King Johan Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

England complains to King Johan that she was stripped of her rights and her wealth by the rapacious clergy who drove her husband, God, from the realm. King Johan promises to right her wrongs but is mocked by Sedition, the comic vice and the foremost agent of the Church. Sedition, demonstrating the way in which he and the Church subvert the government of kings, introduces Dissimulation, his right-hand man. Dissimulation works with Private Wealth and Usurped Power. Private Wealth is the darling of the religious orders; he gives strength to Usurped Power, who sustains the arrogance of popes.

King Johan defies Sedition and his cohorts. He calls Nobility, Clergy, and Civil Order to him and prevails on them for their support. Nobility and Civil Order give theirs willingly, but Clergy is reluctant. King Johan was too harsh on him. When the king reminds him of the temporal rights of rulers as outlined in the Gospel, Clergy, still reluctant, consents.

The allegiance of the three is short-lived, however, for Sedition and his minions have little trouble convincing them that the actual power of Rome is stronger than any abstract claim based on the Gospel. Besides, the Church has the sole right of interpreting the Gospel. Nobility, Clergy, and Civil Order are forsworn.

King Johan, now bereft of his three strongest allies, places all of his hopes on Commonalty, his one sure support. Commonalty, the true child of England, is brought to King Johan by his mother, and the king is dismayed to learn that he is both impoverished and blind. He is impoverished, his mother explains, because the Church stole all his goods; his blindness symbolizes his spiritual ignorance, an ignorance in which he is kept by the conspiracy of Clergy who is supposed to open his eyes. For all his failings, Commonalty still is faithful to the king who always sees to his welfare. He willingly reasserts his faith.

In the end, however, he is no more staunch than his more exalted brothers. Clergy has too strong a hold on him, and he, too,...

(The entire section is 833 words.)