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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: January ::
Was Chichelle There?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0017  Thursday, 8 January 2009

From:       Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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Date:       Wednesday, 7 Jan 2009 22:02:48 EST
Subject: 20.009 Was Chichelle There?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.009 Was Chichelle There?

I have not read Catto's article, but the research I've done -- and I am 
not, repeat, not a Shakespearean scholar -- regarding the Archbishop's 
prolix oration in Act I, Sc 2, H5, indicates sharply divided opinions, 
with evidence offered to back up the position both that Chichele wasn't 
present, or that he was.

It's been maintained that Chichele was elsewhere when he supposedly gave 
the speech, and that the supposed appearance before king and court, with 
accompanying oration, was invented out of whole cloth in aid of 
furbishing the Tutor mythos. According to this theory, Chichele was not 
present at the Great Parliament in Leicester; also, instead of the 
alleged bill intended to strip the Church of land and wealth being 
brought forward, a bill was actually proposed, supported by H5, to bring 
a dissident sect to heel -- ?Lollards?.

The opposing opinion is that the scene did take place in real historical 
time at the Leicester parliament, and was more or less correctly 
described in the Holinshed and Hall chronicles, derived from legitimate 
earlier sources.

In any case, the speech in the Chronicles was essentially translated 
into choice verse by Shakespeare, with its sense and much of its content 
unchanged.

I have elsewhere argued that Shakespeare intended the speech to be as 
seriously hearkened to by his 1599 audience as it was received by King 
and court a century earlier. I still believe that an essentially comedic 
reading of the oration is absolutely inappropriate, except perhaps for a 
mort of irony related to Canterbury's statement that his exploitation re 
the French succession was  'clear as the summer sun". On the other hand, 
it's been maintained that Shakespeare may have intended a satirical 
performance, given his alleged distaste for the then Archbishop, who was 
apparently no friend of the theater. Under this rubric, Aylmer's 
doddering Polonius-like Canterbury is in the right ballpark.

However, I deem -- always under potential correction -- that Chichelle's 
presence or absence is essentially immaterial to considering the mode of 
performance of the oration, which I think should be essentially serious, 
however the knotted legal argument over the Salic Law and the vexed 
nature of the French succession is handled. I cannot see the oration 
being elided entirely, and merely citing the Salic land's being in 
Germany won't answer. The pivotal issue is the legitimacy of succession 
of the respective monarchs, both lineages being derived through the 
feminine. If this argument is not preserved in some fashion or another, 
the primary mainspring of the play, the French invasion, the casus belli 
so to speak, is erased. The central problem I have addressed elsewhere 
is how to preserve the overall sense of the oration -- both the location 
of the Salic territory, and the complex putatively 'impure" French 
succession, for a contemporary audience without sending viewers into a 
state of uncomprehending boredom.

Again, none of the above is offered as received truth. We certainly 
don't know exactly how the speech was performed in 1599 -- one can only 
surmise the mode. As we can only surmise what Shakespeare's underlying 
intentions regarding the oration were and how it should be played, his 
beliefs concerning the maintenance of monarchic order, et cetera. Due 
critical modesty is, of course, essential in dealing with these very 
vexed issues.

Harvey Roy Greenberg MD

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