King John had a distinguished life on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stage, but for most of this century the play has been undervalued. The introduction to Professor Beaurline's edition presents the fullest account to date of the stage history, with accompanying illustrations to suggest the dramatic potential of the script. The play's political importance, its rich and varied language, and its skilful design suggest that King John deserves a high place among Shakespeare's historical tragedies. Professor Beaurline points out that late in the play the Bastard Falconbridge's character assumes some of the attitudes of Montaigne, especially his mixed feelings about the affairs of this world. The textual analysis includes examination of several disputed emendations to the text. In the appendix Beaurline surveys the arguments about the dating of Shakespeare's King John and the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John, and he presents new evidence for the possibility that Shakespeare's play was written first.
In the course of the argument King John is seen as an original play of considerable stature, expressing important historical and political ideas, explored through private conscience.