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Shakespeare's King John, Philip Falconbridge


Shakespeare’s King John provides readers with a particularly interesting, though relatively unexamined character: Philip Falconbridge, the bastard. This character exists somewhere between the allegorical forbears of medieval morality plays and the intensely interior specificity of the likes of Hamlet. Philip begins the play with a specific, though fictional, identity, but consciously decides to become allegorical. We can see this transformation at the intersection of text and context, of the words spoken by Philip as he becomes Bastard (the allegorical figure) and the First Folio’s construction of that transformation. Bastard employs particular rhetoric to firstly shed his old, specific identity and then to empower himself through the authority he finds in his bastardy. At the same time, the First Folio authorizes this transformation by calling the character “Bastard” rather than “Philip.” Shakespeare not only creates a powerful figure who manages to find power in his own bastardizing, but in bastardizing the trope of allegory, refreshes it for another period in literary history.