I’ll be giving a talk to University of Warwick’s ‘Sidelights on Shakespeare‘ seminar series, 3 November 2015, 4pm [Update: and also at UCL on 23 November 2015, 6pm, Common Ground (room in South Wing of Wilkins building), Institute of Advanced Study, University College London]. Here’s the abstract:
The Territories and Majesty of King John
This lecture will discuss Shakespeare’s play King John around two themes – the question of majesty and that of territories. Majesty is a continual concern throughout the play, described as ‘borrowed’, ‘banished’, ‘resembling’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘the bare-picked bone’. John is seen as a usurping monarch, denying Arthur his rightful inheritance, but by the end of the play majesty has been so diminished by events it is perhaps worth very little. But what is that majesty over? Among other things, it is the lands of the kingdom. King John is one of only a handful of Shakespeare’s plays in which the word ‘territories’ appears. There is one mention in the opening scene, and one in the final act. The first of these had caused editors much confusion, because it is used with a definite article – ‘the territories’ – rather than a possessive ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘its’ or ‘their’ territories. What might this mean, and what might it indicate? Thinking about these questions of majesty, land, and territories, the talk will discuss how King John and contemporary play The Troublesome Reign of King John anticipate the dual themes of domestic disorder and foreign conquest found in Shakespeare’s other history plays.