No author is named by the first edition of 1591. Editions of 1611 and 1622 ascribe the play to "W. Sh." and "W. Shakespeare," respectively. Modern scholars are virtually unanimous in rejecting Shakespeare as primary author, though many are willing to accept the possibility that he had some hand in it. There is no gleam of consensus on an alternative: suggestions include Chettle, Greene, Kyd, Lodge, Marlowe, Munday, Peele, and Samuel Rowley.

[Shakespeare Aprocrypha]

The First Part of

The 1591 title page continues "with the discoverie of King Richard Cordelions Base sonne (vulgarly named, The Bastard Fawconbridge): also the death of King John at Swinstead Abbey." The title-page ascribes performance of the play to the Queen's Men, active 1583–Jan. 1594.

circa 1587–1591

a synoptic, alphabetical character list


A friar's mistress, Alice is found hiding in a chest when the Bastard comes to look for the monastery's treasure. She tries to save herself by showing him another chest supposed to contain a thousand marks in gold and silver; when opened, however, it reveals not money but Friar Laurence, her lover.


Arthur is son of Jeffrey Plantagenet and of Constance, nephew of John, grandson of Elianor. His mother and her French friends urge his claim to the British crown. As part of the peace John confirms his rule in Brittany. When hostilities resume he is captured by John and placed in the charge of Hubert de Burgh. Threatened by Hubert with the loss of his sight, he argues so eloquently that the keeper spares him.


These men are recruited by Hubert to help him blind Arthur.


Daughter of the King of Spain, Blanche accompanies her cousin John and her aunt Queen Elianor to France. After the inconclusive battle of Angiers she is married to Lewes, son of the King of France.


This lad is one of the country people beguiled by Peter the Prophet, to whom he gives a cheese in return for a prognostication.


The Pope's legate, Cardinal Pandulph excommunicates John, and urges Philip of France to break the treaty and renew hostilities with England in order to punish John for refusing to accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. After John's victory in France he encourages Lewes to seek the English crown.


Ambassador of Philip, King of France, Chattilion brings John Philip's endorsement of Arthur's claim on the English throne.. He has barely returned with news of John's contempt for the claim when John himself arrives with his army.


The commencement of hostilities between England and France concerns the city of Angiers, which has been subject to England but is now claimed by France for Arthur. The citizens decline to choose, resolving to close their gates to both until their lawful ruler is identified. After the first inconclusive passage at arms between the two kings, the Citizens propose that the quarrel be settled by the marriage of Lewes of France to the Lady Blanche and so save the town.


Wife of Jeffrey Plantagenet and mother of Arthur, Constance stoutly maintains her son's right to the English throne, and is particularly opposed to Queen Elianor. She is infuriated by the peace, which leaves her son in limbo, and curses both treacherous France and the union of Lewes and Blanche.


A "ghost character". Surname of Richard I. His untimely death as Lymoges' captive has left John the unproved king of an imperiled realm. His main influence on the play is as the adulterous father of Philip Fauconbridge, the Bastard.


Essex attends John in the opening scene, and is named regent during John's absence in France. After John's second coronation, he responds to the king's proffered generosity by asking for the release of Arthur. Hearing Hubert's false report of the boy's death, he chastises the king and quits the court.


Pembrooke attends John in the opening scene, and later tries to persuade him not to invite doubts about the validity of his claim to the throne by being crowned a second time. He seconds Essex in requesting the release of Arthur and in leaving the court after Hubert's report of the boy's death.


Salisbury is one of John's supporters and advisors until alienated by the report of Arthur's death.


The Queen Mother. Mother of John, and of his dead brothers Richard and Jeffrey, the dowager queen supports John's claim against that of her grandson, Arthur. She and Constance conduct a running quarrel. After the victory in France, John makes her regent over the French provinces.


This elderly English monk tries to resist the Bastard's quest for the monastery's treasure, even though threatened with hanging.


Friar Laurence is discovered hiding in a chest supposed to contain a nun's treasure; threatened with hanging he offers to give the Bastard a hundred pounds sterling.


When old Friar Anthony is threatened with death, Friar Thomas agrees to show the Bastard where to find the monastery's gold. But when the chest is opened, it contains a hiding nun, not a thousand pounds.


Appointed by John to guard Arthur, Hubert de Burgh receives the king's warrant to put out the boy's eyes, and binds him to a chair in order to do so. Arthur's arguments persuade him, however, that his duty to God supersedes his duty to his king. He spares Arthur, but tells the king that the boy is dead. When the news alienates the lords and dismays the king, Hubert confesses that Arthur is still alive. The good news ends Part I.


