In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I the theme of anarchy versus order runs through the action of the play from beginning to end. On a purely political level, of course, the notion of monarchy, or order, personified by Henry IV and his son Hal, is seen in opposition to the rapidly declining feudal ideal, of which Hotspur and his family are prime examples. Quite clearly the anarchy of feudal divisions of land and power had brought England to the point of disaster more than once. On the level of characterization, however, it is somewhat more difficult to trace the relationship of anarchy and order to individuals; it really depends upon the point of view which one chooses to adopt.
As the play opens we find Prince Hal living a wild and riotous life, under the influence of Falstaff. King Henry, who consistently stands for order in this play (if we ignore the disorderly way in which he seized the crown for himself), is quite obviously displeased with the turn his son's life has taken, and indeed considers the idea that Hotspur might be a more appropriate successor than Hal. Initially, then, from the point of view of characterization, we might think that the anarchy of Hal and Falstaff was to be opposed to the order represented by the King and Hotspur. But upon closer examination we find that in the first place there is method to Hal’s behavior, and in the second place Hotspur is again and again referred to as a "rebel". If we read the play carefully we realize that from the beginning it has been Hal's intention to reform, and indeed to dazzle the world with his honor, his stability, and his dedication to the order of the kingdom. Thus, the embodiment of irresponsibility and anarchy in the play is to be Falstaff alone. We must distinguish carefully between the philosophical anarchy of Falstaff and the political anarchy of Hotspur.
John Falstaff, the delightful comic hero of the play, is indeed irresponsible; he is free. He refuses to follow other people's ideas on how he should act, and thus he is liable to do almost anything at any time. He will not be bound by "honor", if that means being killed for a cause which isn't all that important anyway. He is spiritually an anarchist, and his humor and joke playing create a delightful chaos around him. Hotspur, on the other hand, is an honorable and brave man, who fights and dies for his cause, never quite realizing that defeat is possible. Ironically, the spiritual anarchist takes credit for killing the political anarchist and it remains for Hal to bring order to the chaos at the close of the play. The King himself, surveying the remains of the battle, says "Thus ever did rebellion find rebuke", referring perhaps not only to the dead Hotspur but to the soon to be disfavored Falstaff.
As we trace the alternation of rebellion and authority, of anarchy and order, through this play, we find most often that they are ironically related. Thus Hal uses the contrast towards the two to bring himself into prominence; the King contrasts his "wild" youth with his responsible old age; Falstaff insists upon his freedom but is most happy when he is under the protection of the authority of the King and his son; Hotspur feels that only through rebellion can "order" be restored; and finally, the King, who came to power as a rebel in his own right, ends the play with the vow that "Rebellion in this land shall lose his sway."
(This entire section contains 636 words.)
order are thus, in this play, relative concepts. Shakespeare leaves it to his readers to form their own opinions, based upon countless examples, of the worth of the terms and the concepts they represent.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze several important words in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, to follow their use throughout the play, and to indicate their various meanings, the ways in which they define characters, and the ways in which they relate to the major themes of the play.
The central concept surrounding Falstaff as he moves through the first Henry to the second is that of honor. Is he the endearing, uproariously funny scoundrel we first believe him to be, or is he a cowardly liar? As we trace the use of "honor” we find that Shakespeare uses the word to illuminate not only the character of Falstaff, but to shed light upon the concept of honor as it is interpreted by Hal and others in the play. The most famous use of the word in this play occurs in Falstaff's speech:
Can honor set-to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? no. What is honor? a word. What is that word, honor? air. A trim reckoning!—Who hath it? he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth be hear it? no. Is it insensible, then? yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it: honor is a mere scutcheon:—and so ends my catechism. (V,i)
While we know quite well that Falstaff is not a brave man, yet he is clearly more honorable than anyone else in the play. Thus this speech indicates not the man's subjective estimate of honor, but rather the extent to which the word and the concept have become meaningless to the majority of men. Falstaff is articulating in essence that in the fiercely competitive and bloody world of war, of the rapid crowning and dethroning of kings, the man who has "honor" will not live long. From this last act perspective, then, we should return to the beginning of the play and see the ways in which Shakespeare has used this word with the above concept as the underlying meaning.
