Henry IV, Part I Carnival and Plot in King Henry IV - Essay

William Shakespeare

Carnival and Plot in King Henry IV

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Jonathan Hall, University of Hong Kong

Bakhtin's concept of the carnival is useful for tracing out the inner conflicts in the discourse of King Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. But, in itself the idea of the indebtedness of Shakespeare to the forms of popular festivity is by no means new. Bakhtin's contribution lies in the way in which the popular forms themselves are thought out in terms of a semiotic conflict between "monologism" and "dialogism," and this, in my view, forces us to attend to the unconscious aspect of ideological misrecognition which Louis Althusser has called "interpellation."1 Bakhtin himself avoided these problems, even though a major thrust in his theory is concerned with the historical suppression of popular, carnivalesque "dialogism" at the hands of the rationalistic "monologism" of the centralizing nation states. A helpful starting point for rethinking both history and the unconscious together is the definition of the sign given by Bakhtin's co-thinker, the Marxist Voloshinov:

[This] social multiaccentuality of the sign is a very crucial aspect. By and large it is thanks to this intersecting of accents that a sign maintains its vitality and dynamism and its capacity for further development. …

In actual fact, each living ideological sign has two faces, like Janus. Any current curse word can become a word of praise, any current truth must inevitably sound to many other people as the greatest lie. This inner dialectic quality of the sign comes out fully in the open only in times of crises or revolutionary changes.2

As it is a field of conflict, the sign can be "reaccentuated," and this challenge toestablished power within the sign underlies all of Bakhtin's arguments on the discourse of the carnival. The carnival practices, whose inversions of social, sexual, and religious proprieties had been noted earlier by many anthropologists, are important for Bakhtin because they can be seen as a form of discursive resistance to the dominant order. Therefore, the carnival figures and signs are also, like the literary text, a scene of dialogical encounter. Bakhtin develops a link between his own historical poetics and the anthropological accounts of carnival, when he argues for its laughter as a collective resistance to both primal terrors (the fear of death and supernatural forces), and the social agents of oppression together with their legitimizing ideologies. So popular resistance (which already presupposes a fairly differentiated society), creates a counterdiscourse, that of the "grotesque body," to oppose to the hegemonic discourse, with its hierarchical, sublimating, and "spiritual" values. The carnival celebration of the dispersed and collective body, in words, gestures, costume, and rituals, he argues, represents an ancient and enduring tradition. This version of the production of popular laughter is already thoroughly "dialogic" in structure, because it is constituted out of a relationship of opposition to the hegemonic discourse. Bakhtin himself does not call it "dialectical" (unlike Voloshinov) because in his view part of the negation of the hegemonic discourse turns upon an opposition to teleology, to linear history, and even to "use value," in the name of cyclically, consumption, and, above all, celebration of the visceral, excretive, and reproductive organs independently of all law. What needs to be added for the main argument of this chapter is that the displacement of bodily appetites into the "scopic drive" is an agency of deferral and sublimation. Therefore the tendency to the theatricalization of the carnival is the activity of a desire opposed to participation. Furthermore, I will argue that the deferral of satisfaction in the viewing subject is closely involved with that subject's interpellation by a purposive national narrative.

The "grotesque body," whose celebration enables the people to negate the idealizing sublimations of the dominant order, is, of course, itself socially produced. Bakhtin writes of this body as a collective mobilization of signs. As a recent commentator points out:

A severing of meaning from the body or the separation of matter and semiotic value is [thus] not possible in Bakhtin's conception, and it is precisely this interplay of matter and sign, of soma and sema, the play of a somatic semiotic, that constitutes culture for Bakhtin. Every coalition of matter and sign (i.e. every form of ideological creation, has its own language and its own techniques. It is the description of their specific morphology that becomes the focus of Bakhtin's approach.3

The "grotesque body" of Bakhtin's reading of the carnival traditions is historical and social because of the dialectic of resistance built into its every gesture and word. One consequence of this operation across the line conventionally drawn between soma and sema (i.e., between bodily drives and social meaning, or in more banal and familiar terms, between nature and culture), is that Bakhtin is investigating the same area which Freud calls instinct:

We regard instinct as being the concept on the frontier-line between the somatic and the mental, and see in it the psychical representative of organic forces.4

Bakhtin's understanding of the somatic as always social and semiotic points irresistibly in that same linguistic direction of Freud's thought concerning the unconscious which has been highlighted by Lacan in particular, as opposed to the biologistic trend inherited from the nineteenth century. In this reading, the drives are not fully explicable in terms of energy and flow but are always already inscribed in a semiotic, i.e., social order. But Bakhtin himself eschewed the emergent discipline of psychoanalysis, largely on the grounds of the scientistic "monologism" which he and his fellow thinkers thought they found in it.5 This marks a turning away from some important implications of his own theory of the "inward dialogism" of the sign.

