‘The Territories and Majesty of Shakespeare’s King John’ – talks at Warwick 3 November and UCL 23 November

I’ll be giving a talk with the title of ‘The Territories and Majesty of Shakespeare’s King John’ twice over the next couple of weeks.


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.

Tuesday 3rd November, 4pm, Sidelights on Shakespeare seminar, Graduate Space, 4th Floor, Humanities (annex), University of Warwick

Monday 23rd November, 6pm, IAS Talking Points seminar, Common Ground, University College London – with responses by Professor Helen Hackett, Department of English and Dr James Kneale, Department of Geography

The talks are both open to all, through free pre-registration is requested for the UCL one.

I’ve been working on the talk over the past couple of weeks, developing a few notes I had on the play into a presentation, but it’s already becoming much more than that. Initially I’d intended on there being a section on King John in a chapter on the history plays in the planned Shakespeare book, but I now think there is enough here for a chapter on just this play. I’ll also be giving a more general talk on this project at Cambridge University on 25th November – details to follow.

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