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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1147  Monday, 16 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Walter W. Cannon <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Nov 1998 15:37:44 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Saturday, 14 Nov 1998 00:07:07 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Walter W. Cannon <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 13 Nov 1998 15:37:44 -0600
Subject: 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams

The Bates and Williams episode is an interesting moment in the play
which seems to expose Henry's lack of legitimacy.  Their questions pry
apart Henry's moral right from his power to command.  They may end up
obeying, but they cannot feel obedience in their hearts and they will
not acquiesce in Henry's moral legitimacy.  And what Henry comes up
against is his own inability to actually command obedience; that is, he
discovers the impossibility of forcing subjects into converting his
power to popular support.  As he continues his soliloquy after his
little disguised encounter with Bates and Williams, it is interesting to
see how he refigures his relationship to his subjects and soldiers: no
longer is Henry speaking about English brothers, but now he is King and
they are peasants- the "wretched slave" with a "body fill'd and vacant
mind."  This kind of absolutism closes off the possibility for real
obedience even on Henry's own terms.  So is Henry's response adequate?
The questions these soldiers ask make an "adequate" answer impossible.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 14 Nov 1998 00:07:07 -0500
Subject: 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1131 Re: Henry V's Answer to Williams

The point that I was hoping someone might make is that Henry's apologia
in reply to Williams's argument is mostly nonresponsive.  Henry argues
effectively that the king is not responsible for the sins of his
troops.  But Williams does not say that he is.  He speaks not of the
past lives of the soldiers, but of the manner of their deaths:  " some
swearing, some crying for a surgeon, ....  I am afeard there are few die
well that die in battle; for how can they charitably dispose of
anything, when blood is their argument?"

In other words, in the context of the Christian belief in effectiveness
of penitence to salvation, these poor souls have no chance.  That all
men are sinners is assumed by Williams; his point is that the one last
chance of salvation by death-bed repentance that most Christians have is
denied those killed in battle.  Henry's lengthy argument that the king
is not guilty of his soldiers' sins is true, but irrelevant.

To be sure, the beginning of Henry's speech seems to make a stab at
answering Williams's assertion, but this peters out with "they purpose
not their death when they purpose their services."  And the examples
given are clearly inapposite.  The accidental deaths of merchants at sea
or messengers waylaid by highwaymen is not akin to death in battle, for
it is certain that some soldiers will die.  (My point here may bear some
strained analogy to the legal doctrine of proximate cause.)  Henry seems
to recognize the insufficiency of this argument, as he then embarks on
the far more sustainable (but, as I have said, irrelevant) point that
the king is not guilty of his soldiers' sins.

Any thoughts?
 

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