Bakhtin's historical narrative tells how the festive traditions are overwhelmed by the centralizing, rationalistic, and ultimately bourgeois hegemony in Europe, from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. From that point, it is largely no longer a question of relativizing interplay, but of appropriation by the hegemonic order. Thus there is a second aspect to his Utopian materialism, a familiar historical narrative of the fall from a prior situation, in which the social signs of the carnival are said to have corresponded to a natural truth, which resisted social falsehood. Within this narrative of a secular fall, the "grotesque body" is an original truth, present to the consciousness of the people, and resisting, as befits a vox populi, the sublimating and oppressive lies of the ruling order. The natural presence of this body to consciousness, as a truth by which all social lies were measured and resisted, is recognizable now as a myth of plenitude anterior to the present order where the monological is said to be dominant. The historical fall in this narrative is not the supremely naive one of the fall from an actual paradise, but rather from a state of active and aware resistance to existing power in the name of a Paradise of alternative values. What Bakhtin celebrates is conscious resistance to power; what his historical narrative mourns is the loss of the possibilities of conscious resistance to the power of monologism.

It is not that Bakhtin was totally mistaken in his history of the triumph of monological discourses in the service of centralism. Although his estimation of the nature of repressed carnival laughter is almost certainly too Utopian, the real issue seems to me to be the need to theorize a textual unconscious, towards which his theory of the "inward dialogism" of the literary text, and of the carnival construction of the body as cultural text, makes a powerful thrust. For if the epoch prior to the triumph of centralism is marked by dialogism precisely because the festive, dramatic, and literary practices are a medium for intense struggles, it follows that the triumph of the centralizing hegemonic discourse is either an absolute (and impossible) obliteration of all oppositional "voices," or else their displacement into silence and "inwardness." Bakhtin's discovery of the "inwardness" of the dialogism of the sign, his denunciation of the illusion of the sign's singularity as precisely an effect of the discourse of power, is what makes his thought such a powerful tool for the reading of the texts of the bourgeois epoch. … Such "inwardness" is not a literal interiority in the subject (people have always had their secrets), but a discursive effect of monological control as it conceals the normal dialogical encounters, clashes and contradictions, in the subject and the social order alike. It is therefore impossible to understand "inward dialogism" except in terms of misrecognitions and displacements. But, at the same time this means that the "inwardness" by which the presence of the other within the subject's every utterance is concealed from the subject him/herself, is an effect of the subject's adherence to the monologizing discourses of his/her society. Thus a history of centralism is also a history of the internalization of discursive conflicts under the pressure of powerful negations.

It is not particularly new to identify Hal as the Lenten figure in the agon between himself and Falstaff as the representative of carnival, and to say that the traditional struggle between carnival and Lent provides Shakespeare with a way of organizing the historical narrative. The main issue, for my purposes, arises from Hal's triumphant demonstration that he has engineered the outcome of the plot, which he announces proleptically to the audience in the famous soliloquy about his future "reformation" in Part 1: "I know you all, and will awhile uphold / The unyok'd humour of your idleness," etc. (1.2.190ff.) In this speech, Hal theatricalizes even his own participation in the carnivalesque action by appropriating it to his intended plot. This raises exactly the same question as is raised by Bakhtin's history of the triumph of monological discourse in the service of centralism. For, as we will see, Hal makes the claim to be able to write the future narrative of the kingdom without the anarchic desires of the "grotesque" body. The question remains, however: do these disappear from history, so that "monologism" would be really "monological," or is the ancient public agon of the carnival merely displaced into the less visible public space of the audience's divided response to Hal's triumph? Isn't "monologism" really another word for the silenced agon, transformed into the space of a schizophrenia that is all the more intense because of its silence? And finally, isn't the production of the body as "grotesque" partly a retroactive justification of its repudiation?6

There is another issue here too. The carnival practices can certainly be seen in terms of semiotic resistance to the idealizing legitimations of the ruling order. But they were also part of the organization of a seasonal rural economy. Bakhtin himself spends considerable space in describing the agon between carnival and Lent, and the massive consumption of the Winter Festivals, in terms of the requirements of an economy without the means to accumulate surpluses. In this respect, carnival practices, including the December liberties, were also ways in which individuals and collectives were inscribed libidinally into a political economy, although it could not yet be called that because "political economy" is not yet differentiated from a whole range of other social practices. Indeed, it is arguable that the resistance to hegemony within carnival celebration becomes exacerbated precisely when the "monetarization" of society was destroying the settled cyclically of the rural order, making the accumulation of surpluses not only possible but imperative. The task facing royal centralism in this epoch of dispersal was not a simple and impossible return to a feudal economy. The absolutist state may indeed be aristocratic and landed in the last resort, but it had to manage an emergent capitalism in its own interests. And it also had to reinscribe the libidinal identifications of its subjects into a national center in the form of the royal personage. In terms of 1 and 2 Henry IV, the libidinal identifications of the audience with the participatory and carnivalesque figure of Falstaff must be shifted into the scopic deferred gratifications of Prince Hal's "theater." For one object of the play itself is the reorganization of audience desire in terms of deferral. And yet, in the course of doing that, it constructs a strong sense of loss around the repudiation of the anarchic drives of the "grotesque body." The gratifications and the corresponding anxious inner split which this entails will be the subject of the rest of this chapter.

