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King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



This short scene dramatizes a battle between the French and English armies. The Bastard enters the stage, bearing the severed head of the Duke of Austria. King John arrives a moment later, accompanied by the captive Arthur and the English gentleman Hubert. Entrusting Arthur to Hubert's care, he then asks about his mother, Queen Eleanor. The Bastard replies, "I rescued her. / Her Highness is in safety." The Bastard then urges John to reenter the battle, where an English victory—a "happy end"—seems near.


As in his other history plays, Shakespeare takes a series of different but roughly contemporary wars and stitches them together to give the impression of a single, intense conflict. Because both Arthur (d. c. 1203) and Eleanor (d. 1204) are alive, the battle depicted here probably belongs to the Anglo-French War of 1202–04. Yet Shakespeare later portrays the war with France as segueing directly into the rebellion of King John's noblemen, an episode known as the First Barons' War (1215–17). In doing so he alters a gap of roughly 10 years between the Anglo-French War of 1202–04 and that of 1213–14. Dramatically the effect is to underscore King John's difficulties by presenting him as almost constantly under siege from Act 2 onward. A similar "cut and paste" approach to history is used in the Henry VI trilogy, with the same overall effect of sustained but ever-mutating crisis.

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