Study Guide

King John Act 2, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 2, Scene 1

Read the full text of King John Act 2 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


  • The second act of the play starts in France, in front of the city of Angers. At this point in history, Angers was the property of the King of England.
  • An army led by King Philip of France is getting ready to storm Angers and take it by force.
  • The following people are also ready to rumble: Austria (a.k.a., Limoges, the Duke of Austria), Louis (the Prince of France, a.k.a. the "Dauphin"), Arthur (Duke of Brittany), Arthur's mom Constance, and the soldiers under their command.
  • By the way, the Duke of Austria is wearing the dead King Richard I's lion-skin coat. More on this in a minute.
  • King Philip starts off by saying something like this to young Arthur: "Listen, kid. We all know that Austria killed your uncle, Richard the Lionheart. But you need to forgive him and give him a hug because we're all on the same side now."
  • Brain Snack: In real life, Austria didn't kill Richard. The King was shot by some dude with a crossbow during the siege of a castle in France.
  • Arthur forgives Austria and says that God forgives him, too, especially now that he's agreed to devote all his time and energy to making Arthur the king of England.
  • Austria adds that heaven is totally on their side in this "just and charitable war."
  • Hmm. We wonder what the people of Angers think of this theory.
  • Constance, Arthur's mom, thanks Austria for sticking up for her little boy, who doesn't have the "strength" to stick up for himself. (Remember, Arthur's just a kid.)
  • King Philip is about to let his soldiers open fire on Angers, but Constance stops him and asks him to wait and see if King John will give up the city peacefully.
  • At that very moment, in walks Châtillon. He tells everyone that he had trouble leaving England because of bad weather. By the time he was able to set sail, King John had his whole army in gear. In fact, says Châtillon, King John and his army are in France already, and headed for Angers. Uh-oh!
  • Just then, lo and behold, in walks the whole English crew: King John, Queen Eleanor, Blanche of Spain, the Bastard, and the English army.
  • Some very formal and polite trash talk ensues.
  • King John is all, "Peace to France... if they back the heck off and don't make any claims to my land or my crown."
  • King Philip is all, "Hey, I totally love England. That's why I brought all these soldiers here with me. By the way, John, you don't love England, because you stole the crown from its rightful king—little Arthur."
  • Gee. It doesn't look like anyone's going to be signing a peace treaty in the near future, does it?
  • Then a nasty little fight breaks out between Queen Eleanor and Constance.
  • The sight of his mom and grandma fighting makes Arthur cry.
  • Eleanor and Constance both accuse the other of cheating on their husbands and giving birth to "bastards."
  • Things get all Jerry Springer when the Bastard jumps into the fray, and starts insulting Austria, who's running around in the lion-skin coat that used to belong to the Bastard's biological dad. (That would be Richard the Lionheart.)
  • The Bastard threatens to kill Austria. Get your highlighters out, because this is important.
  • At this point, King Philip repeats his demand to King John. Now he is speaking as if he wants to take control of England, on Arthur's behalf. (Uh-oh.)
  • King John refuses and tells Arthur to swear allegiance to him.
  • This prompts another war of words between Queen Eleanor and Constance, who are all, "Your son is a bastard," and "No, your son is a bastard." Psst. Go to "Symbols: Mothers" if you want to know what this is all about.
  • Finally, King Philip says that the people of Angers should get to decide who should be their king: Arthur or John.
  • One of the citizens of Angers, a guy named Hubert, comes out onto the wall to hear each king's case. King John speaks first. He tells Hubert that, unlike the French, who really want to destroy Angers and are only pretending to like it, he, John, wants to save it. Therefore, Angers should let him and his army inside the city ASAP.
  • King Philip speaks next. He says that his cause is legitimate, because he is fighting on behalf of the rightful king, Arthur. (The rightful king according to King Philip, that is.)
  • King Philip also says that, if Angers doesn't accept Arthur as their king, the French army will completely destroy the city—even if the whole English army is inside it.
  • At the end of the two speeches, Hubert says that Angers will always be loyal to the King of England. The problem is, they don't know who the King of England is right now: John or Arthur.
  • The good people of Angers are just going to hang out and see what happens. They'll swear allegiance to whoever wins the battle.
  • The two kings are up for this. After trading some more insults, they head back to their armies.
  • Soon, the English and the French are going toe-to-toe.
  • When the battle quiets down, the French herald appears in front of the walls and is all, "We just kicked the English army's butt. Time for you to surrender to Arthur."
  • About two seconds later, the English herald shows up and tells the citizens of Angers to surrender to King John, because England has won the battle.
  • Hubert reappears on the city's battlements. He says something like, "Yeah, we can't figure out who just won the battle, so we're not declaring our loyalty to anybody just yet."
  • At this point, King John and King Philip each come back onstage, surrounded by their cronies. (For King John, this means Queen Eleanor, Blanche of Spain, and the Bastard; for King Philip, this means Louis and Austria.)
  • Now the two kings start arguing over who won. As you might expect, they don't come to an agreement. Hubert continues to refuse to open the city gates.
  • The Bastard now speaks up and suggests a solution. "Hey, King John! Hey, King Philip! Why don't you guys join forces and destroy this annoying city. Then, once you've done that, you can fight with each other and settle this once and for all."
  • The two kings think this is an awesome idea and are about to go rearrange their armies, when they suddenly hear Hubert calling out to them from the walls.
  • Hubert's got an even better idea. He thinks that Blanche of Spain, King John's niece, should marry Louis, King Philip's son. According to the old custom of political marriages, this would create an alliance between France and England.
  • Queen Eleanor encourages King John to go for the deal. She hints that, if King Philip's son stands to benefit from the marriage, he won't be that interested in helping young Arthur pick a fight with King John.
  • After some more prodding from Hubert, King John speaks up. He tells King Philip that he is willing to offer Blanche's hand in marriage. To sweeten the deal, he offers to throw in, as dowry, some territories he owns: Anjou, Touraine, Maine, and Poitiers—the very same territories that King Philip was demanding for Arthur.
  • King Philip seems interested; he asks Louis to take a look at Blanche and sum her up. Louis takes a look and likes what he sees—himself, reflected in Blanche's eyes.
  • As for Blanche, she says that, even if Louis doesn't knock her socks off, she doesn't see any reason hate him. (Wow, go a little easy on the compliments, will you?)
  • With some prodding from King John, Louis and Blanche agree to the match. King Philip commands the citizens of Angers to open their gates to let in the wedding party.
  • Just as they are about to go in, King Philip realizes that Constance has disappeared. Louis tells him that she is off crying. King Philip figures that it must be because he broke his promise to young Arthur.
  • Hearing this, King John offers to patch things up: he will make Arthur Duke of Britain (that is, Brittany, in Northern France), and Earl of Richmond, and he will give him Angers.
  • After these words, everybody heads inside the town. The only one left onstage in the Bastard.
  • The Bastard makes a cynical speech—he can't believe these scumbag politicians.
  • The Bastard goes off about how King John was willing to give away part of his kingdom in order to keep Arthur from getting all of it—and how King Philip was willing to stop helping Arthur in order to secure a good deal for his son.
  • The Bastard argues that these acts of betrayal go to show that "commodity" is what makes the world go round. By "commodity," the Bastard means self-interest, the desire for personal gain.
  • The Bastard rounds off his speech by saying that he is only complaining about the corrupt ways of the world because he hasn't gotten rich yet. Once he's rich, he'll think the worst people are the poor.
  • The Bastard ends his speech by praying to become rich.