List iconKing John:
Act 4, scene 2
List icon

King John
Act 4, scene 2



Characters in the Play

Entire Play

The events in King John take place in the thirteenth century, well before Shakespeare’s other English history plays. After the death of…

Act 1, scene 1

John, King of England, is told by a messenger from the King of France that the territories held by John…

Act 2, scene 1

King Philip of France and the Duke of Austria, on behalf of Arthur, begin to lay siege to the city…

Act 3, scene 1

The league between John and Philip is attacked first by Constance, who accuses Philip of treacherously betraying Arthur’s cause, and…

Act 3, scene 2

The Bastard, having killed the Duke of Austria, reports that he has rescued Queen Eleanor. Arthur, captured by John, is…

Act 3, scene 3

John prepares to leave for England with his forces. He tells Hubert that Arthur must die. Hubert promises to kill…

Act 3, scene 4

John’s victories and his capture of Arthur lead the French to despair and Constance to wild grief. Pandulph, predicting Arthur’s…

Act 4, scene 1

Hubert prepares to put out Arthur’s eyes with hot irons. Arthur begs him to show mercy. Hubert plans to tell…

Act 4, scene 2

The nobles express their disapproval of John’s second coronation and urge that he set Arthur free. When Hubert brings word…

Act 4, scene 3

Arthur dies as he attempts to leap from the prison wall. The Bastard reaches the nobles, on their way to…

Act 5, scene 1

King John submits his royal power to the Pope in exchange for Pandulph’s intercession against the French forces. The Bastard…

Act 5, scene 2

The rebellious English nobles swear to support the Dauphin in his attack on England. Pandulph tells the Dauphin to take…

Act 5, scene 3

King John, sick with a fever, is instructed by the Bastard to leave the battle. John receives the good news…

Act 5, scene 4

While the English army continues to fight successfully under the Bastard, the rebel English nobles learn from the wounded French…

Act 5, scene 5

The Dauphin rejoices that his forces have almost defeated the English. He then learns that Count Melun has died, that…

Act 5, scene 6

Hubert brings news to the Bastard that King John has been poisoned by a monk, and that, at the urging…

Act 5, scene 7

As King John lies dying, surrounded by his newly loyal nobles and his son, Prince Henry, the Bastard brings him…

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Scene 2
Enter King John, Pembroke, Salisbury, and other
Lords. King John ascends the throne.

 Here once again we sit, once again crowned
 And looked upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.
 This “once again,” but that your Highness pleased,

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 Was once superfluous. You were crowned before,
5 And that high royalty was ne’er plucked off,
 The faiths of men ne’er stainèd with revolt;
 Fresh expectation troubled not the land
 With any longed-for change or better state.
 Therefore, to be possessed with double pomp,
10 To guard a title that was rich before,
 To gild refinèd 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
15 To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
 Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
 But that your royal pleasure must be done,
 This act is as an ancient tale new told,
 And, in the last repeating, troublesome,
20 Being urgèd at a time unseasonable.
 In this the antique and well-noted face
 Of plain old form is much disfigurèd,
 And like a shifted wind unto a sail,
 It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,
25 Startles and frights consideration,
 Makes sound opinion sick and truth suspected
 For putting on so new a fashioned robe.
 When workmen strive to do better than well,
 They do confound their skill in covetousness,
30 And oftentimes excusing of a fault
 Doth make the fault the worse by th’ excuse,
 As patches set upon a little breach
 Discredit more in hiding of the fault
 Than did the fault before it was so patched.

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

35 To this effect, before you were new-crowned,
 We breathed our counsel; but it pleased your
 To overbear it, and we are all well pleased,
 Since all and every part of what we would
40 Doth make a stand at what your Highness will.
 Some reasons of this double coronation
 I have possessed you with, and think them strong;
 And more, more strong, when lesser is my fear,
 I shall endue you with. Meantime, but ask
45 What you would have reformed that is not well,
 And well shall you perceive how willingly
 I will both hear and grant you your requests.
 Then I, as one that am the tongue of these
 To sound the purposes of all their hearts,
50 Both for myself and them, but chief of all
 Your safety, for the which myself and them
 Bend their best studies, heartily request
 Th’ enfranchisement of Arthur, whose restraint
 Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent
55 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
60 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,
65 Which for our goods we do no further ask
 Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,
 Counts it your weal he have his liberty.

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 Let it be so. I do commit his youth
 To your direction.

Enter Hubert.

70 Hubert, what news with you?
King John and Hubert talk aside.
 This is the man should do the bloody deed.
 He showed his warrant to a friend of mine.
 The image of a wicked heinous fault
 Lives in his eye. That close aspect of his
75 Doth show the mood of a much troubled breast,
 And I do fearfully believe ’tis done
 What we so feared he had a charge to do.
 The color of the King doth come and go
 Between his purpose and his conscience,
80 Like heralds ’twixt two dreadful battles set.
 His passion is so ripe it needs must break.
 And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
 The foul corruption of a sweet child’s death.
KING JOHN, coming forward with Hubert 
 We cannot hold mortality’s strong hand.—
85 Good lords, although my will to give is living,
 The suit which you demand is gone and dead.
 He tells us Arthur is deceased tonight.
 Indeed, we feared his sickness was past cure.
 Indeed, we heard how near his death he was
90 Before the child himself felt he was sick.
 This must be answered either here or hence.
 Why do you bend such solemn brows on me?

