King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 5, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

In the French camp at St. Edmundsbury, Louis, the Dauphin is receiving the English defectors: Lord Bigot and the Earls of Salisbury and Pembroke. He orders his lieutenant, Count Melun, to make copies of his truce with the English lords. Salisbury expresses his loyalty to the Dauphin but also his regret at having to kill his own countrymen. The Dauphin voices admiration for Salisbury's "noble" spirit and promises he will be rewarded for his service.

Pandulph arrives to report John's reconciliation with the pope. Since both England and France are at peace with the Church, Pandulph declares, peace must now prevail between them. The Dauphin refuses to be made a mere tool of the papacy and announces his intention to keep fighting. The Bastard appears, ostensibly to check on the progress of Pandulph's peace talks. He is unsurprised to learn of the Dauphin's unwillingness to back down and promises England will easily drive out the French. Refusing to hear any further talk from Pandulph or the Bastard, the Dauphin leaves to ready his troops for the next battle.

Analysis

After the embarrassment of Act 5, Scene 1 this scene offers a bit of vicarious revenge. Pandulph, used to coercing obedience on behalf of the pope, finds he cannot bully the Dauphin into ending the war. Like King John earlier in the play, the Dauphin now uses sarcasm to reject the pope's authority, asking, "Am I Rome's slave? What penny hath Rome borne? / What men provided? What munition sent / To underprop this action?"

In other words, "Why should I take orders from the Pope, when I'm the one paying for the war?" In fighting the war to begin with, the Dauphin has gone against his own better judgment by violating a peace treaty whose ink was barely dry. Since the war began, Pandulph has encouraged the Dauphin on (Act 3, Scene 4) by suggesting France could take over England altogether. Now, just as the Dauphin is beginning to realize his hope of conquering England, he is told to make peace, pack up, and return to France. Seen in this light, his frustration is understandable.

In his history plays Shakespeare often portrays the Catholic Church as a shadowy organization that gets others to do its dirty work. King John is no exception. This evident prejudice reflects the culture and legal regime of Elizabethan England, where Catholicism had been outlawed since 1559 and Anglicanism was the state religion. For an audience in 1590s London, the decision to defy the pope would likely have boosted the Dauphin's image, somewhat counteracting his status as a Frenchman. Indeed, the Dauphin is on a very short list of Shakespearean Frenchmen who are not dandies, villains, or cowards. Practically, however, the Dauphin's defiance also means the war is not over. King John and England itself are still under threat.

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