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King John

Enter KING JOHN, PEMBROKE, SALISBURY, and other Lords.
KING JOHNHere once again we sit, once again crown’d,
And looked upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.
PEMBROKEThis ‘once again,’ but that your highness pleased,
Was once superfluous: you were crown’d before, 5
And that high royalty was ne’er pluck’d off,
The faiths of men ne’er stained with revolt;
Fresh expectation troubled not the land
With any long’d-for change or better state.
SALISBURYTherefore, to be possess’d with double pomp, 10
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light 15
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
PEMBROKEBut that your royal pleasure must be done,
This act is as an ancient tale new told,
And in the last repeating troublesome, 20
Being urged at a time unseasonable.
SALISBURYIn this the antique and well noted face
Of plain old form is much disfigured;
And, like a shifted wind unto a sail,
It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about, 25
Startles and frights consideration,
Makes sound opinion sick and truth suspected,
For putting on so new a fashion’d robe.
PEMBROKEWhen workmen strive to do better than well,
They do confound their skill in covetousness; 30
And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse,
As patches set upon a little breach
Discredit more in hiding of the fault
Than did the fault before it was so patch’d. 35
SALISBURYTo this effect, before you were new crown’d,
We breathed our counsel: but it pleased your highness
To overbear it, and we are all well pleased,
Since all and every part of what we would
Doth make a stand at what your highness will. 40
KING JOHNSome reasons of this double coronation
I have possess’d you with and think them strong;
And more, more strong, then lesser is my fear,
I shall indue you with: meantime but ask
What you would have reform’d that is not well, 45
And well shall you perceive how willingly
I will both hear and grant you your requests.
PEMBROKEThen I, as one that am the tongue of these,
To sound the purpose of all their hearts,
Both for myself and them, but, chief of all, 50
Your safety, for the which myself and them
Bend their best studies, heartily request
The enfranchisement of Arthur; whose restraint
Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent
To break into this dangerous argument,– 55
If what in rest you have in right you hold,
Why then your fears, which, as they say, attend
The steps of wrong, should move you to mew up
Your tender kinsman and to choke his days
With barbarous ignorance and deny his youth 60
The rich advantage of good exercise?
That the time’s enemies may not have this
To grace occasions, let it be our suit
That you have bid us ask his liberty;
Which for our goods we do no further ask 65
Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,
Counts it your weal he have his liberty.
KING JOHNLet it be so: I do commit his youth
To your direction. Hubert, what news with you?
Taking him apart
PEMBROKEThis is the man should do the bloody deed; 70
He show’d his warrant to a friend of mine:
The image of a wicked heinous fault
Lives in his eye; that close aspect of his
Does show the mood of a much troubled breast;
And I do fearfully believe ’tis done, 75
What we so fear’d he had a charge to do.
SALISBURYThe colour of the king doth come and go
Between his purpose and his conscience,
Like heralds ‘twixt two dreadful battles set:
His passion is so ripe, it needs must break. 80
PEMBROKEAnd when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
The foul corruption of a sweet child’s death.
KING JOHNWe cannot hold mortality’s strong hand:
Good lords, although my will to give is living,
The suit which you demand is gone and dead: 85
He tells us Arthur is deceased to-night.
SALISBURYIndeed we fear’d his sickness was past cure.
PEMBROKEIndeed we heard how near his death he was
Before the child himself felt he was sick:
This must be answer’d either here or hence. 90
KING JOHNWhy do you bend such solemn brows on me?
Think you I bear the shears of destiny?
Have I commandment on the pulse of life?
SALISBURYIt is apparent foul play; and ’tis shame
That greatness should so grossly offer it: 95
So thrive it in your game! and so, farewell.
PEMBROKEStay yet, Lord Salisbury; I’ll go with thee,
And find the inheritance of this poor child,
His little kingdom of a forced grave.
That blood which owed the breadth of all this isle, 100
Three foot of it doth hold: bad world the while!
This must not be thus borne: this will break out
To all our sorrows, and ere long I doubt.
Exeunt Lords
KING JOHNThey burn in indignation. I repent:
There is no sure foundation set on blood, 105
No certain life achieved by others’ death.
Enter a Messenger
A fearful eye thou hast: where is that blood
That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks?
So foul a sky clears not without a storm:
Pour down thy weather: how goes all in France? 110
MessengerFrom France to England. Never such a power
For any foreign preparation
Was levied in the body of a land.
The copy of your speed is learn’d by them;
For when you should be told they do prepare, 115
The tidings come that they are all arrived.
KING JOHNO, where hath our intelligence been drunk?
Where hath it slept? Where is my mother’s care,
That such an army could be drawn in France,
And she not hear of it? 120
MessengerMy liege, her ear
Is stopp’d with dust; the first of April died
Your noble mother: and, as I hear, my lord,
The Lady Constance in a frenzy died
Three days before: but this from rumour’s tongue 125
I idly heard; if true or false I know not.
KING JOHNWithhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!
O, make a league with me, till I have pleased
My discontented peers! What! mother dead!
How wildly then walks my estate in France! 130
Under whose conduct came those powers of France
That thou for truth givest out are landed here?
MessengerUnder the Dauphin.
KING JOHNThou hast made me giddy
With these ill tidings. 135
Enter the BASTARD and PETER of Pomfret
Now, what says the world
To your proceedings? do not seek to stuff
My head with more ill news, for it is full.
BASTARDBut if you be afeard to hear the worst,
Then let the worst unheard fall on your bead. 140
