The events in King John take place in the 13th century, well before Shakespeare’s other English history plays. After the death of John's brother, Richard I, John rules England.
John's young nephew, Arthur, has a claim to the throne and is supported by the French. At first, a proposed marriage between the French crown prince and John's niece, Blanche, calms Anglo-French tensions. Then the pope, in a dispute over recognizing an archbishop, excommunicates John and backs Arthur's claim.
After war erupts, John captures Arthur and orders his death. Arthur’s guardian, Hubert, prepares to burn out Arthur's eyes, but then spares him. Arthur dies leaping from the prison wall. Arthur's mother Constance grieves inconsolably.
Meanwhile, French forces reach England. John submits to the pope to gain his aid. Rebellious English nobles join the French, but return to John when they learn the French prince plans to kill them. English forces under the bastard son of Richard I expel the French, but a monk poisons King John, whose son becomes Henry III.
Early printed texts
King John was printed for the first time in the 1623 First Folio and that text serves as the source for all modern editions of the play, including the Folger edition.
The copy of the Second Folio (1632) digitized here was once owned by a Jesuit College in Spain and a censor blotted out some lines in the beginning of the third act.
Picturing King John
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to King John is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of King John can be found in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)