Shakespeare's linkage of carnival and civil war as metaphorical equivalents in the Henriad should not be thought of as an "original" figure but as the reaccentuation of a familiar mode of discourse. Earlier literary examples can be found.7 And, moving outside the purely literary to the social text, Ladurie's admirable Le Carnaval de Romans shows how an actual popular uprising of 1579-80 developed entirely in accordance with the forms of the Mardi Gras Carnival.8 The town of Romans became a theater of war in the most literal sense; both the insurrection and the counterrevolution by the local nobility took place through the established forms of the rivalry of the reynages, i.e., through the carnival version of what revolutionary theory calls "dual power." Admittedly, it was exceptional for the street theater of the carnival to become so completely merged with the historical class struggle. But what was exceptional was that the participants were conscious of its politics and therefore took them beyond normal bounds. Ladurie's study suggests that the carnival forms were already an available discourse for channeling and containing social struggles, and that in Romans the containment momentarily broke down into dual power. Shakespeare shows the same thing happening in the Cade rebellion in his early Henry VI trilogy. There the comic is also a scene of national danger, and therefore the laughter tends, but not without "dialogical" ambivalences, towards a mockery of the feared rebellion.

Frazer and many others have argued that the European carnival had its roots in ritual and the cyclical conception of time. However, Bakhtin's more persuasive view is that the affirmation of cyclical renewal, in its carnival form, was not pure ritual but parodied ritual. It did not merely blot out history through ritual, but provided a means of dealing with it. Mircea Eliade's argument tends in the same direction when he says that the cyclical view of time served to protect men from the "terror of history" which arises from an awareness of history's linearity. This striking phrase is actually a chapter title in The Myth of the Eternal Return.9 Eliade offers a historical schema in which the conception of linear history is superimposed upon earlier cyclical versions of time. This is not the familiar "progressive" idea that cyclical time gives way to linear time, but rather that the cyclical persists in a transformed way within the linear. As a form of resistance to the "terror of history," it is submerged within the linearity that it resists. Actually, I would argue that the cyclical conception as a form of resistance could only be produced (perhaps nostalgically) from within an epoch newly conscious of the "terror" of linearity. In this sense the carnival, as it becomes theatricalized, would have represented in cultural practice a complex interaction of an awareness of history and a relativizing refusal of it. This doubleness is similar to the joke's disruptive resistance to narrative structure, and has a great bearing on Shakespeare's use of carnival motifs in Henry IV.

Henry IV is a historical play in a much deeper sense than in being a mere chronicle. The rift between Prince Hal and Falstaff is momentous, for the plot is concerned with the emergence of the new linear historical outlook, with its stern national purposiveness. In part this is pitted against feudal divisiveness, but it also struggles against the other side of the feudal economy, the "grotesque body" and the relativizing, cyclical concept of time. Falstaff is the embodiment of those values which offer protection, in Eliade's striking phrase, against the "terror of history." His ultimate casting off is therefore deeply serious.

It is remarkable how Falstaff is first introduced as a carnivalesque body which denies time:

Prince. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou couldst be so superfluous to demand the time of day.

(1 Henry IV; 1.2.6-11)

The sexual transformation of the sun leads on to reversals of order under the governance of the moon. This is Falstaff's domain, and in this context he brings up the carnival theme of the reversal of official Justice:

Falstaff. … but, prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king, and resolution thus fubb'd as it is with the rusty curb of old father antic, the law? Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.

Prince. No; thou shalt.

Falstaff. Shall I? O rare! By the Lord, I'll be a brave judge!

Prince. Thou judgest false already: I mean thou shalt have the hanging of the thieves, and so become a rare hangman.


Prince Hal's joke concerns a social reversal that was commonly enacted in carnivals, as well as in carnivalesque literature. Falstaff claims as part of his sway the abolition of execution, whereas Prince Hal reinstates it. Although Hal is participating verbally in a joking carnivalesque reversal, he is nonetheless making judgments that presage its end. It is on a similarly sinister note that the most overtly carnivalized scene of the whole play ends, the scene in the Boar's Head Inn which parodies royal authority but at the same time anticipates the actual banishment of Falstaff. The main issue then, as when it is enacted later in the encompassing play, is the incompatibility of Falstaff with the social order. Falstaff in this early comic scene pleads against the banishment that will become "real" at the end of Part 2. That is to say, the comic cyclical banishment of the Fat Man of the carnival is overlaid already with an intimation of its future irrevocability.

Within the Boar's Head scene, it is Falstaff who first impersonates the king in order to praise himself and his values. Here he is the traditional carnival king, played by himself, extolling the virtues of the body and of misrule. Then he is discrowned in accordance with the norms of carnival. And in the role of the Lenten Thin figure it is Prince Hal, the real legitimate heir, who mounts the mock throne. Later he will mount the real one to cast down Falstaff at the height of his comic hubris. Here, in this play within a play, both figures are joking, but Hal closes the scene with a grim prophecy:

Falstaff. If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharoah's lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins—but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Prince. I do, I will. [Emphases added]


The prince's reply, though still uttered as a carnivalesque parody of his father, has turned to royal command in a highly significant passage from present to future tense. Equivocation persists, but its end is within earshot. Falstaff's defense of "sack and sugar" against the lean representative of order is the same as Sir Toby Belch's riposte to Malvolio: "Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?" (Twelfth Night, 2.3.114ff.) But here Shakespeare places the traditional carnival combat at the center of a play about the emergence of purposive, linear historical consciousness. However, Part 1 ends on yet another scene of carnival resistance, the cyclical resurrection of the Fat Man of the carnival from his "death" and the reenactment of the struggle with the Thin, as Falstaff arises and stabs the already dead Hotspur. For the ethics of heroism this is mere lying, but Falstaff's words still stand affirmatively against such ethics:

Falstaff. 'Sblood twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too. Counterfeit? I lie, I am no counterfeit: to die is to be a counterfeit; for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit a dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed, [emphasis added]


Falstaff'speaks for the cyclical logic of the carnival, and for the truth of "lies." When he "kills" the dead Hotspur, Prince Hal plays along with this carnival appropriation of his own heroism. But Falstaff's denial of the heroic and the historical is nonetheless itself denied at the end of Part 2 by Prince Hal. And audiences have found this disturbing ever since.

