Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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.