The King is the first in the play to employ the word, which has its own irony considering the methods he used to obtain the crown. He is heard to complain as he compares his son Hal with the son of Northumberland, Hotspur; whom he calls "A son who is the theme of Honor’s a tongue". (I,i) The next time the word appears it is on the lips of Hotspur himself, who is damning the King and urging his father and Worcester to "redeem/ Your banish’d honors and restore yourselves . . ." (I,iii) In the contrast between these two speeches one can easily see Shakespeare’s notion that the concept of honor and its embodiment seldom come together in the reality of a single person. Both Hotspur and the King believed in "the undegenerate chivalric conception of honor" which "was a lofty one. Under it trial by battle, and war, became religious affairs."1
Honor is thus, as Falstaff says, nothing more than a word, for it expresses a concept which can be conveniently twisted to support whatever side of the battle one is on. For Hotspur, who repeats the word almost immediately, "honor" is the quality he possesses which will "grapple" with the "Danger" which is King Henry. (I, iii) And again, the word is repeated by him as a synonym for victory: ". . . methinks it ware an easy leap,/ To pluck bright Honor from the pale-fac'd moon". (I, iii) Two lines later the word again appears as Hotspur boasts of his ability to ". . . pluck up drowned Honor by the locks", almost personifying the concept as a drowned woman, referred to in the following line as "her". (I,iii)
To contrast Hotspur's use of the word, the next time it is spoken it is by Hal, in conversation with Poins, and in reference to his proficiency in drinking: "I tell thee, Ned, thou hast lost much honor, that thou wert not with me in this action." (II,iv) The word here may be equated with manhood, or pride in the cruder accomplishments in life. Thus Hal is linked here with the Falstaffian tendencies in his life, in a way which seems to confirm his father's original comparison.
Indeed, the King is the next to use the word and he uses it again to compare his son to Hotspur, this time in a direct challenge to Hal: "What never-dying honor hath he got/ Against renowned Douglas!" (III,ii) The word here is used in the sense of popularity, for the King is primarily concerned with Hotspur’s fine public image in contrast to Hal's. The Prince, however, takes up the word and throws it back at his father. He sarcastically calls Hotspur a "child of honor and renown" and says that "For every honor sitting on his helm,/ Would they were multitudes, and on my head my shames redoubled!" (III,ii) Quite clearly Hal has seen through the standard interpretation of honor, "the integrity of the soul before God."2 He is aware that his own shame and Hotspur's honor are not so very different.
Hotspur is called "the king of honor" by Douglas (IV,i) and here the word is synonymous with strength or potency, particularly in battle. It is used next as a pun by Falstaff to Hal: "I thought your honor had already been at Shrewsbury." (IV,ii) In Act IV, scene iii, Vernon speaks of "well-respected honor" as his impetus for being truthful, an irony indeed. Falstaff's speech on honor, previously cited, contains the next uses of the word.
When Douglas confronts Blunt on the plain, Blunt asks "What honor dost thou seek/ Upon my head?" (V,iii) The honor spoken of here is ironic for Douglas believes that Blunt is the King; he kills him, thinking of the praise he will receive from Hotspur. Instead, the "honor" turns into embarassment at having killed the wrong man. As usual, Falstaff has the final word about this matter, for he happens upon Blunt's body and says "Sir Walter Blunt: there's honor for you!" (V,iii) The word here is an echo of his speech on the subject—honor is the province of the dead. He says "I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath: give me life, which if I can save, so; if not, honor comes unlooked for, and there's an end."
The connection of honor and death concludes the play, for as Hotspur and Hal finally meet in battle Hal declares "All the budding honors on thy crest/ I’ll crop, to make a garland for my head." (V,iv) Hal kills Hotspur, yet grudgingly admits that his own concept of honor (or his own ambitions) and his rival's were not so different. Again, Falstaff has the final word, as he takes credit for killing Hotspur and says to Hal "if your father will do me any honor, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself." (V,iv) Indeed, here the word is honest in its meaning, if not sublime. Honor is whatever reward one feels one wants and deserves.
