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King John

 Enter KING JOHN, PEMBROKE, SALISBURY, and other Lords. 
KING JOHN Here once again we sit, once again crown'd, 
 And looked upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes. 
PEMBROKE This 'once again,' but that your highness pleased, 
 Was once superfluous: you were crown'd before, 5
 And that high royalty was ne'er pluck'd off, 
 The faiths of men ne'er stained with revolt; 
 Fresh expectation troubled not the land 
 With any long'd-for change or better state. 
SALISBURY Therefore, to be possess'd with double pomp, 10
 To guard a title that was rich before, 
 To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, 
 To throw a perfume on the violet, 
 To smooth the ice, or add another hue 
 Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light 15
 To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, 
 Is wasteful and ridiculous excess. 
PEMBROKE But that your royal pleasure must be done, 
 This act is as an ancient tale new told, 
 And in the last repeating troublesome, 20
 Being urged at a time unseasonable. 
SALISBURY In this the antique and well noted face 
 Of plain old form is much disfigured; 
 And, like a shifted wind unto a sail, 
 It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about, 25
 Startles and frights consideration, 
 Makes sound opinion sick and truth suspected, 
 For putting on so new a fashion'd robe. 
PEMBROKE When workmen strive to do better than well, 
 They do confound their skill in covetousness; 30
 And oftentimes excusing of a fault 
 Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse, 
 As patches set upon a little breach 
 Discredit more in hiding of the fault 
 Than did the fault before it was so patch'd. 35
SALISBURY To this effect, before you were new crown'd, 
 We breathed our counsel: but it pleased your highness 
 To overbear it, and we are all well pleased, 
 Since all and every part of what we would 
 Doth make a stand at what your highness will. 40
KING JOHN Some reasons of this double coronation 
 I have possess'd you with and think them strong; 
 And more, more strong, then lesser is my fear, 
 I shall indue you with: meantime but ask 
 What you would have reform'd that is not well, 45
 And well shall you perceive how willingly 
 I will both hear and grant you your requests. 
PEMBROKE Then I, as one that am the tongue of these, 
 To sound the purpose of all their hearts, 
 Both for myself and them, but, chief of all, 50
 Your safety, for the which myself and them 
 Bend their best studies, heartily request 
 The enfranchisement of Arthur; whose restraint 
 Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent 
 To break into this dangerous argument,-- 55
 If what in rest you have in right you hold, 
 Why then your fears, which, as they say, attend 
 The steps of wrong, should move you to mew up 
 Your tender kinsman and to choke his days 
 With barbarous ignorance and deny his youth 60
 The rich advantage of good exercise? 
 That the time's enemies may not have this 
 To grace occasions, let it be our suit 
 That you have bid us ask his liberty; 
 Which for our goods we do no further ask 65
 Than whereupon our weal, on you depending, 
 Counts it your weal he have his liberty. 
 Enter HUBERT 
KING JOHN Let it be so: I do commit his youth 
 To your direction. Hubert, what news with you? 
 Taking him apart 
PEMBROKE This is the man should do the bloody deed; 70
 He show'd his warrant to a friend of mine: 
 The image of a wicked heinous fault 
 Lives in his eye; that close aspect of his 
 Does show the mood of a much troubled breast; 
