Nothing says "I'm the man" like a shiny, blinged-out royal crown. As long as King John's got that thing on his head, there's no question that he's large and in charge, right? After all, a monarch's crown is a visual symbol of his or her power.
So, here's our question. Why would a king (whose right to wear the royal crown is being challenged by his enemies) voluntarily remove his crown... twice? Sure, John always gets the crown right back, but why the heck would he take it off to begin with?
Would you believe us if we told you that every time John takes off his crown, he's actually trying to maintain his royal power? Of course, this totally backfires, because it reminds everyone of just how shaky John's authority is turning out to be. Let's take a closer look.
The first time this happens is right before Act 4, Scene 2, where we find out that John has just had a second coronation, offstage. (A coronation is a big, fancy ceremony for crowning new kings.) At this point in the play, John is feeling pretty insecure about his royal authority, so the second coronation is basically a PR stunt designed to make him more popular with his subjects.
The problem with this is that it just makes John look shady. Imagine what we'd think if the President of the United States decided to have a second swearing-in ceremony in the middle of his term so that he could improve his approval ratings. John's noblemen think this second coronation is totally pointless and wasteful: coronation parties aren't cheap. Plus, it looks pretty suspicious. If everything's on the up and up with John's right to be king, what's the point of getting crowned again?
The second time John takes off the crown and gets it right back is in Act 5, Scene 1, where he hands over his crown as he kneels before Pandolf, who hands it right back to him. Obviously, this signals that John and the Pope have made up after their big fight over who should get to be Archbishop of Canterbury (3.1). It also means that John's excommunication by the Pope has been reversed, and the Church now supports John's reign as England's king. But there's a high price to pay for the Church's support. Check it out:
Thus have I yielded up into your hand
The circle of my glory.
CARDINAL PANDOLF, handing John the crown
From this my hand, as holding of the Pope,
Your sovereign greatness and authority. (5.1.1-5)
Basically, this means that John has given England to the Pope, and John is going to rule it as the Pope's tenant (like he's renting England from a landlord). If you want to be all technical, this means that John will hold England as a "fief." John knows that he needs the Church's backing if he's going to stay on the English throne, but he gives up a whole lot of power in the process—just like when he signed that old Magna Carta.