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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act IV. Scene II.

The Life and Death of King John

The Same.A Room of State in the Palace.

Enter KING JOHN, crowned; PEMBROKE, SALISBURY, and other Lords.The KING takes his state.

K. John.Here once again we sit, once again crown’d,

And look’d upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.

Pem.This ‘once again,’ but that your highness pleas’d,

Was once superfluous: you were crown’d before,

And that high royalty was ne’er pluck’d off,

The faiths of men ne’er stained with revolt;

Fresh expectation troubled not the land

With any long’d-for change or better state.

Sal.Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,

To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

Pem.But that your royal pleasure must be done,

This act is as an ancient tale new told,

And in the last repeating troublesome,

Being urged at a time unseasonable.

Sal.In this the antique and well-noted face

Of plain old form is much disfigured;

And, like a shifted wind unto a sail,

It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,

Startles and frights consideration,

Makes sound opinion sick and truth suspected,

For putting on so new a fashion’d robe.

Pem.When workmen strive to do better than well

They do confound their skill in covetousness;

And oftentimes excusing of a fault

Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse:

As patches set upon a little breach

Discredit more in hiding of the fault

Than did the fault before it was so patch’d.

Sal.To this effect, before you were newcrown’d,

We breath’d our counsel but it pleas’d your highness

To overbear it, and we are all well pleas’d;

Since all and every part of what we would

Doth make a stand at what your highness will.

K. John.Some reasons of this double coronation

I have possess’d you with and think them strong;

And more, more strong,—when lesser is my fear,—

I shall indue you with: meantime but ask

What you would have reform’d that is not well;

And well shall you perceive how willingly

I will both hear and grant you your requests.

Pem.Then I,—as one that am the tongue of these

To sound the purposes of all their hearts,—

Both for myself and them,—but, chief of all,

Your safety, for the which myself and them

Bend their best studies,—heartily request

The enfranchisement of Arthur; whose restraint

Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent

To break into this dangerous argument:

If what in rest you have in right you hold,

Why then your fears,—which, as they say, attend

The steps of wrong,—should move you to mew up

Your tender kinsman, and to choke his days

With barbarous ignorance, and deny his youth

The rich advantage of good exercise?

That the time’s enemies may not have this

To grace occasions, let it be our suit

That you have bid us ask, his liberty;

Which for our goods we do no further ask

Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,

Counts it your weal he have his liberty.


K. John.Let it be so: I do commit his youth

To your direction. Hubert, what news with you?[Taking him apart.

Pem.This is the man should do the bloody deed;

He show’d his warrant to a friend of mine:

The image of a wicked heinous fault

Lives in his eye; that close aspect of his

Does show the mood of a much troubled breast;

And I do fearfully believe ’tis done,

What we so fear’d he had a charge to do.

Sal.The colour of the king doth come and go

Between his purpose and his conscience,

Like heralds ’twixt two dreadful battles set:

His passion is so ripe it needs must break.

Pem.And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence

The foul corruption of a sweet child’s death.

K. John.We cannot hold mortality’s strong hand:

Good lords, although my will to give is living,

The suit which you demand is gone and dead:

He tells us Arthur is deceas’d to-night.

Sal.Indeed we fear’d his sickness was past cure.

Pem.Indeed we heard how near his death he was

Before the child himself felt he was sick:

This must be answer’d, either here or hence.

K. John.Why do you bend such solemn brows on me?

Think you I bear the shears of destiny?

Have I commandment on the pulse of life?

Sal.It is apparent foul play; and ’tis shame

That greatness should so grossly offer it:

So thrive it in your game! and so, farewell.

Pem.Stay yet, Lord Salisbury; I’ll go with thee,

And find the inheritance of this poor child,

His little kingdom of a forced grave.

That blood which ow’d the breadth of all this isle,

Three foot of it doth hold: bad world the while!

This must not be thus borne: this will break out

To all our sorrows, and ere long I doubt.[Exeunt Lords.

K. John.They burn in indignation. I repent:

There is no sure foundation set on blood,

No certain life achiev’d by others’ death.

Enter a Messenger.

A fearful eye thou hast: where is that blood

That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks?

So foul a sky clears not without a storm:

Pour down thy weather: how goes all in France?

Mess.From France to England. Never such a power

For any foreign preparation

Was levied in the body of a land.

The copy of your speed is learn’d by them;

For when you should be told they do prepare,

The tidings come that they are all arriv’d.

K. John.O! where hath our intelligence been drunk?

Where hath it slept? Where is my mother’s care

That such an army could be drawn in France,

And she not hear of it?

Mess.My liege, her ear

Is stopp’d with dust: the first of April died

Your noble mother; and, as I hear, my lord,

The Lady Constance in a frenzy died

Three days before: but this from rumour’s tongue

I idly heard; if true or false I know not.

K. John.Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!

O! make a league with me, till I have pleas’d

My discontented peers. What! mother dead!

How wildly then walks my estate in France!

Under whose conduct came those powers of France

That thou for truth giv’st out are landed here?

Mess.Under the Dauphin.

K. John.Thou hast made me giddy

With these ill tidings.


