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Readers and Seers: Henry V

  • Gary Taylor

Abstract

Many critics intensely dislike Henry V. The play and the protagonist now often arouse a pitch of opprobrium like that which Coleridge once reserved for Measure for Measure. But both the play and the protagonist have been applauded by centuries of audiences; indeed, critics have often clapped in the stalls before going home to hiss. Those who have defended the play and the character have done so in terms of the theatre, or — more recently — have defended the play at the expense of its hero (assuming or asserting that Shakespeare found him as distasteful as they do), or defended the character at the expense of the play (assuming or asserting that Shakespeare meant to make a hero but didn’t know how, and bungled it). The play and the character are still sometimes openly branded artistic failures; more subtly, and more commonly, ironic interpretations of the play all depend, one way or another, upon accusations of aesthetic failure: a failure of Henry’s rhetoric to convince, a failure of the subplot to be very funny, contradictions of detail or direction.

Keywords

Language Lesson Final Scene English Army English Soldier Henry Versus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1912), trs. and ed. James Strachey, rev. Angela Richards, Pelican Freud Library 6 (1976) 189.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Hazlitt similarly complained that Edmund Kean as an actor depended too much ‘on the expression of the countenance, which is a language intelligible only to a part of the house’ — A View of the English Stage; or, A Series of Dramatic Criticisms (1818), in Works, ed. P. P. Howe (1930–4) v, 179–80.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    See Charles Beecher Hogan, Shakespeare in the Theatre 1701–1800, 2 vols (1952, 1957) I, 194–202, and II, 277–94. The absence of Alice from every surviving cast list in the century is better evidence than the scene’s omission from Bell’s Acting Edn (1774), since Bell also omits the Chorus, who was often acted. Conceivably, though, Isabel could have taken Alice’s part. Johnson’s own comment is in the past tense, probably referring to the scene’s presumed effectiveness in Shakespeare’s lifetime.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    M. M. Mahood, Shakespeares Wordplay (1957) p. 41.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    M. L. Radoff, ‘Influence of French Farce in Henry V and The Merry Wives’, Modern Language Notes, 47 (1933) 427–35. J. H. Walter, in the new Arden Henry V (1954) p. 69, cites this article approvingly, as does H. J. Oliver in the new Arden Merry Wives of Windsor (1971) pp. lxii–lxiii.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Aaron Hill, King Henry the Fifth; Or, The Conquest of France, by the English. For evidence Hill was poorly received, see Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage, II, 401.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    Charlotte Lennox admitted that ‘the Dialogue is not without wit, liveliness, and humour’, but then pinpointed what was, for the eighteenth century, its unforgivable fault, that it was ‘so utterly void of Propriety that we lose all Idea of the Dignity of the Persons who manage it’ — Shakespear Illustrated, III, 137.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    Hilda Hulme, Explorations in Shakespeares Language (1962) p. 206.Google Scholar
  9. 35.
    Michael Goldman, Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama (1972) pp. 58–9.Google Scholar
  10. 47.
    William Babula, ‘Whatever Happened to Prince Hal? An Essay on Henry V’, Shakespeare Survey, 30 (1977) 47–59. Quotations from pp. 50 (nos 2, 6), 51 (no. 1), 52 (nos 3, 4), 53 (no. 5).Google Scholar
  11. 48.
    A. D. Nuttall, speaking of this tendency to hear echoes and repetitions, observes that ‘among professional teachers of literature it can easily get out of hand. The teacher of literature is artificially directed, by the terms of his job, to elicit such repetitions’ — ‘Realistic Convention and Conventional Realism’, Shakespeare Survey, 34 (1981) 34.Google Scholar
  12. 55.
    Vernon, Psychology of Perception, p. 159; Miller, Psychology: Science of Mental Life, p. 62.Google Scholar
  13. 59.
    Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, 2nd edn (1974) p. 63.Google Scholar

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© Gary Taylor 1985

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  • Gary Taylor

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