Wednesday, May 11, 2011

King John - Mothers

Phillip the Bastard. But who comes in such haste in riding-robes?
What woman-post is this? hath she no husband
That will take pains to blow a horn before her?
O me! it is my mother. How now, good lady!
What brings you here to court so hastily?

Lady Falconbridge. Where is that slave, thy brother? where is he,
That holds in chase mine honour up and down?


Constance. My bed was ever to thy son as true
As thine was to thy husband; and this boy
Liker in feature to his father Geoffrey
Than thou and John in manners; being as like
As rain to water, or devil to his dam.
My boy a bastard! By my soul, I think
His father never was so true begot:
It cannot be, an if thou wert his mother.


Um. Well, Happy Mother's Day to you too. Somehow it seems that my reading of Shakespeare is always a little off from whatever major holiday falls on that week. King John, for example, though very much a play about mothers and sons, is not a happy story about good mothers and sons - Queen Eleanor is the power behind John's throne; Constance, her daughter-in-law, fights for her son Arthur's right to that same throne with much more passion than he, poor little boy, ever felt; Phillip the Bastard identifies his mother, Lady Falconbridge, as the only parent he has known and thanks her for committing adultery with King Richard so that he had the good fortune to be born. Unfortunately, he besmirches her reputation by being acknowledged as Richard's son. Oh well, price to be paid! However, Lady Falconbridge is not the only mother to be accused of adultery - as we can see from the quotations above, Constance and Eleanor get some good insults going between them as well. Nice family, right?

Though these passionate, ambitious women seem to want only the best for their sons, tragedy is all that comes of their actions. Phillip the Bastard, seeking his birthright from his mother and true father, accepts the dazzling prospect of a title and a home with his royal relatives rather than the sure security of the estate of his mother's husband, an estate that the law would have given him; this choice leads him to nothing but incessant war and bloodshed. Poor Arthur faces imprisonment and death, and John - used to relying on the bold decisiveness of his indefatigable mother - is stunned and simply deflates when he hears of her death:

Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!
O, make a league with me, till I have pleased
My discontented peers! What! mother dead!


Ultimately, the unhealthy relationships demonstrated by these mothers, who pushed the sons into positions of power and didn't let go, lead to sorrow for other mothers and sons:

French Herald
.....the hand of France this day hath made
Much work for tears in many an English mother, 
Whose sons lie scattered on the bleeding ground.....

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