September 20 – November 24, 2012

One of Shakespeare’s most exciting plays, King John continues the thrilling story of what happens after the events in The Lion in Winter. John, now king, continues his family’s outrageous game of capture the crown. Mad world. Mad kings. Madly entertaining. Don’t miss this rare chance to see King John and The Lion in Winter performed in repertory with actors playing the same characters who appear in each.

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
  • King Henry II crowns his eldest son, Henry, co-king while both are alive to assure a smooth succession; Henry the Young dies first.
  • The Lion in Winter.
  • Henry’s next eldest son is Richard the Lionheart; after fighting in the Crusades, and after his father dies, Richard becomes King Richard I.
  • While Richard I reigns, his younger brother Geoffrey has a son named Arthur; Geoffrey dies.
  • When Richard I dies, his youngest brother, John, ascends the throne.
Stuff that happens during the play
  • At the English court, King John is called upon by France to surrender his crown and all his lands to his nephew, Arthur. King John refuses, and the French ambassador makes a formal declaration of war.
  • After the ambassador’s departure, King John’s mother, Eleanor, blames Constance, Arthur’s mother, for sowing the seeds of war in France.
  • Robert Faulconbridge and his bastard brother, Philip, arrive at court to ask King John to decide a quarrel. Philip Faulconbridge claims inheritance to their fathers’ estate, but Eleanor notices a strong resemblance between Philip and her eldest son, Richard Lionheart.
  • At Eleanor’s urging, Philip Faulconbridge drops his claim and swears to fight on her behalf in France. King John knights Philip and both he and Eleanor recognize him as their kinsman.
  • Near the city of Angiers, the forces of France, led by King Philip,, and the Duke of Austria meet. Austria vows to set aside past disagreements and to join with France in supporting Arthur’s claim to the English throne.
  • King John arrives near Angiers and promises to depart peacefully if France yields to his demands. In reply, King Philip demands that King John recognize Arthur as the rightful king.
  • Eleanor and Constance argue over Arthur’s legitimacy, and Arthur complains that he would rather die than be the cause of these disagreements.
  • On the walls of Angiers, a citizen proclaims that the town will not decide to whom the kingship belongs and that the city gates will remain closed until the claimants settle the matter.
  • King John and King Philip go to battle; both sides claim victory. The Bastard, impatient for more fighting, suggests that England and France join forces against the insolent Angiers and settle their differences after. Both kings agree to this plan.
  • Angiers proposes, instead, that King John’s niece, Blanche, marry King Philips’s son, the Dauphin. Both sides agree, and Angiers opens the city gates to allow the marriage to be celebrated in the chapel.
  • Constance hears of the marriage and confronts King Philip, accusing him of betrayal.
  • A representative of the Pope arrives and excommunicates King John for his refusal to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise his office. He also reveals that whoever might take King John’s life would deserve canonization.
  • King Philip, persuaded to side with the Pope, breaks his contract  with King John. The situation forces Blanche, newly wedded, to abandon her family and stay with the Dauphin.
  • The battle between England and France commences. The Bastard divorces the Duke of Austria from his head.
  • King John takes his nephew Arthur captive and entrusts him to Hubert, a citizen of Angiers who becomes a trusted confidant of King John.
  • The Bastard departs for England, to persuade the Church to send more soldiers.
  • King John bids Hubert to “take care” or Arthur.
  • The rise and fall of kings ensue.
Notes from the Director
Underrated and Thrilling

In our 2008 Fall Season, we began The Histories: The Rise and Fall of Kings, a five-year journey to produce all ten of Shakespeare’s magnificent history plays. Six of those ten plays had never been done by the ASC and two of those six are all we ave left: King John in the 2012 Fall Season and Henry VIII in the 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season.

Part of our loyal audience was clamoring for us to do more of the history plays while another part was skeptical, hesitant to buy tickets to so many plays with the word “King” and a Roman numeral in the title. So we decided to spread out these great plays over five years. We split the two tetralogies into separate seasons and spent the last four years building to the climaxes of Henry V and Richard III. The two remaining plays stand outside those two series and don’t get the love they deserve: not only are they both dreaded, thought-to-be-boring history plays, but they aren’t even part of the two famous history cycles. And how many Americans have ever even heard of this guy named King John?

Stuff about the historical king john

(that’s not in the “Stuff that Happens Before the Play”)

  • King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. Look it up on the interwebs. Google is your friend. It doesn’t really matter for your two-hour roller coaster ride at the Blackfriars because it’s not a part of this play.
  • King John actually died of dysentery; Shakespeare gives him a more dramatic and surprising cause of death and you have to listen carefully for it because it happens off stage.
Stuff about shakespeare’s king john
  • King John is probably based on an earlier, anonymous play: The Troublesome Reign of King John as well as Holinshed’s account of John in his Chronicles, a slanted source for all of Shakespeare’s history plays and several of his tragedies; some say, however, that Troublesome Reign came later and was a rip-off of Shakespeare’s play.
  • King John mostly follows the historical accounts, but Shakespeare also gives us the fictional Philip of Faulconbridge, who turns out to be King Richard I’s bastard son; he dominates most of Shakespeare’s play.
  • King John is unlike every other play he wrote.

As is the case with most of Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, King John is a grand goulash of historical fact, historical fiction, and sensational storytelling. Shakespeare wasn’t a maker of documentaries, he was a master craftsman of theatricality. He borrowed stuff from history books and other plays that he thought would make good meat for his plays; and wherever real history didn’t serve his dramatic purpose, he made up new stuff.

The good news
  • Part I: King John is a thrilling story and gripping play, when it’s performed well.
  • Part II: You don’t have to know a darn thing about English (or French) history to follow it.
  • Part III: if you want some back-story, you can get it in The Lion in Winter, which we’re also doing right now.
  • Part IV: we’re the ASC so you know we’re going to perform it well (if you’re new to us, you’re about to find out).

We’re not doing King John just so we can complete the history cycle or so we can complete the canon. We’re doing King John because it’s a great, underrated play. We hope you will agree. Come see it and join us for a unique ride.

Jim warren

ASC Co-founder and Artistic Director