Shakespeare's purpose in repeating this word throughout the play seems to this reader to indicate that when the finest men in the kingdom are so power-hungry that they no longer care to examine their actions and motives in terms of the honor which is the integrity of the soul before God, a disintegration of the concept itself must result. This is the milieu with which Shakespeare is working, and the dramatic difficulty of the situation is obvious: if honor is dead as an ideal, then we cannot find an honorable man. And if there is no answering to God, and not the slightest care about the future of the kingdom other than on the level of personal gain, then chaos reigns. The use of the word honor in the play as a whole illustrates the skepticism which Shakespeare felt towards the motives of those who constantly protest that they act out of unselfish desires to do the best for the most people, a claim which each of the major characters in this play makes.
The dishonorable man, and in particular the dishonorable man who has a measure of power, has the most to fear, for he has surrounded himself with equally dishonorable allies. The man who speaks of honor in the court and on the battlefield, and who nevertheless knows within his own conscience that he is not faithful, not honorable, will be like Hotspur, unable to sleep; he knows that eventually his lies and pretensions will catch up with him. In the final analysis one can easily agree that "when the play is done, there is about as much left of 'honor' as there was of the divine right of kings at the end of Richard III."3
We shall very briefly discuss the use in the play of the word "counterfeit", for it is connected with "honor" very intimately in the poet's mind. It is first used by Falstaff, to Hal: "Never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit; thou art essentially mad, without seeming so." (II,iv) The line has meaning on two levels. First, of course, it refers to the coming rejection by Hal of Falstaff, who is indeed a 'true piece of gold'. And secondly it refers to the later action involving the counterfeiting of the king.
The remaining uses of the word are clustered in Act V, scene iv, where it is used six times in rapid succession. The rhetorical effect of such use adds to the essential ambiguities of the word and the concept. Douglas meets the real King on the battlefield and says "I fear thou art another counterfeit", having just killed Blunt by mistake. Of course the meaning here extends to the fact that King Henry is a counterfeit king, having deposed and murdered Richard, and Douglas feels that Hotspur is the rightful heir to the throne. Counterfeit has thus been taken to mean fake, something other than the real thing. Yet Falstaff uses the word again, this time as a verb, and then a noun, and then as a verb again:
'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 dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.— Zwounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead: how, if he should counterfeit too, and rise? by my faith, I am afraid he would prove the better counterfeit. (V, iv).
From this complex maze we can extract at least two meanings. Literally, of course, Falstaff is talking about his feigning of death on the battlefield. To counterfeit here means not quite to fake, but to seem other than one really is, and this is the meaning of the word which Shakespeare wishes to convey, for the final line in which Falstaff says that Percy would be a better counterfeit is really a dig at Hal. In essence, Falstaff sees through even his friend Hal and understands the many ways in which Hal wishes to seem something other than what he is. The word has almost become synonymous with the title of King. The fact that Falstaff makes the major comments on both "honor” and on "counterfeiting" points to their importance in the play, which is indeed about counterfeit kings, and honorable men.
Notes 1. Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago 1962), p.166.
2. Ibid., p.187.
3. Ibid., p.167.
Bibliography Clemen, W.H. The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1951.
Dean, Loenard F. Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Goddard. Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Mahood, M.M. Shakespeare's Wordplay. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.
Muir, Kenneth and S. Schoenbaum, eds. Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press, 1971.
When we examine selected history plays of Shakespeare we find that the playwright made extensive and varied use of political satire within them. Richard III, Henry IV, Part I, Henry IV, Part II, and Henry VIII all evince strains of political satire, although history, not satire, was the playwright's focus in each work. Moreover, political satire is handled differently by Shakespeare in Richard III, Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry VIII. In Richard III we find that political satire revolves around the character and machinations of Richard. In Henry IV, Parts I and II, we find political satire to be more pervasively present as it extends from the throne to the taverns of Eastcheap. As we are informed in the Prologue to Henry VIII, Shakespeare's purpose in this play is not to entertain, but, nevertheless, an extremely subtle form of satire is presented within this work. In this paper we shall provide a detailed analysis of political satire in each of the above-mentioned plays, making points of comparison and contrast among the plays in the course of our discussion.
