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

Act III. Scene I.

The Life and Death of King John

France.The French King’s Tent.


Const.Gone to be married! gone to swear a peace!

False blood to false blood join’d! gone to be friends!

Shall Lewis have Blanch, and Blanch those provinces?

It is not so; thou hast misspoke, misheard;

Be well advis’d, tell o’er thy tale again:

It cannot be; thou dost but say ’tis so.

I trust I may not trust thee, for thy word

Is but the vain breath of a common man:

Believe me, I do not believe thee, man;

I have a king’s oath to the contrary.

Thou shalt be punish’d for thus frighting me,

For I am sick and capable of fears;

Oppress’d with wrongs, and therefore full of fears;

A widow, husbandless, subject to fears;

A woman, naturally born to fears;

And though thou now confess thou didst but jest,

With my vex’d spirits I cannot take a truce,

But they will quake and tremble all this day.

What dost thou mean by shaking of thy head?

Why dost thou look so sadly on my son?

What means that hand upon that breast of thine?

Why holds thine eye that lamentable rheum,

Like a proud river peering o’er his bounds?

Be these sad signs confirmers of thy words?

Then speak again; not all thy former tale,

But this one word, whether thy tale be true.

Sal.As true as I believe you think them false

That give you cause to prove my saying true.

Const.O! if thou teach me to believe this sorrow,

Teach thou this sorrow how to make me die;

And let belief and life encounter so

As doth the fury of two desperate men

Which in the very meeting fall and die.

Lewis marry Blanch! O boy! then where art thou?

France friend with England what becomes of me?

Fellow, be gone! I cannot brook thy sight:

This news hath made thee a most ugly man.

Sal.What other harm have I, good lady, done,

But spoke the harm that is by others done?

Const.Which harm within itself so heinous is

As it makes harmful all that speak of it.

Arth.I do beseech you, madam, be content.

Const.If thou, that bidd’st me be content, wert grim,

Ugly and slanderous to thy mother’s womb,

Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains,

Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious,

Patch’d with foul moles and eye-offending marks,

I would not care, I then would be content;

For then I should not love thee, no, nor thou

Become thy great birth, nor deserve a crown.

But thou art fair; and at thy birth, dear boy,

Nature and Fortune join’d to make thee great:

Of Nature’s gifts thou mayst with lilies boast

And with the half-blown rose. But Fortune, O!

She is corrupted, chang’d, and won from thee:

She adulterates hourly with thine uncle John,

And with her golden hand hath pluck’d on France

To tread down fair respect of sovereignty,

And made his majesty the bawd to theirs.

France is a bawd to Fortune and King John,

That strumpet Fortune, that usurping John!

Tell me, thou fellow, is not France forsworn?

Envenom him with words, or get thee gone

And leave those woes alone which I alone

Am bound to underbear.

Sal.Pardon me, madam,

I may not go without you to the kings.

Const.Thou mayst, thou shalt: I will not go with thee.

I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;

For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.

To me and to the state of my great grief

Let kings assemble; for my grief’s so great

That no supporter but the huge firm earth

Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;

Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.[Seats herself on the ground.


K. Phi.’Tis true, fair daughter; and this blessed day

Ever in France shall be kept festival:

To solemnize this day the glorious sun

Stays in his course and plays the alchemist,

Turning with splendour of his precious eye

The meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold:

The yearly course that brings this day about

Shall never see it but a holiday.

Const.[Rising.]A wicked day, and not a holy day!

What hath this day deserv’d? what hath it done

That it in golden letters should be set

Among the high tides in the calendar?

Nay, rather turn this day out of the week,

This day of shame, oppression, perjury:

Or, if it must stand still, let wives with child

Pray that their burdens may not fall this day,

Lest that their hopes prodigiously be cross’d:

But on this day let seamen fear no wrack;

No bargains break that are not this day made;

This day all things begun come to ill end;

Yea, faith itself to hollow falsehood change!

K. Phi.By heaven, lady, you shall have no cause

To curse the fair proceedings of this day:

Have I not pawn’d to you my majesty?

Const.You have beguil’d me with a counterfeit

Resembling majesty, which, being touch’d and tried,

Proves valueless: you are forsworn, forsworn;

You came in arms to spill mine enemies’ blood,

But now in arms you strengthen it with yours:

The grappling vigour and rough frown of war

Is cold in amity and painted peace,

And our oppression hath made up this league.

Arm, arm, you heavens, against these perjur’d kings!

A widow cries; be husband to me, heavens!

Let not the hours of this ungodly day

Wear out the day in peace; but, ere sunset,

Set armed discord ’twixt these perjur’d kings!

Hear me! O, hear me!

Aust.Lady Constance, peace!

Const.War! war! no peace! peace is to me a war.

O, Lymoges! O, Austria! thou dost shame

That bloody spoil: thou slave, thou wretch, thou coward!

Thou little valiant, great in villany!

