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The life and death of King John; Paperback – September 7, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


`The Oxford Shakespeare is an admirably scholarly edition, immaculately presented, offering close attention to possibilities of staging as well as meaning.' Dr D. Sedge, Exeter University

`This edition offers the most substantial and one of the most penetrating discussions of the play to date. A remarkable scholarly achievement.' Dr Rene J.A. Weis, Department of English, University College, London

`a most impressive and illuminating edition' R. N. Alexander, Queen Mary Westfield, London

`The major strength of Professor Braunmuller's edition is its introduction. He offers a sane review of such difficult questions as the date of the play, and such controversial ones as its relation to "The Troublesome Reign". The evidence is marshalled in a lucid manner and sensible conclusions drawn ... This is a significant contribution to the (now quickly developing) debate on "King John", and a good demonstration that investigations of Shakespeare as a political dramatist (as opposed to a moral sage) need not be critically reductive.' The Review of English Studies

`By its 'conventionally ordered introduction' (p.1), A.R. Braunmuller's Oxford King John signals that it is, indeed what the dustjacket claims, 'the most thorough scholarly edition now available' ... his edition foregrounds technical material important to scholars over more general interests ... Braunmuller's approach to editing is as fair-minded and scholarly as his introduction ... the King John that sets out the issues most fully and fairly, the edition I want in my study, is Braunmuller's 'conventionally ordered', scholarly text.' Virginia Mason Vaughan, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, Yearbook of English Studies, 1992

'Stanley Wells' OUP Complete Works of Shakespeare is now eight years old and has spawned a new Oxford Shakespeare which appears now in splendidly affordable volumes in that nonpareil of libraries of good reading The World's Classics.' The Oxford Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Like every other play in the Cambridge School Shakespeare series, King John has been specially prepared to help all students in schools and colleges. This version of King John aims to be different from other editions of the play. It invites you to bring the play to life in your classroom through enjoyable activities that will help increase your understanding. You are encourage to make up your own mind about the play, rather than have someone else's interpretation handed down to you. Whatever you do, remember that Shakespeare wrote his plays to be acted, watched and enjoyed. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Nabu Press (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1171600062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1171600060
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,810,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James M. Rawley on September 27, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
KING JOHN has one of Shakespeare's best death scenes and a character, Faulconbridge the bastard son of Richard the Lion Hearted, who is a first draft for Falstaff -- and better integrated into the play's main action than Falstaff is. It's unique among Shakespeare's works in being about Realpolitik in a genuine historical context -- as if a modern American playwright should write a play about George Washington's political compromises, complete with a presentation of the real historical situations that led up to them. Faulconbridge is there to make cynical comments, and yet remain loyal to King John, who almost, but not quite, becomes a child murderer in the course of the action. Earlier, the complexities of wartime politics are revealed when a town refuses to admit either the King of England or the King of France as its rightful ruler until the two kings have fought out the question first -- whereupon the two kings decide to agree on a truce, just long enough to wipe the town out together, then go back to fighting one another. The play is a wonderful mix of history and ironic commentary, one of two plays of Shakespeare's that is entirely in verse (the other one is RICHARD II, which he wrote just before KING JOHN), and it's tragically poetic and satiric in equal measure. Shakespeare never wrote anything else quite like it. If he wrote better plays, they were also different kinds of plays: this one is unique. The Folger edition has excellent notes for beginning students; the Oxford edition is for more advanced students, and also exceptionally good.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Although I didn't really take pleasure in reading this one, it absolutely confirms the timeless nature of Shakespeare's works.

A king of England (who arrived at the throne under a cloud only hinted at in the play) leads his nation in war with France, and in the process orders ugly things be done in his name. Sycophants, schemers, and cynics critique his every move (without really accepting any responsibility themselves). An illegitimate cousin is the harshed critic and the voice of reason throughout. In the end, the innocent lose their lives, the king has to make sleazy deals, and it draws to a grim conclusion.

If you are a passionate fan of the Bard's comedies, you might give this one a pass.

Even in my four sentence summary, the timeless and unchanging reality of international politics comes through. There is a bit of dark relief though; whatever you think of politicians today, regardless of the hyperbole of people who exercise their First Amendment rights without exercising common courtesy or rational thought, the current crop of political leaders are neither better nor worse than the inspirations for a play written four hundred years ago.

Historically, the mildness of the political rhetoric is worthy of note, in contrast to the venom of others in England in the time. This is another play that benefits from an appreciation of the complexities and conflicts of Elizabethan England.

Reading this one was not pleasure, but possessed a grim satisfaction.

E. M. Van Court
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Format: Paperback
I was drawn to "King John" because of Claire McEachern, who wrote the introduction. In case you don't know, Ms McEachern is a Shakespeare scholar and professor at UCLA who has written several intros for The Pelican Shakespeare series. Her insight into Prince Hal ("Henry IV, Pt. 1") is the most insightful I have read. It got me reading her other introductions, including this one for "King John." Thanks to her, I read the play, which is rarely performed today, but is in fact first-rate Shakespeare, with a cast of memorable characters, memorable lines, and a page-turner to boot. This is the same King John who was forced into signing the Magna Charta, which Shakespeare left out of the play. Why? Apparently, Queen Elizabeth did not want to be reminded of it, and being politically astute the Bard was not going to be the one to remind her. For the record, King John reigned from 1199 to 1216. As with history, so with Shakespeare's play, King John is not an admirable character. He's a snake, a political expedient who plays Rome to his own advantage, gets fearless Richard Plantagenet (a.k.a. "the Bastard") to lead his army, and who is not above having his rivals for the throne put to death.

The play revolves around young Arthur, rightful heir to the throne that John has so ignobly usurped. King Philip of France supports Arthur's claim and threatens an invasion. John invades France first and the result is a comedy of errors revolving around both armies and the town of Angiers in France. The looming battle is resolved by the marriage of Blanche, niece to King John, and Lewis, Dauphin of France.
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“King John” is often overlooked when one reads Shakespeare, and it should not be, as it has some great things to add to the canon. By the way, I give "King John" a 3.5 star rating compared to other Shakespeare, not to literature as a whole. The Bard is in a class of his own.
The Pelican series edition of this play has a very nice introduction by Claire McEachern in which she gives an informative discourse on the character of Philip the Bastard. Although Philip usually gets all the critical attention in this piece my favorite character is Constance, sister in law to King John and the mother of John’s rival for the English throne. Act III:1 give Constance a chance to really show her stuff. She has some blistering moments, and Act III as a whole is by far the most engaging and strongest in the play. Constance’s exit from the piece is her best scene and Shakespeare writes a grieving mother’s storm of emotions as strongly as in any of his other works.
At its core “King John” is really a play about the medieval issues brought about by “Pope v. Prince” and how secular and religious power used each other for gain. You can almost feel Shakespeare’s Protestant Elizabethan audience hissing at the machinations of the Catholic villain Cardinal Pandulph as he manipulates the French and English royal powers in some of the plays most intriguing scenes. Another fine moment is Act III:3 when King John and Hubert share a conversation that is delicious in its duplicity, and all of it achieved with minimal words.
Despite a weak Act V (the only reason I feel this is not a 4 star effort by Shakespeare) the play ends on a patriotic note, sounding a clarion call for Englishmen to always unite in common cause.
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