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

Act I. Scene I.

The Life and Death of King John

A Room of State in the Palace.


K. John.Now, say, Chatillon, what would France with us?

Chat.Thus, after greeting, speaks the King of France,

In my behaviour, to the majesty,

The borrow’d majesty of England here.

Eli.A strange beginning; ‘borrow’d majesty!’

K. John.Silence, good mother; hear the embassy.

Chat.Philip of France, in right and true behalf

Of thy deceased brother Geffrey’s son,

Arthur Plantagenet, lays most lawful claim

To this fair island and the territories,

To Ireland, Poictiers, Anjou, Touraine, Maine;

Desiring thee to lay aside the sword

Which sways usurpingly these several titles,

And put the same into young Arthur’s hand,

Thy nephew and right royal sovereign.

K. John.What follows if we disallow of this?

Chat.The proud control of fierce and bloody war,

To enforce these rights so forcibly withheld.

K. John.Here have we war for war, and blood for blood,

Controlment for controlment: so answer France.

Chat.Then take my king’s defiance from my mouth,

The furthest limit of my embassy.

K. John.Bear mine to him, and so depart in peace:

Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France;

For ere thou canst report I will be there,

The thunder of my cannon shall be heard.

So, hence! Be thou the trumpet of our wrath

And sullen presage of your own decay.

An honourable conduct let him have:

Pembroke, look to ’t. Farewell, Chatillon.[Exeunt CHATILLON and PEMBROKE.

Eli.What now, my son! have I not ever said

How that ambitious Constance would not cease

Till she had kindled France and all the world

Upon the right and party of her son?

This might have been prevented and made whole

With very easy arguments of love,

Which now the manage of two kingdoms must

With fearful bloody issue arbitrate.

K. John.Our strong possession and our right for us.

Eli.Your strong possession much more than your right,

Or else it must go wrong with you and me:

So much my conscience whispers in your ear,

Which none but heaven and you and I shall hear.

Enter a Sheriff, who whispers ESSEX.

Essex.My liege, here is the strangest controversy,

Come from the country to be judg’d by you,

That e’er I heard: shall I produce the men?

K. John.Let them approach.[Exit Sheriff.

Our abbeys and our priories shall pay

This expedition’s charge.

Re-enter Sheriff, with ROBERT FAULCONBRIDGE and PHILIP, his Bastard Brother.

What men are you?

Bast.Your faithful subject I, a gentleman

Born in Northamptonshire, and eldest son,

As I suppose, to Robert Faulconbridge,

A soldier, by the honour-giving hand

Of Cœur-de-Lion knighted in the field.

K. John.What art thou?

Rob.The son and heir to that same Faulconbridge.

K. John.Is that the elder, and art thou the heir?

You came not of one mother than, it seems.

Bast.Most certain of one mother, mighty king,

That is well known: and, as I think, one father:

But for the certain knowledge of that truth

I put you o’er to heaven and to my mother:

Of that I doubt, as all men’s children may.

Eli.Out on thee, rude man! thou dost shame thy mother

And wound her honour with this diffidence.

Bast.I, madam? no, I have no reason for it;

That is my brother’s plea and none of mine;

The which if he can prove, a’ pops me out

At least from fair five hundred pound a year:

Heaven guard my mother’s honour and my land!

K. John.A good blunt fellow. Why, being younger born,

Doth he lay claim to thine inheritance?

Bast.I know not why, except to get the land.

But once he slander’d me with bastardy:

But whe’r I be as true-begot or no,

That still I lay upon my mother’s head;

But that I am as well-begot, my liege,—

Fair fall the bones that took the pains for me!—

Compare our faces and be judge yourself.

If old Sir Robert did beget us both,

And were our father, and this son like him;

O old Sir Robert, father, on my knee

I give heaven thanks I was not like to thee!

K. John.Why, what a madcap hath heaven lent us here!

Eli.He hath a trick of Cœur-de-Lion’s face;

The accent of his tongue affecteth him.

Do you not read some tokens of my son

In the large composition of this man?