KING JOHNBear with me cousin, for I was amazed
Under the tide: but now I breathe again
Aloft the flood, and can give audience
To any tongue, speak it of what it will.
BASTARDHow I have sped among the clergymen, 145
The sums I have collected shall express.
But as I travell’d hither through the land,
I find the people strangely fantasied;
Possess’d with rumours, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear: 150
And here a prophet, that I brought with me
From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found
With many hundreds treading on his heels;
To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rhymes,
That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon, 155
Your highness should deliver up your crown.
KING JOHNThou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?
PETERForeknowing that the truth will fall out so.
KING JOHNHubert, away with him; imprison him;
And on that day at noon whereon he says 160
I shall yield up my crown, let him be hang’d.
Deliver him to safety; and return,
For I must use thee.
Exeunt HUBERT with PETER
O my gentle cousin,
Hear’st thou the news abroad, who are arrived? 165
BASTARDThe French, my lord; men’s mouths are full of it:
Besides, I met Lord Bigot and Lord Salisbury,
With eyes as red as new-enkindled fire,
And others more, going to seek the grave
Of Arthur, who they say is kill’d to-night 170
On your suggestion.
KING JOHNGentle kinsman, go,
And thrust thyself into their companies:
I have a way to win their loves again;
Bring them before me. 175
BASTARDI will seek them out.
KING JOHNNay, but make haste; the better foot before.
O, let me have no subject enemies,
When adverse foreigners affright my towns
With dreadful pomp of stout invasion! 180
Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels,
And fly like thought from them to me again.
BASTARDThe spirit of the time shall teach me speed.
KING JOHNSpoke like a sprightful noble gentleman.
Go after him; for he perhaps shall need 185
Some messenger betwixt me and the peers;
And be thou he.
MessengerWith all my heart, my liege.
KING JOHNMy mother dead!
Re-enter HUBERT
HUBERTMy lord, they say five moons were seen to-night; 190
Four fixed, and the fifth did whirl about
The other four in wondrous motion.
KING JOHNFive moons!
HUBERTOld men and beldams in the streets
Do prophesy upon it dangerously: 195
Young Arthur’s death is common in their mouths:
And when they talk of him, they shake their heads
And whisper one another in the ear;
And he that speaks doth gripe the hearer’s wrist,
Whilst he that hears makes fearful action, 200
With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes.
I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus,
The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,
With open mouth swallowing a tailor’s news;
Who, with his shears and measure in his hand, 205
Standing on slippers, which his nimble haste
Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet,
Told of a many thousand warlike French
That were embattailed and rank’d in Kent:
Another lean unwash’d artificer 210
Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur’s death.
KING JOHNWhy seek’st thou to possess me with these fears?
Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur’s death?
Thy hand hath murder’d him: I had a mighty cause
To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him. 215
HUBERTNo had, my lord! why, did you not provoke me?
KING JOHNIt is the curse of kings to be attended
By slaves that take their humours for a warrant
To break within the bloody house of life,
And on the winking of authority 220
To understand a law, to know the meaning
Of dangerous majesty, when perchance it frowns
More upon humour than advised respect.
HUBERTHere is your hand and seal for what I did.
KING JOHNO, when the last account ‘twixt heaven and earth 225
Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal
Witness against us to damnation!
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Make deeds ill done! Hadst not thou been by,
A fellow by the hand of nature mark’d, 230
Quoted and sign’d to do a deed of shame,
This murder had not come into my mind:
But taking note of thy abhorr’d aspect,
Finding thee fit for bloody villany,
Apt, liable to be employ’d in danger, 235
I faintly broke with thee of Arthur’s death;
And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince.
HUBERTMy lord–
KING JOHNHadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause 240
When I spake darkly what I purposed,
Or turn’d an eye of doubt upon my face,
As bid me tell my tale in express words,
Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off,
And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me: 245
But thou didst understand me by my signs
And didst in signs again parley with sin;
Yea, without stop, didst let thy heart consent,
And consequently thy rude hand to act
The deed, which both our tongues held vile to name. 250
Out of my sight, and never see me more!
My nobles leave me; and my state is braved,
Even at my gates, with ranks of foreign powers:
Nay, in the body of this fleshly land,
This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath, 255
Hostility and civil tumult reigns
Between my conscience and my cousin’s death.
HUBERTArm you against your other enemies,
I’ll make a peace between your soul and you.
Young Arthur is alive: this hand of mine 260
Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand,
Not painted with the crimson spots of blood.
Within this bosom never enter’d yet
The dreadful motion of a murderous thought;
And you have slander’d nature in my form, 265
Which, howsoever rude exteriorly,
Is yet the cover of a fairer mind
Than to be butcher of an innocent child.
KING JOHNDoth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers,
Throw this report on their incensed rage, 270
And make them tame to their obedience!
Forgive the comment that my passion made
Upon thy feature; for my rage was blind,
And foul imaginary eyes of blood
Presented thee more hideous than thou art. 275
O, answer not, but to my closet bring
The angry lords with all expedient haste.
I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast.

Next: King John, Act 4, Scene 3

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