and serve King John, Salisbury, Pembroke, and Bigot see to Melune’s dying wish: to be removed to quiet grounds where he may die in peace.


As the sun has set, and the English have retreated, the Dolphin Lewis is proud that the French have held their ground. Anon, a messenger arrives to deliver bad news: French reinforcement efforts have been undermined by a sea wreck, and upon the dying Count Melune’s advice, the English lords have returned to King John. The news is cause for distress, but Lewis is as eager to get on with the fighting come tomorrow.


On account of the night, Hubert de Burgh and Philip the Bastard exchange threatening words before they recognize on another. Presently Hubert tells the Bastard of the King’s poisoning at the hands of a monk who has died. As for the King, it is possible that he will survive. When asked who is attending to the King, Hubert is incredulous that the Bastard hasn’t heard of the English Lords' return from the French camp. Indeed, upon King Henry’s son Prince Henry’s advice, King John has forgiven the English lords who are presently attending to the king. Gladdened by the news, the Bastard, who has barely escaped high tide with his life (many of his men have lost theirs’), tells Hubert to lead him to the King.


King John’s heir and son Prince Henry and the attending English lords are resigned to the fact that the poison will inevitably kill King John. Indeed, attributing to the extremities of pain which has made his father virtually senseless, Prince Henry laments the fact that his father has resorted to singing. Presently, King John admits that it won’t be long before the poison renders him a corpse when Philip the Bastard arrives with news which for all intents and purposes kills the King: The French will engage the English army come tomorrow, an English army the Bastard is sorry to report had been caught in the middle of high tide and therefore greatly reduced in size and strength. Nonetheless, undaunted, the Bastard exhorts Salisbury, Pembroke, and Bigot to provide him with the means and support to defeat the French only to be told that that won’t be necessary on account of the Pope’s legate Pandulph who has brokered a peace between England and France. Indeed, as they speak, the French are sailing back for France. Gladdened, the Bastard addresses King John’s funeral and Prince Henry’s coronation. 

William Shakespeare