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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Welsh in Henry IV
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0187  Friday, 26 January 2001

[1]     From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Jan 2001 11:14:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0182 Re: Welsh in Henry IV

[2]     From:   Ann Carrigan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Jan 2001 19:02:11 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0156 Re: Welsh in Henry IV


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Jan 2001 11:14:16 -0500
Subject: 12.0182 Re: Welsh in Henry IV
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0182 Re: Welsh in Henry IV

Many thanks to all those who responded to my broad query about Welsh in
1HIV.  I note, however, that most of the responses focus on the politic
context of the play: the question of Britain, the suppression of Wales
and Welsh, and Glendower's daughter as a representative, in various
ways, of the marginal.  All of this seems essential and interesting, but
there are other dimensions to the Welsh in 3.1.  To have such extensive
passages of an incomprehensible language still seems to me theatrically
strange, and I wonder if anyone can back up A.R. Humphrey's claim that
this was not uncommon at the time (songs don't count, I think, because
the immediacy of the music compensates for the incomprehensibility of
the text)?  I also wonder what the Welsh implies about the love between
Mortimer and Glendower's daughter?  In other plays (and I realize this
is perhaps a questionable critical strategy), Shakespeare seems
generally to privilege the "marriage of true minds," relationships
proven by an equality of eloquence or wit.  Some productions (the BBC,
for instance) imply that the relationship between Mortimer and his Welsh
lady is deeper than words, that love, like Glendower's magic, is
mysterious and irrational.  Certainly this is how Mortimer himself sees
it.  But perhaps this love, like Glendower's magic (from another
perspective), is a superficial fraud.  I'm uncommitted on this, but such
a reading would perhaps fit Manuela Rossini's reading of the French in
HV (re. Henry and Katherine and the language barrier), which, I suppose,
brings us inevitably back to the political.  Ah well.

Hannibal Hamlin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ann Carrigan <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Jan 2001 19:02:11 EST
Subject: 12.0156 Re: Welsh in Henry IV
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0156 Re: Welsh in Henry IV

>>Shakespeare, of course, used the language barrier between Katherine and
>>Henry V in a more comic-romantic vein.
>
>Maybe films like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and Branagh's HENRY V (with its
>close-up of the kissing ex-spouses) might have led you to this
>assessment about the Bard's intentions.

Yes, Branagh certainly did make those scenes cute and coy. But my
assessment of those scenes was based upon my reading of them. I'm struck
by how much -- to my imperfect ear, of course -- King Henry reminds me
of Benedick in that semi-private interview with the Princess, the
semi-tender Benedick of

             "How pitiful I deserve--

    I mean in singing; but in loving Leander the good swimmer,
    Troilus the first employer of panders, and a whole book full of
    these quondam carpet-mongers, whose names yet run smoothly in the
    even road of a blank verse--why, they were never so truly turn'd
    over and over as my poor self in love. Marry, I cannot show it in
    rhyme. I have tried."  (Much Ado About Nothing, V.ii.)

    "Marry, if you would put me to verses or to dance for
    your sake, Kate, why you undid me; for the one I have neither
    words nor measure, and for the other I have no strength in
    measure, yet a reasonable measure in strength. If I could win a
    lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armour
    on my back, under the correction of bragging be it spoken, I
    should quickly leap into wife. Or if I might buffet for my love,
    or bound my horse for her favours, I could lay on like a butcher,
    and sit like a jack-an-apes, never off. But, before God, Kate, I
    cannot look greenly, nor gasp out my cloquence, nor I have no
    cunning in protestation; only downright oaths, which I never use
    till urg'd, nor never break for urging." (Henry V, V.ii.)

He goes on to become more playfully self-depricating than Benedick:

    "Now beshrew my father's ambition! He was thinking of civil wars
when
    he got me; therefore was I created with a stubborn outside, with
    an aspect of iron, that when I come to woo ladies I fright them.
    But, in faith, Kate, the elder I wax, the better I shall appear:
    my comfort is, that old age, that in layer-up of beauty, can do
    no more spoil upon my face; thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the
    worst; and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and
    better." (V.ii.)

I think he characterizes his own speech as "plain soldier," but the
cadence of those lines is not the language of dictator but of plain
suitor..."and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me..."

If Shakespeare did write the scenes some think he did in Edward III, it
would provide yet another instance of a man who could be brave in wars
and in diplomatic negotiations but clumsy in the poetry of love.

>My reading is less charming.
>Throughout the scene Henry speaks "plain soldier" - and we know what
>this means not only since the atrocities committed in ex-Yugoslavia.
>Like all colonizers, he speaks his native tongue (although -
>historically - he mastered French).  Katherine is clearly at a
>linguistic disadvantage and already in the scene of her English lesson
>she learns "how to translate her body into language accessible to the
>English", as Sinfield/Dollimore observe. That the wooing-scene is framed
>by the rape threats to the Harfleur "maidens" doesn't help to make the
>private encounter with the French princess more "comic-romantic".

I do see what you're saying and certainly in the real-world of the
conquered, Katherine is simply more of France to be acquired. Your
remarks are very interesting to me and at some point I would like to
pursue the matter further.

Thank you for an insightful post.  I am an amateur with lots to learn.

Best regards,
Ann Carrigan
 

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