Shakespeare's Henry IV does not simply employ carnival motifs within a historical play. The play is not historical in the mere sense of being about past events, however momentous they were. It is more importantly about a major development enacted within its own present discourse, namely the divorce of the popular and traditional carnival outlook (with its relativizing, comic, bodily anti-heroism and cyclical view of life) from the linear, historical and heroic purposiveness of the new forms of royal power and ideology. The dialogue between Prince Hal and Falstaff exists to give full dramatic measure to the break. The historical break, moreover, becomes a psychic split. It divides the audience against its own responses and forces an identification with new "necessities" (i.e., new desires which serve the demands of the emergent national ideology). Thus the carnivalesque in Shakespeare's play is not in simple continuity with the past. The carnival motifs and discourse function differently in the dramatic work by pointing to the historical impossibility of their actual continuance. Shakespeare's version of history registers a serious loss within the triumph, and that brings about the audience confrontation with its own divided response. Its gratification in the fulfillment of Prince Hal's early promise to be a true son and heir to heal the kingdom, which is a real pleasure, becomes the locus of a new anxiety and sense of loss.

Michael Bristol points out that "the Battle of Carnival and Lent is an explicit structuring device in the two parts of Henry IV." However, the Lenten figure, Prince Hal, does not intend to submit to the traditional destitution and thrashings which would place him on a par with the Fat figure:

Hal's project… is eventually to break the rhythmic alteration between the abundance of the material principle embodied in Carnival and the abstemious social discipline embodied in Lent by establishing a permanent sovereignty of Lenten civil policy.10

This policy, "the permanent suppression of misrule," in fact corresponded to the policies of established central power throughout Europe from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. As in so much else, the bourgeoisie continued a process begun by absolutism. When Hal urges the necessity of limiting holidays, he is not merely describing a commonplace truth of a psychological need for contrast but is anticipating a new kind of social discipline:

Prince. If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as work.
But when they seldom come, they wished-for
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.)
                      (1 Henry IV, 1.3.199ff.)

Lenten abstinence here takes the form of work, so that the work/holiday opposition becomes prominent, and this is a small but significant shift of the rule/misrule opposition which governs the rest of the play. Hal briefly aligns the work ethic with rule itself. In addition, this statement is part of his early monologue in which he announces to the audience his policy of pretense and his intention to throw it off at the appropriate moment. It is a meditation, offered to the audience themselves, upon the manipulation of spectators through the calculated procurement of their pleasure. His calculated construction of the plot will lead via delay to the pleasures of "clarification":

Prince. So when this loose behaviour I throw
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation glitt'ring o'er my fault,
Shall grow more goodly, and attract more
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
                      (1 Henry IV, 1.2.203ff.)

Prince Hal announces his policy as one designed to construct and then gratify the desires of onlookers. The emergence of a brighter self "better than my word" will be offered as ocular gratification. The audience that he has in mind is the realm itself, which must be captivated by the staged revelation. (And the proleptic announcement of the triumph of his policy is important because it is Prince Hal's claim to control the plot of history itself via this theatricalization.) He is playing with the desires of the realm, and creating the conditions of a future gratification, which will be the emergence of this golden self to pay the debt incurred by its contrived absence. His understanding of desire as that which is produced out of a lack will enable him to manipulate the desires of his subjects, so that loyalty will be freely given. This is Petruchio on a national scale.

It is striking that both King Henry and Prince Hal consider the art of kingship as the theatrical art of public appearance. However, this theater, which is offered as a spectacular "feast" for the eyes, must avoid any suggestion of the leading actor being consumed. When Henry reproaches his son in Part 1 with cheapening himself by too much mingling with the low, he talks of the strategy by which he won men's allegiance away from Richard II. Like his son in the earlier soliloquy, the king too describes his manipulations of his spectator subjects in terms of a holiday within an economy of scarcity and withdrawal:

King. Thus did I keep my person fresh and
My presence, like a robe pontifical,
Ne'er seen but wonder'd at, and so my state,
Seldom, but sumptuous, show'd like a feast,
And wan by rareness such solemnity.
                      (1 Henry IV, 3.2.55ff.)

For Henry Bolingbroke the essential part of his defeat of Richard took place through this calculated theatricality. The "presence" and "person" of the king are like the clothes of popish ceremony, surface appearances presented to create appetite, but not to satisfy and glut like Richard. Thus Richard's debasement in the public theater consisted in his being consumed. It is remarkable how the metaphors of consumption and scarcity double those of appearance and essence, and underlie this crucial statement of manipulable desire. Royal power depends upon spectacle, a feast for the eyes that must never satisfy the appetite. But there is always a risk for the monarch, because it is a public theater, frankly camivalesque in the sense that the power relations in the sign are dangerously reversible. Royal dominance demands the perpetual deferral of satisfaction because satisfaction equalizes and destroys distance and authority. King Richard, says Henry Bolingbroke, is the negative example because he:

Enfeoff d himself to popularity,
That, being daily swallow'd by men's eyes,
They surfeited with honey, and began
To loathe the taste of sweetness, whereof a
More than a little is by much too much.
So, when he had occasion to be seen,
He was but as the cuckoo is in June,
Heard, but not regarded; seen, but with such
As, sick and blunted with community,
Afford no extraordinary gaze,
Such as is bent on sunlike majesty
When it shines seldom in admiring eyes,
But rather drows'd and hung their eyelids
Slept in his face, and render'd such aspect
As cloudy men use to their adversaries,
Being with his presence glutted, gorg'd, and
                        (1 Henry IV, 3.2.69K)

Henry defines the spectacle for the eyes as a feast, but one in which satisfaction or the end of desire must be avoided at all costs because it entails a loss of authority on the part of the desired object. The unity of belly and eyes as organs of appetite is a threat to the "scopic arrangement" of this order. Bakhtin's "grotesque body" is felt here as precisely that, i.e. grotesque, a body with engulfing orifices, to be manipulated at a distance but not yielded to.

What the audience grasps through Prince Hal's early soliloquy, but which the king, his father, cannot know, is that Hal's strategy also is founded in the same understanding of the need to operate through deferred gratification. Hal too is strategically using the public theater of the realm. But it is a risky strategy, and the audience is alerted to the risk by the King's comparison of Hal's conduct to that of Richard II. The risk is that the monarch as spectacle might be consumed by the collective body. This is extremely important for the evocation of the audience's anxieties against the kinds of pleasurable liberation which Falstaff engenders. For the audience the remembered terrors of feudal war are dissuasively linked to the pleasures of carnival participation which threaten Royal authority:

King. And in that very line, Harry, standest
For thou hast lost thy princely privilege
With vile participation. Not an eye
But is aweary of thy common sight,
Save mine, which hath desir'd to see thee

Prince I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious
Be more myself.
King         For all the world
As thou art to this hour was Richard then
When I from France set foot at Ravenspurgh,
And even as I was then is Percy now.
                       (1 Henry IV, 3.2.85ff.)

Theatricality is necessary to Royal power but this theatricality must be freed from the risk of "vile participation," where the spectators' eyes are glutted. "Vile participation" clearly refers to the theater of carnivalesque debasement feared by Henry Bolingbroke, which the royal theater of distanced spectacle must struggle against. The audience anxiety is focused here upon the possibility of the cyclical repetition of history as the horror of civil war. Set against this anxiety is Hal's promise to "be more myself," which means to play the theatrical strategy of kingship to the limit. To "be more myself is inescapably ironic because it means to play the role of a future King, and to defer the consumption of the royal personage by the subject's eyes. For the actual audience the immediate gratifications of the prince's participation in Falstaff's festive version of the public theater are played off against the delayed gratifications of the prince's stage-managed plot, and the banishment of Falstaff. Or, to put it in other terms, the shift to theatricality and the displacement of bodily appetites onto the "scopic drive" is absolutism's response to the camivalesque threat of "vile participation."

The banishment of Falstaff appears in this play as a kind of self-repression by Hal, which is at the same time also a liberation of the whole realm from anarchic bodily desire. Before that moment the prince's relationship with Falstaff appears as a kind of self-permission to play. But it is also an occasion to study the language of his subjects, who can then be made to admire the appearance of kingly virtues. This does not mean that they are not real virtues; in fact from the point of view of the new ruling ideology which emerges with increasing emotive force, these virtues are all the more desirable because they are willed, intentional, and rationally controlled. Hal's plot is a desirable plot. The audience is brought to desire "Lenten civil policy," or scopic deferral of appetite. Satisfaction is a threat to the political order, just as it was in fact to the emergent economy of accumulation. Thus, an analysis of the contradictory audience responses set up by this play leads towards the goal of "schizoanalysis" as defined by Deleuze and Guattari, which is to show "how desire can be brought to wish for its own repression in the desiring subject." 11

At the same time it is essential to note how these redefined kingly virtues are sharply differentiated from the vice of hypocrisy (to which they are uncomfortably close) by being merged with the feudal codes of chivalry which they were in fact replacing. Thus, the audience is brought to admire the emergence of true chivalry in the prince, so that the obvious difference between himself and Hotspur (a historically crucial difference between the figure of feudal independence and the political intelligence required by centralism) is actually blurred. An outstanding example is his generous speech over the dead Hotspur, his rival in single combat. The new virtues appear rooted in feudal modes of conduct which serve to give them legitimacy. It is the Prince's character which enables the historical contradiction to be transcended. That is to say, "character" functions like a myth to reconcile a contradiction in social discourses. It is no accident that the battle in Henry IV Part 1 is represented as a series of knightly duels culminating in the combat between Hal and Hotspur. The prince's generosity is also exemplified in his intercession for the Earl of Douglas. Even in Part 2 the prince is carefully distanced from the calcualted treachery by his brother towards the rebellious nobles, though this is what ensures his succession.