A "ghost character". Younger brother of Richard I and older brother of John, Jeffrey's death before that of Richard and before the beginning of the play leaves his son, Arthur, as a legitimate aspirant to the English crown.


Having succeeded his brother Richard, King John scorns the French king's claim that the English crown belongs to Arthur. He initially decides to suspend Robert Fauconbridge's argument and listen to the mother and her bastard son. Then he accepts Philip as Richard's son, and announces that he will seize church lands to pay for the war against France. He reaches France on Chattilion's heels, announces his right to Angiers to Philip's face, and insists on his rights through the first inconclusive battle. Then, however, his mother persuades him to accept the marriage of Blance and Lewes and the loss of five French provinces in order to gain peace. He backs the Bastard's challenge to Lymoges by making him Duke of Normandy. Having captured Arthur he appoints Hubert de Burgh as the boy's keeper, whom he subsequently commands to put out the boy's eyes. Over the objections of his advisors he orders that he be crowned a second time. When this is done, he offers to grant the assembled lords their requests. When they request that Arthur be freed, he assents, but at that moment all are startled by the appearance in the heavens of five simultaneous moons. When Peter the Prophet sees here an image of John's resistance to Rome, but then foretells his deposition before Ascension Day, he not only condemns the prophet to death, but also retracts the liberation of Arthur. Hubert enters to report (falsely) that Arthur was blinded according to the king's command and died of pain and shock. When the lords condemn the act and abandon him, John laments, but is revived when Hubert admits that the boy still lives.


The widow of Robert Fauconbridge the Elder and mother of Robert the Elder is also the proclaimed mistress of Richard Coeur de Lion. In audience before John she insists that Philip is the son of Sir Robert the Elder, but in private concedes that Richard was his father.


Dauphin of France, Lewes is an enthusiastic warrior who welcomes war with England. After the inconclusive first battle of Angiers he marries Blanche. He is unable to prevent the capture of Arthur, but is encouraged by Cardinal Pandulph to seek the English crown.


Duke of Austria and the principal ally of France, Lymoges wears as his right the lion skin formerly worn by Richard Coeur de Lion, who died Lymoges' captive. In the first battle outside Angiers, the Bastard forces him to relinquish the trophy and fly in fear. During the nuptials of Blanche and Lewes the Bastard challenges him to single combat, but he declines on grounds of a social inequality that John's making Fauconbridge Duke of Normandy cannot undo. But when hostilities are renewed he dies at Fauconbridge's hand.


Speech heading for Lady Fauconbridge.


Considered by the people to be a prophet, he is arrested by the Bastard, and brought before John. Five moons at once having appeared in the sky, he is asked to expound the mystery. He interprets them as symbolizing John's resistance to the papacy and prophecies that before Ascension Day John will be deposed. The enraged king condemns him to die.


Apparent heir of Robert Fauconbridge, Philip renounces his inheritance and accepts a new identity as bastard son of Richard I. In France he swears to avenge his father's death on Lymoges, and begins to make good his oath by forcing Lymoges to abandon the lion skin that was Richard's insignia. He challenges Lymoges to single combat, but the Austrian declines. When the fighting begins anew, however, he slays Lymoges, a major contribution to the English victory. John makes him overseer of the campaign to despoil the monastic establishments in England to pay for the French wars, a task he carries out enthusiastically. At its conclusion he arrests Peter the Prophet and brings him before the king. See also RICHARD PLANTAGENET.


France supports the claim of Arthur against that of John, is initially persuaded to make peace in exchange for the marriage of his son Lewes with John's cousin Blanche and the recovery of five French provinces, but then accedes to the demand of the Pope to break the treaty and return to war.


A "ghost character". Having died before the play begins, Fauconbridge has left his estate as the source of contention between his two sons, Robert the Younger and Philip.


Robert claims the lands and title of Fauconbridge on grounds that his older brother, Philip, is illegitimate, having been fathered on his mother during her husband's absence by King Richard Coeur de Lion. Philip acknowledges the charge, and Robert becomes the heir.


A "ghost character". Surnamed Cordelion, Richard's untimely death as Lymoges' captive has left John the unproved king of an imperiled realm. His main influence on the play is as the adulterous father of Philip Fauconbridge, the Bastard.


Thomas Nidigate, Sheriff of Lincolnshire, brings to John's court the dispute between Philip and Robert Fauconbridge.

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