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moreover, my sincere appreciation to my own family for its ever thoughtful generosity, and to my Religious Superiors, who kindly granted, unsolicited as it was, this cherished opportunity of advanced studies.

Capuchin College, Washington, D. C.

Feast of the Assumption, 1938.





The Life and Death of King John has probably produced a more diversified harvest of interpretations than any other play of Shakespeare. This play involves the highly charged question of the relation between Church and state, a question which has ever been a center of lively speculation and debate. Moreover, King John was written at a time of tremendous religious upheaval and intense political intrigue; and, to complicate matters even more, the time of its composition bears many striking parallels with the days of King John-parallels, national as well as international, political as well as ecclesiastical. It is not surprising, then, that the harvest of opinions is not only huge, but so varied that at times the wheat is hardly distinguishable from the cockle.

In this chapter the varying interpretations of the incidents in King John, which have reference to Shakespeare's attitude towards the Catholic Church, will be presented, in order to point out the chief problems concerned in this study and at the same time to show the wide range of opinion on each problem. The opinions center naturally around King John and Cardinal Pandulph; therefore, Section One will treat of Shakespeare's John, and Section Two of Shakespeare's Pandulph. In Section Three an attempt will be made to classify the interpreters according to their respective opinions of Shakespeare's attitude towards the Catholic Church in King John, in order to ascertain, if possible, whether any trend of opinion sufficiently prevailed to be considered traditional.

1. Shakespeare's John

Shakespeare's: John is not such a simple soul as a few critics are inclined to believe. Even aside from the problems, the solution of which undoubtedly influence the interpretation of him, his character in itself has many aspects. To some critics these aspects appear irreconcilable in one bundle of mortality; to others certain aspects assume a prominence that is hardly justifiable. Consequently, a broad perspective of his character as well as of the problems concerning him is more likely to be an aid in this investigation than a useless complication of issues. Furthermore, in order to make this view of the field less subjective, our observations are made from the shoulders of the critics themselves. But since it would be too wearisome to present a catalogue of the varying shades of opinions with the proponents of each, only representative views will be mentioned.

John's Right to the Throne

King John is the title role of the play-an obvious fact, but often overlooked. Now, John's position as king of England brings up the question of his right to the throne. Malden1 considers John the lawful king, because he was recognized by the barons, and because the subsequent revolt of the barons is not due to any denial of his right. In discussing the question of John's right to the throne, Keeton2 points out that lineal descent of the crown is not an iron-bound rule in England, but that Shakespeare's conception of the question is fundamentally dynastic. "The crown to him descends in the manner of real property, and he has the best claim who can prove priority of descent. All others are

1Henry E. Malden, "Shakespeare as an Historian," Transactions

of the Royal Historical Society, N. S. 10 (1896): 35.

2George W. Keeton, Shakespeare and His Legal Problems (London, 1930) 112.

usurpers. This is a view which is reflected in all the Histories." John himself realizes the weakness of his title, although he boldly speaks of "our strong possession, and our right for us" (I, i, 39). Elinor, the queen-mother, states the situation rather bluntly:

Your strong possession much more than your right,
Or else it must go wrong with you and me.

(I, i, 40, 41).

After these words, the insulting suggestion of Arthur's ik legitimacy (II, i, 122, 123) and the reference to King Richard's will in favor of John (II, i, 191, 192) hardly strengthen John's right in the minds of the audience. As Agnes Henneke3 observes, John's usurpation is also admitted by Faulconbridge, whom she considers the mouthpiece of Shakespeare. Thus, when Hubert raises the dead body of Arthur, Faulconbridge says,

How easie dost thou take all England vp,
From forth this morcell of dead Royaltie?
The life, the right, and truth of all this Realme
Is fled to heauen: and England now is left
To tug and scamble, and to part by th'teeth
The vn-owned interest of proud swelling State.
(IV, iii, 142-147)

Wilson takes a more guarded view by stating merely that John's right to the throne is extremely questionable. Thus, an important point for a correct interpretation of the character of John is not too clearly established.

Further light has indirectly been thrown upon this question by Boas. At first John acts as a zealous cham


3Agnes Henneke, "Shakespeares englische Könige im Lichte staats rechtlicher Strömungen seiner Zeit," Shakespeare-Jahrbuch, 66 (1930): 119-120.


J. Dover Wilson, "Introduction," King John (Cambridge, 1936),

5 Frederick Boas, Shakspere and His Predecessors (London, 1896), 240.

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