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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: November ::
The Archbishop Wasn't There? So Forth.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1002  Tuesday, 14 November 2006

[1] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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 	Date: 	Monday, 13 Nov 2006 00:40:14 +0000
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0995 The Archbisop Wasn't There? So Forth.

[2] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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 	Date: 	Monday, 13 Nov 2006 11:28:51 -0700
 	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0995 The Archbishop Wasn't There? So Forth.


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Monday, 13 Nov 2006 00:40:14 +0000
Subject: 17.0995 The Archbisop Wasn't There? So Forth.
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0995 The Archbisop Wasn't There? So Forth.

Many thanks to Larry Weiss for clearing up the genealogical muddle of 
HENRY V. He writes: "Waging aggressive war was not offensive in the 15th 
Century...."

Not offensive to whom?

Many of that era, taking Augustine as their touchstone, limited just 
aggressive war to converting the heathen, and nothing else. Though later 
theorists (Gentili, etc.) also justified honor wars to secure the peace, 
the Saint himself might easily regard the internecine wars of HENRY V as 
"grand brigandage." Shakespeare, as was his wont, includes the Eastcheap 
subplots (the theft of the "pax" etc) to subvert the celebratory 
triumphalism of Agincourt, where "blood is [the] argument" of "pilfering 
borderers." (Later in MACBETH, WS uses Macbeth's hiring murderers as 
reflecting on mob boss Duncan's use of his own nobles.) Shakespeare often 
signals dramatic irony by a character's opening "O", the equivalent of the 
terminal "not" in modern parlance. After the prisoners' throats are "most 
worthily" cut on pious Henry's order, Gower concludes, "O tis a gallant 
king!" Again in MACBETH, upon learning of Macbeth's glorious butchering of 
the rebels, the meek Duncan exclaims, "O valiant cousin!  worthy 
gentleman!" Finally, Shakespeare uses a French tongue (irony of ironies) 
to expose both Canterbury's self-serving exposition and the Great Evader 
Henry's own rhetoric: "...les langues des hommes sont pleine de 
tromperies."  N'est-ce pas?

Joe Egert

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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 >
Date: 		Monday, 13 Nov 2006 11:28:51 -0700
Subject: 17.0995 The Archbishop Wasn't There? So Forth.
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0995 The Archbishop Wasn't There? So Forth.

Larry Weiss makes a careful case (from a 15th-century point of view) for 
Henry's right to invade France.  I've never felt, though, that Shakespeare 
took on such issues in quite such a legalistic fashion.  Henry's 
enterprise seems to me morally ambiguous throughout, though often subtly 
so.  Think of the threats against Harfleur in which Henry compares his men 
to Herod's soldiers, the killing of the French prisoners (which may have 
been either pragmatic or an understandable act of revenge or both, but 
which, like the killing of the boys, is "expressly against the laws of 
war"), and the closing Chorus, which notes the loss of France not long 
after.

On the question of aggressive war, or war in general, I don't know what 
15th-century thought was, but my impression is that thought during 
Shakespeare's time (probably even more relevant?) was mixed, with war 
parties and peace parties at court, and with some humanists, notably 
Erasmus some years before, having made strong cases against war.

In the play itself, many passages describe war in horrific detail, several 
with the implication that "if all these terrible things happen to you, it 
will be your own fault for not surrendering."  One passage, 
though-Williams's speech in 4.1--places the responsibility squarely on 
Henry's shoulders, perhaps in part prompting Henry at the end of the scene 
to plead for divine help even as he wonders whether he deserves it.

In addition to the passages that emphasize the horrors of war, there are 
passages praising peace: Burgundy's in 5.5 and the French king's 
suggestion that France and England ought to behave like Christian 
neighbors-that, instead of mutual envy and hatred, "neighborhood and 
Christian-like accord" should be planted in their bosoms so that "never 
war advance / His bleeding sword 'twixt England and fair France."  Which 
of course is not what ends up happening.

Precision on the legal questions gives something of a framework that can 
help us understand the action.  But it seems to me the human interest is 
more with the subtle moral and practical questions.  Even if we accept the 
Archbishop's wonderfully logical argument on the Salic Law, the tangled 
way he presents it-with members of the court and even Henry himself 
seeming a bit unsure whether they have followed it-raises questions, as 
does the Archbishop's chilling line, "The sin be upon my head," which of 
course echoes words in the New Testament attributed to those calling for 
crucifixion.

Bruce Young


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