The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0871 Wednesday, 14 April 2004
Date: Tuesday, 13 Apr 2004 12:11:08 -0500
Subject: 15.0865 New Henry V Film Coming Out Soon
Comment: RE: SHK 15.0865 New Henry V Film Coming Out Soon
To me, Prince Hal is a poorly understood figure, even (or perhaps
especially) by highly educated people who should know better.
Historically, Hal was a fighting man. He was born in 1387 and 16 years
later fought for his father at Shrewsbury, sustaining serious wounds. He
subsequently fought a number of other battles, most famously the one at
People nowadays, especially of the class that constitutes the highly
educated, are often antagonistic toward this type. They / we may be
morally right in holding this antagonism, but we need to keep clear that
this is a moralistic bias.
In general, Shakespeare presents true fighting men as admirable until
they do something (such as murdering a king, a wife or a friend) that
causes their downfall. Their opposites-Richard II, Henry VI, Falstaff --
are usually viewed with contempt.
It is very important that we not read into Shakespeare's Hal our own
prejudices against a type we find dangerous, stupid, and self-indulgent
-- unless our desire is merely to gratify those prejudices rather than
involve ourselves as much as possible with the characters given.
(As an aside ,I find much the same kind of prejudice operating in the
readings (or misreadings) of Old Hamlet, Young Hamlet and Fortinbras.)
It is, of course, a fundamental right to read any text we like with
whatever prejudices suit our fancy. And, of course, they wouldn't be our
values if we didn't think they were correct. But other people have held,
and still hold, other values, and write literature, some of it great,
based on them. To savor fully this literature we need not only to be
aware of these other values but to adopt them, at least momentarily.
To fight bravely, to attack traditional enemies with little cause except
traditional enmity, to defeat them (even humiliate them) -- these may
mean little to us. They may even repel us for we have lost nearly all of
the medieval ideal of fighting as an end in itself, and we don't hate
and fear France. Thus, without some effort, the context of the glory
accorded to Hal will be simply blank, and without the context the
meaning of it will be misunderstood.
In particular, we will start seeing illusory ironies that better fit the
intellectual world of 2000, than that of 1400 or 1600. And we will think
we are judging characters when in actuality we are judging eras
To me, Prince Hal and George W. Bush have almost nothing in common.
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