In Richard III the figure of Richard dominates the narrative line and political satire is centered around Richard. Richard's machinations are, in fact, instances of political satire in which the nation’s affairs are determined by brutality and ruse. Hence, when Richard calms the fears of Clarence, having previously acted as the driving force behind his brother's imprisonment, we cannot help but smile at Richard’s ironic observation, "Well, your imprisonment shall not be long/ I will deliver you, or else lie for you." Here the irony is two-fold for it is certain to Richard that Clarence's imprisonment will not be long, Clarence's head being intended for the block, and it is equally certain that Richard has 'lied' for Clarence, having fabricated the grounds for his imprisonment and execution. Richard’s plots are the epitome of all that is heinous in politics, and his plots are so monstrous that they contain a humorous aspect. For example, when Richard complains of those "That do conspire nay death with devilish plots/ Of damned witchcraft," the irony is more than evident. Equally ironic is Richard's assumption of protector to Prince Edward. Here Richard admonishes his young charge:
Sweet Prince, th' untainted virtue of your years Hath not yet dived into the world's deceit; No more can you distinguish of a man Than of his outward show; which God, he knows, Seldom or never jumpeth with the heart.
What greater irony can there be than Richard, the embodiment of deceit, expounding on the existence of deceit in the world. These instances are all examples of political satire, for the manner in which Richard conducts his plotting is completely unprincipled, in playing that political fortunes are made by cunning, not virtue.
Richard is a master of subtle argument. Repeatedly we find Richard using some clever device to extricate himself from a delicate position. Thus we find the following exchange:
Anne:Villain, thous knows’t no law of God nor man: No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.Glos.: But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
Later Richard reveals in his trickery against "many simple gulls" reveling in his ability to change minds through slippery argument, "But then I sigh; and with a piece of Scripture/ Tell them that God bid us do good for evil." Richard, we find, is a master of political rhetoric. He has the capacity to alter minds through the most specious of arguments, a quality singularly suited to the politician. Richard’s ability to defend untenable positions through subtle argument is a commentary upon the ability of the politician to manipulate his fellows through argument.
It is through Richard that we receive the most scorchingly humorous portraits of courtiers. Take for example Richard’s acerbic characterization of his political enemies as fawning fops:
Because I cannot flatter and speak fair, Smile in men’s faces, smooth, deceive, and cog, Duck with French nods and apish courtesy, I must be held a rancorous enemy. Cannot a plain man live and think no harm, But thus his simple truth must be abused By silken, sly insinuating Jacks?
Aside from the obvious irony involved in Richard's protest here we find that this piece is a marvelously satirical account of courtly folly. For Richard, "Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front," and now, "capers nimbly in a lady's chamber/ to the lascivious pleasing of a lute." Of course, like everything from Richard's mouth, we may take this commentary with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, independent of their being Richard's pronouncements, these depictions of the foppery of court life are, in themselves, pieces of political satire.
Of all the incidents which occur in Richard III certainly the most humorous from the standpoint of political satire occurs in Act III, scenes v and vii, in Richard's attempts to sway the polity toward his kingship. Richard gives explicit instruction to Buckingham, counseling on how to gain the favor of the Mayor of London and his post:
Infer the bastardy of Edward's children: Tell them how Edward put to death a citizen, Only for saying he would make his son Heir to the crown. . . . Moreover, urge his hateful luxury, And bestial appetite in change of lust; . . . Tell them, when that my mother went with child Of that insatiate Edward, noble York My princely father, then had wars in France; And, by just computation of the time, Found that the issue was not his begot.
Richard knows how to appeal to the polity, through purple suggestion and waving of the bloody flag. Richard is adept at touching that which is worst in man, fully cognizant that emotional and colored diatribe is superior to reasoned argument in dealing with the masses.
If Richard’s instructions to Buckingham are amusing, even more so is the response which they elicit. Reporting to Richard in response to Richard's inquiry, "what say the citizens?" Buckingham details:
No, so God help me, they spake net a word; But like dumb statues, or breathing stones, Stared at each other, and look'd deadly pale. Which when I saw, I reprehended them; And ask'd the Mayor what meant this wilful silence: His answer was, The people were not used To be spoke to but by the recorder.
