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Intro

Fight fire with fire

I'm Philip, but everyone just calls me the Bastard. Nice, right? That's because I'm the illegitimate son of Richard the Lionhearted. I'm pretty mischievous, and I love speaking to the audience. And you know what I think?

So, on my soul, he did, for aught he knew.
But wherefore do you droop? why look you sad?
Be great in act, as you have been in thought;
Let not the world see fear and sad distrust
Govern the motion of a kingly eye:
Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror: so shall inferior eyes,
That borrow their behaviors from the great,
Grow great by your example and put on
The dauntless spirit of resolution.
Away, and glister like the god of war,
When he intendeth to become the field:
Show boldness and aspiring confidence.
What, shall they seek the lion in his den,
And fright him there? and make him tremble there?
O, let it not be said: forage, and run
To meet displeasure farther from the doors,
And grapple with him ere he comes so nigh. (5.1.43-61)

Who Said It and Where

King John is all about succession.

  • Who has the rightful claim to the throne?
  • Who should reign?
  • What kind of person should he be?

All of these questions are asked by the play, again and again.

Here's the lowdown: Richard the Lionhearted was King, and appointed his brother John to be king after him. Wait a minute. Did we say "appointed"? That's right. He chose this guy. And not everyone is on board with this decision, because traditionally, the English crown passes from father to son.

It's really Arthur, Richard's nephew who should be king. Naturally this leads to a huge argument between a bunch of lords, ladies, and knights who all have an opinion about who is rightfully king.

The icing on the cake? Arthur doesn't even want to be king. He isn't interested in politics. Instead, he wants to become a shepherd (hey, to each his own). But that doesn't stop King John from ordering men to kill Arthur, his own nephew.

In the beginning, a lot of nobles were on John's side. Arthur is young and doesn't know how to rule after all. But once he orders this murder, all of these nobles think this is a bridge too far and abruptly ditch him. It turns out killing off your own nephew isn't the best way to win votes.

The thing is, the murderers feel the same way. Arthur convinces them to spare him, and they can't go through with it. But don't go celebrating yet. Things take a turn for the much worse when Arthur, trying to escape, tragically leaps off the castle wall to his death. Oops.

In this scene, the Bastard delivers that very same news, and reports to John that the French have moved to the English countryside. And it's not a friendly move. Who is to blame? King John, partly. It's his nobles who are helping the French because he has murderers on his speed dial.

When the Bastard tells John that Arthur was actually found dead, John takes it to heart. But the Bastard tells him to be strong and fight. Get over it. Don't get mad, get even. You get the idea. John agrees to let the Bastard take control of his armies to fight off everyone else vying for the crown.

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