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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Henry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0723  Friday, 23 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 10:11:00 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Henry

[2]     From:   Peter T. Hadorn <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 13:24:25 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 10.0709 Re: Henry

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 22:20:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0700 Re: Henry


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 10:11:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Henry

I have to disagree with Peter Hadorn's view that God may be on the side
of the English and that Henry's victory is a "miracle." In 1H4 we learn
that both honor and the interpretation of the past are "commodities" to
be used for various purposes. In 2H4 we learn that even friendship and
human life are commodities to be used for purposes of state (Hal's
rejection of Falstaff). And in H5 we learn that God (or the concept of
God) is also a commodity to be artfully deployed in the interests of
England and victory.

To ignore such insights is to ignore the depth and breadth of
Shakespeare's analysis of politics and how the nation-state functions.
In effect, everything (including the king) exists for IT. By the end of
H5, the state is an all-consuming machine. It will use, devour, or
consume everything for its own greater glory.  As the Bishops point out
at the start of H5, the age of miracles is over.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter T. Hadorn <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 13:24:25 -0500
Subject: 10.0709 Re: Henry
Comment:        RE: SHK 10.0709 Re: Henry

In response to my asserting that in "H5" Shakespeare simultaneously
demystifies and mystifies, Sean Lawrence writes : "I would try to
address whether Shakespeare 'demythologizes', rather than whether he
'demystifies.'"

I will stick with "demystifies," but let me clarify: I was referring to
Harry's character and the workings of politics.  Canterbury suggests
that Harry's reformation is a sort of miracle: "Yea, at that very
moment/ Consideration like an angel came/ And whipped th'offending Adam
out of him,/ Leaving his body as a paradise."  But later reconsiders:
"miracles are ceased."  For the last several weeks we have been
questioning Harry's character and motive, and I think we all agree that
he is one shrewd character, much like his father in his ability to
manipulate the situation.

Frankly, I'm not sure what Lawrence is going on about regarding the
"Godness of God" and "divine intervention" and such.  To explain what I
see at work here I turn to Henry Ansgar Kelly's "Divine Providence in
the England of Shakespeare's Histories" (1970), in which he methodically
traces the notion of Providence as manifested in the chronicles of the
Lancastrian, Yorkist, and Tudor periods.  He finds that each reign
interprets history as being Providentially in its favor.  Turning to
Shakespeare's history plays, he observes that:

"Shakespeare's great contribution was to unsynthesize the syntheses of
his contemporaries and to unmoralize their moralizations.  His genius
for sounding the realities of human passion and action, which are the
components and raw materials of historical reflections, enabled him to
sort out the partisan layers that had been combined in rather
ill-digested lumps in Hall and Holinshed and to distribute them to
appropriate spokesmen. . . .  Shakespeare . . . completely dramatized
the characters, and so eliminated all the purportedly objective
providential judgments made by the histories upon historical characters,
the kind of reflection which would be valid or pertinent only if made by
God himself."  (304-05)

In other words, Shakespeare removes the veil from governing and shows us
real politicians at work.  This is what I meant by demystifying.  But I
still suggest he mystifies as well.  When Harry reads the numbers of the
dead and the living and says "O god, thy arm was here," I'm willing to
bet that not a few in his audience murmured their assent.  This scene
and these lines contrast directly with the one in "2 Henry 4" when,
after tricking the rebels into surrendering, Prince John the
Machiavellian declares, "God, and not we, hath safely fought today."  As
I said in my earlier post, Shakespeare removes all the military strategy
and any actual fighting.  The effect is to make Harry's victory seem
Providential.

Lawrence's counter point is that "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)."

My response is that it would be all to the good if his audience knows
about how the real Henry V won the war.  They would probably be struck
by the absence of all reference to strategy, etc.  Regarding the effete
and divided French, are the English much better?  We see that Harry's
officers barely get along with each other (Fluellen, Macmorris, Jamy,
and Gower); that some of his soldiers are thieves; and that the rest
doubt the king's motives.  I suppose they're not effete, though.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 22:20:45 -0400
Subject: 10.0700 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0700 Re: Henry

I agree with Ed Taft that there are comedic elements in the Archbishop's
explication of the Salic Law.  The fact that it is lawyerly doesn't mean
that it is not also very funny.

I also agree with Brian Haylett that

>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.

In fact, I think Shakespeare makes the same point, albeit somewhat
differently.

Larry
 

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