King John "Though It Be A Foul Great Lie: Set Upon It A Good Face"

William Shakespeare

"Though It Be A Foul Great Lie: Set Upon It A Good Face"

Context: In the time of the Tudors, John Bale, Bishop of Ossory, was such a vitriolic defender of Protestantism that he was ejected from his pulpit for excessive vehemence. Thereafter, using the stage as a vehicle for propaganda, he turned sections of the Bible story into pious drama in such productions as The Chief Promises of God, John Baptistes Preaching in the Wilderness, and The Temptation of our Lord by Satan. His best known work is King John, evidently first composed during the reign of Edward VI and later recast during the reign of Elizabeth. The drama was not printed and, hence, was unknown until a century ago when a manuscript was discovered at Ipswich, where the author had spent his final years. The plot, which illustrates the transition from the morality play to Elizabethan drama as we know it, sets forth Widow England and her blind son Commonalty whom King John courageously attempts to save but whose efforts are foiled by agents of Rome. Declaring that his purpose is to vindicate a patriot king from the Rome-inspired slanders of Polydore Vergil–historian of the time of Henry VIII–Bale parades before his audience an admixture of allegorical personifications and characters from history. England's salvation, he counsels, is to be found in the new learning, and, in an obvious move to curry royal favor, he concludes the play with Verity pronouncing a benediction upon Elizabeth's labors for the true religion. After John's attempts to defy the Roman Church have failed, Cardinal Pandulph, Sedition, and Dissimulation consider how the king might be dispatched:

Sir, this is my mind: I will give King John this poison,
So making him sure that he shall never have foison.
And this must thou say to color with the thing,
That a penny loaf he would have brought to a shilling.
Nay, that is such a lie as easily will be felt.
Tush, man, among fools it never will be outsmelt!
Though it be a foul great lie: set upon it a good face,
And that will cause men believe it in every place.
I am sure, then, thou wilt give it him in a drink.
Marry, that I will and the one half with him swynk,
To encourage him to drink the bottom off.