King John

by: William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scenes i-ii

Summary Act IV, Scenes i-ii

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.