Tuesday, May 30, 2006

RE: 1 Henry VI - Going Twice...

Home stretchers,

Though we have not built much dialogue on 1 Henry VI, I have come a long way since I made my initial "note-card" remarks. As you can see I've refocused because of Randall's chivalry/ political split, and I thought his articulation of the dichotomous pairs extended my early "whole lotta bitchin' goin' on." And Ernst's "initial reactions" illuminated many matters, especially his commentary on Joan. I hope we can get "initial reactions" like this on other plays. I'd like to apologize for my pedestrian close reading of Talbot,absent the terminal scene with his son John, which Randall had covered. I just didn't get my mind loose enough to take on Joan.

I have not reread to extract Joan in the way I tried to close-read Talbot (you are all saying 'whew!'), but, as Ernst notes, she is sympathetic for much of the play. Joan has more of an internal life than Talbot, yet I wish I had systematically catalogued the descriptions: holy maid, fair maid, virgin ("they say"), peasant, "humble handmaid"; martial,"a woman clad in armor," "reverenc'd like a blessed saint"; then, magic, sorceress, witch, "foul fiend of France," "railing Hecate"; finally, "high-minded strumpet," the Dolphin's trull, "lustful Paramour," and, alas, a camp follower who pleads her belly to escape execution.

This catalogue is not in exact order and of course depends much on the speaker, but there really is an evolution from heroic to dealer in the black arts (as in the curious scene (V.iii) where Joan calls forth fiends, who then won't talk to her--in one of my favorite exchanges in 1 Henry IV, Owen Glendower boasts "I can call monsters from the vasty deep" to which Hotspur replies "Why, so can I and so can any man, but do they come when you do call for them") to scandalous woman.

I'm reminded of the first woman to write professionally in English, Aphra Behn, who because she was a woman succeeding in a male activity, got a scandalous reputation far beyond anything warranted by her works or life. Graham Holderness remarks that "chivalry and feudal militarism are masculine domains," so added to the dichotomies Randall discussed is gender (and, as I tried to develop last time, class). Joan-in-armor, though certainly romantic and heroic, is the end of chivalry. My sense is Shakespeare is sympathetic with this very complex figure, unwilling to simplify her into a mere historical artifact, and I appreciate Ernst's observation that the Act V Joan must be by another hand who had not read the rest of the play.

Also III.iii, Burgundy's "I am vanquished" reads like Dryden when his ear occasionally turned to tin -- see Anthony's maudlin melting before wife, children, friend in All for Love, when he similarly switches allegiance in a war. When Randall discusses conflict on the regional level, England vs. France, he assumes Shakespeare's audience is rooting for the home team. But here we do have a History Play. Henry V, militarily and mythically, won (or claimed or reclaimed) France, and the audience also knows it was "lost." Still Randall's conclusion that Shakespeare places the blame on factionalism is a powerful insight. The "home team" perspective does help account the shift in how Joan's character is abused by the end of the play.

Red rose/ white rose tempted me to remark on other savage internal rivalries -- red states/ blue states?

Mike, don't feel left out. We'll see you soon. Meanwhile, to your earlier commentary on the passages about the drop of water merged into the ocean (Comedy of Errors), glance at Joan's image at I.ii.133-139, that begins "Glory is like a circle in the water,/ Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself."

OK. I did read Jean Anouilh's L'Alouette (The Lark, Lillian Hellman adaptation) but I have not reread Shaw's Saint Joan. The structure is a bit like Pirandello's Six Characters, with the whole story already having taken place before the play begins. Warwick's opening speech says "Let the trial begin at once. The quicker the judgment and the burning, the better for all of us." I anticipated a French "home team," but instead the second act is solid exploration of church authority (pace DaVinci Code) and humanism. It is a really good play, and I'm surprised it seems to have disappeared from repertory. It does, of course, what Shakespeare cannot do, and that is recognize the whole existence of Joan of Arc in culture. If you have questions, let me know. I saw it twice in London in 1955, translated by Christopher Fry, directed by Peter Brook. Richard Johnson as Warwick, Dorothy Tutin as Joan, Leo McKern (Rumpole) as The Promoter, Donald Pleasence as Charles, The Dauphin. I saw it twice because I wanted to impress a girl I was dating, and I told her she looked like Dorothy Tutin.

And so to bed,

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