Act Five, Scene Three of King John begins with the war that the Bastard has so desperately wanted. Only the day is going “badly” (V.iii.2), according to Hubert. And if that’s not “bad” enough, King John announces that “this fever that hath troubled (him) so long // Lies heavy on (him)” (V.iii.4-5). For a fever that has “long” troubled him, this is the first we’ve heard of it (and that can’t be a good sign). A messenger comes in to tell him that John’s “valiant kinsman Faulconbridge” (V.iii.5) wants the king to retreat.
Does that name sound familiar? Well, if you’ve been paying attention [and I’m sure you have… haven’t you?], then you’ll recognize it as the family name of the Bastard’s birth “family.”
King John heads toward Swinstead, but still complains that the “tyrant fever burns (him) up… weakness possesseth (him), and (he) is faint” (V.iii.14, 17). This does not bode well.
Act Five, Scene Four sends us to another part of the field where we find our angry, and now French-supporting, lords of Pembroke and Salisbury. And they are incredulous that King John has suddenly found friends and support, and that Faulconbridge has become a hero, “alone uphold(ing) the day” (V.iv.5). A French lord Melun arrives wounded, and he tells the English lords to flee for their lives–both political and political–and by the end of this short scene, the angry lords are heading back to England, “to (their) great King John” (V.iv.57).
the inconstancy of Salisbury and Pembroke brings to mind every wishy-washy act that the English audiences find so repulsive in the typical Shakespearean French characters, don’t you think?
Immediately, Louis the Dauphin and his train bemoan the downward turn of the battle in a short Act Five, Scene Five. They cry over their loss of “the English lords” (V.iii.10), but they take comfort in the news that King John had to fly the field as well.
Act Five, Scene Six, takes us back to the English camp where the Bastard and Hubert meet. Hubert has bad news: the king is ill, possibly “poisoned by a monk” (V.vi.23)… along with some good: the angry “lords are all come back, // And brought Prince Henry in their company” (V.vi.33-34). The Bastard’s news, however, is all bad: “half (his) power” (V.vi.38) was been destroyed by the tide. It seems even the weather is against the English now.
The play’s final scene keeps us in the English camp, where we meet Prince Henry. He speaks of his father’s failing health (both physical and mental–full of “rage[s]” and “sing[ing]” [V.vii.11 and 20]). The king is brought in and he is not well–“poisoned” (V.vii.35), according to the king himself. The Bastard arrives and tells the king the news of his lost fleet.
And King John immediately dies.
The Bastard tells the dead body that he will “do the office for (the king) of revenge” (V.vii.71) since he will be John’s “servant still” (V.vii.73). Salisbury announces that the papal emissary has convinced the Dauphin to end the invasion and offers of peace.
The Bastard then tells Prince Henry,
Thither shall it then:
And happily may your sweet self put on
The lineal state and glory of the land!
To whom with all submission, on my knee
I do bequeath my faithful services
And true subjection everlastingly.
This is key, as the Bastard says that Henry is the true lineal successor and that the Bastard will not put the legitimacy of Henry’s rule into question or debate.
And the main problem of the play–the right of succession–has been solved.
And the play is over.