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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Henry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0700  Wednesday, 21 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 15:06:17 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0682 Re: Henry

[2]     From:   Peter T. Hadorn <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 09:09:38 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 11:46:16 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Henry

[4]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 15:30:26 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry

[5]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 14:55:31 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 15:06:17 +0100
Subject: 10.0682 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0682 Re: Henry

Henry V is a great play for dividing the camps, so let Ed Taft and I
agree to differ, having each put our arguments. To Larry Weiss: sorry
about putting the Salic Law into the negative, an accident that followed
an overhasty attempt to recover from an online collapse of the 'new,
improved' Outlook Express. However, I doubt if many others find
Canterbury's speech straightforward - and there is still a crux in
'crooked titles'. We ought also to keep in mind two subtexts:

1. If Henry may 'with conscience' claim the throne of France by use of
the female-descent argument, he ought 'with conscience' to yield his own
throne to the Mortimers.

2. The wily Elizabethan audience would know quite well that none of this
matters compared with force of conquest. Edward III won France by
conquest, the French won it back gradually, Henry V won it again, and
his son lost it again. Rights did not matter much.

The career of 'warlike Henry' remains most intriguing when seen over the
trilogy. In the first play, Hal fought gallantly at Shrewsbury and
killed Hotspur. In 2 Henry IV, he was not needed, and warfare became a
matter of Lancaster's dishonour subduing a weak army. In Henry V, the
King makes speeches, both monstrous and glorious, and rides home
victorious; nowhere is he seen to fight, nor is he reported to have
fought.

Ah, but what about the Chorus? The great and glorious battle of
Agincourt which could not be contained within the Globe's stage turns
out to be a moth-eaten affair, with the French so effete and
over-confident that even Pistol can take prisoner a gentleman. It is a
battle of reported dead and very little need for staging - a Monty
Python battle. That Chorus has a lot to answer for.

And, Ed, what happens to poor Nym, who you say mirrors Henry? Hanged by
his own side, with Bardolph, for committing the very kind of crime Hal
might have been involved in as one of Falstaff's crowd. Nor would Nym
have even been in France if Henry had not decided for war. It is a
distorting mirror: Henry's crimes are now national policy and he has
been out to steal more than a pyx or pax from the Church - not just
wealth either, for it has been said when Henry calls on God, look out
for whatever else he is doing.  Compare Nym: 'For Nym, he hath heard
that men of few words are the best men; and therefore he scorns to say
his prayers, lest 'a should be thought a coward: but his few bad words
are matched with as few good deeds; for 'a never broke any man's head
but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk.' (III,ii)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter T. Hadorn <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 09:09:38 -0500
Subject: 10.0692 Re: Henry
Comment:        RE: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry

Sean Lawrence writes:

"Brian Haylett queries the usefulness of the Salic law, pointing to how
Canterbury argues that all kinds of France hold their titles illegally.
I would argue that this merely fleshes out Canterbury's earlier claim
that "miracles are ceas'd" (1.1.68 in the Oxford text).  The world of
this play is not a world in which power is divinely ordained. . . ."

I would ask that we look again at the overall effect of the play.
Shakespeare has omitted from the play all military strategy that was in
his sources (the good land positioning, the long bows, the sharpened
spears, etc.).  The only strategy mentioned (the digging of the mines)
is a failure.  The only order Harry gives (the killing of the French
prisoners) questions Harry's character.  Consequently, when those
amazing numbers of who lived and who died on the battlefield-numbers, if
I'm not mistaken, that Shakespeare and his audience believed to be
true-then the cumulative effect is that the success of the English IS a
miracle and that God did indeed fight for the English (I de-emphasize,
for the sake of making my point, the very large role that Harry's
rhetoric also plays in winning various battles).  In "H5," Shakespeare
simultaneously de-mystifies and mystifies.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 11:46:16 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Henry

I appreciate Moira Russell's thoughtful response to the issue of what
constitutes kingship and how Henry pays attention to "the popular will."
I agree with Moira that Henry is much concerned with popular opinion and
the evidence of that is particularly strong in Hal's first appearance in
Part 2. You will remember that he is hanging around with Poins because
he is an 'every man" and thinks in the way that "every man" thinks. Hal
admits that he is "grafted" to Poins, and if we stop and mull it over a
bit, we can see why. Poins is like a one-man poll whereby Hal can always
gauge public opinion.  In that sense, he is just like Bill Clinton, who,
reportedly, will not make a move without consulting the polls first.

