Tuesday, July 18, 2006
As far as Randall's remarks are concerned, I have been searching the web and discovered that there is a 1990 re-do of Harbage's Annals of English drama for sale in various places -- at prices only a university library is likely to pay. I suspect it is probably a fine summation of all the writing and publication hints that history provides. I will have to find a friendly library that owns one and photocopy the pages covering the years between, say, 1550 and 1615, the years that most interest me.
Then, on a different note, we watches a film called Stage Beauty last night. It purported to be about the change from men playing women to women playing women at the start of the Restoration, but it blundered through a plot and series of plot shifts and tossed-off little "truths" that its actors couldn't begin to manage -- like a miraculous 5-minute change of one character from what struck me as 19th-century acting styles (portrayed as Restoration styles -- Gil would know) to some sort of Stanislavsky "realism." Ugh. This led to MY dream which was to find myself suddenly in charge of a bunch of young people who were rehearsing a play that was going to be performed soon to me have two days to learn the part of Kent for King Lear. Sweet dreams!
There is indeed a mind of William Shakespeare, and I am sympathetic with Randall’s furrowed brow, but I am also really thrilled with The Will Shakespeare Experience to date, in that we have opened up rich and illuminating dialogue, sharp eyes, and sensitive ears. My assumptions are that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays (Chapter 3 in Jonathan Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare makes an airtight, if impatient, case) and the “text,” in my quaint definition, is the play on the printed page in front of me. I choose Riverside because it had the widest margins for me to make notes in, but I also accept that what I am reading is the cumulative effort of Heminge and Condell, then Malone, Sam Johnson … Hardin Craig, et al. I do not dismiss the efforts of the 10,000 books and articles which enrich or multiply readings, though as I confessed while summarizing Greenblatt, much of it seems more interested in translating Shakespeare into support for some alternative thesis.
I, of course, am perfectly susceptible to the same thing. I am an old New Critic by training. I admire the way you three can light up lines, metaphors, cadences, themes. And the “uber-text” that we are working up is a cumulative Shakespeare emerging from the order we choose to read the plays. The general Signet introduction has always put Comedy of Errors first (or fifth), 1 Henry VI fifth (or third) and Titus Andronicus seventh (or third). But I’m perfectly cool that we read the play we are reading, and engage, often, that inter-textual criticism, both inside the oeuvre and elsewhere — Ernst from Cambises or Gil from Dryden’s Anthony, for instance. Wherever, whatever, what fun! Yes, my Riverside Love’s Labor’s Lost includes a couple of passages that certainly must be a first then a later revised version. I hope all of us will range free.
As I write this, I am sitting under 124 monographs and essay collections (and ten—ten!!--Complete Works), and I’m planning on sticking my finger in them when the urge arises, and I would gladly account for some of them as I did with Greenblatt, but I’ll try to start with my eye, my ear, my personal experience of teaching and plays and films seen. But the primary thing I want is to hear what Ernst and Mike and Randall have to say, and I hope that dialogue emerges from that, and any- and everything goes.
For 2 Henry VI our dialogue was a bit desultory, because the host couldn’t meet the suggested dates. (Last night, to top it off, I dreamed I had three days to write a PhD dissertation, and I spent the first 24 hours eating and drinking and wandering around some fair.) The “modified Matchett” — one scene at a time — was not able to reach full fruition because the host was out to lunch … out to dinner … out to the airport. Nonetheless, Mike's focus on the Ilium metaphor was most promising, especially with Gloucester cast as Hector, the defender of proportion, balance, unity. As Gloucester anticipates that the coming political storm will even obliterate the book of memory, we can look way ahead (in Shakespeare) and back (in history) to Henry V in which such heroic deeds will be resurrected (“retro-raised?). Also Mike’s ear for irony, noting that York, among others, is a face-man, masking his scheming, is not just a key to the way I see the plot work out, but already a draft of York’s “indigested lump” of a son, Richard. I thought Suffolk’s surrogate marriage as a curious bit of history, while Mike raised it to a wry comment on character: Henry “can’t even marry his own wife.” I really respond to Shakespeare’s opening scenes—even Sampson and Gregory in Romeo—but I didn’t find much in 2 Henry VI until I had Mike’s reading.
