Monday, May 30, 2011

The Henry Explications - Part I

The following is one in a series of mini-articles resulting from an exercise I had my St. Paul Academy 2011 Shakespeare students complete. The articles focus on selected speeches spanning Shakespeare’s Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V.

This new and gorgeous garment, majesty,
Sits not so easily on me as you think.
Brothers, you [mix] your sadness with some fear:
This is the English, not the Turkish court;
Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds,
But Harry Harry. Yet be sad, good brothers,
For by my faith it very well becomes you.
Sorrow so royally in you appears
that I will deeply put the fashion on
And wear it in my heart. Why then be sad,
But entertain no more of it, good brothers,
Than a joint burden laid upon us all.
For me, by heaven (I bid you be assur'd),
I'll be your father and your brother too.
Let me but bear your love, I'll bear your cares.
Yet weep that Harry's dead, and so will I,
But Harry lives, that shall convert those tears
By number into hours of happiness.
(2 Henry IV 5.2.44-61)

Through the new king Henry V's speech to his brothers (John of Lancaster, Thomas of Clarence, and Humphrey of Gloucester) after their father's death, Shakespeare deals with the realities of succession that difficult negotiation between governmental stability and chaotic power struggle and the death of a king while keeping his character true to his personality. This speech touches on everything from propriety and external perception, to the fear that naturally comes in a shift of power, to different kinds of mourning.

Mourning, whether for a king or commoner, can also be a difficult balancing act. Tradition requires particular rituals and outward displays, while the loss itself exacts things, even less predictably. Hal, newly King Henry V, must take his place as king and reassure everyone of the continuing stability of the regency, demonstrate a proper degree of public mourning as both a subject of and the son of the former king, and deal with his own grief. Thus, when he says "this new and gorgeous garment, majesty, sits not so easily on me as you think," he is not merely trying to dispel any jealousy or thought of opposition amongst his brothers, but telling the absolute truth.

As he does with the epitaphs of both Hotspur and Falstaff in the previous play, Hal continues to use honesty in order to lend a more genuine tone to his otherwise fairly ceremonial words. He reassures them of his intention to support them by bluntly telling them that he knows they fear what he may do (implying even that they might fear for their own lives), but that it "is the English, not the Turkish court, not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, but Harry Harry." He introduces and dispels comparison between himself and a ruler who literally strangled his brothers, thus addressing the most extreme of possibilities quickly.

By the end, he assures them that not only will he not harm them, he will protect them and do well by them: "I'll be your father and your brother too. Let me but bear your love; I'll bear your cares." In that, he furthermore introduces the potentially uncomfortable issue of personal relationships. Once their brother, he is now also their king; once his brothers, they are now his subjects. He works with this beautifully, referring to their mourning and sadness for the death of their father as "a joint burden laid upon [them] all" before he moves on to the things he himself promises, thus connecting himself with them in one way even as he has to separate himself from them in another.

Gavi Levy Haskell (SPA '11)

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