Titus was the main character of Titus Andronicus. Richard III was the main character of Richard the Third. And Romeo and Juliet… well, you get the idea.
Now, the argument can be made that each of those plays is a tragedy (yes, even Richard the Third).
That leaves of the plays we’ve read thus far only the Henry VI plays as plays who name a character in the title. Histories, pure and simple (remember Richard the Third… not so simple). And as we discussed back at the end of last year, Henry VI is not the main character of any of those plays (which either don’t have protagonists or Richard, Duke of York, stands in for that role).
So King John?
Out titular king? You (or at least I) would be hard pressed to call him to the main character. Though he has 95 speeches (the most cues), he’s not exactly working toward anything. He’s flawed, weak and easily swayed (on two occasions he is convinced to change his mind after only single speeches by the Bastard), vain (ordering a second coronation), and cowardly (capitulating and handing over this crown to Rome).
His initial standing up to the Church may have been playing up to Shakespeare’s audience, but even that would have its limits; there were still many Catholics in Elizabethan England. Regardless, handing over the crown would not be acceptable to the groundlings.
To be certain, if Shakespeare did use The Troublesome Reign of King John as source material, he cut some of the more incendiary anti-Catholic portions of the play. Portions that belong to a character with 89 speeches in the play, a character who very well may (or at least should) be our main character:
to be continued…