But I don't want to let Henry off the hook quite this easily. After all,
he is also out to "trick" the public by performing his miraculous
"change" at the right moment: "let the end try the man." In essence, he
is in a trap (he can't show his true feelings for his father), but it is
a self-made trap, isn't it? That is, he's trapped because he is
determined to "reform" only at the right time.

So there is manipulation as well as slavish attention to the popular
will: both are inherent in Shakespeare's view of kingship, as I see it.
In a sense, Hal is both manipulator and manipulated, which is another
way of saying that he too is caught in a political system that he can
only partially control. Of course, the proof of that is the final scene
of the play: the necessary but heart-breaking rejection of Falstaff, a
scene so big that it is hard to get our minds all the way around it.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 15:30:26 +0100
Subject: 10.0692 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry

Ben Schneider says:

    ' Blood, murder, death, each street, house, church defil'd;
     There heaps of slain appear, there mountains high;
     There, underneath th'unburied hills up-pil'd
     Of bodies dead, the living buried lie;
     There the sad mother with her tender child
     Doth tear her tresses loose, complain, and fly;
     And there the spoiler by her amber hair,
     Draws to his lust a Virgin chaste and fair.
       (JERUSALEM DELIVERED  Book XIX, Canto XXIX)

This passage provides a fairly good benchmark for Renaissance attitudes
to plights like Harfleur's.  The irony of Christians on a sacred mission
massacring innocent fellow human beings without mercy does not seem to
occur to Tasso.'

But how to explain Shakespeare 's reference to Tarquin's veins in lust?

'And they, like straggling slaves for pillage fighting,
Obdurate vassals fell exploits effecting,
In bloody death and ravishment delighting,
Nor children's tears nor mothers' groans respecting,
Swell in their pride, the onset still expecting.
  Anon his beating heart, alarum striking,
  Gives the hot charge and bids them do their liking.'

Rape of Lucrece, 428-434

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 1999 14:55:31 -0400
Subject: 10.0692 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0692 Re: Henry

"I suppose the real question is why is England so hell-bent on regaining
France at this point in the Henriad?" (Ed Taft)

It's not as though "this point in the Henriad" were a Shakespearean
breakout of some sort: recovery of the English possessions in France is
a strong motif all through the first Henriad and into King John*, and a
sufficiently stable element in the English political ethos to infuse
Elizabethan writings and Parliamentary speeches in favor of English
involvement in the Continental fighting.  It is not hard to understand
this: as William the Conqueror's own successful invasion of the island
had demonstrated and the providentially repulsed attempt, during the
reign of John, under the future Louis VIII (grandson of the first
husband of Eleanor of Acquitaine, the very marriage on which Henry V
reasserts the English claim to the French crown) confirmed, the primary
foreign threat to English political security was always already France
(I seem to remember reading about some paranoid [?] voices in England of
the last decade or so who speak with alarm of the Trojan Chunnel that
will reassert that threat).  One of the problems with Mary Queen of
Scots as Elizabeth's rival and James VI as her successor was anxiety
about their connections with France-perhaps echoed in the lines of the
play that insist on the need to defend the Scottish border; one of the
motives of the proposed marriage to Alencon was to defuse the threat,
but that threat was also the strongest element in the decision to end
those negotiations.  It is French crowns of another sort that have
corrupted Grey, Scroop, and Cambridge-none of them denies this charge.

But the word "providential" raises another issue, which reflects on the
killing of the prisoners as well.  (Let me cite here my own article on
"Types of King David in Shakespeare's Lancastrian Tetralogy",
Shakespeare Studies 18 [1981], 139-61.)  The emphasis on Henry's piety,
his association with Wales, his alienation from the court of a very
Saul-like Henry IV, and a score of other echoes and affiliations,
establish a strong affinity between this king and the prototypical
monarch of the Bible.  In that paradigm the French occupy the position
of the Philistines: not only conquering but obliterating them is a
divine injunction (why else get approval for the invasion from two
bishops rather than some merely academic or secular advisors?), and the
success of the enterprise notably prompts the successful warrior king to
lay the outcome wholly at the feet of God.  I have not scrutinized the
historical record for earlier instances of this connection (with regard
to the English crown generally), but I would not be surprised to find
them.

Samuelly,
David Evett
 

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