The history play King John originated from an early manuscript or foul papers dated from 1596 and then copied by two different scribes from 1609-1623. However, topical allusions to the Armada have dated its original or re-worked composition to 1588 or a little later perhaps because it is a plagiarised copy of “The Troublesome Reigne of John, King of England” (anonymously published 1591). The subject of illegitimate accession to the English throne would have been controversial enough at the time for a sanitised Protestant audience or gatekeeper to intervene in its official registration. From F. P. Wilson’s conclusions Charlton Ogburn presumes that the play was written around 1590 by the Earl of Oxford. If one believes the popular chroniclers the play King John was presumed to have been written around 1593-96. Although Shakespeare’s version was thought to have been plagiarised from an anonymous play entitled “The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England” first published in 1591 although it was more likely the other way around. Some of the more outrageous original scenes (monks engaging in sexual excesses) are omitted and King John is portrayed as a proto-Protestant in the vein of Henry VIIIth who was also determined to reform the rich and influential monastic institutions. Although he was named in King Richard’s will as successor, like Queen Elizabeth Ist John’s claim to the throne was illegitimate and he too was excommunicated by the Pope. In comparison with other historical plays this convoluted narrative is somewhat pragmatic in style and probably owes much to the political and humanist ideas of Niccolo Machiavelli.
The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows: