King John Prep, Day 1: First Read by (support my work)
Published: Wed, Sep 10, 2014; Updated: Sun, Mar 13, 2022
Reading time: 3 minute(s) (600 words)

King John Prep

Day 1: First Read

This is part of a series on preparing my role for a ShakesBEERience reading of King John.

Here we have it, freshly printed:

Bastard's cue script, page 1

I jump right in: ignoring stage directions for the most part, I read each cue line silently and then read my response aloud. Just trying to feel what these words sound like on the tongue. Not much more information than that, either. The cues don’t say who’s speaking to me; skipping the stage directions I don’t even know who else is in the scene.

All that’s left: the words. Even their meaning is darkened when context is stripped away. So sometimes it’s just sound. And it’s just my own character, alone on the stage, as it were, shouting replies to disembodied whispers from the wings.

My impressions as I read:

Of course I know the character’s called the Bastard. The first scene’s all about it: he sorts out who his real father is by the simple expedient of pressing his mother for information, after criticising the false father & the half-brother, and praising his own fine shape, in one breath:

O old sir Robert, father, on my knee I give heaven thanks I was not like to thee!

Proud then, of his own fine shape, “these limbs,” “this leg.” And he’s a quick mover, gaining some advantage that he’s pleased with over his half-brother, presumably the legitimate son. Amoral, at least by the standards of the time, saying to his mother:

Who lives and dares but say thou didst not well When I was got, I'll send his soul to hell.

Brave, too, and something of a soldier. In scene two he insults someone in what sounds like a challenge to combat. And in that same scene he’s commanding kings, giving two their marching orders and expecting that he’ll be obeyed.

He’s a killer. He kills and laughs about it.

There’s half a page of text where he lays out his scorn for men who bow before fortune’s favors – and then happily admits he’ll do the same, if ever the opportunity arises, and be a hypocrite without a second thought.

Well, whiles I am a begger, I will rail And say there is no sin but to be rich; And being rich, my virtue then shall be To say there is no vice but beggary. Since kings break faith upon commodity, Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee.

He’s a message-bearer, bearer of good tidings and bad. And he speaks with the King’s voice.

Prideful, vicious, wrathful, & faithful. Esp. when he is talking to monarchs, he takes a harsh tone – something to do with their ultimate legitimacy in the face of his legitimacy?

Yet surely he loves his own King, for towards the end of the play, with the loss of of that relationship, he quiets, grows introspective, patriotic, and willing to serve.

Once I’ve finished my read, I close the script and take a glance at the first page. Here’s the entire character outlined in his own first three lines:

Your faithful subject I, a gentleman Born in Northamptonshire and eldest son, As I suppose, to Robert Faulconbridge.

A faithful subject, wrestling with unsurety about his birth.

Read the next post in the series.