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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Henry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0737  Saturday, 24 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Apr 1999 12:01:18 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Henry

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Apr 1999 09:12:06 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0723 Re: Henry

[3]     From:   Dana Wilson <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Apr 1999 09:19:41 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0723 Re: Henry


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Apr 1999 12:01:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Henry

Peter Hadorn writes that "Shakespeare removes all the military strategy
and any actual fighting. The effect is to make Henry's victory seem
providential." I see what Peter means, here, but I wonder if in fact
Shakespeare gives his audience a choice: we can think that God was on
Henry's side if we wish, OR we can ascribe the victory to (1) Henry's
clear strategy of banking of the overconfidence of the French and (2)
the power of his rhetoric before battle ("We few, we happy few"). Isn't
Henry's use of psychology the main reason why he wins, at least in the
play?

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Apr 1999 09:12:06 +0000
Subject: 10.0723 Re: Henry
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0723 Re: Henry

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your expansion on your earlier message to this list.  And, to
begin with, I would agree with your point that religion is often used in
the play, as a means of lending metaphysical sanction to human
activities.  I take it that this is what you mean by "mystification", a
term which, if memory serves, originates in the work of Marx as a
totalizing explanation for all religion everywhere as the opiate of some
class or other in the service of some other class.  Would I be correct
in paraphrasing you by saying that while the efforts at mystification by
the characters in the play seem to fail, they're superceded by such
efforts on the part of the author?  Thus, while Henry's material,
political motives are unveiled, in a familiar materialist move, the
author's own political motives are re-covered by making God fight on the
side of the English.  Henry may be a politician, even in the Elizabethan
sense expounded so long ago by Mario Praz, but the English victory can
still be Providential.

The problem, in my humble opinion, is that the self-righteous certainty
which mystification provides is the very opposite of the Anfechtungen
which Luther describes.  The last part of your quotation from Kelly
seems to support this: "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)

Only God can provide grace, and grace is by definition unearned.  For
characters to try earning it by good works, sacred crusades or in
Henry's case, building chapels, is hopeless. Declaring oneself forbidden
merely avoids the angst which accompanies sin, and leads to ever-greater
self-righteousness.  It would, moreover, be a political gesture in every
meaning of the term, invoking the divine only as a transcendent sanction
for one's material motives, and using this sanction to justify oneself
(!) both to oneself and to those around you.  Recognizing oneself to
have been blessed, on the other hand, would be a humbling experience,
reinforcing one's own sinfulness and helplessness-"nakedness", Luther
would say.  The self-effacement of Henry's refusal to take credit for
the victory, seems much more in keeping with the humility by which a
sinner accepts grace, than with the self-aggrandizement
(self-fashioning?) by which the self-righteous mystify their selfish
motives and aspirations.

In my mind, the play doesn't first demystify and then remystify.  On the
contrary, it removes the comforting metaphysics of a Christian,
providentialist universe, in order to renovate the existential and
ethical crisis central to the experience of faith, sinfulness and
forgiveness.  This is what I take Rudolf Bultmann to mean by
"demythologizing" in his famous essay.

I hope that I've been reasonably clear.  Thanks again for your note.

Cheers,
Se

 

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