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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: July ::
French in *Henry V*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 447.  Friday, 23 July 1993.
 
From:           William Kemp <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Jul 93 20:56:34 EDT
Subject:        re: French in HENRY V
 
Fran Teague's observation that the French men in HENRY V speak English while
the French women don't returns my attention to something I've been wondering
about. Why can't Henry speak French?
 
The obvious answer is that his clumsy efforts to speak an effete foreign tongue
support both the patriotic "all England" theme and the hearty male warrior
theme. Of course. But I can't help wondering if something more interesting is
going on.
 
Henry IV -- the real Henry IV -- certainly spoke French. On at least one
occasion he spontaneously wrote a chatty letter in French to supporters (or
staff -- I can't remember off the top of my head) when he was travelling in the
west country. The supporters, incidentally, were English.
 
But I can't find similar hard evidence that his son was equally bilingual. Does
anyone know? I've checked modern biographies to no avail.
 
Put against John Fisher's argument (PMLA 1992,107: 1168-1180) that both Henries
pursued a deliberate English-first policy -- including support of poets such as
Chaucer, who wrote in English -- Shakespeare's vivid dramatization of a
monolingual Henry V becomes an interesting bit of history-writing. Is this
another one of Shakespeare's deft original touches, or is he just processing a
widely held assumption?
 
Bill Kemp
Mary Washington College
Fredericksburg, Va.

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