O inglorious league!
Shall we, upon the footing of our land,
Send fair-play orders and make compremise,
Insinuation, parley, and base truce
To arms invasive?
Philip Faulconbridge, the illegitimate son of Richard the
Lion-Hearted, is this play's patriotic spokesman. Although, unlike
King John, he is a consistent defender of English sovereignty, he
is a little inconsistent in his use of the phrase "fair play,"
which he coins. ("Foul play" had been around since the fifteenth
century.) In the first instance, he uses the phrase sarcastically,
to denote cowardly courtesy toward the very powers—the Vatican and
the French—who are brokering England's future. Having capitulated
to the Pope, King John receives in return a pledge to pacify the
invading French forces, a "league" Faulconbridge characterizes as
"inglorious." He rejects "fair-play orders" and "compremise"
(compromise); "fair play" is merely capitulation.
In the second instance, however, Faulconbridge stands upon "fair
play," seeking audience with the Pope's legate as courtesy and
chivalry demand. Even here, though, there is some sarcasm in the
bastard, because his mission is to reject the pact with the Pope
and the capitulation to France. "Fair play" is merely customary
courtesy, a show of civility to those one detests to the point of
bloodshed. What has become for us a mark of civility—playing by the
rules of the game—is still for Faulconbridge an ambivalent quality,
a not always necessary evil.