In King John, the Bastard has the final say. He has just pledged his loyalty and “faithful services” (V.vii.104) to the new king, young Henry III; Salisbury (remember him, he lead a rebellion of English lords against Henry’s father, our titular John) follows suit. Henry responds by saying, “I have a kind soul that would give you thanks // And knows not how to do it but with tears” (V.vii.108-109). His two lines are riddled with curious phrases for a king: “kind soul,” “give…thanks,” and “with tears.” Not exactly awe-inspiring (or, for that matter, just plain inspiring) stuff.
As if sensing this, the Bastard rises (V.vii.110 stage direction), and states,
O, let us pay the time but needful woe,
Since it hath been beforehand with our griefs.
This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
He begins by allowing for Henry’s “tears,” this time of “needful woe,” but only because it came “beforehand.” He dismisses these “griefs” in just two lines before launching into a nationalistic speech in which he states England’s supremacy–“never shall // Lie at the foot of a conqueror.” He says that the state is only weak when they did “wound itself.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if countries from the other “three corners of the world” come to destroy England, their country will stand and “shock them” if it remains “true” to itself.
Taken out of context, it’s semi-stirring stuff. But coming at the end of what we’ve seen and heard, it just sounds like the Bastard has learned to speak the “sweet, sweet, sweet poison” (I.i.213) of flattery for his superiors. England may rule, but the Bastard has been neutered.