Randall picked up the Ilium metaphor with Margaret as Helen and, limited to the first two scenes, can ask “what are we to make of Margaret?” As I tried to develop the play as drama more than as history, I noted the intense love plot of Margaret and Suffolk — other than Antony and Cleopatra, is there another such story of infidelity? I hope Mike and Randall come back here when we get to Troilus. But I thought there was continuity weakness here; despite Suffolk’s articulated plan for seduction at the end of 1 Henry VI, the liaison is not developed in 2 Henry VI until Suffolk’s exile, when we learn the affair has been continuous, passionate, obsessive. Both of Ernst’s postings sent me back to the play, this time to listen. Very rewarding.
Both Gil pieces showed that I am the most conservative among us. I used Talbot, then Richard of York to organize new territory for me, but what emerged was sort of “English paper,” or semi-interpretive paraphrase. I had argued the “tragedy” of Talbot more for thesis than discovery, and, when Ernst’s 2 Henry VI subject heading was “There you go again!” I knew I had fallen into the same rut. Nonetheless, I still would argue that 2 Henry VI is a much more complex and coherent work of drama than 1 Henry VI, so at least I think I said something viable about why I would place them in “real” historical order.
2 Henry VI turned out to be really interesting. Mike and Ernst, you should contemplate Randall’s ability to catch, then focus Suffolk’s “O, that I were a god to shoot forth thunder.” As host, I had hoped there would be discussion of the Lieutenant and Suffolk (Ernst also looked at the rhetoric of IV.i), and I would still be interested in anyone’s take on how the witches prophesy about death by water devolves into death by Walter. Is that Shakespeare himself stepping to the stage apron and saying “you guys believe in prophecy? How do you like this prophesy???” Wink, wink.
I have from Roger Sale something called “the Jacobean moment,” a time about the coronation of James I when words began to be detached from things. Perhaps, Shakespeare is looking at prophesy from this perspective. Lastly, I especially sign on to Ernst response to Jack Cade. “Cade is not an unsympathetic character.” Yes, but I also called it black comedy. Cade’s out-of-control record as a soldier in Ireland has been exploited by York to create a “commotion,” such a commotion that England needs York and his army to reimpose order. Richard gives Cade a “cover” identity, the lost twin son of Mortimer, but Cade believes it, insists he be called only Lord Mortimer, and then executes the poor little messenger who still calls him “Jack Cade,” A clerk is executed for being able to read and write. Lord Say is condemned for knowing French, “the language of the enemy.” And yet, I, too, am sympathetic. Jack Cade was my biggest surprise, and I will think about Jack Cade even longer than I will remind you, my lords, that Edward III had seven sons.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
In 2 Henry VI Mike sees "the seeds of Shakespeare's fascination with the powers and limitations of language." Gil argues that the play shows "greater muscle in both the lines and the drama itself" and that the play shows greater unity than 1 Henry VI, revolving around the Duke of York. Ernst follows with a catalog of rhetorical speeches that demonstrate "the ascendancy of rhetoric over character and politics." I put the play down and think 'I'm with Ernst; I find it difficult to believe Shakespeare wrote this before Part 1.' And I am comfortable with our assessment, that this play shows "maturation" of language and structure and characterization over the previous play, because we perceive that these aspects arrive with greater force in this play than in Part 1.
But I am also discomfited. And I would love to see an article on the dating of the early plays and the complications associated with that dating. I'm sure the result of my reading it would be a deeper understanding of my own ignorance. This is not a complaint: I am excited by the observations we have made and continue to make not only of each play on its own but in context with those we have read before and those we already know. When Ernst wrote "I am altogether ready to side with those who claim that Shakespeare wrote the better part of all these plays and did so in the order in which we are reading them," I agreed. And yet that order is artificial, based ― however informed it may be ― on speculation.