The English polity, in this characterization, is a confused lot. Their reaction to the speech, according to the Mayor, is less to its content and more to the form of its delivery. The silence of the crowd toward Richard's kingly claims is a species of political satire which finds the polity to be a less than adequete repository of political power and a completely ineffective safeguard of the commonwealth.
Richard, of course, eventually succeeds in gaining, or at least neutralizing the public. However, Richard must still appear modest and 'unworthy' in the fashion of the reluctant politician. Hence Richard demures:
Definitively thus I answer you. Your love deserves my thanks; but my desert Unmeritable shuns your high request. . . . Yet so much is my poverty of spirit, So mighty and so many my defects, That I would rather hide me from greatness— Being a bark to brook no mighty sea— Than in my greatness covet to be hid.
In the age-old fashion of politicians we find that Richard, having clawed his way to the throne, now, with extremely false modesty, appears to shy away from it, even though all are aware of his plan to accept. This bow in the direction of political decorum is, indeed, ironic, considering the depths Richard has stooped to to obtain the crown, and represents another example of Shakespeare's use of political satire within Richard III.
In Henry IV, Part I, as in Henry IV, Part II, Shakespeare has dispersed political satire much more pervasively than in Richard III. Here political satire extends from the throne, to the camp of the conspirators and to the doings of Falstaff and his zanies. A great deal of the work's political satire revolves around the unseemly contrast between Hal's royal status as heir apparent and his association with the lads of Eastcheap. We get some inkling of this contradiction in Henry IV's wish that, "O! that it could be prov'd/ That some night-tripping fairy had exchang'd/ In cradle-clothes our children where they lay/ and call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet." Indeed, at the outset of Henry IV, Part I, Hotspur's honor is seen in sharp contrast to the debaucheries of Hal and his vulgar cohorts. The contrast is more than evident in Act II, scene iv, in which Falstaff assumes the role of Henry IV, commenting, "this chair shall be my state, this dagger my sceptre, and this cushion my crown." Later Henry IV elaborates upon the contrast between Hal's princely status and the character of his associates:
Tell me else, Could such inordinate and low desires, Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such mean attempts, Such barren pleasures, rude society, As thou art match'd withal and grafter to, Accompany the greatness of thy blood And hold their level with thy princely heart?
Indeed, the satire generated by the contrast between Hal’s formal status and his life in England's roadhouses is made even more humorous by the understandable discomfiture it elicits from the king.
The contrast between Hal's princely status and his association with Falstaff is further illustrated in satire concerning the divine right of kings. Kings, in the days of Henry IV as in Shakespeare's time, were thought to rule by divine authority. Moreover, because of the divine nature of the king's rule, certain metaphysical properties were associated with the king. Attempting to justify his cowardice in facing the disguised Prince alter his ill-fated stint as highwayman, Falstaff falls back upon the divine right of kings:
By the Lord, I knew ye as well as he that made ye. Why, hear you, my masters: was it not for me to kill the heir-apparent? Should I turn on the true prince? Why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules; but beware instinct: the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a great matter, I was a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself and thee during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince.
Aside from the humorous reflection of Falstaff's character to be found in this bombast, Falstaff's explanation contains a highly humorous commentary upon the theory of the divine right of kings, further illustrating the contrast between Hal's status and the life he leads.
Political satire is not confined to Hal and his fellows. Indeed, one of the most amusing characters in Henry IV, Part I, is that of Hotspur. Consider, for example, Hotspur's inability to simply shut up following his interview with Henry IV. Vexed at Henry's demands for his prisoner, Hotspur vows, "By God, he shall not have a Scot of them." As one of his fellow conspirators observes, Hotspur's continued raving leads us to question, "Art thou to break into this woman's mood,/ Tying thine ear to no tongue but thine own!" Here Hotspur's mercurial character threatens rational plotting as his fellow conspirators find that they cannot get a word in edgewise. A similarly humorous depiction of Hotspur occurs in the passage in which he vies with Glendower over the potential division of the kingdom:
See how this river comes me cranking in, And cuts me from the best of all my land A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out. I'll have the current in this place damn'd up; And here the smug and sliver Trent shall run In a new channel, fair and evenly: It shall not wind with such a deep indent, To rob me of so rich a bottom here.
