King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

At his palace King John ceremonially receives the crown from Cardinal Pandulph, who has reconciled England to the pope. John now urges Pandulph to meet with the French and stop the war. Pandulph agrees to do so. As he is exiting the stage, the Bastard enters, bearing news of the French army's disastrous incursions into English territory. The rebel lords, he says, found Arthur dead and defected to the Dauphin's side. Nonetheless, he urges John to be bold and decisive, preventing the French from securing an easy victory. John informs him of his reconciliation with Pandulph, which the Bastard scoffs at. He tells John he must be prepared anyway, in case the French are unwilling to abide by the truce. John, still demoralized, grants the Bastard command over the English army.

Analysis

For those keeping score, John has now been crowned three times: once before the start of the play, again in Act 4, Scene 2, and a final time here. Much like duct tape, the crown seems to lose some of its "stickiness" each time it is applied. Back in Act 4, John's re-crowning caused consternation among his noblemen, who saw it—correctly—as a sign of insecurity rather than strength.

In this scene the situation is worse. John regains the English crown, but not as a ruler in his own right. Rather he has turned over the English monarchy to the pope, who is lending it back to John in exchange for good behavior. John, who mocked the pontiff as a "slight, unworthy, and ridiculous" figure in Act 3, now humiliatingly acknowledges the pope as his sovereign. Pandulph, as the pope's representative, even mocks John a little by calling him a "gentle convertite," a term that emphasizes the king's submissiveness. Historically, John's reconciliation with the pope offered him some protection from his rebellious noblemen, though not enough to bring a stop to the civil war ravaging England.

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