I guess I'm having a small crisis of confidence. I am fascinated with the idea of discerning the mind of William Shakespeare, his maturation, his evolution of craft and content, as we progress through our approximation of his career. Yet I find myself wondering which of my criticisms and observations are valid, textually supportable, and worth considering, and which are mere construct, reflecting a "text" ― and therefore an author ― that doesn't really exist.
I've noticed, for example, that every authority I look to has a different order for the early plays, some with coherent rationale, some not (see Harold Bloom). With no hard evidence regarding the birth order of Shakespeare's works, all of us ― amateur and decorated scholar alike ― are left to speculate, to draw legitimate though tentative conclusions based, to name a few factors, on the mumbo jumbo of literary psychoanalysis (see my assessment of the immaturity of the person writing Love's Labor's Lost),
- on the detection of possible allusions to contemporary events, plays, and people (consider our discussion of Titus Andronicus and its relationship/reaction to Kyd and Marlowe's revenge tragedies, and our use of Nashe's Pierce Penniless (1592) to both date and discuss 1 Henry VI),
- on the cross-reference of performance records (which one might suggest introduces another nagging variable as much as defines a play's creation date),
- on the quantity and quality of pre-publication revision Shakespeare may have done (and as we know 18 of the 36 plays published in the first folio appeared in print there for the first time),
- and on the amount of extra-Shakespearian sources that finds its way into each text making the previously mentioned assessments less reliable (did Will Kemp ad-lib a passage and write it in his promptbook, thereby sealing its inclusion in the posthumously published folio?).
Thus, we are critically safe when we are reading particular lines, but as we move to the relationship of passages to play or to the relationship of one play to the next, does not the integrity of the text matter? And when we invoke Shakespeare, is it important that he actually be there?
With the Henry VI plays we have an added difficulty. Bad Quartos! (When they make a movie about this, Harvey Keitel will play Shakespeare.) Apparently, two of the plays, 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI, were previously published, anonymously, in inferior forms as 1) The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and 2) The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, respectively. These latter may be by Shakespeare, or they may not. Or he may have written them, badly, then revised them years later. Or they may be "memorial reconstructions" by fellow actors of Shakespeare's actual plays. And I'm not even going to get into the plagiarism argument which suggests that he copied Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3 from the Contention plays, or the sillier Oxfordian argument that smirkingly declares that the whole confusion comes about because Shakespeare was himself … a Shakespeare stealer!
(According to Gwynneth Bowen, from whose 1972 article, "Purloined Plume," I became aware of these different points of view, Shakespeare may have simply been one of those actors who produced memorial reconstructions but unlike the others he managed to get his name on subsequent publications. Bowen calls this "a kind of squatter's right." Sigh.) Lest we write these labyrinthine quibbles off to the lunatic fringe of Bardology, Herschel Baker in the Riverside Shakespeare devotes hundreds of words in his Henry VI introduction to these questions of authorship and the relationship between the Contention plays and what we now read as 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI.
It makes my head ache. One of the things I am enjoying most about our discussion is the inter-textual criticism, the connections that arise between works, and your prodigious talents in helping me see these works in the context of Shakespeare's complete works. Maybe the actual specific order of the plays doesn't matter, and it is possible to consider them in terms of early, middle, and late plays? Maybe I juke around the possible contributions of Greene, Peele, Marlowe, Fletcher, et. al., and emendations by editors, and insertions by actors, and mis-remembering by compilers, and corruption from Bad Quartos, and take Shakespeare to be not the man but the thing I hold in my hand, the text, regardless of its origins? Is that ignorant?
I'm sure I've missed something that will put me at ease. I want to talk about the power and limitations of language, the muscle of Shakespeare's lines, the ascendancy of rhetoric. But I seem to have floated off in a small bark and temporarily lost my oars.