This detailed division of spoils is, of course, humorously premature, but to our mind there is another humorous aspect here, the contrast between Hotspur's valiant character and capacity for high deeds with his relatively petty attitude toward division of spoils. Hotspur is a generous hero, but a niggling politician.
Hotspur, moreover, is not only the subject of political satire in Henry IV, Part I, he is also capable of delivering highly satiric characterizations. For example, consider Hotspur's depiction of the scene following his battle with Douglas:
Came there a certain lord, neat, trimly dress'd, Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap'd Show'd like a stubble-land at harvest-home: He was perfumed like a milliner; And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held A pouncet-box, which ever and anon He gave his nose, and took't away again; Who therewith angry, when it next came there, Took it in snuff: and still he smiled and talk'd; And, as the soldiers bore dead bodies by, He call'd them untaught knaves, unmannerly, To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse Betwixt the wind and his nobility. With many holiday and lady terms He question'd me; amongst the rest, demanded My prisoners in your Majesty's behalf.
Here, analogous to Richard III's characterization, we find that Hotspur is engaging in the satirization of effeminate courtiers, the type of insinuating Jacks who so rankled Richard III. Hence, Hotspur is both the subject of political satire and a source of it in Henry IV, Part I.
If Hal, and Hotspur are both vulnerable to satirization, the general polity is equally liable. Henry IV, of course contains that epitome of the milles gloriousus, Falstaff. He and his madcaps, with all their vices and shortcomings, are taken as representative of the English polity. Consider, for instance, Falstaff’s description of the troop he has assembled on Hal's behalf:
I press'd me none but such toasts-and-butter, with hearts in their bodies no bigger than pins'-heads, and they have bought out their services; and now my whole charge consists of ancients, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of companies, slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton's dogs licked his sores; and such as, indeed, were never soldiers, but discarded unjust serving-men, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters, and ostlers trade-fallen; the cankers of a calm world and a long peace. . . .
Here we have a catalogue of the down-trodden members of the English polity, an inventory given in decidedly satiric terms. As in Richard III, the polity, the masses, of Henry IV, Part I, are seen as a motley assembly or none-too-bright sorts. This is a polity vulnerable to, "some line color that might please the eye," cloaking insurrection. Once again we find Shakespeare satirizing the common man's role as citizen.
In Henry IV, Part II, Shakespeare once again employs a broad brush in his strokes of political satire, and, indeed, many of the satirical elements in Henry IV, Part II are extensions of similar usages in Henry IV, Part I. Once again we find the contrast between Hal's association with the bawdies of Eastcheap and his status as heir apparent. Henry IV gives summary expression to this contradiction in Act IV, scene v.:
Harry the Fifth is crown’s! Up, Vanity! Down, royal state! all you sage counselors hence! And to the English court assemble now, From every region, apes of idleness! Now, neighbor confines, purge you of your scum: Have you a ruffian that will swear, drink, dance, Revel the night, rob, myrder, and commit The oldest sins the newest kind of ways?
Once again political satire is generated by the contrast between Hal’s status and his associations at the lower rungs of society, and even though Hal ultimately renounces these associations, the humor of this contradiction continues through the bulk of the work. Hence, when Hal inquires of Poins, "Doth it not show vilely in me to desire small beer?" he answers his own question by asserting, "Belike then my appetite was not princely got." The humor here is actually two-fold. On the one hand, we may contrast Hal's behavior with that expected of an heir apparent and see Hal as a figure of satire. On the other hand, we can, through Hal, see the unreasonable expectations held of a king, and, sympathizing with Hal, see this contradiction as a satire of the general view as to how royalty ought to behave, a rather unrealiatically high expectation, vulnerable to undercutting.
Hotspur, of course, has already been dispatched to heaven in Henry IV, Part I, but he continues to serve as a subject of political satire. As Lady Percy asserts:
and by his light Did all the chivalry of England move To do brave acts: he was indeed the glass Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves: He had no legs, that practis'd not his gait: And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish, Became the accent of the valiant.
