Uncleanly Scruples!

King John, Act IV

I asked earlier why King John doesn’t get more play (ha ha) but admitted there was still a ways to go.  I’ve now reached the point in the journey where that question might be answered.


Act IV begins with the blinding of Arthur in gory detail.  I’m not exactly sure how/why Shakespeare came to the conclusion to show this on stage – perhaps to evoke the same sort of outrage/heartbreak/disgust that King John himself encountered.

As far as I understand it (and I’m a noob, so there’s that), Arthur disappears off the map upon his capture – all traces vanish into the night.  So it’s not like Shakespeare was driven by the sudden need for historical veracity (like it bothered him before).  I must check his sources.  I will consult Sir Isaac and my other references and update this post as necessary.

But I do know this: it’s always bad to harm children, on screen, on stage, on the page – God forbid in real life.  England tolerated much under King John, but his treatment of Arthur proved a point of no return.

Perhaps in making us feel the same way, Shakespeare went too far and turned us against his play.  That would be an odd irony and Exhibit A in the power of fiction.

Harming a child is bad enough.  We already learned this from Richard III where we are spared the gruesome details.  Here in King John, we see firsthand the innocent lamb brought to slaughter – so forgiving that he begs off the restraints, pleading that he will put up no protest.  Even the hardened Executioner can’t bear to watch that.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t either.  The next bit of reading has become a slog.


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