An anecdote: Gil and I saw Baz Luhrmann's film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet in Denver soon after it came out in 1996. We were in an audience of about 20, and were both the only males and the only people over 18. Despite the assumptions one can form from the audience in attendance, Luhrmann's film is thoughtful and complex, not merely the "MTV Shakespeare" it was dismissed as. Luhrmann layers the film with modern cultural references (like the use of Hispanic religious iconography), powerful and persistent visual imagery (water, for example, represents not only love's ability to purify the families' enmity but the lovers themselves), and sly references to the Shakespeare oeuvre.
One of these latter has mystified me for the last decade; in one scene the camera catches a billboard, hanging like the eyes of T. J. Eckleberg over Luhrmann's Miami-esque Verona Beach, for Thunder bullets. (The characters carry guns made by the "Sword" company, so that the audience won't laugh when they say things like "Put up your sword.") The ad says: "Shoot Forth Thunder." Clever. But I could never figure out where the phrase came from or if it was, indeed, even from Shakespeare.
So imagine my surprise when, after 2 Henry VI's Lieutenant dresses down Suffolk for all the evil he has perpetrated on England, Suffolk responds with: "O, that I were a god to shoot forth thunder / Upon these paltry, servile, abject drudges" (4.1.104-105). Gil can have his "Edward the Third, my lords, had seven sons..." and the t-shirt/coffee mug manfacturers can have their "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (a line my lawyer friends will be pleased to know is spoken by a Dick), but I will emblazon my future 2 Henry VI marketing tie-ins with "O, that I were a god to shoot forth thunder."
That said, Suffolk's demise may be fitting in that he gropes for the wrong analogy. If it's Zeus he'd emulate, he really wants a lightning bolt. He can, and does, thunder all he wants, comparing himself to Tully, Caesar and Pompey after the Lieutenant complains "let him talk no more." It doesn't stop the axe.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
I have not read Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, but after picking out the 2 Henry VI passages, I think I will. I know Greenblatt as a New Historicist, and I am always wary of postmodernists, but he is also the mentor of a Colorado State colleague, Barbara Sebek, whom I admire immensely. Also, starting the book on p. 167, I'd guess he is using his historicism to account for Shakespeare psychologically, another aspect that usually makes me nervous. Usually, though, the psychological folks tend to translate the text to fit their jargon, and to my limited eye, Greenblatt seems to interpret history/psychology parallel to the way I might interpret metaphors, etc. So, heeere's Stephen:
Greenblatt uses 2 Henry VI for two points:the idea of the city and the lower class, and Shakespeare's relation to Christopher Marlowe. Shakespeare is a country boy. Of the idea of the city: though certainly the site where Shakespeare remade himself, "what principally excited Shakespeare's imagination abut London were its more sinister or disturbing aspects" (162). Jack Cade, descending on London to overthrow the social order, promises a kind of primitive economic reform. "In the sequence of wild scenes, poised between grotesque comedy and nightmare, the young Shakespeare imagines...what it would be like to have London controlled by a half-mad belligerently illiterate rabble from the country" (167). "While the upper-class characters are for the most part stiff and unconvincing...the lower-class rebels are startlingly vital" (167).
Greenblatt then does a psychological job, "possibly" detecting a shakespeare self-portrait in Cade's first victim, the literate clerk, who is hung because he can read and write, noting Shakespeare's self-consciousness about what separates him from Stratford, his literacy, a self-consciousness also identified in Cade's "inveterate pretending, his dream of high status" (169). Shakespeare's fixed point of urban reference was London, even if the plays calls it Rome, Ephesus, Vienna, or Venice. Only in 2 Henry VI does Shakespeare place the London crowd firmly in the city in which he lives and works, without disguise (170). And Cade's condemnation of Lord Say for the grammar school, the paper mill, and the printing press (anachronisms) shows him "interested in the sources of his own consciousness" (171).
