Henry V Fluellen's Name
by William Shakespeare

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Fluellen's Name

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University

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...

(The entire section is 3,018 words.)