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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: March 2007

King John, König Johann: War and Peace


Friedrich Dürrenmatt's König Johann, published in 1968, is described as a Bearbeitung (reworking or adaptation): it departs considerably from Shakespeare's original, inventing and modernizing freely, and sometimes inserting material from The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England.

Dürrenmatt's version is certainly more cynical (or at least more openly cynical) than Shakespeare's. There is, for instance, the arrival of the Archduke of Austria as ally to the French at the beginning of Act 2. Since he was responsible for the death of Richard Coeur de Lion, he might not seem an appropriate person to help restore the English crown to Richard's nephew Arthur: in Shakespeare we are told, by the French king, that he is doing this to make amends (no doubt this is the official version); in Dürrenmatt the French king remarks:

Österreichs Zug / Hierher ist nur ein Vorwand, unser Land Zu plündern.

(Austria's campaign is just a pretext to plunder our country.)

A more complex example is the bargain that ends the battle, by which France abandons Arthur's claim to the English throne in return for receiving the English possessions in France. In Shakespeare, the governor of Angiers proposes that further fighting be avoided by means of a match between Blanche of Spain, John's niece, and the Dauphin, which is accepted once John has offered 'Anjou and fair Touraine, Maine, Poitiers, / And all that we upon this side the sea . . . / Find liable to our crown and dignity.' (2.1.488-91)

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052757
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