Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2 Henry VI - Closure

Randall’s last, his “small crisis of confidence,” worries about the vast too-much discovered country of the thing called Shakespeare that we are exploring. Perhaps I provoked this with my too-cavalier rejection of Marjorie Garber’s assertion that Henry VI, Parts II and III were “almost certainly” written before Part I. I took this “know-nothing” stand in order to attempt to argue for the superiority of 2 Henry VI as a piece of drama as opposed to an animated pageant of history, though I perhaps came off as an unsupported version of Jack Cade’s rejection of the entanglements of literacy. Randall recognizes that Mike raised the powers and limitations of language and Ernst the poetry of the philosophical debate about leadership. Randall himself, limited to one scene, penetrated the effects of dramatic pairing. My Shakespeare students were forbidden to write “Shakespeare believes…,” because in each reading of the play, the dramatic plot is always developed through “on the one hand Hotspur, but on the other hand Falstaff” or “although Gloucester believes in ethical, public order, yet Gloucester is touchingly supportive of his humiliated wife.”

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.


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