Here we find a highly amusing account of the manner in which a political hero is aped by his admirers. Hotspur received the sincerest form of flattery during his lifetime, imitation. The vision of England's youth all affecting Hotspur's manner, including his faults, is indeed a humorous one, despite the noble nature of its subject. Here Shakespeare has given us an acute commentary upon the creation of a popular hero, and the affected and fawning behavior which emulation of such a hero brings about.
Another type of humor familiar to us from Henry IV, Part I is found in the metaphor which Bardolph uses in his hastening of caution in pursuing rebellion. Here Bardolph relates:
When we mean to build, We first survey the plot, then draw the model; And when we see the figure of the house, Then we must rate the cost of erection; Which if we find outweighs ability, What do we do then, but draw anew the model In fewer offices, or at last desist To build it all?
The building metaphor employed here is satirical when we consider Bardolph’s obvious attempt to phrase an irrational and destructive enterprise in the rational and constructive terms of building. Here Bardolph and his fellow conspirators face a common quandary, attempting to calculate a necessarily chaotic enterprise. As in the confrontation between Hotspur and Glendower previously discussed, the conspirators evince a caution and a type of pettiness which does not fit well with the ambitious nature of their plans.
One aspect of political satire found in Henry IV, Part II which resembles that found in Richard III is the characterization of policy as guided by expediency rather than principle. As the Archbishop relates concerning Henry IV’s reign:
His foes are so enrooted with his friends That, plucking to unfix an enemy, He doth unfasten so and shake a friend.
Henry IV lives in a world of realpolitik which little resembles an idealized version of sovereignty. It is not principle, but practice which determines Henry's affairs. Hence, as in Richard III, we find that Westmoreland defeats the conspirators through a ruse. He bids them disperse their forces on the promise that their several grievances will be redressed. However, once the army of the conspirators has been scattered, the conspirators are arrested and led to the chopping block. The point here is that politics, unlike any idealized conception which we might have of royal honor, is a dirty game, one in which no holds are barred and one which contrasts greatly with any lofty notions which political principles might imply.
Finally, in Henry IV, Part II, the characterization of the common man is again highly humorous. Take, for example, Falstaff's recruitment among the motley ranks presented to him. Here we find that the common man is seen as the brunt of satire, the common man being a Slender, a Feeble, or a Shadow. Falstaff, of course, cares not for military prowess in his impressment, but rather service money to be gained from granting exemptions. Hence, Falstaff releases Mouldy and Bullcalf because Bardolph has been given three pounds to free them. Here we find a satirization of the English fighting spirit, none of the potential recruits wishes to serve, and a satirization of the rudiments of bureaucratic corruption. Once again Falstaff and his fellows are representatives of the English common man, and all their faults are attributed to the common man by their example. Hence, as in the two works previously examined, the polity is depicted by Shakespeare as a rather insecure repository of political power.
In Henry VIII, we find a somewhat more subtle brand of political satire in operation. In the Prologue to the play we are informed that its purpose is not to amuse or entertain, and are given to believe that instances of satirization will be infrequent. However, there is a strain of satire which runs through the play, primarily based upon the hypocrisy of Cardinal Wolsey, but touching upon other matters as well. While Wolsey does not dominate Henry VIII to the same extent as Richard does Richard III, nevertheless, analogous to Richard III, political satire in Henry VIII tends to revolve around Walsey's figure.
Despite the Prologue, political satire begins in Henry VIII from the outset of the work. In Act I, scene I, we find the Duke of Norfolk describing the French court to the Duke of Buckingham in the following terms:
To-day the French All clinquant, all in gold, like heathen gods, Shone down the English, and to-morrow they Made Britain India: every man that stood Show’d like a mine. Their dwarfish pages were As cherubins, all gilt: the madams too, Not us’d to toil, did almost sweat to bear The pride upon them, that their very labour Was to them as a painting.
Although Norfolk intends to praise the French court, the picture which we receive is that of comically excessive artifice. We can readily surmise that the French court is filled with the sort of fops of whom both Richard III and Hotspur complain. Hence, our introduction to the court confirms the view of its domination by over-puffed dandies, a court of apery and imitation, or manners over morals.