Central to this display of ideal feudal behaviour is Prince Hal's reconciliation with his father. Early in the play, King Henry regretfully says that the paragon of feudal virtue, Hotspur, is more like a true son of his than his own looseliving real son. This means that Hotspur's rebellious claim to the throne is almost recognised as legitimate by the very holder of the throne himself. After all, what haunts the king is that he had actually inherited the throne, not by succession but by usurpation and murder. In painfully recognising Hotspur as more like his son than Prince Hal, the king is not only guiltily confronting the past; he is also bringing up the terrible alternative of succession through violence instead of succession through inheritance. Succession through violence is on the brink of being recognised as the truth of all legitimacy. This is crucial for the audience's emotional reaction, for it is much more important than the private conscience of a longdead king. Though the play is distanced into the past, for an Elizabethan audience the issues were very close. Succession through inheritance may be a pretense involving a certain hypocritical repression of the real facts of the origins of royal power; legitimacy may well be a cloak thrown over history; but it is nonetheless preferable to an open and perhaps more honest eruption of succession through violence. That is why the prince's declaration of himself as the true son is so emotionally powerful. It is a pledge, to the audience, that the age of murder is over. And if the condition for the end of the age of succession by murder is that you must not look too closely into the actual foundations of legitimacy, that is a gratifyingly small price to pay. But, of course, Shakespeare's histories, do bring up the buried nightmares of feudal history. They do so in order to transform them into pleasure through a new legitimizing discourse.

From this point of view, if the regeneration of Prince Hal is studied and intended, so much the better. The virtue of this 'hypocrisy' is that it knows what it is doing. The prince must match Hotspur in valor and chivalry, but he must not be carried away like Hotspur. Hotspur sees the world as a stage in which men prove themselves by their deeds. Actions, publicly recognised by a world of warriors, close up any gap between appearance and being. The prince subscribes to the fundamentally feudal notion that deeds guarantee the connection between words and "self," and therefore for him too the battlefield is a theater for the display of that connection. But for the prince the display can be manipulated; the "proving" of the "self can be managed by the "self." The gap between being and appearance is internalized as an ambiguity in the discourse and gestures of the ruler. The move beyond spontaneity, which in other contexts can be extremely sinister, is legitimized here because in the future ruler it marks an end to feudal divisiveness. Cool self-control is a better pledge for the general good in a centralized kingdom. The virtues of self-repression in the very ruler himself is the guarantor of a new national purposiveness and an imperial expansion. Hal's theatricality gratifies and inscribes its spectating subjects in a new centralizing power (particularly the offstage spectators), after confronting them with the destructive consequences which their libidinal identification with Falstaff would entail.

The plot of Henry V is the carrying out of Henry IV's advice to overcome dissension at home by wars abroad. In fact we know that Elizabeth hesitated over just such a policy but withdrew, fearing the expense, and the threat that foreign war would spread dissension at home. But the question I am touching on here is the wider one concerning the reasons why self-repression is an imperial virtue. It has a very long history ahead of it in English culture, and its heroic emergence can be seen in this play. Repression is not just exercised externally over others, as crude interpretations of ideology tend to assume. It acquires legitimacy because it is first and foremost internalized in the ruling circles or class. Centralized national purposiveness did not just happen; it emerged out of the internecine struggles of feudalism, and it replaced them as a "higher" alternative. ("Higher" here means from the standpoint of the emergent ideology and its own narrativization of history.) In this play, the triumph of the purposive Prince Hal over the spontaneous divisiveness of Hotspur and the bodily appetites of Falstaff is the heroic triumph of the new ethics. It is also the triumph over spontaneity and the submission of appetite to law in the ruler himself. This does not take the form of a "personal" crisis overcome; it takes the more public form of the overcoming of the anxieties in the audience. These anxieties can be specified. They are the desire for the fulfilment of the prince's early promise to abolish forever his own engagement with the Falstaffian world of the collective body of the carnival to the level of mere appearance, so that the real being of the future ruler is a transcendant directing will in control of all "appearances" including his own. But these "appearances" that are overcome are really not mere appearances but memories of an earlier libidinal economy. They are memories of an unrecoverable time, when direct satisfaction was not subject to deferral and scopic sublimation. Falstaff is the name of a powerful nostalgia for a time when appetite was unchanneled by the royal ego. It is this which permits the psychological readings in which the "grotesque body" is the "abjected" body of the mother, represented as grotesque precisely in order to achieve a psychic separation from its desires through a sense of disgust.12 From the standpoint of the superintending ego, the "grotesque body" (or Falstaff) is the name of an always possible disaster.

The historical anxieties over the cyclical repetition of civil war are mediated through a structure which Freudian psychology easily recognises as "Oedipal." And the important point to note is that the audience is repeatedly gratified by a negation of the Oedipal pattern of parricidal desire. Towards the end of Henry IV Part 2, the pathos of the dying king repeats with a final intensity a mistake that has been made repeatedly throughout the whole play. Prince Hal makes his famous speech on the heavy burden of the crown, and takes it up as a gesture of filial acceptance, not of eagerness to replace his father. (This makes the usual assumption that the soliloquy as address to the audience, however ambiguous on occasions, is never deliberately deceptive). But the king then awakes to have his old suspicions about his son's parricidal desire reconfirmed. This "misunderstanding" is followed by a restoration of trust which carries enormously powerful emotional connotations for the audience. The most important point is that this is not an essentially new event, but a repeated one. The same pattern is to be found early in Henry IV Part 1. Just prior to their marching off to face Percy's rebellion, the king's trust is restored after a similar speech from the prince. Again, in the battle the king joyfully welcomes Hal's action in saving his life as proof that his son does not desire his death, as the rumors report. Hal's action repeatedly underwrites his words, but nonetheless the counterversion of Hal's desires continues to weigh upon the king. When the king on his deathbed regains consciousness, the powerful final talk between father and son opens:

Prince. I never thought to hear you speak
King. Thy wish was father, Harry, to that
                             (2 Henry IV, IV.5.91ff.)

