King Johan Essay - Critical Essays

John Bale

Critical Evaluation

John Bale, bishop of Ossory and one of the most outspoken champions of the English Reformation, claimed to have written some forty plays in his lifetime. Of these, five are extant; of these five, the allegorical King Johan is the most important. Although far too long and tedious for dramatic effectiveness, being in structure two plays or one play in two parts, it is interesting as a scathing and uncompromising attack on the Church of Rome and as a version of history different from that usually accepted. Challenging those historians—Polydore Virgil in particular—who made King Johan a knave, Bale depicts the king as a virtuous protector of the realm, who is betrayed by the covetousness and viciousness of the Church. History may be altered and revised to suit Bale’s cause, but the fact that he uses it at all is of concern, for King Johan announces the beginning of the great tradition of the English history play. It shows the transition from the old to the new—an allegorical play using the techniques of the medieval morality (Sedition, for instance, is an example of the morality “vice”), but using them to dramatize historical events.

King Johan well illustrates Bale’s position as a follower of the so-called New Learning as espoused by Cambridge reformers during the reign of Henry VIII. Two of these reformers particularly link Bale to that group. William Tyndale’s book on Christian obedience (1528) sets out the theme that Bale followed. To both Tyndale and Bale, King Johan was a king who was prevented from the exercise of his...

(The entire section is 646 words.)