Fluellen's Name

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3018

Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University

Illustration of PDF document

Download Henry V Study Guide

Subscribe Now

In Kenneth Branagh's film version of Henry V, a special emphasis is placed on Ian Holm's Fluellen. When Branagh's Henry, physically and spiritually exhausted, is struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the battle of Agincourt, it is only the Welshman's well-meaning but apparently oddly timed eulogy of his country that can penetrate his defences and wrest from him the emotional relief of tears. The ensuing moment of bonding becomes one of the most powerful moments in the film, as Fluellen affords his king a vehicle for the expression of celebration. In making such a cinematographic choice, Branagh has undoubtedly responded to an element already strongly present in the text: unfailingly loyal, unwittingly deputizing for him in the matter of Williams, Fluellen obviously does provide a strong psychological prop for the war-wearied king to lean on. I want to argue, however, that he does so also in ways less obvious than this, which are bound up in the matter of his name.

Fluellen's name is, as everyone knows, a nonsense, a roughly phonetic rendition of the actual Welsh name Llywelyn. The Welsh double 11 is notoriously hard for nonnative speakers to pronounce; it was on roughly the same basis as Shakespeare's principles of phoneticization that the Welsh surname Llwyd (meaning grey) became anglicized initially to Floyd, before finally ending up as Lloyd. (Jane Austen's friend Martha, now known universally as Martha Lloyd, is invariably "Floyd" in Austen's letters). Given this, Shakespeare's rendering of Llywelyn as Fluellen is not in itself unreasonable; but the problem could of course have been averted altogether had he adopted the simple expedient of choosing another name, one easier for the English to pronounce (others of his Welshmen include the much more manageable Hugh, Owen, and Davy). That he did choose Llywelyn makes his Welsh captain a highly resonant figure, for Llywelyn was the name of the last Welsh Prince of Wales, Llywelyn yr Olaf (the Last), and also of his grandfather, Llywelyn Fawr (the Great). It may seem strange that a tetralogy which overtly condemns one Welsh rebel against the English crown, in the shape of Glendower, should thus covertly celebrate another; but then the entire teleology of the second tetralogy points it inevitably towards the culmination of the first, and the apotheosis of the Welsh Henry Tudor, whose mythology drew extensively on traditions of Welsh revivalism.1

But if Fluellen's name is readily comprehensible as Llywelyn, there is another respect in which it is far more alien to traditions of Welsh nomenclature. No Welshman could have a one-word name; an essential part of his identity would be the patronymic, comprising "ap" (son of) and the name of his father. (For a woman the equivalent would be "ferch," daughter of.) Indeed, few Welshmen of any status would be satisfied with just one indicator of lineage: the majority would append also the name of their paternal grandfather, and quite possible their great-grandfather as well, in ways that utterly frustrated English attempts to make conventional surnames for them—indeed the very name of Tudor was plucked more or less at random from Owen Tudor's full customary style of Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur.2 There is ample evidence that Elizabethan dramatists were fully cognizant of this naming system. From Marlowe's Rice ap Howell with his Welsh hooks,3 to John Ford's Rice ap Thomas in Perkin Warbeck, there is consistent practice; there is even an extended joke on the subject, in Ford and Dekker's The Welsh Embassador, where an Englishman is impersonating a Welshman, and, when, asked his name, replies, "Tis Reese ap meridith, ap shon, ap lewellin, ap morris, yet noe dancers."4 Yet Shakespeare, who undoubtedly knew Welshmen personally, chooses to omit the crucial patronymic. Why?

Paternal authority is of course a recurring theme of the second tetralogy. Henry IV, whose father was not king before him, struggles to enforce his control over the kingdom and has a continuously difficult relationship with his own son; at one stage he is driven to wish for that terror of all patrilineal societies, that his heir was a changeling and Hotspur his natural child. The young Hal quests through the first two plays in which he features performing a series of complex psychological substitutions in which the mantle of his 'father' is in a constant process of circulation between Henry IV, Falstaff, Hotspur, Blunt (literally), and the Lord Chief Justice; even the apparently self-sufficient Henry V places heavy reliance on the only visibly surviving member of the older generation, his uncle Exeter (one of the products of John of Gaunt's irregular relationship with Katherine Swynford, from which the Tudors also descended), and he invokes Richard II immediately before the crucial battle. His father's biographer Marie Louise Bruce sees the same kind of dislocation as that represented by the displaced fathers of Shakespeare's play in the relationship of the historical Henry V to Richard II, whom, she says, he "had never ceased to love . . . more than his own father";5 it is interesting to note that, in a bizarre exchange of women, his eventual marriage with Katherine of Valois made him the posthumous brother-in-law of Richard II, whose second wife, Isabella of France, had been Katherine's elder sister, and herself originally been intended by the English as subsequently Henry's bride, had she not put up a strenuous resistance.6 All mention of his mother, Mary Bohun, or his more flamboyant stepmother Joanna of Navarre, accused of witchcraft by his younger brother John of Bedford, is studiously avoided; family psychodramas are played out exclusively amongst men.

