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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: January ::
Re: Henry V (and Branagh)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0028  Thursday, 6 January 2000.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Jan 2000 09:46:17 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Henry V (and Branagh)

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Wed, 5 Jan 2000 20:18:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0025 Re: Henry V (and Branagh)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Jan 2000 09:46:17 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Henry V (and Branagh)

Alice Cooley doubts that money could be seen as a sign of "true
nobility" in late Medieval and Renaissance times.  In general, I think
that she is right. After all, the lesson of the Wife of Bath's Tale is
that true nobility does not depend on birth or possessions. That's the
attitude of the older generation in All's Well too, who champion Helena
even thought Bertram thinks he is too good for her.

But there is another side to this question. After all, Calvin and the
Puritians did come to believe that "doing well" was a sign of election,
right?  And in the 1590's and 1600's, certain gentlemen bought coats of
arms to "elevate" their family status, no?

Surely what is really going on is that we all know (and they all knew)
that nobility does not equal wealth, but we all know (and they all knew)
that money is a near substitute in a developing capitalistic society.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Wed, 5 Jan 2000 20:18:26 -0500
Subject: 11.0025 Re: Henry V (and Branagh)
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0025 Re: Henry V (and Branagh)

Alice Jane Cooley wonders:

>Perhaps I'm entering this discussion on too elementary a level. However,
>the term "primogeniture" refers to the system of inheritance which
>allowed only the eldest son to inherit, and as such, what it is "to be
>opposed to" is the other system, which involves dividing up the land
>between various sons-isn't it?

Yes, but in order to do so, a mythology developed which claimed that
this was part of the natural order, the great chain of being.  Being
born first, like being titled and being handsome was a sign of God's
grace.

This system and the mythology on which it depended caused a lot of
problems throughout the Middle Ages.  One issue was that the eldest was
in fact often not the noblest, and it was hard to claim that God really
meant for an elder son of a bitch to inherit while a nobler youngster
had to go beg.  This gave rise to the debate over true noblesse.  Over
the course of the Middle Ages, commoners other than soldiers began to
acquire wealth and so wanted the same social status as aristocrats.
They also appealed to the concept of true noblesse to justify their
claims to social status and titles.  Like a younger and nobler son, they
made a claim for a new mythology of social order based on merit.  But it
would be naive to think that it was not their wealth which made their
argument viable.  Simply put, the richer became the bourgeoisie, the
weaker became the principle of aristocratic primogeniture.  But in order
for the bourgeoisie to begin to take their place in the power structure,
the mythology had to be revised, and Fulgens and Lucrece is an early
example of the attempt to construct a new mythology.

I think it is interesting that Shakespeare, in addition to a coat of
arms for his father, making him not just a gentleman, but a gentleman
born ("a gentleman born before my father," as the Clown in WT says),
Shakespeare bought a lot of land.  Landed property is the traditional
measure of noblesse, so "Gentle Shakespeare" combined both the new
mythology of acquiring status by one's merit (i.e. making enough cash to
buy a coat of arms) with the old.
 

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