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 Think you I bear the shears of destiny?
 Have I commandment on the pulse of life?
95 It is apparent foul play, and ’tis shame
 That greatness should so grossly offer it.
 So thrive it in your game, and so farewell.
 Stay yet, Lord Salisbury. I’ll go with thee
 And find th’ inheritance of this poor child,
100 His little kingdom of a forcèd 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
 To all our sorrows, and ere long, I doubt.
Pembroke, Salisbury, and other Lords exit.
105 They burn in indignation. I repent.
 There is no sure foundation set on blood,
 No certain life achieved by others’ death.

Enter Messenger.

 A fearful eye thou hast. Where is that blood
 That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks?
110 So foul a sky clears not without a storm.
 Pour down thy weather: how goes all in France?
 From France to England. Never such a power
 For any foreign preparation
 Was levied in the body of a land.
115 The copy of your speed is learned by them,
 For when you should be told they do prepare,
 The tidings comes that they are all arrived.
 O, where hath our intelligence been drunk?
 Where hath it slept? Where is my mother’s care,

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

120 That such an army could be drawn in France
 And she not hear of it?
MESSENGER  My liege, her ear
 Is stopped with dust. The first of April died
 Your noble mother. And as I hear, my lord,
125 The Lady Constance in a frenzy died
 Three days before. But this from rumor’s tongue
 I idly heard. If true or false, I know not.
KING JOHN, aside 
 Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!
 O, make a league with me till I have pleased
130 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?
 Under the Dauphin.
KING JOHN 135 Thou hast made me giddy
 With these ill tidings.

Enter Bastard and Peter of Pomfret.

To Bastard. Now, what says the world
 To your proceedings? Do not seek to stuff
 My head with more ill news, for it is full.
140 But if you be afeard to hear the worst,
 Then let the worst, unheard, fall on your head.
 Bear with me, cousin, for I was amazed
 Under the tide, but now I breathe again
 Aloft the flood and can give audience
145 To any tongue, speak it of what it will.
 How I have sped among the clergymen
 The sums I have collected shall express.

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 But as I traveled hither through the land,
 I find the people strangely fantasied,
150 Possessed with rumors, 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,
155 To whom he sung in rude harsh-sounding rhymes
 That ere the next Ascension Day at noon,
 Your Highness should deliver up your crown.
KING JOHN, to Peter 
 Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?
 Foreknowing that the truth will fall out so.
160 Hubert, away with him! Imprison him.
 And on that day at noon, whereon he says
 I shall yield up my crown, let him be hanged.
 Deliver him to safety and return,
 For I must use thee.Hubert and Peter exit.
165 O my gentle cousin,
 Hear’st thou the news abroad, who are arrived?
 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,
170 And others more, going to seek the grave
 Of Arthur, whom they say is killed tonight
 On your suggestion.
KING JOHN  Gentle kinsman, go
 And thrust thyself into their companies.
175 I have a way to win their loves again.
 Bring them before me.
BASTARD  I will seek them out.
 Nay, but make haste, the better foot before!

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 O, let me have no subject enemies
180 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.
 The spirit of the time shall teach me speed.
He exits.
185 Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman.
 To Messenger. Go after him, for he perhaps shall
 Some messenger betwixt me and the peers,
 And be thou he.
MESSENGER 190 With all my heart, my liege.
Messenger exits.
KING JOHN My mother dead!

Enter Hubert.

 My lord, they say five moons were seen tonight—
 Four fixèd, and the fifth did whirl about
 The other four in wondrous motion.
195 Five moons!
HUBERT  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
200 And whisper one another in the ear,
 And he that speaks doth grip 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,
205 The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 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,
210 Told of a many thousand warlike French
 That were embattlèd and ranked in Kent.
 Another lean, unwashed artificer
 Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur’s death.
 Why seek’st thou to possess me with these fears?
215 Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur’s death?
 Thy hand hath murdered him. I had a mighty cause
 To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him.
 No had, my lord! Why, did you not provoke me?
 It is the curse of kings to be attended
220 By slaves that take their humors 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
225 More upon humor than advised respect.
HUBERT, showing a paper 
 Here is your hand and seal for what I did.
 O, when the last accompt twixt heaven and Earth
 Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal
 Witness against us to damnation!
230 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 marked,
 Quoted, and signed to do a deed of shame,
 This murder had not come into my mind.
235 But taking note of thy abhorred aspect,

King John
ACT 4. SC. 2

 Finding thee fit for bloody villainy,
 Apt, liable to be employed in danger,
 I faintly broke with thee of Arthur’s death;
 And thou, to be endearèd to a king,
240 Made it no conscience to destroy a prince.
HUBERT My lord—
 Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause
 When I spake darkly what I purposèd,
 Or turned an eye of doubt upon my face,
245 As bid me tell my tale in express words,
 Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break
 And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me.
 But thou didst understand me by my signs
250 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.
255 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,
 Hostility and civil tumult reigns
260 Between my conscience and my cousin’s death.
 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,
265 Not painted with the crimson spots of blood.
 Within this bosom never entered yet
 The dreadful motion of a murderous thought,
 And you have slandered nature in my form,

King John
ACT 4. SC. 3

 Which, howsoever rude exteriorly,
270 Is yet the cover of a fairer mind
 Than to be butcher of an innocent child.
 Doth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers,
 Throw this report on their incensèd rage,
 And make them tame to their obedience.
275 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
280 The angry lords with all expedient haste.
 I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast.
They exit.