Basically, this poem tells an ancient story revolving around the ruler of England, King John. King John was a selfish and unkind ruler who had very little wit toward justice and very high values for his power. Once when he heard about the Abbot of Canterbury and his living in luxury, King John became very insecure and feared his standards to decline. King John questioned the Abbot of Canterbury about the truth hidden behind his house filled with richness and elegant housekeeping; moreover exaggerating his actions to be against the King's throne. The Abbot in his defense explained that he was only spending his hard earnings and he had no intentions of saddening the King. The King, however, in his absolute selfishness and ego, put the Abbot in a sinful guilt and mentioned he must die in his wrong response to the King's questions. The first one of the King's three insensible questions was to measure his worth with the invaluable golden crown on his head. Second, the Abbot was asked the quickest duration it would take for the King to ride around the whole world and last, the Abbot must tell the King what he was thinking of. In utter confusion and long desperation to live, the Abbot hurried his way to Cambridge and Oxford Universities to find answers to the senseless questions. But even the wisest men turned his questions down and the Abbot sadly returned home. The Abbot described how the King threatened his life for the mysterious three questions to his shepherd. The shepherd in his response added a solution to the problem and went to the King disguising himself as the real Abbot. The shepherd in disguise started to answer the King's pointless questions. To the first question, he answered that the King was worth twenty-nine pence, one penny lesser than what Jesus had been sold for among the Jews. To the second question, he answered that the King could ride around the whole world in a duration of twenty-four hours if he was able to rise with the sun and ride along with it. To the final question, he answered that the King was thinking he was the Abbot of Canterbury but in fact, he was not. He flashed his real identity as the Abbot's poor shepherd who had come to beg pardon for the Abbot. The King struck with astonishment, laughed and appreciated the shepherd's faith and sincerity. The King, in his modesty, tried to persuade the shepherd to be the new Abbot, however, the shepherd denied his consideration exclaiming he was uneducated and inappropriate for the post. Nevertheless, the King freed the Abbot of Canterbury from his threats and pardoned him for whatever he was being punished for.
This ballad represents the brutality and cruelty of the ancient kings. It describes how people were punished without a rigid reason and how people accepted whatever the king ordered for. Though written in a humorous and satirical form, this poem indicates reality of the historical plots and figures the madness of the King over innocence around the entire world. King John in this poem resembles the underserved and unauthentic person who still possesses the power and dignity to control life and death of people around him. This shows that people were only measured by power, not by their potentials. Lying on a totally different side to the King was the poor shepherd, who remained uneducated and ignorant but yet possessed more understanding about human world and nature than the wisest men from big universities. The reasoning he put down for his answers remarks a noble and creative image which had never been noticed and discovered. This poem also describes one's fear of losing the superior power to others and the wrong ways one adopts to remain rigid in the supreme post. This poem satires the King's power and madness; and cherishes the interesting answers coming from a poor shepherd.
The poem encounters the history of King John and his absolute power to rule over England. The way this poem represents insecurities of the King and cleverness of the shepherd in such a humorous way is remarkable. However, the poem does not fully justify the answers given by the shepherd to the King's questions. Critics question the idea of a man being measured by money. They may also claim disapproval to the idea of a man being able to travel around the entire world in twenty-four hours. And foremost, the shepherd disguising himself as the Abbot and presenting his answers in front of the King is quite unconvincing. People may get trust issues with the King unable to identify the shepherd dressed as the Abbot. Also, for the part where the Abbot of Canterbury visits big universities and couldn't find any answers does not seem satisfying. Though the main theme of the poem is to represent the innovations coming from experience and ignorant people, it goes to an insignificant extent of mocking education and power.
This poem destines to humorously impart how people with power designate to destroy anyone rising and causing threat in their paths. This practice of bidding people with injustice and ignoring the voices of ordinary people still remains abundant. The Rana Regime is one of the many fine examples of power ruling over the innocence and disturbing lives with threats and inappropriate authority. Voices of ordinary people are still ignored and the superficial powerful people with richness and money keep ruling the world.
Nissani, Moti and Shreedhar Lohani. King John And The Abbot Of Canterbury. Ekta Publication, 2013.