William Shakespeare, circa 1595, read as an eBook from BlackMask.com
All I remember from Western Civ class about King John is that he lost much of England’s holdings on the continent, thereby gaining the moniker “Lackland,” and that he was forced by his nobles to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede. In Shakespeare’s history, this latter event is not even mentioned. The play is much more concerned with the succession, and the murder of his nephew Arthur.
As a story, it seems rushed (even for a play). John’s faults are portrayed through a flurry of failed diplomatic maneuvers and battles in France. His excommunication, and murder of Arthur seem more an inevitable consequence of his other failings than crimes in and of themselves. His ignoble death, too, has the air of inevitability about it