Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University




Constance is in a nasty frenzy of disbelief regarding the big sell-out deal that leaves Arthur in the lurch. Salisbury, who serves as messenger, illogically gets some of the blame for the bad news. Constance rejects Arthur's attempt at calming her:

If thou that bid'st me be content wert grim,
Ugly, and sland'rous to thy mother's womb,
Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains,
Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious,
Patch'd with foul moles and eye-offending marks,
I would not care, I then would be content,
For then I should not love thee; no, nor thou
Become thy great birth nor deserve a crown.
Jeez, thanks, Mom. She adds, "Of Nature's gifts thou mayst with lilies boast, / And with the half-blown rose" (III.i.53-54). The elder Ogburns detect lots of "fair youth"/Wriothesley language in these passages (Ogburn and Ogburn 1176). Constance throws herself on the ground and makes histrionic martyrdom claims, accusing France of presenting "a counterfeit / Resembling majesty" (III.i.99-100).

John, Philip, Lewis, Blanch, Elinor, Bastard, Austria, and attendants enter. Constance, of course, chides King Philip and the wedding party, insisting she has been betrayed. The Bastard tries to pick a fight with Austria (III.i.130ff); and one pictures a stuffy Austria like an enemy of Groucho in a Marx Brothers film.

"Since the entire business with Arthur from beginning to end occupies only the first third of John's reign, it becomes necessary for Shakespeare to drag forward the later events and pile them into a kind of heap" (Asimov 228). So the appearance of the papal "legate" in 1211 is moved backwards many years. Cardinal Pandulph, Pope Innocent's legal representative and a character who has been called a "dreadful mixture" of Polonius and Iago (Goddard, I 144), interrupts with a question as to why John has blocked the appointment of a particular Archbishop of Canterbury. Pandulph gives voice to "the gist of Jesuit propaganda spread throughout England, Scotland, and Europe generally, at this time against Elizabeth" (Clark 488). John anachronistically delivers the defiant Anglican line about such matters (Asimov 232): England is not subject to Italy or the "Italian priest" (III.i.153). Philip is aghast, but John blasphemously opposes the Pope. Pandulph's response would have hit a familiar note to the Elizabethan audience, whose queen in 1580 received the same papal condemnation (Asimov 234; Farina 106).

Then, by the lawful power that I have,
Thou shalt stand curs'd and excommunicate,
And blessed shall be he that doth revolt
From his allegiance to an heretic,
And meritorious shall that hand be call'd
Canoniz'd and worshipp'd as a saint,
That takes away by any secret course
Thy hateful life.
Real sacred! "Shakespeare sees to it that Pandolph alienates his audience every time he speaks, but it is Pandolph, high priest of Commodity and of Policy, who alone triumphs in this play" (Bloom 61). Constance allies herself with this guy. Philip is torn between the marriage alliance and the Church. With the Bastard still trying to rile Austria, and amid Pandulph's loquacious sophistry, Philip crumbles under the Church's threats and breaks with England. Consensus condemns this act; "Constance rants ... King Philip wavers, the Bastard declaims, Lewis emotes, Blanch wheedles, Arthur mews, and Austria vegetates" (Carey 135). Blanch naturally feels torn, and France and England prepare again for battle.


The Bastard has gotten Austria's head. John gives custody of Arthur to Hubert. He fears for his mother Elinor but the Bastard has already rescued her.


English butt is being kicked and John gives unconvincing reassurances to Elinor and to the captured Arthur. He sends the Bastard to England to raid the churches: "see thou shake the bags / Of hoarding abbots" (III.iii.7-8). "Bell, book, and candle shall not drive me back," replies the Bastard (III.iii.12), referring to the paraphernalia of excommunication:

a bell is rung, a book is closed, and a lighted candle is put out. The ringing bell signifies that the axct is public; all men are called to hear. The closing book signifies the words that lend the presiding bishop the power to perform the rite and is a clear enough symbol that the words of the churchly rituals are henceforth locked away from the excommunicated culprit. Finally, the candle is extinguished to signify that the light of the church is removed from the culprit. (Asimov 237)
John, after soliciting vows of loyalty from Hubert, offers some indirect implications about Arthur:
I'll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way,
And wheresoe'er this foot of mine doth tread,
He lies before me. Dost thou understand me?
Thou art his keeper.
Hubert replies, "And I'll keep him so, / That he shall not offend your Majesty." John: "Death." Hubert: "My lord?" "A grave." "He shall not live." "Enough" (III.iii.64-66). John is giddy at the prospective alleviation. "The understatement of writing like that is more to the taste of modern audiences than the rhetoric, eloquent though it may be, of Constance" (Wells 112).


Philip is in a funk about the setbacks to the French, what with both Angiers and Arthur captured and other English successes. Constance rhapsodizes about her grief while Pandulph remains distant. She laments that she is not insane but tears her hair and describes a scene of being reunited with her son, disfigured and unrecognizable, in the hereafter. She "rises to a height of grief that has no parallel in literature for sheer intensity of anguish" (Asimov 238). And she has a case, but she also has become really annoying. Pandulph and King Philip want her to shut up already, and the latter diagnoses an addiction to misery: "You are as fond of grief as of your child" (III.iv.92). However, he fears she'll attempt suicide.

Lewis whimpers about life, "as tedious as a twice-told tale" (III.iv.108). Pandulph tips him off that John will certainly have Arthur killed and that Lewis himself and Blanch could inherit. "A sceptre snatch'd with an unruly hand / Must be as boisterously maintain'd as gain'd" (III.iv. 135-136), says the Machiavellian Pandulph. The English people will turn against John, placing Lewis in an even better position! "The bastard Faulconbridge / Is now in England ransacking the Church, / Offending charity" (III.iv.171-173). A French attack on England would be supported by multitudes of Brits! King Philip must be appealed to!

Act IV

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