Study Guide

Cardinal Pandolf in King John

By William Shakespeare

Cardinal Pandolf

If we were hired to direct King John, we'd make sure that dark, ominous music began to play any time Pandolf walked on stage or into a room. (We're thinking Darth Vader's "Imperial March," but we're open to suggestions.)

Officially, this dude's a messenger for Pope Innocent III. But that doesn't mean we should write him off as some kind of errand boy. Check out what he says about his ability to incite a war between France and Spain (which he does do):

It was my breath that blew this tempest up,
Upon your stubborn usage of the Pope...
(5.1.18-19)

Because he speaks for the Pope, Pandolf is a pretty powerful guy. In these lines, he places great confidence in his own power of speech. His words make Louis mount an expedition against England, and they also make King John surrender his crown to the Pope. Yikes, right?

The characters in King John are generally pretty complex: they're neither entirely good nor entirely evil, and each one has a mix of human characteristics. Each one, that is, except for Pandolf. He just comes across as a nasty guy.

Okay, to be fair, he's simply carrying out the bidding of his master, Pope Innocent III, so maybe he doesn't deserve all the blame for his behavior—but he certainly enjoys what he does.

What normal, healthy, well-adjusted person could possibly decide that the day of somebody's niece's wedding is the right day to confront him about his conflict with the Pope, excommunicate him, and make his new-found ally revert to being an enemy? Pandolf, of course, is totally that guy.

The whole way that Pandolf carries himself deeply dislikable, especially when he's dishing out twisted logic and confusing people into doing what he wants. Pandolf isn't just inflexible; he also isn't even that nice when he gets his way. Sure, once King John swears allegiance to the Pope, Pandolf keeps his promise to go speak to Louis and try to stop his invasion. But he doesn't try very hard, and seems perfectly content when it turns out that Louis is going to ignore him and fight John anyway. We at Shmoop think that, if there's one clear villain in this play, it's totally Pandolf.