‘Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?’

king john is a history play, a tragedy, little performed, much studied. you’d suppose it to be dry & dusty & maggot-ridden. as though the worst parts of henry vi part ii & two gentlemen of verona got smashed unholily together. you’d suppose it to be one of the low points of the shakespeare canon.

dear reader, it’s fucking hilarious.

this is mostly thanks to the bastard of faulconbridge, coeur-du-lion’s illegitimate son. he’s this sort of bluff witty teasing guy who keeps interjecting absurd little comments at INCREDIBLY SERIOUS MOMENTS & making all the angry nobles deflate like trodden-on flour babies. he way overshadows king john, who has some Deep Moral Conflict but when you come down to it he’s a bit of a boring old sod. (i know, i know, there’s more to it than that. he’d probably be a great role in the hands of the right actor.)

anyway, this bit made me howl. the duke of austria (think: pompous, puling coward) had promised lady constance his help. he’s just betrayed her by accepting king john’s peace offer/bribe/daughter’s hand in marriage. she’s understandably pretty mad (she actually has a straight-up magnificent mad scene later in the play) & rails at him for about half a page. we’re full-steam ahead for Political Mayhem. then…

oh, god, i love it.

CONSTANCE: Hast thou not spoke like thunder on my side?

Been sworn my soldier? bidding me depend

Upon thy stars, thy fortune, and thy strength?

And now dost thou fall over to my foes?

Thou wear a lion’s hide! Doff it for shame,

And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs!

AUSTRIA: O, that a man should say those words to me!

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

AUSTRIA: Thou dar’st not say so, villain, for thy life.

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

KING JOHN: We are not like this; thou dost forget thyself.


& so the matter is resolved. temporarily.

because the bastard just can not let it go:


ELINOR: Look’st thou pale, France; do not let go thy hand.

CONSTANCE: Look to that, devil; lest that France repent

And, by disjoining hands, Hell lose a soul.

AUSTRIA: King Philip, listen to the cardinal.

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.


he does it whenever the duke of austria says a damn word. by which point austria probably wishes he’d never been born.


KING JOHN: The king is mov’d, and answers not to this.

CONSTANCE: O, be remov’d from him, and answer well!

AUSTRIA: Do so, King Philip; hang no more in doubt.

BASTARD: Hang nothing but a calf’s-skin, sweet lout.


i can’t TAKE it.


PANDOLPH: The peril of our curses light on thee,

So heavy as thou shalt not shake them off,

But in despair die under their black weight.

AUSTRIA: Rebellion, flat rebellion!

BASTARD: Will’t not be? Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?


he literally doesn’t stop until austria’s offstage death. i find it so damn funny.


11 thoughts on “‘Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?’

      • if you could surmise three dozen plays in a single sentence, I would be forever awed… but I meant more like Nabokov: ‘Nature had once produced an Englishman whose domed head had been a hive of words.’– to capture an author in a terse, snapshot bit of prose

        hey, I did say “challenge” right? & every author should have a quick way to characterise Shakespeare, did you know that he wrote about Venice as an analogy for England’s growing Protestantism against Catholic Europe and Spain? The underlying Protestantism in Venice quelled by the Inquisition? At least that’s my interpretation, given that theories about Shakespeare are more contested than Greek yogurt, if Greek yogurt was a controversial thing… anyway: murderously-hard challenge given

        Liked by 2 people

        • nice nabokov quote. god, i love him.

          shakespeare in a sentence? a man with hands in moonlight & both foot in mud, perhaps. & no, i wasn’t aware of that- or i was sort-of- but i think it’s a very viable interpretation.

          you would be surprised about the controversiality of greek yogurt. it’s a point of severe contestion in my tortured not-quite-vegan soul.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Pingback: 2018: wot i read* | unholy fool

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