King Who? King John. Part IV

As it turns out, being submerged in The Life and Death of King John is a marvelous way to spend a couple of weeks. I have enjoyed scouring for it’s film versions, I have reveled in discussing mine and others unfamiliarity with it’s subject, and I have loved learning it more intimately. I re-read the play, interviewed some lovely commuters and helpful librarians, researched, and pondered. All in all, I’ve come to really love King John as a play. Hopefully, I’ve inspired a few of you to join me on the near-forgotten King John road.


I had to bear a nod to the original inspiration for the piece, so I did a little research on the man behind the legend: King John himself. The actual, historical King John himself is not as entrancing a figure as Shakespeare makes him out to be. The real life kings claim to fame lies mainly in his late-life signing of the Magna Carta; a document which is widely considered as a precursor to modern human rights constitutions.


As for Shakespeare’s King John, his reign is a little more fiery. There are disputes with the French, the other English, themselves, even with the Pope. There are threats, battles, arguable suicide, and poisoning; all moving at a snappy pace and wrapped up in the bard’s eternal flare. But there is something else moving amid the words of the play; the idea of standing up fro what we believe, even if we’re not sure it’s right. A question of identity perhaps? Or a question of expressing that identity with our actions and words?


So, have we outgrown the English kings of history? Or are they yet relevant in a world of change and battling media? Do our schoolchildren still find use for old King John? Do we? Perhaps it’s better we all answer that question for ourselves. Though, I urge you, friends, to give it a good read or a thorough viewing before you make up your mind.






King Who? King John. Part II

Still in full-swing preparation for the screening of King John next week; I’ve been asking around to see if it’s just me who remembers John Wayne but not King John. As it turns out, if I’m not in good company, at least I’m not alone. Of all the people I asked in a mostly random survey of all my phone contacts and some cooperative sidewalk users; only a few could lay claim to reading it. Many expressed remorse at having not read it, and wished to in the future. When asked why they hadn’t read it the response was largely thus: I’ve only read the Shakespeare we read in school. Fair enough.

So, should we be bringing dear old King John into the classroom? Is it important enough to beset our children’s brains with the life and death of a royal Johnny? Should we all be a little more John-aware?

Armed with these and other burning questions, I headed to the Toronto Reference Library to question some librarians on King John, why they felt he is so frequently forgotten, and where they think his place might be.

Unfortunately, of the two librarians on duty when I accosted the information desk, neither had read the play. I posed my other questions, and they agreeably pondered with me the merits of teaching history plays. While we couldn’t come to a complete solution to the king John dilemma; it was found unanimous that we could all use to be a little more King John-aware.

So, have you read King John? I think you should. Not too enthused about the written word? Come down the Beaches Branch of the Toronto Public Library on June seventh at 2 pm and join me for a free screening and get you King John on.


King Who? King John. Part I

On Tuesday the seventh of June, the Beaches branch of the Toronto Public Library will be showing the Stratford Festival screening of ‘King John’. Of all of Shakespeare’s English History plays, ‘The Life and Death of King John’, as the full title goes, is perhaps the least well known. The reason for this, I suppose, is the public’s more ready familiarity with the Richards and Henrys of historical infamy.

In preparation, I gave grand old King John a re-read to ensure I won’t be completely lost come Tuesday. The play itself features a line of those Plantagenet’s we’ve come to love from the other plays, quite a few French, and an Austrian Duke thrown in for a little spice. A good international mix if you’re looking for a battle. But they aren’t, of course. Or are they? The play is snappy as far as histories go, and we’re in the thick of it from the very beginning – as is King John. But I won’t spoil a good story by saying any more than that it’s a recommended history play.

What I particularly appreciate about film(ed) adaptations of the history plays is the familiarity they bring. Especially for us North Americans who have a hard time putting a story to the name, let alone face, of our former monarchs. While I grew up with the stories of hero loggers of the East Coast and John Cabot; many of my school friends from Britain have equally fond memories of the recounted glories of Plantagenet battles, and French-English skirmish I know nothing about. So, while I could give you a ripping yarn about a saucy logger; I have to confess I don’t think I could even tell you how many King Richards there even were all together. This is where screenings come in. I find it easy to differentiate Shakespeare’s Antiquity plays because I know the central figures from other media sources. Anyone ever seen a sesame street segment on King John? Me neither. When it’s put on a screen for me; however, I get to match a face to the story played out before my eyes and the king of yore becomes as easily memorable as my favourite John Wayne quote. Though Shakespeare’s history plays are not completely historically accurate, I still know more about the history in general then when I started. So go see a history play this week. Tell yourself it’s brushing up on international history and don’t be at all surprised when you get swept up in the battle cry.

The screening takes place at the Beaches Branch of the Toronto Public Library, 2161 Queen Street East, at two pm on the seventh of June, and plans to run until four forty-five pm.