Study Guide

King John Act 3, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 3, Scene 1

Read the full text of King John Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • In walk all the shiny, happy people, holding hands: King John and King Philip, accompanied by Louis, Blanche, Queen Eleanor, the Bastard, Austria, and all their attendants.
  • The Kings are so tickled with the arranged marriage they've, well...arranged, that they are, quite literally, holding hands. 
  • King Philip makes a toast about what a wonderful, holy day it is.
  • That gets Constance off her tuffet. She stands up and tells everybody within shouting distance that it's actually a "wicked day," not a "holy day." Major party faux pas.
  • King Philip tells her to pipe down. After all, they gave Arthur a bunch of land so he could be Duke of One Place and Earl of Something Else. But Constance won't have it. Next she starts in on Austria, accusing him of being a coward. 
  • Austria is miffed, especially when the Bastard starts rubbing it in.
  • King John steps in to keep the peace—but that ends up being unnecessary. Just then, in walks somebody who makes everyone shut up: Cardinal Pandolf, an ambassador from the Pope.
  • (Insert ominous music here.)
  • Pandolf asks King John why he refuses to support the Pope's choice for the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Time for a history snack to go with that wedding cake. In 1207, King John had an argument with Pope Innocent III. The problem was that the Pope wanted a friend of his, Stephen Langton, to become Archbishop of Canterbury, but John wanted another guy, John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich. Now, back to the play.
  • So, being an obedient monarch who does whatever the Church says, King John is now going to back down and tell the Pope he's sorry, right? WRONG. Instead, King John makes a speech about how the Pope has absolutely no right to meddle in any king's affairs, because a king is appointed by God to rule over his kingdom. By this line of reasoning, everybody else—including the Pope—should just butt out.
  • Brain Snack: Here, King John refers to a political theory called "divine right." The theory just says that kings have a god-given right to rule because God has hand-picked them to be monarchs. Shakespeare's kings are always running around citing this theory so other people won't try to boss them around or bump them off the throne.
  • King John says he's not going to let some lame "Italian priest" (that would be the Pope) meddle in English affairs.
  • King Philip goes, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, King John! You can't talk smack about the Pope!"
  • But King John doesn't listen. He says the Church is corrupt, and he couldn't care less if he's booted out of the Church.
  • In response, Pandolf goes, "Fine. King John, you're excommunicated." (That is, he is not able to take part in Communion, the most holy rite in the Catholic mass. This also means that the Pope is telling John's subjects that they don't have to obey him anymore.)
  • Not only that, but Pandolf says that the Church will be super pleased with anybody who kills John.
  • Brain Snack: This probably reminded the play's original audience of Shakespeare's monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. In 1570, Elizabeth was excommunicated by Pope Pius V, who wanted a Catholic monarch on England's throne. Then, in 1580, Pope Gregory XIII made a big announcement that if someone wanted to go ahead and kill Elizabeth, it wouldn't be a sin.
  • Constance takes this as an opportunity to curse King John a bit more.
  • Now Pandolf tells King Philip to break up his alliance with King John.
  • There is some confusing back and forth, as different sides try to pull King Philip one way or the other. Louis, Austria, and Constance are trying to get him to break up his alliance with King John. Blanche, Eleanor, and King John want him to keep it.
  • Philip has a hard time making up his mind. And so, he turns to Pandolf again, and makes a big speech about how his family and John's have just become one through the marriage of Louis and Blanche. Not to mention the fact that they were at war with each other until, oh, maybe an hour ago? Is Pandolf really asking them to give this all up and break the peace?
  • Pandolf says, "You bet I am." Then he tells King Philip that, if he doesn't make war against King John ASAP, he's going to end up on the Church's list of enemies.
  • When Philip protests, Pandolf beats him over the head with an extremely long and complicated speech.
  • This speech basically boils down to saying: you swore loyalty to the Church first; you can't be loyal to King John without being disloyal to the Church; therefore, you should honor your original agreement and break your ties with John. This same basic idea gets repeated several times in the speech, only in different language.
  • When Pandolf is done talking, Austria and Louis encourage Philip to make war against King John.
  • Blanche is shocked at Louis's attitude: is he really going to make war against his bride's family on their wedding day?
  • Meanwhile, Constance tries to persuade Philip to go for it.
  • Finally, King Philip announces that, fine, he won't be friends with King John anymore.
  • Blanche is pretty bummed— her divided loyalties mean that she will be grieving no matter how the battle turns out. (Does this sound familiar? It's basically how Juliet feels when her new husband Romeo kills her cousin Tybalt in Act 3, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet.)
  • After King John and King Philip spout some horrible threats at each other, each king heads back with his posse to his own army in order to get ready for battle.