King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Lord Bigot and the Earls of Salisbury and Pembroke commiserate about the strength of the English army. Mortally wounded, the French officer Count Melun staggers onto the stage and issues a dire warning: the English defectors are "bought and sold" and should return to King John while they can. Otherwise, if the French win the battle, the Dauphin plans to go back on his truce and behead Salisbury, Pembroke, and Bigot as traitors. Grateful for the warning, the English lords help Melun exit the field.

Analysis

The needle of the Anglo-French "battle meter" now tips back toward England. With the leading noblemen restored to John's favor, England's army stands a substantially better chance of victory.

It's worth noting when Salisbury, Pembroke, and Bigot defected in Act 4, King John did not lose only three men: he lost a host of knights, soldiers, and other followers loyal to their lords and not to John directly. The highly centralized English monarchy familiar in Shakespeare's time did not arise until long after the events of King John. There was, as yet, no large standing army of professional soldiers, paid by and answerable to the monarch. Thus, when the "angry lords" reconcile with King John, they bring with them a force capable—at least in principle—of shifting the tide of the war.

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