Study Guide

King John Act 4, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 4, Scene 1

Read the full text of King John Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Act IV opens in a castle prison in England. Onstage is a brazier with some hot coals smoldering in it.
  • Hubert comes on stage, along with some scary-looking executioners who are holding some rope and irons.
  • Hubert tells the executioners to heat up the irons in the hot coals but he wants them to do this out of sight, behind the arras (curtain).
  • You'd think this would be a fire hazard, but Hubert doesn't seem to mind. He just tells them to wait until they hear him stamp his foot; that will be their signal to run out and tie Arthur to a chair.
  • One of the executioners says, "I sure hope you have the authority to do this." Hubert says, "Quit your whining. I've got it under control."
  • The executioners go hide. Hubert calls out to Arthur. Arthur comes out on stage.
  • As Arthur and Hubert chit chat, it becomes obvious that Hubert has sort of grown attached to little Arthur.
  • In an aside (a speech shared only between the character and the audience), Hubert says that he'd better act quickly—otherwise his sense of pity will get the better of him.
  • Arthur sees that Hubert's upset, and asks him what the matter is. Hubert shows Arthur a piece of paper: it is a warrant from the king, commanding Hubert to burn out Arthur's eyes.
  • Arthur can't believe what he has just read. Hubert tells him the truth. Now Arthur says he can't believe Hubert would do it. Hubert says he will. Then Arthur reminds Hubert of how he took care of him when he was sick.
  • But Hubert tries to act hard; he says he has sworn to blind Arthur, and therefore has to do it.
  • Arthur can't believe that he will—he says that he doesn't even think the iron itself could do it (Exaggerating a bit?), so how could Hubert do it? At that, Hubert stamps his foot, and the executioners come forward. He tells them to do what they agreed on.
  • Arthur begs the executioners not to be so rough. Finally, Hubert tells the executioners to go away and leave him alone with Arthur. One of the executioners says he's glad to do so.
  • Arthur begs Hubert to spare him. Hubert keeps saying that he won't.
  • Arthur notices that the iron has gone cold and Hubert says he can heat it up. Arthur uses the iron as a metaphor for Hubert's own emotions; he claims that Hubert has lost his momentum, and doesn't have it in him any more to do the deed.
  • Finally, without warning, Hubert says that he won't do it; he won't burn out Arthur's eyes. Hubert tells Arthur that he'll have to lie low for a while: no one can know that he's still alive.