 And I do fearfully believe 'tis done, 75
 What we so fear'd he had a charge to do. 
SALISBURY The colour of the king doth come and go 
 Between his purpose and his conscience, 
 Like heralds 'twixt two dreadful battles set: 
 His passion is so ripe, it needs must break. 80
PEMBROKE And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence 
 The foul corruption of a sweet child's death. 
KING JOHN We cannot hold mortality's strong hand: 
 Good lords, although my will to give is living, 
 The suit which you demand is gone and dead: 85
 He tells us Arthur is deceased to-night. 
SALISBURY Indeed we fear'd his sickness was past cure. 
PEMBROKE Indeed we heard how near his death he was 
 Before the child himself felt he was sick: 
 This must be answer'd either here or hence. 90
KING JOHN Why do you bend such solemn brows on me? 
 Think you I bear the shears of destiny? 
 Have I commandment on the pulse of life? 
SALISBURY It is apparent foul play; and 'tis shame 
 That greatness should so grossly offer it: 95
 So thrive it in your game! and so, farewell. 
PEMBROKE Stay yet, Lord Salisbury; I'll go with thee, 
 And find the inheritance of this poor child, 
 His little kingdom of a forced grave. 
 That blood which owed the breadth of all this isle, 100
 Three foot of it doth hold: bad world the while! 
 This must not be thus borne: this will break out 
 To all our sorrows, and ere long I doubt. 
 Exeunt Lords 
KING JOHN They burn in indignation. I repent: 
 There is no sure foundation set on blood, 105
 No certain life achieved by others' death. 
 Enter a Messenger 
 A fearful eye thou hast: where is that blood 
 That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks? 
 So foul a sky clears not without a storm: 
 Pour down thy weather: how goes all in France? 110
Messenger From France to England. Never such a power 
 For any foreign preparation 
 Was levied in the body of a land. 
 The copy of your speed is learn'd by them; 
 For when you should be told they do prepare, 115
 The tidings come that they are all arrived. 
KING JOHN O, where hath our intelligence been drunk? 
 Where hath it slept? Where is my mother's care, 
 That such an army could be drawn in France, 
 And she not hear of it? 120
Messenger My liege, her ear 
 Is stopp'd with dust; the first of April died 
 Your noble mother: and, as I hear, my lord, 
 The Lady Constance in a frenzy died 
 Three days before: but this from rumour's tongue 125
 I idly heard; if true or false I know not. 
KING JOHN Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion! 
 O, make a league with me, till I have pleased 
 My discontented peers! What! mother dead! 
 How wildly then walks my estate in France! 130
 Under whose conduct came those powers of France 
 That thou for truth givest out are landed here? 
Messenger Under the Dauphin. 
KING JOHN Thou hast made me giddy 
 With these ill tidings. 135
 Enter the BASTARD and PETER of Pomfret 
 Now, what says the world 
 To your proceedings? do not seek to stuff 
 My head with more ill news, for it is full. 
BASTARD But if you be afeard to hear the worst, 
 Then let the worst unheard fall on your bead. 140
KING JOHN Bear with me cousin, for I was amazed 
 Under the tide: but now I breathe again 
 Aloft the flood, and can give audience 
 To any tongue, speak it of what it will. 
BASTARD How I have sped among the clergymen, 145
 The sums I have collected shall express. 
 But as I travell'd hither through the land, 
 I find the people strangely fantasied; 
 Possess'd with rumours, full of idle dreams, 
 Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear: 150
 And here a prophet, that I brought with me 

