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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Henry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0709  Thursday, 22 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Apr 1999 11:12:54 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Henry

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Apr 1999 11:10:53 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0700 Re: Henry


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Apr 1999 11:12:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Henry

I read with profit Dave Evett's learned anaylsis of correspondences
between Biblical motifs and the Henriad, and I agree that wanting to
conquer or re-conquer France is a constant motif. But the question that
I meant to ask was, Why all the patriotic ranting and raving in H5 but
not, say, in the corresponding council scene in 1H4 or in the reported
scene of Richard's counselors in R2?

The answer, it seems to me, is that now England has a king who, in the
popular mind, might be able to actually DO it-re-conquer France, and
this dawning realization tends to unite the country so that the popular
will is redirected from factionalism toward conquest.

What this means, I think, is that Henry's plan "to redeem the time"
actually leads ineluctably to war. If so, did Hal know this from the
start? Did he know that the "rare accident" of his "reformation" would
lead to war? He never says this, at least not that I remember, but as we
all know, characters in Shakespeare often know more than they choose to
tell us.

It's an important question, Dave, because it bears on Hal's/Henry V's
basic character and on how we regard him. After all, Hal is always
throwing in Falstaff's face the fact that Sir John is not an ethical
person whereas, in the prince's mind, Hal is!

This is a tough nut to crack but its importance cannot be
overestimated.  What Hal knows and when he knows it seems to me to
dictate whether he and the play Henry V is, to use Rabkins famous
formulation, "a rabbit or a duck."

Puzzlingly,
Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Apr 1999 11:10:53 +0000
Subject: 10.0700 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0700 Re: Henry

Peter Hadorn writes:

>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.

I would try to address whether Shakespeare "demythologizes", rather than
whether he "demystifies."  Removing a sense of God as Providence,
working intimately in the world, and providing the socially acceptable
with a quid-pro-quo contractual justification, is not to remove God from
the play.  On the contrary, it preserves what Karl Barth would call "the
Godness of God" against the idolatries of self-righteousness, human
virtue, church government, or, generally, "idol ceremony."

Perhaps God does fight on the English side, but not because the English
have earned a right to expect such intervention.  Divine intervention
seems rather veiled in this play, which is in keeping with Reformed
doctrine.  Rather than being obvious (and a bit vulgar) as Deus ex
machina intervention, miracles have to be recognized by the eyes of
faith.  And other explanations could no doubt be posited, both by
reference to evidence within the play (the French are effette; they're
internally divided; Henry is a greater soldier than Alexander, etc.) and
outside the play (most of the audience would know about the longbow,
which was the subject of a longstanding contemporary pamphlet war).  The
important point is that Henry recognizes his victory as a blessing, and,
moreover, as a gratuitous blessing, which he has no reason to deserve.

If Ely and Canterbury had failed to destroy the French claims to the
French throne, then at least one kingdom would be divinely ordained in
the way that Robert Filmer and James I were later to claim.  Another
relationship with the Divine, other than abject sinfulness being met by
gratuitous grace, would be possible.

Cheers,
Se

 

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