Four levels of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury || Humor and Satire || Bcis Notes

Four levels of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury || Humor and Satire || Bcis Notes

The four levels of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury is given below:


1. Literal Comprehension

Once there is a King named John who rules over England. He is a very cruel and unjust person. On the other part of England is Abbot of Canterbury who is very rich. He has a  big house and a lot of staff. King John hears about the Abbot who wears fifty gold chains and has velvet coats. So, he calls the Abbot to the palace and tells him that he has heard that Abbot has a bigger house than him that with more staffs which looks like treason to the crown. The Abbot denies the allegation by saying that he is only spending his own money.


King John still says that he is at fault, so he threatens Abbot to be beheaded unless he answers King’s questions. King asks with the crown on his head, how much will he be worth in terms of money. Secondly, he asks how quickly could he travel the whole world and lastly he asks what is he thinking. The Abbot asks for some time to answer these questions for which King gives him, fortnight’s time. And says that he will be beheaded and his property will be seized if he cannot answer the questions.


The Abbot goes to Cambridge and Oxford but he still cannot find the answer so he goes back home. His shepherd asks him about his meeting with the king for which he tells him about the whole situation. The shepherd tells his master not to worry. Since he has been told that he looks like the Abbot so he will go to the King dressed as him so he does that.


When the shepherd dressed as Abbot gets to the palace, King tells him to answer his three questions. For the first question, he answers that the King is worth 29 pecans. Since their Lord Jesus is worth 30 pecans. He is only less by one penny. For the second question, he answers, that it only takes 24 hours to travel the world for which you would have to start at sunrise and travel with the sun. Then, for the last question, he says that the King is thinking he is the Abbot of Canterbury but he is not, he is just a shepherd.


The King laughs since he is satisfied with the answers so he tells the shepherd he will make him the Abbot. The shepherd denies the offer and just asks to be pardoned which he gets along with four nobles a week as a gift from the king.

2. Interpretation

The poem is majorly showing us the practicality of informal education. The Shepherd was able to answer even those absurd questions of the king and bring results on his favor. For which even the great Abbot who has the knowledge of the Bible was sweating unable to find the answer.

Secondly, the poem highlights the human nature of being jealous and envying others because of the more than other people has than that of them. King John’s and Abbot’s path might not have ever if King hadn’t got jealous of Abbot’s riches. This made him fear Abbot might threaten his crown one day.

Similarly, the poem also shows another human nature i.e. Loyalty; loyalty towards food, clothes and shelter provider, their master. The Abbot’s staff as in the shepherd has so much loyalty towards the Abbot that he is even willing to die for him.

3. Critical Thinking

‘King John and Abbot of Canterbury’ is a ballad poem which is quite humorous to read. But how could King John who was said to be a cruel person at the end of the poem end up pardoning the shepherd who cheated on him? On the other hand, how did the shepherd without any actual education, sneak in such an answer to the King? That even the Abbot was sweating to come up with?

Similarly, what is it with this King and asking such a foolish question that doesn’t even have logic, to begin with? And isn’t the King quite dumb not to recognize the person he considers a competitor who might take his throne?

4. Assimilation

This poem made me remember the incident that happened in my village a few years ago. People always used to give a lot of attention to the village richest man’s wife since she had a lot of money which she loved to show off. One day one woman came from America to stay with her sister in our village so all of the limelight shifted to her. The rich woman got really jealous of not getting any attention anymore. So she started to spread absurd false rumors about that woman until she went back to America.

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