King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 5, Scene 3 | Summary



On the battlefield King John receives bad news from Hubert and divulges his own failing health. A messenger from the Bastard comes to ask King John to leave the battlefield. John decides to head for Swinstead Abbey. The messenger tries to cheer the king by announcing the retreat of the French and the interruption of their supply lines. King John, however, is too sick to celebrate.


This scene continues to stir up doubt regarding the outcome of the French invasion. If the Dauphin is to be believed in Act 5, Scene 2, the French enjoy a huge advantage at this point in the war, and the losses reported by Hubert in the present scene are more of a setback than a defeat. John's illness and subsequent retreat further complicated the picture: will the king's absence demoralize the troops or free them to concentrate on the task at hand?

John's death, by the way, will later be blamed on poison, but there is no sign of foul play at this juncture. The simplest explanation is John, already anxious and demoralized, develops a fever while still attempting to lead his army. Then, in his weakened state, he is poisoned by the monks at Swinstead before he has a chance to recuperate. John's final illness and manner of death is discussed in greater detail in the Insights to Act 5, Scene 7.

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