Patriarchy, in these plays, both validates and problematizes the society it structures. The name of the father legitimates succession to the throne of England and allows for the successful transformation of Hal at the close of 2 Henry IV; but his story does not end there, for the opening of Henry V itself shows him in a situation precisely inverting that triumphant succession by presenting him as a candidate for the crown of France, England's other, where authority can be claimed only through right of the female. Henry's assertion of his right to France depends on his descent from Isabella, mother of Edward III, who was the daughter of Philip the Fair, and a character with whom Shakespeare and his audience would have been familiar from her appearance in Marlowe's Edward the Second. When her three brothers died without male issue, Edward, her son, laid claim to his grandfather's crown, and his son Edward the Black Prince led the English nobility to a series of spectacular victories, such as Crécy and Poitiers, which are referred to with fear by the French nobles of Henry V. However, the claim through Isabella opened up several alarming issues. As a wife who murdered her husband, Edward II, she provided all too clear an example of the dangers of women in charge; moreover, her three brothers, although they had no surviving sons, did all have daughters, whose claim was at least as good as hers. Particularly strong, in theory, would have been the position of Jeanne of Navarre, daughter of Isabella's eldest brother Louis X, had not the little girl been widely believed to be a bastard because of the confessed adultery of her mother, Marguerite of Burgundy.

This issue of female fidelity is of course at the heart of French attempts to impose the Salic law:

... the land Salic is in Germany.
Between the floods of Saale and of Elbe,
Where, Charles the Great having subdued the Saxons,
There left behind and settled certain French
Who, holding in disdain the German women
For some dishonest manners of their life,
Established there this law: to wit, no female
Should be inheritrix in Salic land.7

"For some dishonest manners of their life" is surely fairly clear code for unchastity; but of course the remedy will do little to help, for barring women from the succession cannot secure the legitimacy of their offspring (indeed it is only in a matrilinear society, or through DNA testing, that the transfer of power from ruler to biological heir can ever be assured). The potential slur on Henry V's own claim through the female is apparently nicely distanced by having the opprobrium directed at German women alone, but in reality it is difficult to keep it quite so much at arm's length: Henry's own wicked stepmother, Joanna of Navarre, was the grand-daughter of the very Jeanne of Navarre whose alleged bastardy had precipitated the Hundred Years' War. Indeed, Henry's own wife would contract a liaison of unsubstantiated legitimacy after his death (from which sprang the Tudors) and the first tetralogy is fissured by accusations of adultery ranging from those against Henry VI' s wife Margaret to Richard Ill's indictment of his own mother's honor in a desperate attempt to impugn the legitimacy of his elder brother Edward. In this patrilinear society, every family bears the scars of the actual or possible disruption of the father-son chain.

It is from precisely these uncertainties that Fluellen's name offers a respite. Conspicuously lacking the patronymic, he stands almost alone in the plays in not being identified primarily in terms of his father. Falstaff, whose own name is of course similarly falsified from its original of Oldcastle, can be read as a parallel to him in this instance; but Falstaff, as the possible pun false-staff perhaps implies, is constantly engaged in usurping the role of Hal's father which Fluellen never does (and has, moreover, been read by recent feminist criticism as a representation of the maternal rather than of the paternal body).8 It is perhaps this absence of patrilinear determinants in Fluellen which makes him an enabling mechanism for Henry to claim, however briefly, what is at once the most glorious and the most spurious of his identities, that of the agent of the Welsh revival. Fleetingly gesturing towards Henry VII' s position as the son of prophecy, the heir of Arthur, Henry agrees that he wears the leek "for a memorable honour. / For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman" (4.7.99-100), with which Fluellen concurs: "All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty's Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that" (4.7.101-2). Fluellen's reference to Wye points us squarely in the geographical direction of the origins of Henry's claim to be Welsh: he was born in the gatehouse tower of Monmouth Castle, to that most occluded of figures, Mary Bohun, his mother, whose substantial appanage of Hereford lordships and whose Marcher descent provided him with everything that he is able to claim of this identity, and whose inheritance (together with that of his stepmother, who seems indeed to have been imprisoned expressly to facilitate the release of the money tied up in paying her dower) historically provided the only means by which, in a war-torn country, he could finance taking a wife.9 The memory of Mary Bohun may be only indirectly invoked at this point, but the reference to Henry's birth means that it is inescapably there; and fittingly enough, it is the fatherless Fluellen who has provided a conduit for this return of the repressed mother.

