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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Rights of Descent in Henry V
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1761  Monday, 27 September 2004

[1]     From:   Arthur Lindley <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Sep 2004 20:48:55 +0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Sep 2004 14:29:34 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 Sep 2004 05:23:47 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

[4]     From:   Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 Sep 2004 22:08:53 EDT
        Subj:   Substitution of scroll for lineage speech

[5]     From:   Dan Smith <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Sep 2004 10:03:14 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur Lindley <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Sep 2004 20:48:55 +0800
Subject: 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

Excuse me, Harvey, but I think this is like the Swift Boat Vermin for
Bush: in both cases, we know what they were paid for and we know who
paid them.  That simplifies problems of judgment considerably.

Regards,
Arthur Lindley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Sep 2004 14:29:34 -0400
Subject: 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

Canterbury's long exegesis in HenV,I.ii is not a "lineage."  Henry's
claim to the French crown needed no explanation, at least not to him.
What he asked for, and what the archbishop provided, was an answer to
the Salic Law defense, which the French set up to bar his claim.  The
archbishop's presentation makes a number of assertions which I
understand are questionable as a matter of fact.  But, (assuming the
facts) he marshals them in a remarkably well organized, cogent and
persuasive presentation which lawyers today would do well to emulate.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 Sep 2004 05:23:47 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

 From what I remember, the passage is lifted directly from Holinshed,
except for the line which never fails to get a laugh - "so it is as
clear as the summer's sun". I take that as a clue as to what Shakespeare
himself intended for this validation of war.

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 Sep 2004 22:08:53 EDT
Subject:        Substitution of scroll for lineage speech

With fear and trembling, I offer a gloss on the presentation by scroll
rather than oral testament of the complex lineage beginning with the
denial of the appropriateness of the Salig Law

Begging thy patience,
Harvey Roy Greenberg MD

THE ARCHBISHOP GIVES A SCROLL TO KING HENRY, AND HIS ASSISTANT FRIAR
GIVES A COPY TO EACH ATTENDANT LORD

ARCHBISHOP:
Great King, I pray you read this scroll
wherein the proof of Frances' claim upon his crown
Unproven is. You and your worthy court
will find good argument to show
the Salig Law which they suppose gives
Charles his right to rule is falsely read.
Misprision hath base conclusion caused.
The throne of France was never Charles'
but yours and can, nay must restored
Be. Read, I beg you, and know with
fullest certainty the justness of thy claim.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Smith <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Sep 2004 10:03:14 +0100
Subject: 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1739 Rights of Descent in Henry V

Is the reference to "Clowns obscuring some 'vital issue'" Hamlet
(III.2.1924)?

"...clowns
...set on some quantity of barren
spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered."

I think this speech and the response that it gets from Henry is
important but that doesn't exclude laughing at Canterbury. "As clear as
is the summer's sun"(I.2.86) must be a joke (if it is a cloudy summers
day when it is played that adds to it). The smugly abstruse academic
rambling (I imagine Stephen Fry expounding a version of the speech that
might include "and sixthly...") is a pointed contrast to the mud
spattered carnage of the battles it sponsors. Canterbury's pedantry can
make him a figure of fun but, like Polonius, he may be more sinister
than his pompous convoluted delivery makes him seem.

The Pharamond speech has resonance later when in response to Henry
(IV.1.1998): "...methinks I could not die any where so contented as in
the king's company; his cause being just and his quarrel honourable",
Williams replies "That's more than we know". We in the audience have the
advantage that we heard the legal argument for war but it is likely more
than we know either. This discussion seems particularly apposite when
the Secretary General of the UN has declared the Iraq war illegal so
recently. The (British) attorney general will not release the full
argument behind his legal backing for the war. We have the summary
("It's legal") but we cannot study the arguments and to debate where the
borders of Salic land lay.

However, I don't believe the Pharamond speech is meaningless rhubarb,
intended to be unintelligible satire on the legal basis for war. It
seems to me to be in two parts. The first part is a straightforward
zoning issue, the stuff of countless hours of local government wrangling
in the centuries since. Canterbury's argument that it can't have been
Pharamond to make this "No woman shall succeed" argument in Salic land
since the Sala-Elbe territory wasn't conquered for another four hundred
years sounds like it could be turned on it's head by the French (If it
was Pharamond's edict then it must apply to France). However, when
Canterbury begins to discuss the usurpers Pepin and Capet I think it
could be played as a mirror of the French envoys anxiety about telling
Henry things he might not like to hear; Canterbury is telling the son of
a usurper that the title to the French crown has been usurped several
times - a nervous Canterbury might turn a little queasy at this.
Alternatively, a bolder Machiavellian Canterbury could play the line as
though the subtext was - "never mind [divine] right, all crowns have
been usurped. What are you going to do to keep your title - attack
France [or sack the church]?" Canterbury could also play this with
braggadocio (onlookers cheering each new labyrinthine argument) as
though to say "Now ask me to prove the counter argument..."

The key question for a production is, does Henry believe the archbishop
and think he has a right to wage war or not? Branagh's good Henry
appears to believe the dossier and it is a genuine question when he says
"May I with right and conscience make this claim?" (I.2.246). Adrian
Lester's Henry Blair (NT 2003) asked the question knowing what the
answer would be in order to spell it out to the nobles (dressed and
assembled round a table as though for a business meeting). In that
production you felt that this was a PR exercise rather than a genuine
meeting because all the key decisions had been made before they
gathered. In the Northern Broadsides production (2003) I think Henry had
not heard the argument before but, following Bradley, was eager to hear
something that would let him do what he wanted to do.

However Henry is played I don't think it goes against the text to play
the Archbishop as a cynical spin doctor. The first law of the black art
of spin is that you get your enemies discussing the wrong issue. What
you get them discussing might be damaging to you (I might not have a
right to the French throne) but is much less damaging than the real
issue (I acquired the English throne by paternal treason and regicide).
However the Pharamond dossier scene (I.2.183) is played, Shakespeare's
Henry before Agincourt does not ultimately believe he has an
unassailable moral right to the English throne let alone the French one
(IV.1.2168):

"O Lord
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!"

Dan Smith

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