Wednesday, August 2, 2006

3 Henry VI - Opening Remarks


I'm only a bit tardy because that's clearly become the fashionable thing to do with this crowd.

Given that we're two thirds of the way through this, I'm not really introducing anything -- I just have some a thought, and some potential implications, to throw out there. Pick them up if you find them interesting; cast them away, if not. And let discussion commence as soon as the spirit moves you.

I find Richard fascinating. (That's Richard (Gloucester), soon to be R III.) And one of the things I'm interested in tracing, as we funnel into Richard III, is how he's sketched here, in the antecedent to Richard III, which has historically been one of Shakespeare's most popular and oft performed plays. (And the first play that we'll encounter in this experiment that I've actually read. Hoo-ha!) So where did this deliciously clever, triple ironizing, strangely magnetic fellow come from?

Milton Crane puts it like this in his intro to my Signet Edition: "For the more sophisticated, 3 Henry VI reserves yet another reward -- that of watching the early development of a major character, Richard III, from his beginning as a strong, courageous, admittedly brutal, but not yet frankly villainous figure to the monster who will meet deserved destruction on Bosworth field."

Here are some of his final lines from this play: Act 5, scene 6:

The midwife wondered, and the women cried,
"O Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!"
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl and bite and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crooked my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word "love," which graybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another
And not in me: I am myself alone.

I hear a lot here.

Hints of an early map for existential isolation, to be sure. And, in the powerful pentameter of "I am myself alone," framed by the caesura and the period, I hear the burgeoning (and somewhat frightening) power of the atomized individual, unfettered by communal or moral bonds. This presages a very modern notion of what it means to be a "man" in the world, the uber-capitalist, (he's a creature of appetite, "born with teeth"), the superman, etc., and it's mesmerizing, more than a little seductive, and frightening, all at once.

How did this world of Shakespeare's deliver this fellow to us? How much is he a product of the York/Lancaster feud? (And does this civil strife echo in later plays, such as Romeo and Juliet?) Is he the monster created by his world to end the fight? To what extent are these three plays merely an illustration of powerful individual will rising up again and again, (Jack Cade, Joan of Arc, etc.), to be held repeatedly in check by a somewhat tired framework? Are the seeds of democracy, in some form, gestating in these words? (The dark, corporate, amoral form we inhabit today?) Or is it just the id being released on stage, for our vicarious pleasure, before being stuffed back into a dark corner by the end of the play? I find Joan, and Jack, and little Ricky to be very vital characters, often the emotional center of what's happening, a bit like Satan in Paradise Lost? What do you all think?

And, yes, all the threads we've currently started upon are also still fair game.


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