The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0922  Wednesday, 21 April 2004

From:           Dan Smith <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 21 Apr 2004 09:55:28 +0100
Subject: 15.0897 New Henry V Film Coming Out Soon
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0897 New Henry V Film Coming Out Soon

Sean Lawrence wrote

"I suppose that my quibble with a lot of recent criticism is the
implication that valourlessness, being unwilling to fight for anything,
equates with virtue"

The 'Hero path' is perhaps the major human story. All heroes must
struggle to surmount obstacles and take personal risks which demand
courage and tenacity and transcend any petty self-interest, including
the self-interest that demands self-preservation at all costs. No hero
in literature can be indifferent to the world and, in my opinion, no
valid criticism of Shakespeare could claim he equates lack of valour
with virtue.

"valour itself is condemned in the condemnation of its exaggeration or
misapplication by Macbeth or Othello."

What condemns Macbeth and Othello is not their valour, their willingness
to engage in courageous struggle and to make sacrifices, but their
weaknesses.  They are both swayed by others who play on their fears and
desires. The paradox in their natures is that, like a diamond, they are
so strong in one plane but so weak in others. It is true that if their
personal courage had not enabled them to kill before then they might not
be able to do the harm that they do, but that is not an argument for
cowardice. When Macbeth and Othello are vanquished by their vices their
valour is corrupted until it becomes merely a capacity for violence.

"Nobody seems to be debating whether the courage of soldiers is being
squandered in Iraq"

Shakespeare does when Williams debates the causus belli in a most
eloquent speech about war:

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument?" Henry V (IV.i.2006)

Williams also knows that, like modern leaders distant from the
battlefield, Henry need not share their fate for "when our throats are
cut, he may be ransomed, and we ne'er the wiser." Despite all this,
Williams fights - this is valour.

I think the comparison Hugh Davies' students made with T&C is well made.
  There the corrosive stalemate of the siege of Troy erodes everyone's
valour, despite their constant talk of it; in the end all that is left
is the butchery of Hector.

 >We treat Henry V as a simple tyrant and then compare him to a cartoon
 >version of the current US president.

I am certainly not claiming that Henry is a simple tyrant (the most
extreme slant on him is that he is a complex tyrant!) and only time will
tell whether freedom or a greater tyranny will emerge from the chaos in
Iraq. I should refrain from debating whether we have a cartoon US
president though...

Dan Smith

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