Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*England. The play’s English settings include King John’s castle, a battlefield, and an orchard near Swinstead Abbey. All these places are merely backdrops for the debates, declamations, disputes, and lamentations of the characters. The main focus is on the opposition between John and the Bastard, and it is this conflict rather than any setting or place which is crucial to the play’s shape. In fact, the play’s momentum would be retarded by more than passing reference to particular settings. It is character or episode rather than setting which makes a dramatic impression here, for this play is most vivid in such scenes as the King’s bellowing at the French ambassador as Elinor, his mother, is amused; the Bastard’s speech on Commodity; the blinding of young Arthur by Hubert; and John’s death by poisoning.
*France. The play’s French settings—which include the king’s pavilion, the Dauphin’s camp at St. Edmundsbury, and the French camp—are significant only to mark the politics of international diplomacy. Once again, the play reveals that detailed settings would merely impede the momentum, for the political arguments occur at high speed. Some productions dispense almost totally with scenic elements, showing clearly that the only value of place in this play is that which comes from the fact that it is English history turned into a work for the stage.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Barroll, J. Leeds, ed. Shakespeare Studies. Vol. 1. Cincinnati, Ohio: University of Cincinnati, 1965. The first in a series of anthologies of Shakespearean criticism. “Shakespeare and the Double Image in King John,” by John R. Elliot, is principally concerned with the historical and literary sources of the play.
Honigmann, E. A. J., ed. The Arden Shakespeare: King John. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. In addition to the text of the play itself, this volume contains more than seventy pages of introductory material. The sources, the production history, and the text itself are considered. There are also appendices dealing with the sources and problems with the text.
Lloyd Evans, Gareth. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive discussion of the dramatic works of William Shakespeare. While the major emphasis is on critical reviews of the plays, there are also discussions of sources as well as material on the circumstances which surrounded the writing of the plays.
Pierce, Robert B. Shakespeare’s History Plays: The Family and the State. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971. A general discussion of Shakespeare’s history plays. King John is considered as a transitional play between the early history plays and the later plays on Henry IV and V, which Pierce considers to be far greater works.
Ribner, Irving. The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1965. A revised edition of the 1957 work first published in the United States by Princeton University Press. A discussion of history plays in the Elizabethan era of English drama, including a discussion of Shakespeare’s contributions in the field. The development of the form through the period is discussed, and its sources are considered.