"Shakespeare was fascinated by the crazed ranting of those who hate modernity, despise learning, and celebrate the virtue of ignorance. And it is characteristic of him even here -- when he was imagining those who would have attacked his own identity -- that he heard not only the grotesque stupidity but also the grievance" (171). Greenblatt cites IV.vii.34-39 -- Cade condemning Lord Say for appointing justices of the peace who hang poor men because they cannot read -- with a description of how this condemns English law at the time.
Lastly, Greenblatt says the three plays about the troubled reign of Henry VI are Shakespeare's counter thrust to Tamberlaine. The Queen's men needed to write historical epic, like Marlowe's, but needed books to make an English epic. "In Shakespeare's vision of English history, vaunting ambition leads to chaos, an ungovernable, murderous factionalism and the consequent loss of power at home and abroad -- Shakespeare's petty Tamberlains, even though they are queens and dukes, are like mentally unbalanced small-town criminals: they are capable of incredible nastiness, but cannot achieve a hint of grandeur" (197). For instance, in comparison to Tamberlaine, Greenblatt finds Talbot ("shrimp") an ordinary mortal. I'm sure there is much more on Marlowe, but this is the fragment relative to Henry VI.
So, except for Mike, I just saved you part of $26.95.
Monday, July 10, 2006
When I remember listening to 2 Henry VI, I remember appreciating the poetry of the philosophical debate about leadership that rises to a grand conclusion with the affair of Jack Cade, which, for me, is the climax of the work. Next to this development, both the final battle (which is merely a kind of advertisement for the extended struggles to come in chapters 3 and 4) and, even, the arguable centrality of the Machiavellian Duke of York fall to second place.
Different from and yet -- at the same time -- continuing the rhetorical thrust of the first two acts’ prophesies and readings of fate, the often hortatory political speeches that dominate the third and fourth acts become a kind of musical theme that rises and takes over toward the
play’s end. Listening, these speeches are the leitmotif that rises up and overwhelms the listener.
There is a series of long, rhetorically effective speeches here.
3.1.4-41: The Queen’s long dissertation on how to save the kingdom from men like Gloucester, where she concludes, like Richard II’s Gardener, that the growing "weeds" in the kingdom should be promptly exterminated.
3.1.107-171: Gloucester’s extended self-justification before Parliament advocating counselors as even-handed as himself and naming the connivers who are already angling for the Crown.
3.1.198-222: The King’s long, defeatist "wail" (giving in to the Queen’s and to York’s allies), once again stating the case for counselors like Gloucester.
3.1.331-383: York’s mixture of setting forth his plans and, implicitly, justifying his own sense that a politic, "resolute" aristocrat has the most valid claim to the Throne in chaotic times.
3.2.73-121: The Queen’s lament over the incipient fall of Suffolk, describing England as an "a scorpion’s nest" and revealing the problems of self-indulgence among rulers.
3.2.242-269: Salisbury’s ("quaint orator" that he is) speech threatening the king with a popular revolt should he not banish Suffolk, a speech which brings the potential influence of the commoner mob to greater prominence.
3.2.309-328: Suffolk’s rhetorically flamboyant cursing of his enemies: one more dog has had his day.
4.1.1-14: The lieutenant’s wonderfully metaphor-filled account of a storm at sea whose death-dealing certainty parallels affairs in England. (Read this alone, if you doubt the ascendancy of rhetoric over character and politics in this part of the play.)
4.1.70-103: The same Lieutenant’s grand summary of Suffolk’s evildoings and the Yorkists’ rise in the failing English realm.And then, set up by all this speechifying, the rise and fall of the play’s most interesting character — Jack Cade:
4.2.62-81: Cade’s first announcement of the know-nothing communism that will mark his future realm
4.7.22-44: Cade’s triumphant demonstration (after taking London) that he is (like Tamburlaine) the "besom that must sweep the court clean of such filth [as Lord Say], combined with his criticism of grammar teaching and corrupt government underlings. (If all we had were the Cheney Administration, Ann Coulter, and Fox News, might not we think similarly?)
