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History of King John

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Act IV, Scene 2

KING JOHN’S palace.


[Enter KING JOHN, PEMBROKE, SALISBURY, and other Lords]

  • King John. Here once again we sit, once again crown'd,
    And looked upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.
  • Pembroke. This 'once again,' but that your highness pleased, 1730
    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. 1735
  • Salisbury. 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 1740
    Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
    To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
    Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
  • Pembroke. But that your royal pleasure must be done,
    This act is as an ancient tale new told, 1745
    And in the last repeating troublesome,
    Being urged at a time unseasonable.
  • Salisbury. In this the antique and well noted face
    Of plain old form is much disfigured;
    And, like a shifted wind unto a sail, 1750
    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.
  • Pembroke. When workmen strive to do better than well, 1755
    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 1760
    Than did the fault before it was so patch'd.
  • Salisbury. To this effect, before you were new crown'd,
    We breathed our counsel: but it pleased your highness
    To overbear it, and we are all well pleased,
    Since all and every part of what we would 1765
    Doth make a stand at what your highness will.
  • King John. Some reasons of this double coronation
    I have possess'd you with and think them strong;
    And more, more strong, then lesser is my fear,
    I shall indue you with: meantime but ask 1770
    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.
  • Pembroke. Then I, as one that am the tongue of these,
    To sound the purpose of all their hearts, 1775
    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 1780
    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 1785
    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; 1790
    Which for our goods we do no further ask
    Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,
    Counts it your weal he have his liberty.

[Enter HUBERT]

  • King John. Let it be so: I do commit his youth 1795
    To your direction. Hubert, what news with you?

[Taking him apart]

  • Pembroke. 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 1800
    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.
  • Salisbury. The colour of the king doth come and go 1805
    Between his purpose and his conscience,
    Like heralds 'twixt two dreadful battles set:
    His passion is so ripe, it needs must break.
  • Pembroke. And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
    The foul corruption of a sweet child's death. 1810
  • King 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 deceased to-night.
  • Salisbury. Indeed we fear'd his sickness was past cure. 1815
  • Pembroke. 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.
  • King John. Why do you bend such solemn brows on me?
    Think you I bear the shears of destiny? 1820
    Have I commandment on the pulse of life?
  • Salisbury. It is apparent foul play; and 'tis shame
    That greatness should so grossly offer it:
    So thrive it in your game! and so, farewell.
  • Pembroke. Stay yet, Lord Salisbury; I'll go with thee, 1825
    And find the inheritance of this poor child,
    His little kingdom of a forced grave.
    That blood which owed 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 1830
    To all our sorrows, and ere long I doubt.

[Exeunt Lords]

  • King John. They burn in indignation. I repent:
    There is no sure foundation set on blood,
    No certain life achieved by others' death. 1835
    [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? 1840
  • Messenger. 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, 1845
    The tidings come that they are all arrived.
  • King 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? 1850
  • Messenger. 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 1855
    I idly heard; if true or false I know not.
  • King John. Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!
    O, make a league with me, till I have pleased
    My discontented peers! What! mother dead!
    How wildly then walks my estate in France! 1860
    Under whose conduct came those powers of France
    That thou for truth givest out are landed here?
  • King John. Thou hast made me giddy
    With these ill tidings. 1865
    [Enter the BASTARD and PETER of Pomfret]
    Now, what says the world
    To your proceedings? do not seek to stuff
    My head with more ill news, for it is full.
  • Philip the Bastard. But if you be afeard to hear the worst, 1870
    Then let the worst unheard fall on your bead.
  • King John. Bear with me cousin, for I was amazed
    Under the tide: but now I breathe again
    Aloft the flood, and can give audience
    To any tongue, speak it of what it will. 1875
  • Philip the Bastard. 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, 1880
    Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear:
    And here 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 rhymes, 1885
    That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon,
    Your highness should deliver up your crown.
  • King John. Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?
  • King John. Hubert, away with him; imprison him; 1890
    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.
    [Exeunt HUBERT with PETER] 1895
    O my gentle cousin,
    Hear'st thou the news abroad, who are arrived?
  • Philip the Bastard. 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, 1900
    And others more, going to seek the grave
    Of Arthur, who they say is kill'd to-night
    On your suggestion.
  • King John. Gentle kinsman, go,
    And thrust thyself into their companies: 1905
    I have a way to win their loves again;
    Bring them before me.
  • King John. Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.
    O, let me have no subject enemies, 1910
    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.


  • King John. Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman.
    Go after him; for he perhaps shall need
    Some messenger betwixt me and the peers;
    And be thou he. 1920


[Re-enter HUBERT]

  • Hubert de Burgh. My lord, they say five moons were seen to-night; 1925
    Four fixed, and the fifth did whirl about
    The other four in wondrous motion.
  • Hubert de Burgh. Old men and beldams in the streets
    Do prophesy upon it dangerously: 1930
    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, 1935
    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, 1940
    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 1945
    Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur's death.
  • King 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. 1950
  • King 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 1955
    To understand a law, to know the meaning
    Of dangerous majesty, when perchance it frowns
    More upon humour than advised respect.
  • King John. O, when the last account 'twixt heaven and earth 1960
    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
    Make deeds ill done! Hadst not thou been by,
    A fellow by the hand of nature mark'd, 1965
    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, 1970
    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.
  • King John. Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause 1975
    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: 1980
    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. 1985
    Out of my sight, and never see me more!
    My nobles leave me; and my state is braved,
    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, 1990
    Hostility and civil tumult reigns
    Between my conscience and my cousin's death.
  • Hubert de Burgh. Arm you against your other enemies,
    I'll make a peace between your soul and you.
    Young Arthur is alive: this hand of mine 1995
    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, 2000
    Which, howsoever rude exteriorly,
    Is yet the cover of a fairer mind
    Than to be butcher of an innocent child.
  • King John. Doth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers,
    Throw this report on their incensed rage, 2005
    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. 2010
    O, answer not, but to my closet bring
    The angry lords with all expedient haste.
    I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast.