Study Guide

King John Act 4, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

Act 4, Scene 2

Read the full text of King John Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Now we are in the English royal court, where King John has just had himself crowned... for a second time.
  • Pembroke and Salisbury, two English noblemen, criticize John for this second coronation. They think it's pointless and wasteful. Also, they think that it makes people suspicious. If everything's on the up and up with John's right to be king, what's the point of getting crowned again?
  • King John replies, "I've got my own reasons for getting crowned again. Anyway, tell me what you want changed, and I'll do what I can to make you happy."
  • Pembroke tells the king that he and the other nobles only request that Arthur be set free. He says that imprisoning Arthur makes the people doubt that King John really has a legal right to the crown. Why else would he go to the trouble of locking his nephew up?
  • Before King John can answer, Hubert walks into the room.
  • King John tells the nobles, "No problem, your wish is my command." Then, he steps aside to have a private chat with Hubert. In the meantime, the nobles have a private chat of their own, amongst themselves.
  • Pembroke says to Salisbury that he knows, through a friend, that Hubert had a warrant to execute Arthur. He also says that Hubert has a nervous, guilty look to him. Salisbury thinks the king looks nervous, too.
  • When King John is done talking to Hubert, he turns to the two noblemen and says, "Sorry, fellas. You know I'd love to grant your request, but unfortunately, Arthur is dead."
  • As you might expect, Pembroke and Salisbury think this is pretty shady. Even though King John acts like he had nothing to do with it, his noblemen storm out in a huff.
  • Just then, a messenger comes in. King John asks him what's going on in France. The messenger replies that the French have gotten together a giant invasion force—and have already landed in England.
  • King John can't believe his ears. How come his mother Eleanor, who is still in France, didn't warn him? The messenger replies that Queen Eleanor is dead. Constance is dead, too. According to the rumor, anyway.
  • King John's all, "Oh no! My mom's dead? Now what's going to happen to all my land in France?" Because priorities.
  • Next, King John says he wants to know who's leading the French forces. The messenger tells him it's Louis, the Dauphin of France.
  • Just then, in walks the Bastard, accompanied by a man named Peter of Pomfret.
  • The Bastard tells King John that church robbing has been a huge success... except for the fact that all the people of the land are freaked out by it.
  • Get your highlighters out, because this is important: It turns out that Peter of Pomfret is a manic street preacher. He's predicted that King John will give up his crown before the next Ascension Day. (Ascension Day celebrates the day when Christians believe Jesus ascended to Heaven, 40 days after he came back from the dead.)
  • King John orders Hubert to throw the preacher in the slammer—and to hang him on Ascension Day. Problem solved.
  • Hubert takes Peter away.
  • With that out of the way, King John asks the Bastard what else is going on.
  • The Bastard reveals that he encountered Lord Bigot and the Earl of Salisbury on their way to find the grave of Arthur.
  • King John orders the Bastard to go meet up with them and try to bring them back around to his side. With France invading England, he needs all the help he can get. John tells the messenger who just came from France to go with the Bastard.
  • Now Hubert comes back into the room. Hubert tells King John that Arthur's death has got people freaked out throughout all of England.
  • King John starts blaming Hubert for Arthur's death. Hubert's not having it—he reminds John that he's the one who ordered him to do it.
  • Hmm. Is it just us, or does this remind you of what goes down in another Shakespearean history play, Richard II? Remember how Henry IV orders the execution of Richard II and then freaks out and denies it when the deed is done (in Act 5, Scene 6, of Richard II)?
  • After listening to more griping from King John, Hubert finally interrupts and explains that actually, Arthur isn't really dead.
  • Well, hooray. King John is overjoyed. He tells Hubert to hurry after the noblemen who are looking for Arthur's grave. King John hopes that once Hubert reveals the truth that Arthur is alive, the noblemen will come back to his side.