After this éclaircissement, Henry will move on to a remarkable refocusing of his energies and interests to direct his attention fully towards the Princess Katherine. Women will feature in his story in a way they never have before—wenching is notably one of the few pastimes he does not try in Cheapside—and marriage is pulled rather unexpectedly out of the generic hat to make this the only one of the history plays to have a classically comedic teleology. In Branagh's film version, the courtship scene is played for all the numerous laughs it can get, and the last is won when Henry breaks off his ardent wooing with a conscious "Here comes your father" (5.2.270-1). This final appearance of a father in the plays, however, brings with it shades not only of comedy, but of the more repressive and disruptive elements of patriarchy, and also of the threats to it. It is, as the epilogue reminds us, in his role as a father that Henry will register his one significant failure: his weak-minded only son will destabilize England and take it, in circular motion, through all the horrors of the first tetralogy, where French might (mediated, noticeably, primarily through French women) is once again rampant. Moreover, although the entrance into matrimony may look like an achievement of full adulthood which makes redundant the power of the father, it is actually fundamentally conditioned by it. However much his badinage may attempt to disguise it, Henry's interest in Katherine is of course solely dictated by the identity of her father: as daughter of the King of France, she can help to reinforce his own claim to the throne. Her Frenchness here may, in this respect, even paradoxically underline his own Welsh resonances: as a claimant in his own right who nevertheless seeks the additional support of marriage with the daughter of a previous king, he again directly parallels Henry VII in the marriage with Elizabeth of York which provided the conclusion of the first tetralogy as this does of the second.

But the missing element of Fluellen's name may help us to detect an element similarly missing from Katherine' s. Her sister, wife of Richard II, had been Isabella of France; she herself is known to history universally as Katherine of Valois, signifying the intervening decline in fortune of her family which causes them to cease to be synonymous with the country they so temporarily rule. As well as strengthening Henry's claim to the throne, therefore, she also, paradoxically, weakens it, firstly through this silent change of title which makes her so much less than her sister had been to Richard II, and secondly by the simple fact that to concede that it needs strengthening is to concede that it is not already sufficient. To complicate the situation still further, there was historically some room for doubt that the King of France was Katherine's father, because of the very strong suspicion that her mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, had committed adultery with her brother-in-law, Louis of Orléans;10 indeed Queen Isabeau herself gave force to these rumors when she subscribed to the Treaty of Troyes, which disinherited the Dauphin and referred to him as "the so-called Dauphin."11 Certainly the point may well be hinted at for an audience by the fact that the Dauphin, whose actions initiated events and who has been given such prominence throughout the play, has disappeared so abruptly from the story; and that earlier pointed reference to the "dishonest manners of . . . life" of German women (I.2.49) may also be recalled by anyone who happens to remember "Queen Isabel's" nationality (though Shakespeare could hardly afford to be too pointed here, since Isabeau, through Katherine of Valois's second marriage to Owen Tudor, was an ancestress of Elizabeth I). "Here comes your father" thus implicitly interpellates Charles VI firmly as being in fact Katherine's father, and also carries a hidden agenda of its own, since what Henry wants is actually for Charles VI to function in effect as his own father, whose legitimate heir and successor he will be. A record of a life which started with a father wishing for a change of sons thus ends, ironically, with a son wishing for a change of fathers.

The problematics of patriarchy thus played out are negated, exceptionally and briefly, only in Fluellen, the last of Henry's spiritual fathers, who proffers to him a link with the mythical glories of the Welsh past, and, through it, an even more extraordinary connection to that ultimate warrior, Alexander the Great. And yet even in the company of the fatherless Fluellen one can never be totally safe from fathers, since just as memories of the forgotten Mary Bohun struggle to the surface in Fluellen's conversation, so too do those of that discarded father figure, Falstaff:

As Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his ales and his cups, so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgements, turned away the fat knight with the great-belly doublet—he was full of jests and gipes and knaveries and mocks—I have forgot his name.


But though the memory of the father may linger here, the name of the father at least has no power, for Fluellen, though his memory stretches back to tales of Alexander the Great and Cadwaladr, has, fittingly, forgotten it.


1 David Rees, The Son of Prophecy: Henry Tudor's Road to Bosworth (London: The Black Raven Press, 1985), 98-110.

2 Ralph A. Griffiths and Roger S. Thomas, The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1987), 31.

3 Christopher Marlowe, Edward the Second, edited by Charles R. Forker (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), II. vii. 45 s.d.

4The Welsh Embassador, in Fredson Bowers, ed., The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, 4 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), III. ii. 348.

5 Marie Louise Bruce, The Usurper King: Henry of Bolingbroke 1366-1399 (London: The Rubicon Press, n.d.), 248.

6 Anne Crawford, Letters of the Queens of England 1100-1547 (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1994), 107.

7 William Shakespeare, Henry V, edited by Gary Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), I. 2. 44-51. All further quotations from the play will be from this edition.

8 See for instance Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 55-56.

9 Crawford, Letters, pp. 112-13.

10 For an account of how Henry V and his supporters used this rumor, see Marina Warner, Joan of Arc (1981) (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), 73; for an extended but coyer discussion of Isabeau's adultery (which credits her with other lovers too) see Peter Earle, The Life and Times of Henry V (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972), 182-83). Warner also discusses the suggestion that it was Joan's reassurance of Charles VII that he was legitimate which was the ground of the king's faith in her; this idea originates in the sixteenth century and would, if Shakespeare were aware of it, have fed interestingly into the series of echoes of the first tetralogy which disrupt the closure of the second.

11 Warner, Joan of Arc, 73.

Source: "Fluellen's Name," in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. XXIV, 1996, pp. 148-55.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Edward III in Henry V


Henry V (Vol. 30)

Explore Study Guides