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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Feathers
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0996  Tuesday, 1 May 2001

[1]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 May 2001 03:56:41 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers

[2]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Apr 2001 13:02:41 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 May 2001 09:50:38 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 May 2001 03:56:41 +0900
Subject: 12.0977 Re: Feathers
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers

> John Briggs wrote

> > None of this alters the fact that Shakespeare portrays
> > the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish as participating (not
> > totally harmoniously) in Henry V's enterprise.  As this is
> > anachronistic in at least two senses, it seems worth
> > pondering his motives.

The anachronism in question is probably modern, not Shakespearean. I
take it that Shakespeare and many members of his first audiences would
have been greatly amused or disgusted by the unhistorical idea or
fantasy (originating in Sinfield and Dollimore's essay on "Henry V"?)
that Shakespeare was dreaming, of a "United" Kingdom. What nonsense!

In "Kingship, Law, and Society: Criminal Justice in the Reign of Henry
V" (Oxford, 1989) Edward Powell reprints (as an appendix) the
muster-roll of the Earl of Arundel's retinue at the siege of Harfleur.
As Powell observes, this muster-roll reads like a catalogue of those
indicted in king's bench": it includes rapists and murderers, since
Henry followed Edward I's practice of granting pardons in return for
military service--especially when the criminals and psychopaths came
from "good" families. That practice continued, well into the nineteenth
century, as Melville's Billy Budd discovers when he encounters the
convicted but well-born, therefore pardoned and commissioned, psychotic
Claggart.

I don't have Powell's book to hand, and am quoting from my references to
it in "Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists", which (may
I say?) provides a lengthy discussion of the "historiographical
challenge" in Shakespeare's play. But if I remember correctly, and I
think I do, Arundel's muster-roll also records the presence of Irish
mercenaries--which is very relevant to the present "feathers" issue,
isn't it?

Irish mercenaries were a no less familiar (and desperately motivated?)
presence in Elizabethan armies: cf. the old studies by Lindsay Boynton
and C.G.  Cruikshank. Of course, these mercenaries were NOT  "gentleman
volunteers", fired with honour's thought: that's the Chorus's fantasy,
which Shakespeare's play dismantles and dissects.

Mercenaries are usually professional, and pretty hard-bitten, and
altogether unsympathetic to the English caste-idea that well-born lads
from the "best" families are the "natural" leaders. In the English Civil
Wars, St. Oliver's New Model army pulverised such creatures.
Parenthetically: I once spent two of the most frightening days of my
life travelling to Thailand in the company of a terrifyingly
anti-semitic (i.e. anti-ANY non-Israeli-semitic) Israeli mercenary, who
explained to me why the American (=funded) members of his teams were
always, to everybody else's relief, the first to die.

Shakespeare's presentation of Harfleur is alarmingly complicated, and I,
for one, am still not sure how to take it. But I think his Irishman is a
mercenary and a professional, whose quarrel with the
"take-me-to-your-leader" approach to history is practical as well as
national or nationalistic. Indeed, critical discussion of this issue
seems to me largely puerile, and pathetically uninformed by anything
other than wishful thinking--or anachronism.

On the one hand, Shakespeare is exposing Henry. And yet, in an almost
protective way, Shakespeare deliberately flies against the historical
facts by suppressing what the historical Henry actually DID at Harfleur.

Graham Bradshaw

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Apr 2001 13:02:41 -0700
Subject: 12.0977 Re: Feathers
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers

There's much discussion of feathers in Arthur McGee's quite remarkable
"Elizabethan Hamlet" (Yale UP, 1987).

He documents, for instance, the common practice of the insane, fools,
and jesters wearing feathers.

Quoting Minsheu's 1627 dictionary: "natural idiots and fools have and
still do accustome themselves to wear in their cappes cockes feathers,
or a hat with a neck and head of a cock on the top."

Quoting Leslie Hotson, commenting on an engraving of Elizabethan fool
Will Somers: "On his head he wears a cap, with the feather which
sometimes replaced the bell or 'cock's comb' of red cloth."

Hotson also quotes Thomas Wright's 1604 "The Passions of the Mind": "It
will become them as well as a peacock's feather in a fooles cap."

McGee cites an illustration in "Kemps Nine Daies Wonder" (1600), which
"shows him with a plume of feathers in his hat."

There are many more feather citations. I don't think he's missed a one!

As an aside, more on this book: amazing overall. But be forewarned, its
interpretation of Hamlet as Elizabethans would have viewed it depressed
me utterly. Great stuff if you're willing to admit to a Hamlet who has
essentially no nobility of character--a real scumbag, in fact. Makes for
a depressingly nihilistic though compellingly complex vision.

McGee's arguments for his interpretation are very cogent, though not
airtight. You know, though, how an interpretation of Hamlet can o'ertake
the mind, at least temporarily.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 May 2001 09:50:38 +0100
Subject: 12.0977 Re: Feathers
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0977 Re: Feathers

I am not clear how I came to be cast in the role of doughty defender of
the modern consensus over the sequence and dating of the Henry VI
plays.  After all, I inadvertently initiated the whole controversy by
expressing mild scepticism at the consensus!

My summary of the consensus view was intended to demonstrate that it was
actually based on a compelling and coherent argument, so that it could
not be dismissed out of hand.  Whereupon Marcus again dismissed it out
of hand...

As for "tone", I said that 2H6 & 3H6 felt "early" and were characterised
by "evenness of tone" and that there was "more variety in 1H6".  Now, I
freely admit to being somewhat "tone deaf", but as the beginning of
plays has been mentioned, how about the following comparison:

1H6:  Dead march.  Enter the funeral of King Henry the Fifth...  "Hung
be the heavens with black.  Yield day to night."

2H6:  "As by your high imperial majesty / I had in charge at my depart
for France,"

3H6:  "I wonder how the King escap'd our hands!"

R3:   "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by
this sun of York,"

I think the opening of 1H6 stands up rather well, especially as it
probably isn't even by Shakespeare!

Yes, I do think that R3 might have been written before 1H6, but the
consensus view is that it probably wasn't, and this view is strengthened
if Richard's soliloquies in 3H6 are later interpolations.

I could probably offer answers (my own or other people's) to the
following statements of Marcus, if I could work out what they mean:

"Briefly checking the SR will show that John Briggs' assumptions about
the time of writing RE "history plays" (how quickly - sense of influence
etc) are simplistic[...]"

"John doesn't however answer the query about inconsistency which I
raised in relation to the span of time between Q and F editions."

John Briggs

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