Study Guide

King John Weather

By William Shakespeare


Thunderstorms, flash floods, tempests at sea, you name it: there's a heck of a lot of bad weather going on here. What's more, bad weather seems to play a big role in how the plot unfolds.

On two occasions, bad weather lets invaders take their victims by surprise: when Châtillon can't make it back to France in time in Act II, and when Louis lands on English soil before England can mount a counterattack in Act IV. Bad weather comes in handy for King John when a storm destroys the French naval fleet in Act 3, Scene 4, and again when bad weather wrecks several of Louis's supply ships on the sandbar known as Goodwin Sands in Act V. But it also turns out badly for King John when it results in the Bastard's soldiers getting drowned in a flood. Oops. Both sides have a funny habit of losing their armies at sea, don't you think?

Okay. What's it all supposed to mean? Just business as usual in rainy old England?

Or does Shakespeare use these crazy, unexpected storms to emphasize the topsy-turvy world of the play? Think about it: in King John, storms can come out of nowhere to destroy armies. By the same token, political alliances can be made and broken on a whim, and random monks can just pop up out of nowhere and poison kings. In other words, the world of the play is totally unpredictable and can often seem random. Just like the events that shape history.

We also want to point out that the destructive storms in the play seem like a shout-out to England's defeat of the Spanish Armada. In 1588, less than a decade before Shakespeare wrote King John, the Spanish Armada tried to attack England but got scattered by some seriously strong winds that came out of nowhere. By the way, the Elizabethans thoughts these winds were sent by God to help save the Protestant country from being invaded by Catholic Spain. Does it seem like any divine powers are actually at work in King John?