Shakespeare's Staging
King John
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Friday, 22 April 2005 06:12

King John: Charles Kean as King John, Ellen Kean as Constance. Note the careful historical costuming. UCB Shakespeare Program collection.


This rather plodding play defies modern expectations based on popular history, since Magna Carta is not even mentioned and, if anything, the shifty King John gains more credit than usual for at least defying papal and other foreign attempts at inteference in English affairs. The charmingly pathetic Prince Arthur dies accidentally, though ironically still provoking a rebellion which is ultimately censured by the more or less choric figure of the Bastard Faulconbridge (2.2.20). He has much of the verve and skepticism of Edmund in King Lear, but less villainy. His humorous comments on others' egotistical actions redeem the potential tedium of much of the diplomatic oratory, not to mention the interminable complaints of the widowed Constance in vainly seeking the succession rights of her son Arthur, due by John's elder brother, Geoffrey. The outcome of this rather inconclusive script in terms of staging is that most productions ornament the text with vivid visual effects (3.2.5 and 6.2.31).


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Beaurline, L. A., ed. King John. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Brailow, David G. "King John." Review of King John, Chicago Shakespeare. Shakespeare Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 90-5.

Braunmuller, A. R., ed. King John. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Colley, Scott. "BBC TV King John." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 10, no. 1 (Dec. 1985): 5.

Curren-Aquino, Deborah T., ed. King John: New Perspectives. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989.

Genzinger, Neil. "A Royal Rivalry With No Winner." Review of King John, Shakespeare Theater, New Jersey. New York Times, August 3, 2003.

Greman, Eamon. Review of "King John": New Perspectives, edited by D. T. Curren-Aquino. Shakespeare Quarterly 42, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 110-13.

Gutman, Les. Review of King John, Theatre for a New Audience, The American Place Theater, New York, 2000. CurtainUp, January 31, 2000.

Kachur, B. A. "The First Shakespeare Film: A Reconsideration and Reconstruction of Tree's King John." Theatre Survey 32 (1991): 43-63.

Maillet, Greg. Review of King John, Stratford Festival of Canada. Shakespeare Bulletin 23, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 157-8.

McKernan, Luke. "Beerbohm Tree's King John Rediscovered: The First Shakespeare Film, September 1899." Shakespeare Bulletin 11, no. 1 (1993): 35-36.

Waith, Eugene M. "King John, Henry VIII, and the Arts of Performing Shakespeare's History Plays." In The Arts of Performance in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Drama: Essays for G. K. Hunter, edited by Murray Biggs, Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and Eugene M. Waith, 70-80. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

King John: Henry Betty as Faulconbridge.

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