Act IV, Scenes i-ii
Hubert enters with executioners, and he tells them to hide themselves and be ready. Hubert calls in Arthur, who speaks of his woe at being a young gentleman and wishes he were a simple shepherd. Hubert becomes upset, touched by Arthur's innocence, and begins to feel merciful toward the boy. He presents Arthur with a paper that says that Hubert has been instructed to put out Arthur's eyes. Arthur asks him if he must do it, considering what friends they have become. Hubert says he has sworn to do it and must.
Hubert calls out the executioners, and Arthur is frightened, but he tells Hubert he needn't employ such scary men, for he will submit to the punishment without struggle. Hubert sends away the executioners and tells Arthur to prepare himself. Arthur begs Hubert to spare him, pointing out that even the fire refuses to help Hubert by not growing hot enough to heat the iron. Finally Hubert relents and says he won't hurt Arthur, but he reminds Arthur that he had promised he would, so John must not find out that Arthur is still alive.
John enters his court with Pembroke and Salisbury, and he ascends the throne. He speaks of his second coronation, which he has just ordered for the apparent purpose of making his lords swear allegiance again. Pembroke and Salisbury think it was a wasteful and ridiculous ceremony. John says he still thinks it was a worthwhile action, and promises them he'll do what they advise hereafter.
They ask that Arthur be released, as it would please the people and because Arthur poses little threat to his rule. John agrees, and as Hubert enters, he takes him aside. Pembroke and Salisbury confer about how they heard Hubert had been hired to assassinate Arthur, and they fear the worst. John returns and explains that Arthur has just died. Salisbury and Pembroke are displeased, and suggest foul play contributed to Arthur's death. The lords announce their intention to attend to Arthur's burial, and they depart.
John comments that he now sees his reign will not become more solid through the death of others; his nobles are now furious, and that weakens his power. A messenger enters and reports the approach of a huge French army. John wonders why his mother didn't report that the French were mobilizing. The messenger explains that Eleanor has recently died, as has Arthur's mother Constance. John is extremely upset to hear the news.
The Bastard, accompanied by a citizen, enters to report the results of his expedition to the monasteries. He collected money, but as he traveled among the people, he heard all kinds of rumors. The citizen with him had predicted that John would give up his crown by the time of the next national holiday. John orders the citizen hung on that same day, and sends him away with Hubert.
John asks the Bastard if he had heard the news; the Bastard says he knows about the approach of French army and the angry lords. John asks him to seek out the lords and try to win them back, and the Bastard gladly departs on that errand. Hubert reenters and tells of a sign the people have seen, four moons fixed in the sky with one circling around them. It bodes ill, he says, and the people make dreadful prophecies. They all mourn Arthur's death, he reports.
John asks Hubert why he convinced him to murder Arthur, whom he didn't want dead. Despite Hubert's denials, John accuses him of having tricked him into it. Hubert shows him the paper ordering Arthur's death, written by John. John insists that it's Hubert's fault, because Hubert is so ugly, so marked by nature, that the murder wouldn't have even occurred to him if he had not been in Hubert's presence at the time. John accuses Hubert repeatedly, then bemoans the departure of his lords and the arrival of foreign powers.
Hubert interrupts him to report that Arthur is still living. He accuses the king of slandering him by picking on his physical nature, for he has a purer heart than those who would think to kill an innocent child. John is delighted and urges Hubert to report the news to the other lords. He asks him to forgive his harshness, saying he spoke in a passion before.
These scenes mark a reversal of fortune for John. His mother dies, resulting in his indecisiveness and weak rule. His nobles turn against him when they hear Arthur is dead, and the French army approaches. For the first time, John is confronted with omens and prophecies, which indicate the participation of the larger forces of fate in his reign. Yet as the play progresses, the suggestion that fate plays a role disappears in the unpredictable and incoherent unraveling of events. If there is a reason for things to unfold the way they do, it doesn't become clear and no one ponders it.
John's response to Hubert's report of Arthur's death is puzzling. He blames Hubert for having influenced him to order Arthur's death, accusing him of being so ugly that he put ugly thoughts in John's mind. He is unwilling to take responsibility. Without his mother around, John behaves like a petulant child, blaming his mistakes on anyone else. He is lucky that Hubert did not really kill Arthur, for he could still bounce back from this scandal--if not for the unpredictable and unbelievable events to follow.