King John

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, Scenes i-ii

Summary Act II, Scenes i-ii

A citizen points out Blanche, the daughter of the King of Spain, a niece of the English royal family. Then he points out young Louis, who would make such a good match for her. Such an ambitious marriage would join several kingdoms in bonds of peace, and it would open the gates of Angers so much more easily than war. The Bastard comments to himself that the citizen's idea surprises him; his success at urging each side on to war has been trumped by the words of the citizen.

Eleanor advises John to agree to the match, for such a tie with France would assure John's hold on the crown. John tells the French that if Louis likes Blanche, he will offer a dowry of several English-held French territories. Philip asks Louis how he feels about Blanche, and Louis replies that he is transfixed by her. The Bastard comments to himself on Louis's swift enrapturement, as Blanche replies that she will do as John commands, but she also looks favorably on Louis. Both kings agree to the match, and Louis and Blanche join hands and kiss.

Philip asks the citizens of Angers to open their gates, then looks around for Constance. Louis thinks she must be in her tent, upset about the turn of events. John says they'll fix things by giving Arthur a dukedom. All depart except the Bastard, who comments on the madness of kings. In order to stop Arthur's claim to the throne, he gave away a part of his lands to Louis. France came to the battlefield full of conscientious efforts to help Arthur, but left with another result entirely. The desire for gain and commodity converted an honorable war into a vile and weak peace. But this commodity has not yet wooed him, the Bastard declares, and while he's still poor he will rail against the rich. But because even kings are willing to break their allegiances for the benefit of commodity, then he too will worship the gods of gain.

At the French camp, Constance and Arthur receive news from Salisbury. Constance can't believe that Philip has broken his ties to her. When Blanche and Louis are married, Louis will gain the territories Arthur should have held. She curses Salisbury, while Arthur tries to soothe her. She tells Arthur she wishes he had been malformed at birth, for then she would not love him or think that he deserves a crown. But instead Arthur is blessed by Nature, if not by Fortune. Fortune has been turned by John, just as France was. Constance's grief is so great that nothing can support it but the Earth, where she sits.

While Philip and John try to assert their authority by convincing the citizens of Angers to open their gates, Constance and Eleanor verbally attack each other, accusing the other of having carried out several of the greatest crimes of a married woman, including adultery and giving birth to a bastard child. While the two women seem to be arguing alongside the larger battle between Philip and John, it's not clear how much of the entire operation may have been urged on solely by them.

The armies fight but neither can prevail, so the malicious influence of the Bastard convinces the kings to join forces to destroy Angers, merely to prove that the kings won't endure disrespect. Such a temporary truce is in opposition to the original intent of attracting Angers, an assault meant to prove the true king of England through Angers's acceptance of John or Arthur as king. Destroying Angers makes such a selection impossible, for there will be no citizens left alive to choose. Yet the Bastard's clever rhetoric is derailed by the citizens, who suggest another surprising alternative.