As always the audience "knows" the truth that this is not so. But such scenes can legitimately be called "Oedipal" because through their repetition they point, beyond the single event of a misunderstanding being cleared up, to a structure of regular "misunderstanding." The audience gratification lies in the public affirmation of its untruth (though this will be drastically qualified below). So far then, the audience perceives that it is the father who imputes the murderous desire to the son. On each occasion there is gratification in the confirmation of the audience's knowledge (which is also a desire) that the father is wrong in the judgment of his son, and is brought to acknowledge this truth. One might say, then, that the guilty Henry Bolingbroke has a Laios complex, as it were, producing an Oedipal projection upon the son. This projection does not have a mysterious primeval or "psychic" origin; it corresponds directly to Henry's experience of history and the normal conditions of competitive power and succession. His fears are identical to the audience's fears. The gratification is strong because the anxiety is strong. The merely familial Oedipal formulation is misleading. The real issue is the stability of the kingdom and the strong desire that succession must no longer rest on usurpation even at the level of desire. Correspondingly, the audience gratification at the end depends upon the perception of a historic shift away from the pattern of competitive murder. At the end Hal, now Henry V, publicly (and again very theatrically since his intentions are known to the audience in advance) renounces private revenge on the Chief Justice and twice addresses him as "father." That is to say that the personal rule of kings, together with private desire, is subordinated to the rule of Law, which actually guarantees his rule as father and king. The audience welcomes this rule of Law insofar as it accepts that Law alone guarantees that the historical epoch of feudal competitive desire is over.

Prince Hal does not establish himself as a "true inheritor" by the normal feudal criterion of blood lineage alone. His father, like the audience, knows that such claims are hopelessly entangled in previous crimes, and it is precisely such knowledge that has led him to impute parricidal desire to his son. Prince Hal establishes his status as a "true inheritor" by displaying the absence of parricidal desire through submission to the Law. The play makes this test of the future king's subjectivity the crucial test of legitimacy, now that the previously objective criterion of lineage has broken down into competitive chaos. Hal talks of his unwilling grasping of the crown:

Prince. Accusing it, I put it on my head,
To try with it, as with an enemy
That had before my face murder'd my father,
The quarrel of a true inheritor.
But if it did infect my blood with joy,
Or swell my thoughts to any strain of pride,
If any rebel or vain spirit of mine
Did with the least affection of a welcome
Give entertainment to the might of it,
Let God for ever keep it from my head,
And make me as the poorest vassal is,
That doth with awe and terror kneel to it.
                      (2 Henry IV, 4.5.165ff.)

It is worth remarking that Richard of Gloucester, when he seeks a spurious legitimacy, simulates the very same conditions of refusal as his strategy (Richard III, 3. 7). In that case it is a grim and grotesque joke. And indeed the step from the sublime theater to its grotesque parody is very small. There is a modern joke which runs: "Anybody who wants to be President of the United States strongly enough to campaign for the job is manifestly unsuited for it." And in Genêt's play Le Balcon, the bishop muses similarly that elevation to his post demands the display of virtues which should lead him not to desire to be bishop. These jokes all refer to the impossibility of an ideal subjectivity in the ruler (from the standpoint of the ruled at least), given the competitive conditions out of which all rule proceeds. Bourgeois democracy generally attempts to overcome this by impersonal rule, contradictorily combined with carefully regulated conditions of personal competition. And the feudal political order engendered the fantasy of the just ruler, who would be able to transcend the competitive conditions of actual power. Hal's theatricality is irreducible to such ideal simplicity, but nonetheless, his speech cited above contains this promise: "true" inheritance will replace the conditions of actual inheritance. On the surface the speech is addressed to his father. But there is a more powerful address to the audience. Prince Hal says that the only condition that should separate him from the lowest vassal is his subjective condition of sublimated desire. Like his father, the prince knows that legitimation proceeds from the gratification of his audience, but unlike the king, Prince Hal seems able to present an incontrovertible picture of sublimation.

And yet audience gratification requires just that evocation of anxiety that could be called "Oedipal" from the father's standpoint but which is politically much wider from the standpoint of the audience. The "Oedipal" repression is inscribed, in this play, as a gratifying escape from the anarchy of civil war and from the anarchic pleasures of carnival laughter. Rebellion is always equivocally there in rumors about Hal's ambitions, in his father's suspicions and accusations, and above all in Hal's youthful revel (etymologically close to "rebel", as we are reminded by Shakespeare's treatment of the Cade rebellion in the Henry VI trilogy). Falstaff represents an appetite for what power promises to provide directly, but Hal renounces appetite in favor of the Law. In this play, "Oedipal" anxieties are evoked repetitively, but with ascending intensity, in order to be denied. That denial is the gratification afforded by Prince Hal's strategic narrativization of his own participation in history. But what is denied by deed and word (Hal's) cannot really be denied as psychic potential. Such denial cannot appeal to words and acts as facts, because words and deeds are always staged to a certain extent, and Henry IV and V are the supreme masters of the postfeudal art of staging their own deeds. Only Hotspur naively acts his own character. Insofar as they are staged (i.e., always to a certain extent), words and deeds are negations, testifying to the force of what is denied. Even Prince Hal's subordination of himself to the Chief Justice at the end is powerful because it is an overcoming of potential private desire, for revenge. Thus the earlier carnivalesque usurpation of his father's authority in the Boar's Head Inn (which stands for so much else throughout) could indeed be read and felt by the audience as the truthful enactment of a normally unconfessable desire. It is precisely because the scene is carnivalesque, and therefore has the special fictional status accorded to a joke, that it is able to express truths which in "real" life (the surrounding play) would be totally disruptive.