K. John.Mine eye hath well examined his parts,

And finds them perfect Richard. Sirrah, speak:

What doth move you to claim your brother’s land?

Bast.Because he hath a half-face, like my father.

With half that face would he have all my land;

A half-fac’d groat five hundred pound a year!

Rob.My gracious liege, when that my father liv’d,

Your brother did employ my father much,—

Bast.Well, sir, by this you cannot get my land:

Your tale must be how he employ’d my mother.

Rob.And once dispatch’d him in an embassy

To Germany, there with the emperor

To treat of high affairs touching that time.

The advantage of his absence took the king,

And in the mean time sojourn’d at my father’s;

Where how he did prevail I shame to speak,

But truth is truth: large lengths of seas and shores

Between my father and my mother lay,—

As I have heard my father speak himself,—

When this same lusty gentleman was got.

Upon his death-bed he by will bequeath’d

His lands to me, and took it on his death

That this my mother’s son was none of his;

An if he were, he came into the world

Full fourteen weeks before the course of time.

Then, good my liege, let me have what is mine,

My father’s land, as was my father’s will.

K. John.Sirrah, your brother is legitimate;

Your father’s wife did after wedlock bear him,

And if she did play false, the fault was hers;

Which fault lies on the hazards of all husbands

That marry wives. Tell me, how if my brother,

Who, as you say, took pains to get this son,

Had of your father claim’d this son for his?

In sooth, good friend, your father might have kept

This calf bred from his cow from all the world;

In sooth he might: then, if he were my brother’s,

My brother might not claim him; nor your father,

Being none of his, refuse him: this concludes;

My mother’s son did get your father’s heir;

Your father’s heir must have your father’s land.

Rob.Shall then my father’s will be of no force

To dispossess that child which is not his?

Bast.Of no more force to dispossess me, sir,

Than was his will to get me, as I think.

Eli.Whe’r hadst thou rather be a Faulconbridge

And like thy brother, to enjoy thy land,

Or the reputed son of Cœur-de-Lion,

Lord of thy presence and no land beside?

Bast.Madam, an if my brother had my shape,

And I had his, Sir Robert his, like him;

And if my legs were two such riding-rods,

My arms such eel-skins stuff’d, my face so thin

That in mine ear I durst not stick a rose

Lest men should say, ‘Look, where three-farthings goes!’

And, to his shape, were heir to all this land,

Would I might never stir from off this place,

I’d give it every foot to have this face:

I would not be Sir Nob in any case.

Eli.I like thee well: wilt thou forsake thy fortune,

Bequeath thy land to him, and follow me?

I am a soldier and now bound to France.

Bast.Brother, take you my land, I’ll take my chance.

Your face hath got five hundred pounds a year,

Yet sell your face for five pence and ’tis dear.

Madam, I’ll follow you unto the death.

Eli.Nay, I would have you go before me thither.

Bast.Our country manners give our betters way.

K. John.What is thy name?

Bast.Philip, my liege, so is my name begun;

Philip, good old Sir Robert’s wife’s eldest son.

K. John.From henceforth bear his name whose form thou bearest:

Kneel thou down Philip, but arise more great;

Arise Sir Richard, and Plantagenet.

Bast.Brother by the mother’s side, give me your hand:

My father gave me honour, yours gave land.

Now blessed be the hour, by night or day,

When I was got, Sir Robert was away!

Eli.The very spirit of Plantagenet!

I am thy grandam, Richard: call me so.

Bast.Madam, by chance but not by truth; what though?

Something about, a little from the right,

In at the window, or else o’er the hatch:

Who dares not stir by day must walk by night,

And have is have, however men do catch.

Near or far off, well won is still well shot,

And I am I, howe’er I was begot.

K. John.Go, Faulconbridge: now hast thou thy desire;

A landless knight makes thee a landed squire.

Come, madam, and come, Richard: we must speed

For France, for France, for it is more than need.

Bast.Brother, adieu: good fortune come to thee!

For thou wast got i’ the way of honesty.[Exeunt all but the BASTARD.

A foot of honour better than I was,

But many a many foot of land the worse.

