THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KING JOHN
DE RENZI FRANCESCA
DE RENZI FRANCESCA
The Life and Death of King John is one of the Shakespearean histories, plays written by William Shakespeare and based on the history of England. The play dramatizes the reign of King John of England (reigned 1199–1216), son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and father of Henry III of England.
The play was in existence by 1598, since it is mentioned by Francis Meres in his list of Shakespearean plays published in that year; however, no early performances are recorded. Indeed, the earliest known performance took place in 1737, when John Rich staged a production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. In 1745, in the atmosphere of the Jacobite rebellion of that year, competing productions were staged by Colley Cibber at Covent Garden and David Garrick at Drury Lane. Charles Kemble's 1823 production made a serious effort at historical accuracy. Since then, King John has been one of Shakespeare's least-performed plays.
The play was first published in the First Folio in 1623.
Shakespeare's play possesses a close relationship with an earlier history play, The Troublesome Reign of King John (ca. 1589). The consensus among modern scholars is that the earlier play provided a source and model for Shakespeare's work.
The play opens with a demand from the French King Phillip for King John to abdicate in favor of his nephew Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, son of his elder brother Geoffrey. The five acts then depict a dizzying change of alliances, a Papal excommunication and subsequent acceptance, and the play ends finally with King John's slow death after apparent poisoning at the hands of a monk.
Throughout the play, a character known as "The Bastard" delivers a sceptical commentary on nobility, "commodity" (self-interest) and English sovereignty.
It is sometimes considered odd that Magna Carta is never mentioned in the play, since this is what King John is best remembered for today. However, Magna Carta was considered in Shakespeare's time, "not as a triumph for liberty, but rather as a shameful attempt to weaken the central monarchy." Also, the focus of the play is on the quarrel over the succession, and Shakespeare would not have thought Magna Carta relevant to his story. Despite this, it was common for Victorian productions of the play to interpolate a spectacular tableau of the signing of Magna Carta into the middle of the play.