Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
King John of England indignantly rejects the message of the French envoy, Chatillon, that Philip, king of France, has decided to support the claim of young Prince Arthur—the son of John’s deceased older brother Geffrey—for the throne of England. At the same time, the Faulconbridge brothers bring their domestic quarrel to the king’s court: Philip (identified throughout the play as the “Bastard”) complains that his younger brother Richard has claimed his lands. Philip decides, however, to surrender his claim and to seek success on his own initiative after acknowledging that he is the son of the late King Richard I, John’s brother. Embarrassed, Philip’s elderly mother admits that Richard was indeed his father.
At the French court, King Philip of France and the duke of Austria vow to fight on behalf of Arthur’s claim, while Arthur, in exchange for their military support, is willing to forgive Austria for having killed his uncle, King Richard. Chatillon reports that the English forces are marching to Angiers, led by John, who has brought along his formidable mother, Eleanor of Acquitaine, as well as the Bastard. John enters to demand that France support his right to the English throne, but King Philip upholds Arthur’s claim.
At the besieged city of Angiers, its spokesman, the Citizen, explains from the city walls to the two armies that the town is loyal to the English king and insists that it will admit the king, once the true...
(The entire section is 1009 words.)
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The play opens at the English court of King John. Chatillion, an emissary from King Philip of France, declares that Philip claims the English crown and all its territories in the name of Arthur, King John's nephew. John vows that he will sail to France immediately to wage war against Philip. Robert Faulconbridge and Philip the Bastard enter, and present competing claims to the late Sir Robert's Faulconbridge's land and fortune. Robert argues that his father was overseas on a mission and the late King Richard was staying at the Faulconbridge estate when Philip was conceived; he notes that on his deathbed, Sir Robert denied that Philip was his son. Elinor, King John's mother, asks the Bastard if he will forsake his claim to the Faulconbridge inheritance, and he readily agrees. John officially declares Philip the Bastard to be Richard's son. Left alone, the Bastard soliloquizes about honor, flattery, and his new circumstances. Lady Faulconbridge appears, and when the Bastard asks her to tell him who his father was, she admits that it was King Richard, not Sir Robert Faulconbridge.
Outside the French city of Angiers, King Philip has assembled his noblemen and allies. King John arrives with his followers, and the two monarchs formally exchange rival claims about who has the more valid right to the English throne: John or Arthur. Elinor and Constance, Arthur's mother, hurl insults at each other, while the Bastard vows to...
(The entire section is 1370 words.)