Well, now can I make any Joan a lady.

‘Good den, Sir Richard!’ ‘God-a-mercy, fellow!’

And if his name be George, I’ll call him Peter;

For new-made honour doth forget men’s names:

’Tis too respective and too sociable

For your conversion. Now your traveller,

He and his toothpick at my worship’s mess,

And when my knightly stomach is suffic’d,

Why then I suck my teeth, and catechize

My picked man of countries: ‘My dear sir,’—

Thus, leaning on mine elbow, I begin,—

‘I shall beseech you,’—that is question now;

And then comes answer like an absey-book:

‘O, sir,’ says answer, ‘at your best command;

At your employment; at your service, sir:’

‘No, sir,’ says question, ‘I, sweet sir, at yours:’

And so, ere answer knows what question would,

Saving in dialogue of compliment,

And talking of the Alps and Apennines,

The Pyrenean and the river Po,

It draws toward supper in conclusion so.

But this is worshipful society

And fits the mounting spirit like myself;

For he is but a bastard to the time,

That doth not smack of observation;

And so am I, whether I smack or no;

And not alone in habit and device,

Exterior form, outward accoutrement,

But from the inward motion to deliver

Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth:

Which, though I will not practise to deceive,

Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn;

For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising.

But who comes in such haste in riding-robes?

What woman-post is this? hath she no husband

That will take pains to blow a horn before her?


O me! it is my mother. How now, good lady!

What brings you here to court so hastily?

Lady F.Where is that slave, thy brother? where is he,

That holds in chase mine honour up and down?

Bast.My brother Robert? old Sir Robert’s son?

Colbrand the giant, that same mighty man?

Is it Sir Robert’s son that you seek so?

Lady F.Sir Robert’s son! Ay, thou unreverend boy,

Sir Robert’s son: why scorn’st thou at Sir Robert?

He is Sir Robert’s son, and so art thou.

Bast.James Gurney, wilt thou give us leave a while?

Gur.Good leave, good Philip.

Bast.Philip! sparrow! James,

There’s toys abroad: anon I’ll tell thee more.[Exit GURNEY.

Madam, I was not old Sir Robert’s son:

Sir Robert might have eat his part in me

Upon Good-Friday and ne’er broke his fast.

Sir Robert could do well: marry, to confess,

Could he get me? Sir Robert could not do it:

We know his handiwork: therefore, good mother,

To whom am I beholding for these limbs?

Sir Robert never holp to make this leg.

Lady F.Hast thou conspired with thy brother too,

That for thine own gain shouldst defend mine honour?

What means this scorn, thou most untoward knave?

Bast.Knight, knight, good mother, Basilisco-like.

What! I am dubb’d; I have it on my shoulder.

But, mother, I am not Sir Robert’s son;

I have disclaim’d Sir Robert and my land;

Legitimation, name, and all is gone.

Then, good my mother, let me know my father;

Some proper man, I hope; who was it, mother?

Lady F.Hast thou denied thyself a Faulconbridge?

Bast.As faithfully as I deny the devil.

Lady F.King Richard Cœur-de-Lion was thy father:

By long and vehement suit I was seduc’d

To make room for him in my husband’s bed.

Heaven lay not my transgression to my charge!

Thou art the issue of my dear offence,

Which was so strongly urg’d past my defence.

Bast.Now, by this light, were I to get again,

Madam, I would not wish a better father.

Some sins do bear their privilege on earth,

And so doth yours; your fault was not your folly:

Needs must you lay your heart at his dispose,

Subjected tribute to commanding love,

Against whose fury and unmatched force

The aweless lion could not wage the fight,

Nor keep his princely heart from Richard’s hand.

He that perforce robs lions of their hearts

May easily win a woman’s. Ay, my mother,

With all my heart I thank thee for my father!

Who lives and dares but say thou didst not well

When I was got, I’ll send his soul to hell.

Come, lady, I will show thee to my kin;

And they shall say, when Richard me begot,

If thou hadst said him nay, it had been sin:

Who says it was, he lies: I say, ’twas not.[Exeunt.