Study Guide

King John

by William Shakespeare

King John Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

King John

King John, who, as a champion of opposition to the Church of Rome, is treated with a sympathy rare in English literature. John is not a clearly characterized or consistent figure. His conscience or his sense of expediency torments him when he hears that his nephew Arthur is dead by his command. He submits to Rome to save his land from France, but he dies poisoned by a monk at Swinstead Abbey before he can learn that his country is saved.

Queen Elinor

Queen Elinor, the king’s mother. A strong, arrogant, and domineering woman, she guides and encourages her son and puts backbone into him. She is pleased with her blunt, illegitimate grandson, Philip the Bastard, and apparently gentle and affectionate toward her pathetic small grandson, Arthur. Her death weakens the king.

Philip the Bastard

Philip the Bastard, the supposed older son of Sir Robert Faulconbridge, actually the child of King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Ceur de Lion). At Queen Elinor’s suggestion, he renounces his name and inheritance and is knighted by King John, becoming Sir Richard Plantagenet. Rough, strong, and loyal, he serves his country and his king well, acting as a symbol of English manhood in exhibiting good sense and judgment as well as boldness and humor. He taunts and later kills the duke of Austria, his father’s supposed slayer. He is King John’s instrument in rifling the monasteries. He is honored with the final speech in the play, a brief, patriotic eulogy on England.

Constance

Constance, the widow of Geoffrey Plantagenet and mother of Arthur. Intensely emotional and ambitious for her son’s career, she struggles to have him enthroned and thus indirectly causes his death. Her reaction to King Philip’s desertion of her son’s cause is violent. A message reaches King John that news of her son’s death has caused her own “in a frenzy.”

Arthur

Arthur, the duke of Bretagne (breh-TAHN-y), a gentle-hearted, bewildered child. His reported execution by John’s orders ruins the king. His death actually is an accident caused by an attempt to escape prison.

Robert Faulconbridge

Robert Faulconbridge (

(The entire section is 946 words.)

King John Character Analysis

Arthur (Arthur, Duke of Britain)

He is the son of Constance and Geffrey, King John's older brother. According to the law of primogeniture, or birth order, Arthur ought to...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

Constance

She is the widow of Geffrey—King John's older brother—and the mother of Arthur. Constance believes fiercely in her son Arthur's right to...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

de Burgh (Hubert de Burgh)

John's aid and right-hand-man, he is chosen to carry out the king's order to murder Arthur. In III.iii, John slowly reveals to Hubert his...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Elinor (Queen Elinor)

Historically, Eleanor of Aquitaine was Queen of France from 1137 until her divorce from Louis VI in 1152. That same year, she married Henry...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

John (King John of England)

The king of England, he is the son of Elinor and uncle to Arthur and Blanch. Historically, he became king in 1199 upon the death of his...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)

Lewis (Lewis the Dolphin [Dauphin])

The son of King Philip of France, Lewis is sometimes referred to as the Dauphin (or Dolphin)— that is, the king's eldest son. An ambitious...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Pandulph (Cardinal Pandulph)

A cardinal of the Church of Rome, he acts as the pope's ambassador to the courts of France and England. He represents one side of a central...

(The entire section is 668 words.)

Pembroke (Earl of Pembroke)

As an earl, Pembroke is one of the foremost noblemen in England. Each time he appears in the play he is in the company of the earl of...

(The entire section is 393 words.)

Philip (King Philip of France)

He is King John's principal political foe in the first half of the play. As Arthur and Constance's chief ally, Philip is not always...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

Philip the Bastard (also called Richard Plantagenet)

Legally, he is the first son of Lord and Lady Faulconbridge. Actually, he is the son of King Richard I and Lady Faulconbridge. Historically,...

(The entire section is 1295 words.)

Salisbury (Earl of Salisbury)

One of the highest ranking English noblemen in the play, the Earl of Salisbury often seems to waver between honor and self-interest. His...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Other Characters

Austria (Lymoges, Duke of Austria)
He is usually referred to in the play by his title, duke of Austria. He is a blend of two...

(The entire section is 1289 words.)