The bulk of the political satire to be found in Henry VIII is focused upon Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey is open to satirization, being, as even his admirers inform us, "a man/ Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking/ Himself with princes; one that by suggestion/ Tied all the kingdom." Repeatedly we find satirical characterizations of Wolsey. We hear alternatively that, "no man's pie is freed/ From his ambitious finger," and that, "He dives into the king's soul, and there scatters/ Dangers, doubts, wringing of conscience." Wolsey is, then, a comic figure, an over-blown egomaniac mired squarely in secular politics. Hence, when Henry VIII is presented to Cardinal Campeius, and remarks, "two equal men," we cannot help but think that this comment is a subtle slur against Campeius given the well-catalogued faults of Wolsey.
As in Richard III, much of the political satire of Henry VIII revolves around the depths to which Wolsey is willing to sink in order to advance his ambitions. We cannot mistake the ignoble aspect of Wolsey's character as he instructs his secretary in relation to Buckingham's case:
Let there be letters writ to every shire, Of the king's grace and pardon. The griev'd commons Hardly conceive of me; let is be nois'd That through our intercession this revokement And pardon comes . . .
It is evident that Wolsey, far from being the man of principle which his office implies, is motivated by political expediency. The hand-wringing political scheming of Wolsey is further evinced in his remarks concerning Henry's romance with Anne Bullen:
It shall be the Duchess of Alencon, The French King's sister; he shall marry her. Anne Bullen: No; I'll no Anne Bullens for him: There's more in't than fair visage. Bullen! No, we'll no Bullens. Speedily I wish To hear from Rome. The Marchioness of Pembroke!
Wolsey's insistence that he, not Henry, choose the next queen of England is, to say the least, presumptious, and the presumption involved here is underscored by the historical fact of Anne Bullen's ultimate attainment of royalty.
Following this line we realize that much of the satire aimed at Wolsey comes about by the fact that we know that his machinations will not succeed. Wolsey, in fact, finds a number of obstacles to his plans, Queen Katherine, for example, is well aware of the Cardinal's role in Buckingham's prosecution and of the surveyor's motives for testifying against the Duke. Later Anne Bullen stuns Wolsey by refusing to accept his role as a royal judge commenting:
I utterly abhor yea, from my soul Refuse you for my Judge, whom, yet once more, I hold my most malicious foe, and think not At all a friend to truth.
Indeed, it appears throughout that Wolsey has underestimated Henry's power to discern his machinations. Hence, a sort of comic tension is produced based upon the fact that the Cardinal continues on with little doubt of his ultimate success, when we realize that his efforts can only end in failure.
Knowing that Wolsey is ultimately doomed we have the privilege of observing his demise as a comic matter. An overblown supercillious figure, Wolsey's balloon is highly vulnerable to pricking. Hence, when Wolsey realizes that Henry is informed of his broad plotting we find Norfolk describing his antic behavior:
My lord, we have Stood here observing him. Some strange commotion Is in his brain: he bites his lip, and starts; Stops of a sudden, looks upon the ground, Then lays his finger on his temple; straight Springs out into a fast gait; then stops again, Strikes his breast hard; and anon he casts His eye against the moon: in most strange postures We have seen him set himself.
This is a highly satirical view of the plotter undone by his own devices. There is something highly ironic in Wolsey's complaint, "O how wretched/ Is that poor man that hangs on prince's favours." Wolsey receives his just reward, we are aware that this will be his fate, and consequently, there is both satire and irony involved in his eventual demise.
In surnrnary and conclusion, we have examined Shakespeare's use of political satire in four of his histories. In Richard III we found that political satire was focused on Richard and his plots. In Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II we found that Shakespeare's use of political satire was more widespread, ranging from court to tavern. In Henry VIII the use of political satire is once more centered around a single figure, Cardinal Wolsey, but here the satire is somewhat muted in comparison to that found in Richard III. There are, moreover, certain recurring themes which can be found in several of the plays. The depiction of courtiers as apish fops occurs in all four works examined. The contrast between idealized principle and expedient practice in politics is equally evident in each of the works examined. Finally, in Richard III and Henry IV, Parts I and II, the English polity serves as the brunt of Shakespeare's satire to a certain extent, appearing less than equal to the task of acting as an informed polity and check to personal ambition.