Thou ever strong upon the stronger side!

Thou Fortune’s champion, that dost never fight

But when her humorous ladyship is by

To teach thee safety! thou art perjur’d too,

And sooth’st up greatness. What a fool art thou,

A ramping fool, to brag, and stamp and swear

Upon my party! Thou cold-blooded slave,

Hast thou not spoke like thunder on my side?

Been sworn my soldier? bidding me depend

Upon thy stars, thy fortune, and thy strength?

And dost thou now fall over to my foes?

Thou wear a lion’s hide! doff it for shame,

And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

Aust.O! that a man should speak those words to me.

Bast.And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

Aust.Thou dar’st not say so, villain, for thy life.

Bast.And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

K. John.We like not this; thou dost forget thyself.


K. Phi.Here comes the holy legate of the pope.

Pand.Hail, you anointed deputies of heaven!

To thee, King John, my holy errand is.

I Pandulph, of fair Milan cardinal,

And from Pope Innocent the legate here,

Do in his name religiously demand

Why thou against the church, our holy mother,

So wilfully dost spurn; and, force perforce,

Keep Stephen Langton, chosen Archbishop

Of Canterbury, from that holy see?

This, in our foresaid holy father’s name,

Pope Innocent, I do demand of thee.

K. John.What earthly name to interrogatories

Can task the free breath of a sacred king?

Thou canst not, cardinal, devise a name

So slight, unworthy and ridiculous,

To charge me to an answer, as the pope.

Tell him this tale; and from the mouth of England

Add thus much more: that no Italian priest

Shall tithe or toll in our dominions;

But as we under heaven are supreme head,

So under him that great supremacy,

Where we do reign, we will alone uphold,

Without the assistance of a mortal hand:

So tell the pope; all reverence set apart

To him, and his usurp’d authority.

K. Phi.Brother of England, you blaspheme in this.

K. John.Though you and all the kings of Christendom

Are led so grossly by this meddling priest,

Dreading the curse that money may buy out;

And, by the merit of vile gold, dross, dust,

Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,

Who in that sale sells pardon from himself;

Though you and all the rest so grossly led

This juggling witchcraft with revenue cherish;

Yet I alone, alone do me oppose

Against the pope, and count his friends my foes.

Pand.Then, by the lawful power that I have,

Thou shalt stand curs’d and excommunicate:

And blessed shall he be that doth revolt

From his allegiance to a heretic;

And meritorious shall that hand be call’d,

Canonized and worshipp’d as a saint,

That takes away by any secret course

Thy hateful life.

Const.O! lawful let it be

That I have room with Rome to curse awhile.

Good father cardinal, cry thou amen

To my keen curses; for without my wrong

There is no tongue hath power to curse him right.

Pand.There’s law and warrant, lady, for my curse.

Const.And for mine too: when law can do no right,

Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong.

Law cannot give my child his kingdom here,

For he that holds his kingdom holds the law:

Therefore, since law itself is perfect wrong,

How can the law forbid my tongue to curse?

Pand.Philip of France, on peril of a curse,

Let go the hand of that arch-heretic,

And raise the power of France upon his head,

Unless he do submit himself to Rome.

Eli.Look’st thou pale, France? do not let go thy hand.

Const.Look to that, devil, lest that France repent,

And by disjoining hands, hell lose a soul.

Aust.King Philip, listen to the cardinal.

Bast.And hang a calf’s-skin on his recreant limbs.

Aust.Well, ruffian, I must pocket up these wrongs,


Bast.Your breeches best may carry them.

K. John.Philip, what sayst thou to the cardinal?

Const.What should he say, but as the cardinal?

Lew.Bethink you, father; for the difference

Is purchase of a heavy curse from Rome,

Or the light loss of England for a friend:

Forego the easier.

Blanch.That’s the curse of Rome.

Const.O Lewis, stand fast! the devil tempts thee here,

In likeness of a new untrimmed bride.

Blanch.The Lady Constance speaks not from her faith,

But from her need.

Const.O! if thou grant my need,

Which only lives but by the death of faith,

That need must needs infer this principle,

That faith would live again by death of need:

O! then, tread down my need, and faith mounts up;

Keep my need up, and faith is trodden down.

K. John.The king is mov’d, and answers not to this.

Const.O! be remov’d from him, and answer well.

Aust.Do so, King Philip: hang no more in doubt.

Bast.Hang nothing but a calf’s-skin, most sweet lout.

K. Phi.I am perplex’d, and know not what to say.

Pand.What canst thou say but will perplex thee more,

If thou stand excommunicate and curs’d?

K. Phi.Good reverend father, make my person yours,

And tell me how you would bestow yourself.