The casting-off of Falstaff and the sublimation of Hal's disruptive desires are dramatic equivalents. In this sense Falstaff is a scapegoat. The audience's gratification also testifies to the truths within that which is cast off. Hal can say that the king's suspicions are all based on rumor and misunderstanding, a factual matter to be cleared up in the clear light of day by words underwritten by deeds. But the gratification speaks of anxieties which also arise from the facts, truths of desires whose very characterization as "lies" is reassuring, given that the alternative is continuing political mayhem. Henry IV traces the replacement of the public agon of the carnival as a mode of dealing with political anxiety by the construction of an exemplary Oedipal subjectivity. This is what links the ideal figure of the new Henry V and the new forms of gratification in the audience.

The triumph of Hal's "monological" plot is not the "last word" (in Bakhtin's sense). Falstaff is displaced, negated, but persists as a counterclaim threatening, or denouncing, the idealizing purposiveness that would abolish him forever to a former life. His abolition from the court and the king's own person is a legal fiction in the form of a willed forgetting. This staged forgetting, so necessary to the monological narrative, haunts the moment of "clarification" and relevation of the king's true nature as its negated underside. The monological narrative exists only by denying the silent schizophrenia that it installs in place of the overt public agon of the carnival. However serious the issues are, the structure of the desired closure is that of the joke. Not only does it offer itself to critical reevaluations: it seems almost to provoke them. But even a critical rereading could never fully restore the laughter. At most there is room here for a sardonic smile of recognition.


1 For some theories of the carnival, see [m.m. Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, 1968. Works on the carnival abound. For a concern with the practices of the European carnival as millennial tradition, see Julio Caro Baroja, El Carnaval (Madrid: Taurus, 1965); Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Moderr Europe (London: Temple Smith, 1978); and Claude Gaignebet and MarieClaude Florentin, Le Carnaval: Essais de Mythologie Populaire (Paris: Fayot, 1974). In Shakespearean studies, C. L. Barber, Shakespeare 's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965) is still indispensable. For a more contemporary Bakhtinian reading of the carnival as a sociopolitical practice which shapes the theatrical, see Michael D. Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York and London: Methuen, 1985). For the politics of its social containment and repression, see Yves-Marie Bercé, Fête et Révolte: des Mentalités Populaires du XVle au XVllle siécle (Paris: Hachette, 1976). And for an account of the relationship of Bakhtin's "grotesque body" of carnival discourse to bourgeois self-perceptions from the eighteenth century to the present, see Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986)]; and for Louis Althusser on ideology as "interpellation," see [his "Lenin and Philosophy" and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster, 1971].

2 V. N. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language [1930], trans, by L. Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York: Seminar Press, 1973), 23. The argument that Voloshinov's work is essentially Bakhtin's is to be found in Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1985). A summary of the counterarguments, in my view persuasive, is to be found in the Introduction to Rethinking Bakhtin: Extensions and Challenges, ed. Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson (Evanston, I11.: Northwestern University Press, 1989). In any case, nobody disputes the strong mutual influence in the dialogue between the non-Marxist Bakhtin and his Marxist colleagues like Voloshinov and Medvedev.

3 Renate Lachmann, "Bakhtin and Carnival: Culture as Counter-Culture," Cultural Critique, no. 11 (Winter 1988-9): 136.

4 Sigmund Freud, "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia" [1911], Standard Edition, volume 12, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1958), 74. See also

5 See I. R. Titunik's introduction to his translation of V. N. Voloshinov's Freudianism: A Marxist Critique [1927] (New York and London: Academic Press, 1976).

6 I explore this issue further in "Unachievable Monologism and the Production of the Monster" in Bakhtin: Carnival and Other Subjects, ed. David Shepherd (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 1993).

7 Chief among these would be the thirteenth-century poem "The Fight of Lent with the Meat Eater," cited by Bakhtin in Rabelais and His World, 289; and the famous "De la Pelea que ovo don Carnal con la Quaresma" in Juan Ruiz's Libro de Buen Amor [1343]. In this mock epic poem of about 300 pages in length, the warrior Don Carnal is supported by sausages, hams, etc., but thin Lady Lent summons the fish from the various coasts of Spain and Don Carnal is defeated and his sausages are hanged. He then stages a Spring counteroffensive in alliance with Don Amor, and Lady Lent is exiled to Rome, appropriately enough.

8 Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Le Carnaval de Romans (Paris: Gallimard, 1979).

9 Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, or, Cosmos and History trans. William Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).

10 Michael D. Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York and London: Methuen, 1985), 204-206.

11 See [note 1].

12 See [Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, L'Anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, trans. R. Hurley et al., as Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1984].

13 See Julia Kristeva, Pouvoirs de l'Horreur (Paris: Seuil, 1980), 80-105 in particular, for her use of Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger: an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970).

Source: "Carnival and Plot in King Henry IV," in Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State, Associated University Presses, 1995, pp. 215-34.