4.8.10-17 and 33-51: Clifford’s rousing speech in favor of the King’s Right that, although it counters Cade and shows the Mob to be all too easily led, also shows that clever rhetoric wins the day, which, in a way, cynically undercuts all speechifying.
4.10.1-15 and 71-75: Cade’s final remarks—starved, "Kent’s best man," retaining still a bit of humorous rhetorical flair.
After this, in Act 5, little really happens that has not been thoroughly foreseen, and only one extended speech, an echo, perhaps, of Talbot’s lament for his son:
5.2.31-65: Young Clifford laments Henry’s defeat, bemoans his father’s death, and sets himself up to kill Rutland in the story’s next chapter.
Next to this sort of stuff, made mostly to move the plot along and give us a final, not entirely decisive battle, the rhetorical chain of speeches, culminating in Cade’s rebellion, seems to me to stand out. Cade is not an unsympathetic character, I would suggest. He has a nice way with words, a humorous sense of verbal irony, and a notion of justice (a mad one, I’ll admit) and service to the realm as a whole that constitute a kind of reference point in a world driven by selfishness and aristocratic self-indulgence: a world coming apart and waiting for the devil himself to arrive before it can be set right again.
Saturday, July 8, 2006
"Although the title by which the play is today best known, Henry VI Part 2 -- which corresponds to the title that appears in the First Folio as The Second Part of Henry the Sixt -- suggests that the play is the second in a series, this play and Henry VI Part 3 were almost certainly written before Part 1."
So says Marjorie Garber in Shakespeare After All (103). For our purposes in the Will Shakespeare Experience, I am not much interested in researching her evidence or argument for this "almost certainly," but my own readings reject it. Whereas my struggles with 1 Henry VI were to find handles in what I called "note card" organization, that is the relentless data from Hall and Holinshed's historical chronicles, 2 Henry VI seems for many reasons more drama than mere history, and drama, as we know selects, simplifies, organizes, and concentrates in order to produce meaning.
Or, to put it another way, in the E.M. Forster/Gilbert Findlay distinction between "story" and "plot," story is chronology -- this happened and this happened and this happened -- whereas plot includes cause and effect or motivation-before this could happen, this happened, and then this happened, and therefore this happened. We are only at 2 Henry VI, prefaced by Suffolk's little 1 Henry VI postscript about arranging the marriage of Margaret of Anjou to King Henry, then seducing her and as a result controlling England, and followed by, I presume, the fall of Henry (I haven't read it yet) and the conflagration of Richard III.
But 2 Henry VI does have a central protagonist, though neither "hero" nor "villain," in Richard of York. It has his contrasting predecessor, The Good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. It has a complex array of antagonists: Suffolk, of course, and the Cardinal, Buckingham and Somerset, and even York's allies, Salisbury and Warwick, and his surprising instrument Jack Cade, are not lined up as simple members of the red team or the white team. Then there is a thematic conflict between the nobility and the commoners, both a class war and, at times, a parodic commentary (Cade, Simpcox, Peter Thump, Dick the Butcher, and even Walter "pronounced Water" Whitmore) on the behaviors of authority.
