Study Guide

King John Act 5, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 5, Scene 1

Read the full text of King John Act 5 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Welcome to the royal court of England. King John is kneeling before Pandolf. He gives his crown to Pandolf, who then gives it back to him.
  • Okay. It looks like King John and the Pope are buddies again—but there's a catch. Now, officially, the Pope owns England; it just so happens that he's kind enough to let John keep ruling it.
  • History Snack: Remember how we said back in Act 3, Scene 1 that King John and the Pope fought about who should get to be the Archbishop of Canterbury? That whole argument started in 1207. By the year 1213, it had become clear that John wasn't going to back down; thus, Pope Innocent III excommunicated King John, basically told his subjects that they didn't have to be loyal to him anymore, and put a bounty on his head. The Pope also threatened to get other European monarchs to go to war with England. All of this happened over a 6-year period but Shakespeare smooshes the events together so they'll fit in his 5-act play. Anyway, King John realized that he was no match for the Pope so, just like Shakespeare shows in his play, King John gave England to the Pope; from then on, he would rule it as the Pope's tenant. In the language of the day, this meant that he would hold England as a "fief." On top of that, King John had to make annual cash payments to the Pope. Bummer. Now back to the play.
  • Once all this business of giving-the-crown-away-and-getting-it-back is done, King John says to Pandolf, "All right: I've lived up to my half of the bargain; now it's time for you to do your part. Help me get these darned rebels and Frenchmen off my back."
  • In response, Pandolf says, "No worries. I'm the one who stirred up this trouble; it'll be easy enough for me to set things right again. Mark my words: on this very Ascension Day, I'll solve all your problems." Then Pandolf leaves.
  • Once Pandolf is gone, King John starts saying to himself, "Ascension Day, Ascension Day… why does that ring a bell? Oh, I know! That's the day when that crazy man Peter of Pomfret said I'd give up my crown!"
  • Then King John has an idea: "But—I just gave up my crown… and got it right back. Winning!"
  • King John seems to have forgotten that he ordered Peter of Pomfret to be hanged on this day. Could there still be time to save the man's life? We'll never know, because just at that moment, John gets distracted by the Bastard walking on to the scene.
  • The Bastard brings bad news: throughout the land, people are flocking to support the invading French and their allies, the rebel English noblemen.
  • King John asks if the news that Arthur is still alive had the effect of calming people down.
  • The Bastard replies that Arthur is dead.
  • King John now thinks that Hubert betrayed him by telling him that Arthur was alive. The Bastard sticks up for Hubert, telling John that he doesn't think he did the deed.
  • Then the Bastard tells John to stop being such a downer: if the people are going to fight on his behalf, he has to show them that he's a strong and powerful leader.
  • King John responds by telling the Bastard how Pandolf has promised to set things in order again.
  • The Bastard doesn't like the sounds of that; he considers such an alliance with the Pope dishonorable.
  • The Bastard says that the English people should at least get an army ready, to show that they aren't total pushovers. King John says, "Fine. But you take care of it."
  • The Bastard promises to do so. He and King John both leave the stage.