King John | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King John | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

This final battlefield scene takes place in the French camp, where the Dauphin is congratulating himself on an evident victory over the English. A messenger arrives, announcing the death of Count Melun, the wreck of some French supply ships, and the English lords' return to their own king. Sobered by the bad news, the Dauphin nonetheless resolves to get up early and "try the fair adventure of tomorrow."

Analysis

At this point things are looking good for the English, but Shakespeare has already divulged all the bad news the messenger now reports. The French supply line disruptions were reported in Act 5, Scene 3, and both Melun's death and the lords' defection were mentioned in Scene 4. Why does Shakespeare rehash these military developments just as the play is reaching its conclusion?

One answer lies in the perspective this scene adopts. The previous two scenes dramatize the actions and reactions of Englishmen, but Act 5, Scene 5 shows the French response to the same events. In doing this Shakespeare helps establish the character of the Dauphin as energetic and youthful, in contrast to his indecisive father, King Philip. There is something to admire in the rapidity with which the Dauphin bounces back from misfortune and in his attempts to cheer up his officers. His warrior spirit is even more remarkable given his youth, which leads other characters to underestimate him.

As readers of Shakespeare's other histories will notice, these minor touches of heroism set the Dauphin apart from most other Shakespearean Frenchmen. He is clearly not the "good guy" in this play because he is ransacking English villages and threatening to seize the crown. Nonetheless, the Dauphin is portrayed as valiant and warlike, unlike the foppish princes of Henry V and the credulous cowards of Henry VI, Part 1.

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