The Cade rebellion is a black comedy in itself. Margaret and, to a lesser extent, Eleanor seem more complex than the Countess of Auvergne or the inconsistently presented la Pucelle. The perverse romantic plot between Margaret and Suffolk is developed as drama far more subtly than what I understands history supports. Even the style perks up to dramatic effect. For instance, I noticed more "notable passages," and when Clifford speaks in blank verse but Cade replies in prose, it alerted me to the statistic that of 2 Henry VI's 3,162 lines, 448 are prose, 2,562 are blank verse, and 122 are pentameter rhymes, whereas Part 1 has 2,677 lines, 2379 in blank verse and 314 pentameter rhymes, but no prose at all (Love's Labour's Lost had 1,086 lines of prose, whereas Titus Andronicus had but 43). [Statistics from Hardin Craig, ed, The Complete Works..., 1951, p. 39]
In 1 Henry VI the conflict was between the English, Lord John Talbot, champion, and the effete and arrogant French, Joan la Pucelle savior, then toast. The York/Lancaster conflict was curiously introduced in symbolic form in the red rose-white rose scene, then sort of realized by the misdistribution of military jurisdiction in France: foot soldiers to York, cavalry to Lancastrian Somerset, that leads to the undersupported Talbot's death. We arrived at a thesis of chivalric order overwhelmed by political divisiveness. Talbot is "hero" pretty much by assertion.
In 2 Henry VI, let us start with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. "Edward the Third, my lords, had seven sons" (II.ii.10) [sorry, guys, I gotta get that line in], in which York explains to Salisbury and Warwick his rightful claim to the throne through number 3 son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence's daughter Phillippa who married Edmond Mortimer, Earl of March yadda yadda to Anne Mortimer, married to Richard, Earl of Cambridge, our Richard Plantagenet's parents, whereas we know that the Henrys, IV, V, and now VI, are son number 4 John of Gaunt's boys, and these Lancasters usurped the throne from the number one Son's son Richard II. Aseverybodyknows.
We first meet York in Act 1, when he joins Gloucester, Salisbury, and Warwick in denouncing the pusillanimous marriage treaty Suffolk has negotiated for King Henry, giving away Henry V's conquests, Anjou, Maine, and a player to be named later, for the hand of Margaret of Anjou. York's first words, "For Suffolk's duke, may he be suffocate,/ That dims the honor of this warlike isle! (I.i.124-5) give us a little wordplay, a harbinger of the extra-dramatic Shakespeare who will not only give us drama, but spice much of it with a little wit besides. York, solus, analyzes the loss of France, where he would be regent, and concludes:
"A day will come when York shall claim his own,
And therefore I will take the Nevils' [Salisbury and Warwick] parts,
And make a show of love to proud Duke Humphrey,
And when I spy advantage, claim the crown,
For that's the golden mark I seek to hit....
Then, York, be still awhile, till time do serve.
Watch thou, and wake when others be asleep
To pry into the secrets of the state." (I.i.239-43, 248-49)
So here, at the beginning, we have York revealing his plans, lie low, suck up, watch out, then seize the day. Notice he tells only us, the audience (did we have soliloquy in Part 1?), so we are alerted to evaluate York's subsequent actions through our awareness of his revealed intents. Dramatic irony. I am put in mind of Prince Hal's early "I know you all, and will a while uphold/ The unyok'd humor of your idleness" soliloquy in 1 Henry IV (I.ii.195-6) in which the protagonist reveals to the audience that what follows will be a show, until such time he is free to exercise his power.
Indeed, by the time we have "Edward the Third, my lords..." York sways the above noted Nevils to his claim: "And Nevil [Warwick], this I so assure myself,/ Richard shall live to make the Earl of Warwick/ The greatest man in England but the king." (II.ii.80-2). His ambition is now partially revealed, though we also know that manipulating the Nevils is part of his strategy. More dramatic irony. The array of obstacles that York faces is vast. King Henry possesses the crown, though possession by the "bookish," pious ("all his mind is bent to holiness"), cuckolded Henry is probably less than nine-tenths of the law. Somerset, Buckingham, and especially the Cardinal are the king's party, though they are corrupted with ambition and political intrigue, overt in their anti-Gloucester plots. Suffolk is the play's real villain, ambitious and violent, though despised by the commoners, and he is aligned with the scheming Queen, contemptuous of her husband.