Now, what says the world

To your proceedings? do not seek to stuff

My head with more ill news, for it is full.

Bast.But if you be afeard to hear the worst,

Then let the worst unheard fall on your head.

K. John.Bear with me, cousin, for I was amaz’d

Under the tide; but now I breathe again

Aloft the flood, and can give audience

To any tongue, speak it of what it will.

Bast.How I have sped among the clergymen,

The sums I have collected shall express.

But as I travell’d hither through the land,

I find the people strangely fantasied,

Possess’d with rumours, full of idle dreams,

Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.

And here’s a prophet that I brought with me

From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found

With many hundreds treading on his heels;

To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rimes,

That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon,

Your highness should deliver up your crown.

K. John.Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?

Peter.Foreknowing that the truth will fall out so.

K. John.Hubert, away with him; imprison him:

And on that day at noon, whereon, he says,

I shall yield up my crown, let him be hang’d.

Deliver him to safety, and return,

For I must use thee.[Exit HUBERT, with PETER.

O my gentle cousin,

Hear’st thou the news abroad, who are arriv’d?

Bast.The French, my lord; men’s mouths are full of it:

Besides, I met Lord Bigot and Lord Salisbury,

With eyes as red as new-enkindled fire,

And others more, going to seek the grave

Of Arthur, whom they say is kill’d to-night

On your suggestion.

K. John.Gentle kinsman, go,

And thrust thyself into their companies.

I have a way to win their loves again;

Bring them before me.

Bast.I will seek them out.

K. John.Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.

O! let me have no subject enemies

When adverse foreigners affright my towns

With dreadful pomp of stout invasion.

Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels,

And fly like thought from them to me again.

Bast.The spirit of the time shall teach me speed.

K. John.Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman.[Exit BASTARD.

Go after him; for he perhaps shall need

Some messenger betwixt me and the peers;

And be thou he.

Mess.With all my heart, my liege.[Exit.

K. John.My mother dead!

Re-enter HUBERT.

Hub.My lord, they say five moons were seen to-night:

Four fixed, and the fifth did whirl about

The other four in wondrous motion.

K. John.Five moons!

Hub.Old men and beldams in the streets

Do prophesy upon it dangerously:

Young Arthur’s death is common in their mouths;

And when they talk of him, they shake their heads

And whisper one another in the ear;

And he that speaks, doth gripe the hearer’s wrist

Whilst he that hears makes fearful action,

With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes.

I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus,

The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,

With open mouth swallowing a tailor’s news;

Who, with his shears and measure in his hand,

Standing on slippers,—which his nimble haste

Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet,—

Told of a many thousand warlike French,

That were embattailed and rank’d in Kent.

Another lean unwash’d artificer

Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur’s death.

K. John.Why seek’st thou to possess me with these fears?

Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur’s death?

Thy hand hath murder’d him: I had a mighty cause

To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him.

Hub.No had, my lord! why, did you not provoke me?

K. John.It is the curse of kings to be attended

By slaves that take their humours for a warrant

To break within the bloody house of life,

And on the winking of authority

To understand a law, to know the meaning

Of dangerous majesty, when, perchance, it frowns

More upon humour than advis’d respect.

Hub.Here is your hand and seal for what I did.

K. John.O! when the last account ’twixt heaven and earth

Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal

Witness against us to damnation.

How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds

Makes ill deeds done! Hadst not thou been by,

A fellow by the hand of nature mark’d,

Quoted and sign’d to do a deed of shame,

This murder had not come into my mind;

But taking note of thy abhorr’d aspect,

Finding thee fit for bloody villany,

Apt, liable to be employ’d in danger,

I faintly broke with thee of Arthur’s death;

And thou, to be endeared to a king,

Made it no conscience to destroy a prince.

Hub.My lord,—

K. John.Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause

When I spake darkly what I purposed,

Or turn’d an eye of doubt upon my face,

As bid me tell my tale in express words,

Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off,

And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me:

But thou didst understand me by my signs

And didst in signs again parley with sin;

Yea, without stop, didst let thy heart consent,

And consequently thy rude hand to act

The deed which both our tongues held vile to name.

Out of my sight, and never see me more!

My nobles leave me; and my state is brav’d,

Even at my gates, with ranks of foreign powers:

Nay, in the body of this fleshly land,

This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath,

Hostility and civil tumult reigns

Between my conscience and my cousin’s death.

Hub.Arm you against your other enemies,

I’ll make a peace between your soul and you.

Young Arthur is alive: this hand of mine

Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand,

Not painted with the crimson spots of blood.

Within this bosom never enter’d yet

The dreadful motion of a murderous thought;

And you have slander’d nature in my form,

Which, howsoever rude exteriorly,

Is yet the cover of a fairer mind

Than to be butcher of an innocent child.

K. John.Doth Arthur live? O! haste thee to the peers,

Throw this report on their incensed rage,

And make them tame to their obedience.

Forgive the comment that my passion made

Upon thy feature; for my rage was blind,

And foul imaginary eyes of blood

Presented thee more hideous than thou art.

O! answer not; but to my closet bring

The angry lords, with all expedient haste.

I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast.[Exeunt.