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King John

"Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shakespear's King John" (1900). Oil painting by Charles A. Buchel

The life and death of King Iohn, or, in short, King John, is a play by William Shakespeare, thought to have been created somewhere between 1596 and 1598. It follows the life of John Plantagenet in his war against his rival, Phillip II of France, to his eventual death at the hands of a treacherous monk.

Tropes used in King John include:


  • Anachronism Stew: Several instances in the play, notably when King John makes a reference to England's cannons, which were not actually fielded until well over a hundred years after John's death.
  • Anti-Hero: John; see the anti-hero trope page for more info.
  • Children Are Innocent: Arthur Plantagenet, stated to be about 8 years old. (In reality, he would have been about 16.)
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Subverted when Arthur convinces Hubert not to go through with torture or execution.
  • Corrupt Church: Cardinal Pandulph, about as cynical and slimy a politician as is possible to find even in Shakespeare.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Queen Elinor, until this point an important supporting character, is sent off to take charge of assets in France, and it is mentioned later that she died.
  • Eye Scream: The plan to execute Arthur Plantagenet is, for reasons never fully established in the play, paired with a plan to (spoiler-text for the faint-hearted) poke his eyes out with hot irons. Yeah.
  • Heroic Bastard: Phillip the Bastard, called Faulconbridge, a prime example of this trope.
  • Mama Bear: Two, actually: Queen Elinor, mother to King John, and Constance, mother to Arthur Plantagenet.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Subverted, In his somewhat suicidal attempt to escape from the castle, Arthur is killed when he falls from the wall.
  • Off with His Head: Austria is beheaded by The Bastard for his part in killing King Richard I, The Bastard's father.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Arthur Plantagenet, a young boy of eight in the play; actually 16 during the historical events.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Trope Namer:

 Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale

Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.

In another way, The Life and Death of King John tracks very closely to a play that is believed by most to have been published slightly earlier: The Troublesome Reign of King John. Shakespeare appears to have set out to write a much-improved version of that play, in which he succeeded by making John an Anti-Hero, removing the comfortable moral framework of the precursor, and removing a romantic subplot.

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