From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found

 With many hundreds treading on his heels; 
 To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rhymes, 
 That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon, 155
 Your highness should deliver up your crown. 
KING JOHN Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so? 
PETER Foreknowing that the truth will fall out so. 
KING JOHN Hubert, away with him; imprison him; 
 And on that day at noon whereon he says 160
 I shall yield up my crown, let him be hang'd. 
 Deliver him to safety; and return, 
 For I must use thee. 
 Exeunt HUBERT with PETER 
 O my gentle cousin, 
 Hear'st thou the news abroad, who are arrived? 165
BASTARD The French, my lord; men's mouths are full of it: 
 Besides, I met Lord Bigot and Lord Salisbury, 
 With eyes as red as new-enkindled fire, 
 And others more, going to seek the grave 
 Of Arthur, who they say is kill'd to-night 170
 On your suggestion. 
KING JOHN Gentle kinsman, go, 
 And thrust thyself into their companies: 
 I have a way to win their loves again; 
 Bring them before me. 175
BASTARD I will seek them out. 
KING JOHN Nay, but make haste; the better foot before. 
 O, let me have no subject enemies, 
 When adverse foreigners affright my towns 
 With dreadful pomp of stout invasion! 180
 Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels, 
 And fly like thought from them to me again. 
BASTARD The spirit of the time shall teach me speed. 
KING JOHN Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman. 
 Go after him; for he perhaps shall need 185
 Some messenger betwixt me and the peers; 
 And be thou he. 
Messenger With all my heart, my liege. 
KING JOHN My mother dead! 
 Re-enter HUBERT 
HUBERT My lord, they say five moons were seen to-night; 190
 Four fixed, and the fifth did whirl about 
 The other four in wondrous motion. 
KING JOHN Five moons! 
HUBERT Old men and beldams in the streets 
 Do prophesy upon it dangerously: 195
 Young Arthur's death is common in their mouths: 
 And when they talk of him, they shake their heads 
 And whisper one another in the ear; 
 And he that speaks doth gripe the hearer's wrist, 
 Whilst he that hears makes fearful action, 200
 With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes. 
 I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus, 
 The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool, 
 With open mouth swallowing a tailor's news; 
 Who, with his shears and measure in his hand, 205
 Standing on slippers, which his nimble haste 
 Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet, 
 Told of a many thousand warlike French 
 That were embattailed and rank'd in Kent: 
 Another lean unwash'd artificer 210
 Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur's death. 
KING JOHN Why seek'st thou to possess me with these fears? 
 Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur's death? 
 Thy hand hath murder'd him: I had a mighty cause 
 To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him. 215
HUBERT No had, my lord! why, did you not provoke me? 
KING JOHN It is the curse of kings to be attended 
 By slaves that take their humours for a warrant 
 To break within the bloody house of life, 
 And on the winking of authority 220
 To understand a law, to know the meaning 
 Of dangerous majesty, when perchance it frowns 
 More upon humour than advised respect. 
HUBERT Here is your hand and seal for what I did. 
KING JOHN O, when the last account 'twixt heaven and earth 225
 Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal 
 Witness against us to damnation! 
 How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds 
 Make deeds ill done! Hadst not thou been by, 
 A fellow by the hand of nature mark'd, 230
 Quoted and sign'd to do a deed of shame, 
 This murder had not come into my mind: 
 But taking note of thy abhorr'd aspect, 
 Finding thee fit for bloody villany, 
 Apt, liable to be employ'd in danger, 235
 I faintly broke with thee of Arthur's death; 
 And thou, to be endeared to a king, 
 Made it no conscience to destroy a prince. 
HUBERT My lord-- 
KING JOHN Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause 240
 When I spake darkly what I purposed, 
 Or turn'd an eye of doubt upon my face, 
 As bid me tell my tale in express words, 
 Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off, 
 And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me: 245
 But thou didst understand me by my signs 
 And didst in signs again parley with sin; 
 Yea, without stop, didst let thy heart consent, 
 And consequently thy rude hand to act 
 The deed, which both our tongues held vile to name. 250
 Out of my sight, and never see me more! 
 My nobles leave me; and my state is braved, 
 Even at my gates, with ranks of foreign powers: 
 Nay, in the body of this fleshly land, 
 This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath, 255
 Hostility and civil tumult reigns 
 Between my conscience and my cousin's death. 
HUBERT Arm you against your other enemies, 
 I'll make a peace between your soul and you. 
 Young Arthur is alive: this hand of mine 260
 Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand, 
 Not painted with the crimson spots of blood. 
 Within this bosom never enter'd yet 
 The dreadful motion of a murderous thought; 
 And you have slander'd nature in my form, 265
 Which, howsoever rude exteriorly, 
 Is yet the cover of a fairer mind 
 Than to be butcher of an innocent child. 
KING JOHN Doth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers, 
 Throw this report on their incensed rage, 270
 And make them tame to their obedience! 
 Forgive the comment that my passion made 
 Upon thy feature; for my rage was blind, 
 And foul imaginary eyes of blood 
 Presented thee more hideous than thou art. 275
 O, answer not, but to my closet bring 
 The angry lords with all expedient haste. 
 I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast. 

Next: King John, Act 4, Scene 3


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