When we last left King John (the play), King John (the character) was about to go to war with France, Austria, and the Pope, much to the chagrin of his niece Blanche, who just that day had married Louis the Dauphin (the King of France’s son). Just pleased as punch with this turn of events was Constance, who was happy to see someone go after King John… since she sees him as a usurper of the throne her son Arthur should have. Also pleased is the Bastard, who just wants to go onto the field of battle and kick some ass (preferably the behind of the Duke of Austria who claimed to have defeated and then killed the Bastard’s father, King Richard I).
you’d think that would the shortest Act Three, Scene Two in the Canon, but no, that would be Othello and a super-speedy SIX lines… no lie
After scenes of over 275, nearly 600 and nearly 350 lines apiece, Act Three, Scene Two is a wickedly fast 10 lines.
But what the scene lacks in length, it makes up for in gore. Check out the opening stage direction: “Alarums, excursions. Enter Bastard, with Austria’s head” (III.ii opening stage direction). Now THAT’s opening a scene with a bang… it’s just a shame we don’t actually get to see what led up to the decapitation; the Bastard’s been such a trash-talker that the prologue to that fight must have been entertaining. Joining the Bastard on-stage are King John and the citizen of Angiers, Hubert, who have captured as their prisoner Arthur. King John is worried about his mother Eleanor, only to be told by the Bastard that he “rescued her” (III.ii.7).
We get some more alarums and excursions and the three Englishmen and their prisoner are joined on stage by Eleanor and various Lords for Act Three, Scene Three.
John sends the Bastard back to England. Eleanor pulls Arthur aside for a chat, and John conspires with Hubert. What about? you may ask.
go ahead, ask… I’ll wait
After John tells Hubert how much respect and love he has for him, he reminds Hubert that he is now to watch over the prisoner Arthur, the pretender to the English throne. He says,
Thou art his keeper.
And I'll keep him so,
That he shall not offend your majesty.
He shall not live.
I could be merry now.
Folks, we’ve been discussion shared lines or antilabes throughout the project. Usually, it’s a two-part shared line, occasionally three (as in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet). But this, my friends, is a GREAT antilabe… a FIVE-part antilabe, one that at the end of which, we’re pretty sure that Arthur’s days are numbered. And so ends Act Three, Scene Three.
Scene Four takes us to the other, the losing, side of the battlefield. Philip, Louis and Pandulph (the papal emissary) are discussing their defeat, when Constance, Arthur’s mother shows up. To say she’s distraught it to understate things. Remember her over-the-top cursing of the earlier scenes? Well, if you were expecting her to go off again, then you’d be right.
She is so distraught–calling for “Death, death. O, amiable, lovely death!” (III.iv.25)–that even Pandulph realizes that this may be “madness and not sorrow” (III.iv.43). She has run into the scene, hair all wild and Medusa-like. Over the course of the scene, King Philip and Pandulph convince her to put up (or “bind” [III.iv.68]) her hair, and she begins to calm down. But then as she thinks again on the loss of her son, she descends into madness and unbound hair, again. She runs off, and King Philip fearing “some outrage” (III.iv.106) or suicide follows her.
Louis is left alone with Pandulph, who tries to convince him to take on Arthur’s attempt on the throne of England. Arthur now has Blanche as a wife, he is now part of the English royal family. When Louis expresses some doubts and fears over such an attempt, Pandulph says that the English people will be so outraged over John’s treatment of Arthur that anyone with a claim to the throne will be met with “ten thousand English to their side” (III.iv.175). The scene (and Act Three) ends with Pandulph and Louis leaving to discuss such a plan with King Philip.