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.
ASC Co-founder and Artistic Director