Different from these, Gloucester stands most in York's way. We discussed Talbot as the last, anachronistic representative of chivalry in a raw political state. Gloucester, to me, seems more a representative of order and ethics, a humane practitioner of doing the right thing. He is a Good Man, and thus he is the one beloved by the commoners (thus, his murderer, Suffolk, is hacked to death with a rusty sword rather than ransomed by his commoner captors). When Eleanor, the Duchess, warns Gloucester that Suffolk and York and the impious Beauford, the Cardinal, are all conspiring to destroy him, his defense is pure: "All these could not procure me any scathe/ So long as I am loyal, true, and crimeless" (II.iv.61-2). King Henry's defense, "The Duke is virtuous, mild, and too well given/ To dream on evil or to work my downfall" (II.iv.72-73), is a way of unintentionally saying "naïve."
Soon we have the trial by combat of Horner the armorer and Peter Thump, who has accused his master of treason for asserting York has rightful claim to the throne. The drunken Horner is killed (death by sandbag), thus "proving" his treason. I don't quite know what to make of this, though of course the scene (II.iii) immediately follows Richard's own above claim to the throne (II.ii), so King Henry's condemnation of the little drunken armorer is absurdly trivial. The audience may note that York himself seems to be the referee in this little dumb show. Next York is one among his arch enemies in court, the Queen, the Cardinal, and Suffolk, in conspiring to bring down Gloucester, each threatened and jealous of Gloucester's ethics as well as his power, so Gloucester is arrested for treason. Gloucester at last realizes "Virtue is chok'd with foul ambition" (III.i.143) and wonderfully provides a proverb to describe such political throat-cutting: "A staff is quickly found to beat a dog" (III.i.171). The machiavellian York joins with the Gang of Three to plot the murder of Gloucester, then is able to escape complicity in the eyes of the commons, as they send him to Ireland, with an army, to quell the Irish rebellion. "Please, Br'er Somerset, don't throw me in that briar-bog.' Whereupon York offers us with his second soliloquy:
"Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts,
And change misdoubt to resolution,
Be that thou hop'st to be....
My brain, more busy than the laboring spider,
Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.
Well, nobles, well, 'tis politicly done,
To send me packing with a host of men:
I fear me you but warm the starved snake,
Who, cherish'd in your breasts, will sting your hearts." (III.i.331-3, 339-44)
It was an army he lacked, and his rivals gave one to him. Meanwhile he has seduced a headstrong Kentishman, Jack Cade, to make a "commotion."
"Why then from Ireland come I with my strength,
And reap the harvest which that rascal sow'd.
For Humphrey being dead, as he shall be,
And Henry put apart, the next for me." (III.i.380-33)
For me, this sets the stage for drama as well as history. Gloucester is dead. CSI proves he was murdered, rather than died in bed in the way the murderers posed his corpse. Suffolk is exiled, and has a passionate parting with his Queen/paramour. The Cardinal goes mad, confesses, and dies. Pirates/commoners capture the despised Suffolk and chop of his head, which later the Queen carries lugubriously around the court (Henry is a little jealous). Cade indeed raises a commotion, is rhetorically defeated by Clifford and, while eating herbs in Alexander Iden's garden (apparently historically accurate, though the garden of Iden/Eden connection is tempting), Iden captures him, and "there cut[s] off thy most ungracious head." Chaos.
Who will ride to the rescue of England? Why "From Ireland thus comes York to claim his right,/ And pluck the crown from feeble Henry's head" (That is two deposed "heads" within five lines.) "Ring bell, aloud, burn bonfires clear and bright/ To entertain great England's lawful king!/ Ah, sancta majestas! Who would not buy thee dear?/ Let them obey that knows not how to rule" (V.i.1-6). So the drama has been played. York and his sons, Edward and "foul indigested lump" Richard lead their army, while poor King Henry laments "O where is loyalty?/ If it be banish'd from the frosty head,/ Where shall it find a harbor in the earth." (V.i.166-68). The drama ends with York's triumph at the battle of Saint Albans, and Warwick declares victory: "And more such days as these to us befall! (V.iii.33). Only History knows how many more "falls" are yet to come.Gilbert