In 1598, the play is mentioned by Francis Meres in a list of Shakespeare’s plays. The main source was probably an anonymous – and very different – play, The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England, printed in 1591. Most scholars date the play to 1593–1596.
The play wasn’t printed before appearing in the First Folio. There is no agreement on what source was used to typeset the play: possibly a 1596 manuscript that was copied by scribes in 1609 and 1623.
‘O, spare mine eyes,
Though to no use but still to look at you!’
King John, IV i
Brief synopsis of the play
The incompetent and unpopular King John, finds his grasp on the English throne threatened on all sides: demands from home and abroad that he abdicate in favour of his nephew Prince Arthur lead John to war against France, and a short-lived pact breaks down as Rome intervenes. John’s attempt to neutralise Arthur leads to a loss of support from his lords, and his troubles multiply, in a history play marked by fluid allegiances and political manoeuvring.