One of the things I’m learning with my journey through all of William Shakespeare’s plays is that, most of his plays that are obscure, are obscure for a reason, they aren’t that good. That is certainly the case with King John.
As with many of the other history plays, King John mostly revolves around the throne and who has the rightful claim to the power that it holds. There are really only so many ways you can tell that story, and in King John it is done in a way that feels remedial and lacks creativity and excitement. Plus, the full title of the play gives away the ending, which isn’t so bad, but in this case it feels like a trek to get there, and it fizzles out when you do.
There were two characters that stood out to me in my reading, and I imagine they would be even more engaging on the stage. One is Constance, a mother, whose young son has a claim to the throne but is unable to seize power. The other is The Bastard who speaks truth to power and is sort an unhinged kind of person. The problem is these parts can’t carry the show and aren’t on stage enough to really make the narrative compelling.
If you’re planning on reading one of Shakespeare’s history plays I would suggest Richard II or Richard III long before King John. There just isn’t much to latch on to in this story of shifting allegiances and male ego.
- Paperback: 118 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (August 2000)
- 2/5 stars
- Buy King John on Amazon or IndieBound
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