This royal hand and mine are newly knit,

And the conjunction of our inward souls

Married in league, coupled and link’d together

With all religious strength of sacred vows;

The latest breath that gave the sound of words

Was deep-sworn faith, peace, amity, true love,

Between our kingdoms and our royal selves;

And even before this truce, but new before,

No longer than we well could wash our hands

To clap this royal bargain up of peace,

Heaven knows, they were besmear’d and overstain’d

With slaughter’s pencil, where revenge did paint

The fearful difference of incensed kings:

And shall these hands, so lately purg’d of blood,

So newly join’d in love, so strong in both,

Unyoke this seizure and this kind regreet?

Play fast and loose with faith? so jest with heaven,

Make such unconstant children of ourselves,

As now again to snatch our palm from palm,

Unswear faith sworn, and on the marriage-bed

Of smiling peace to march a bloody host,

And make a riot on the gentle brow

Of true sincerity? O! holy sir,

My reverend father, let it not be so!

Out of your grace, devise, ordain, impose

Some gentle order, and then we shall be bless’d

To do your pleasure and continue friends.

Pand.All form is formless, order orderless,

Save what is opposite to England’s love.

Therefore to arms! be champion of our church,

Or let the church, our mother, breathe her curse,

A mother’s curse, on her revolting son.

France, thou mayst hold a serpent by the tongue,

A chafed lion by the mortal paw,

A fasting tiger safer by the tooth,

Than keep in peace that hand which thou dost hold.

K. Phi.I may disjoin my hand, but not my faith.

Pand.So mak’st thou faith an enemy to faith:

And like a civil war sett’st oath to oath,

Thy tongue against thy tongue. O! let thy vow

First made to heaven, first be to heaven perform’d;

That is, to be the champion of our church.

What since thou swor’st is sworn against thyself

And may not be performed by thyself;

For that which thou hast sworn to do amiss

Is not amiss when it is truly done;

And being not done, where doing tends to ill,

The truth is then most done not doing it.

The better act of purposes mistook

Is to mistake again; though indirect,

Yet indirection thereby grows direct,

And falsehood falsehood cures, as fire cools fire

Within the scorched veins of one new-burn’d.

It is religion that doth make vows kept;

But thou hast sworn against religion

By what thou swear’st, against the thing thou swear’st,

And mak’st an oath the surety for thy truth

Against an oath: the truth thou art unsure

To swear, swears only not to be forsworn;

Else what a mockery should it be to swear!

But thou dost swear only to be forsworn;

And most forsworn, to keep what thou dost swear.

Therefore thy later vows against thy first

Is in thyself rebellion to thyself;

And better conquest never canst thou make

Than arm thy constant and thy nobler parts

Against these giddy loose suggestions:

Upon which better part our prayers come in,

If thou vouchsafe them; but, if not, then know

The peril of our curses light on thee

So heavy as thou shalt not shake them off,

But in despair die under their black weight.

Aust.Rebellion, flat rebellion!

Bast.Will ’t not be?

Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?

Lew.Father, to arms!

Blanch.Upon thy wedding-day?

Against the blood that thou hast married?

What! shall our feast be kept with slaughter’d men?

Shall braying trumpets and loud churlish drums,

Clamours of hell, be measures to our pomp?

O husband, hear me! ay, alack! how new

Is husband in my mouth; even for that name,

Which till this time my tongue did ne’er pronounce,

Upon my knee I beg, go not to arms

Against mine uncle.

Const.O! upon my knee,

Made hard with kneeling, I do pray to thee,

Thou virtuous Dauphin, alter not the doom

Forethought by heaven.

Blanch.Now shall I see thy love: what motive may

Be stronger with thee than the name of wife?

Const.That which upholdeth him that thee upholds,

His honour: O! thine honour, Lewis, thine honour.

Lew.I muse your majesty doth seem so cold,

When such profound respects do pull you on.

Pand.I will denounce a curse upon his head.

K. Phi.Thou shalt not need. England, I’ll fall from thee.

Const.O fair return of banish’d majesty!

Eli.O foul revolt of French inconstancy!

K. John.France, thou shalt rue this hour within this hour.

Bast.Old Time the clock-setter, that bald sexton Time,

Is it as he will? well then, France shall rue.

Blanch.The sun’s o’ercast with blood: fair day, adieu!

Which is the side that I must go withal?

I am with both: each army hath a hand;

And in their rage, I having hold of both,

They whirl asunder and dismember me.

Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayst win;

Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayst lose;

Father, I may not wish the fortune thine;

Grandam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive:

Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose;

Assured loss before the match be play’d.

Lew.Lady, with me; with me thy fortune lies.

Blanch.There where my fortune lives, there my life dies.

K. John.Cousin, go draw our puissance together.[Exit BASTARD.

France, I am burn’d up with inflaming wrath;

A rage whose heat hath this condition,

That nothing can allay, nothing but blood,

The blood, and dearest-valu’d blood of France.

K. Phi.Thy rage shall burn thee up, and thou shalt turn

To ashes, ere our blood shall quench that fire:

Look to thyself, thou art in jeopardy.

K. John.No more than he that threats. To arms let’s hie![Exeunt.