King John – William Shakespeare

For one of the less-beloved histories, this was quite funny and entertaining. It was a lot less dull than Henry VI Part I and moved along briskly. The Bastard is a fantastic character and Hubert and John himself both interesting. The supporting characters, from Constance to Arthur to the Dauphin to to Salisbury to Pandulph, are consistently and distinctly characterized.

One thing that I think people miss is that the first half of the play (everything up till John suborns Hubert to kill Arthur) is hilarious, and deliberately so. The whole business with Angiers and the papal legate should have the audience rolling on the floor, to say nothing of the Bastard’s antics. The play takes its cue from him- capable of seriousness, but always with an edge of humor.

Highlights include anything with the Bastard (who banters with Eleanor of Aquitaine in his first scene!), Hubert and John’s interactions, anything where John is a blatant hypocrite, and Constance’s “I am not mad. This hair I tear is mine” speech. And the bit where the Bastard stops the lords from murdering Hubert and then turns out to wrongly suspect Hubert himself.

Not top-grade Shakespeare but not as bad as its reputation either, and not the worst of the histories.

The New Penguin edition was annoying in that it had endnotes instead of footnotes, requiring constant flipping back and forth. It only cost a dollar secondhand, so I couldn’t say no, but if you have a choice, go with Signet instead.

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