Henry VI, Part 2 Jack Cade in the Garden: Class Consciousness and Class Conflict in 2 Henry VI
by William Shakespeare

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Jack Cade in the Garden: Class Consciousness and Class Conflict in 2 Henry VI

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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Cartelli, Thomas Muhlenberg College


In Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI the notorious career of Jack Cade concludes with the starving rebel's defeat at the hands of Alexander Iden, a self-styled "poor esquire of Kent" whom Cade formally terms "the lord of the soil" that provides the setting for their notably unequal combat. The end of Cade's career ironically becomes the occasion for a sudden turn in Iden's fortunes when Iden is "created knight for his good service," given a reward of a thousand marks, and effectively transformed into a courtier.1 I say "ironically" because what may be termed the "garden scene" of 2 Henry VI is initially framed in the manner of a pastoral interlude as Iden enters and criticizes the lust for worldly advancement which has made Cade a desperate fugitive and encouraged many of Iden's social superiors to turn the "garden of England" into a site of fraternal bloodletting. The pastoral note is first sounded by Cade himself, whose representation of Iden's garden is, however, decidedly more utilitarian than conventional versions of pastoral:

Fie on ambitions! fie on myself, that have a sword, and yet am ready to famish! These five days have I hid me in these woods and durst not peep out, for all the country is laid for me; but now am I so hungry, that if I might have a lease of my life for a thousand years, I could stay no longer. Wherefore, on a brick wall have I clim'b into this garden, to see if I can eat grass, or pick a sallet another while, which is not amiss to cool a man's stomach in this hot weather. (4.10.1-9)

Cade proceeds in a casually self-deprecating vein to play on the word "sallet" in a manner that suggests a crucial difference between his version of pastoral and Iden's. While he curses the ambitions that have brought him there, Iden's garden offers Cade merely the possibility of refreshment and a temporary respite from his flight from a "country" that is "laid for me," not an Arden-like retreat from the stresses of life.

Iden's construction of his garden state is notably more idyllic and mines the same conventions as Thomas Wyatt's anticourt pastoral, "Mine Own Join Poins."2 Like the disaffected speaker in Wyatt's poem, Iden is "in Kent and Christendom" where "in lusty leas at liberty" he may walk. Unlike Wyatt's speaker, Iden enjoys a liberty that is unenforced, apart, that is, from the constraint of "this small inheritance my father left me," out of which Iden makes a virtue of necessity:

Lord! who would live turmoiled in the court,
And may enjoy such quiet walks as these?
This small inheritance my father left me
Contenteth me, and worth a monarchy.
I seek not to wax great by others' waning,
Or gather wealth I care not with what envy:
Sufficeth, that I have maintains my state,
And sends the poor well pleased from my gate.

As William Empson has taught us, pastoral effusions of this variety are seldom free of contextual qualification. In this instance we may observe that the self-congratulatory note Iden sounds harbors a discernible compensatory component, as if Iden were cheering himself up for his small inheritance by disparaging the profane pleasures the court offers those who can afford them and by overstating the worth of what the court would sneer at. Two additional qualifications are noteworthy. The first concerns Cade's altogether more material appraisal of Iden's "quiet walks" and "small inheritance." To Cade, Iden is less a poor esquire grazing on the pastoral margins of political life than the walking embodiment of established authority. Whereas Iden conceives of his walk in the garden as one in a series of daily demonstrations of an unturmoiled life neatly balanced between private pleasure and social obligation, Cade believes that "the lord of the soil" has walked forth expressly "to seize me for a stray, for entering his fee-simple without leave" (4.10.24-25).

Cade's legalistic and oppositional estimate of his imminent...

(The entire section is 8,420 words.)