As it turns out, being submerged in The Life and Death of King John is a marvelous way to spend a couple of weeks. I have enjoyed scouring for it’s film versions, I have reveled in discussing mine and others unfamiliarity with it’s subject, and I have loved learning it more intimately. I re-read the play, interviewed some lovely commuters and helpful librarians, researched, and pondered. All in all, I’ve come to really love King John as a play. Hopefully, I’ve inspired a few of you to join me on the near-forgotten King John road.
I had to bear a nod to the original inspiration for the piece, so I did a little research on the man behind the legend: King John himself. The actual, historical King John himself is not as entrancing a figure as Shakespeare makes him out to be. The real life kings claim to fame lies mainly in his late-life signing of the Magna Carta; a document which is widely considered as a precursor to modern human rights constitutions.
As for Shakespeare’s King John, his reign is a little more fiery. There are disputes with the French, the other English, themselves, even with the Pope. There are threats, battles, arguable suicide, and poisoning; all moving at a snappy pace and wrapped up in the bard’s eternal flare. But there is something else moving amid the words of the play; the idea of standing up fro what we believe, even if we’re not sure it’s right. A question of identity perhaps? Or a question of expressing that identity with our actions and words?
So, have we outgrown the English kings of history? Or are they yet relevant in a world of change and battling media? Do our schoolchildren still find use for old King John? Do we? Perhaps it’s better we all answer that question for ourselves. Though, I urge you, friends, to give it a good read or a thorough viewing before you make up your mind.