On Tuesday the seventh of June, the Beaches branch of the Toronto Public Library will be showing the Stratford Festival screening of ‘King John’. Of all of Shakespeare’s English History plays, ‘The Life and Death of King John’, as the full title goes, is perhaps the least well known. The reason for this, I suppose, is the public’s more ready familiarity with the Richards and Henry’s of historical infamy.

In preparation, I gave grand old King John a re-read to ensure I won’t be completely lost come Tuesday. The play itself features a line of those Plantagenet’s we’ve come to love from the other plays, quite a few French, and an Austrian Duke thrown in for a little spice. A good international mix if you’re looking for a battle. But they aren’t, of course. Or are they? The play is snappy as far as histories go, and we’re in the thick of it from the very beginning – as is King John. But I won’t spoil a good story by saying any more than that it’s a recommended history play.

What I particularly appreciate about film(ed) adaptations of the history plays is the familiarity they bring. Especially for us North Americans who have a hard time putting a story to the name, let alone face, of our former monarchs. While I grew up with the stories of hero loggers of the East Coast and John Cabot; many of my school friends from Britain have equally fond memories of the recounted glories of Plantagenet battles, and French-English skirmish I know nothing about. So, while I could give you a ripping yarn about a saucy logger; I have to confess I don’t think I could even tell you how many King Richards there even were all together.

This is where screenings come in. I find it easy to differentiate Shakespeare’s Antiquity plays because I know the central figures from other media sources. Anyone ever seen a sesame street segment on King John? Me neither. When it’s put on a screen for me; however, I get to match a face to the story played out before my eyes and the king of yore becomes as easily memorable as my favorite John Wayne quote. Though Shakespeare’s history plays are not completely historically accurate, I still know more about the history in general then when I started. So go see a history play this week. Tell yourself it’s brushing up on international history and don’t be at all surprised when you get swept up in the battle cry.

The screening takes place at the Beaches Branch of the Toronto Public Library, 2161 Queen Street East, at two pm on the seventh of June, and plans to run until four forty-five pm.

Author Catherine Spence

A Shakespeare-loving, Toronto-based bibliophile. Loves music, art, history, classical texts, languages, food, and performance. Dislikes frozen peas. Attended Regent's University London.

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