illustrated portrait of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

Losing the Map: Topographical Understanding in the Henriad

David Read, University of Missouri, Columbia

What is, on a map, only a physical position (neither more or less important than any other) acquires intensity of meaning by the superimposing of spiritual senses over the physical one; the undifferentiated physical fact has to aspire to spiritual meaning in order to become important.


Recently words like 'geography', 'cartography', 'topography', and 'mapping' have begun appearing regularly in literary criticism, often with only a distant metaphorical relation to the scholarly and practical disciplines from which they were borrowed. A critic might write about the "map" or the "grid" of a particular text or cultural event, but would not want to be pressed too hard on the specific technical dimensions of the equation. While maps are certainly readable as texts, few literary texts have proven readable as maps in any very illuminating way, and "the geography of literature" is likely to remain largely a figure of speech. Even so, I believe that there is considerable value in taking the connections between geography and literature seriously, and that these connections can be quite helpful in the understanding of, among other things, William Shakespeare's history plays. In what follows I will argue that notions of physical orientation in the world are crucial to Shakespeare's presentation of the main characters in the second tetralogy, and especially to their presentation as historical actors. This quality of orientation is in itself neither ethical nor political, but appears at the threshold of both of those spheres of activity—a threshold where "a place in the world" and "a place in history" come close to meaning the same thing.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1841

Among the various indications of Hotspur's flawed character in King Henry IV, Part 1, one of the most telling is his mental lapse during the conference with Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower at the beginning of act 3, scene 1 : "a plague upon it! /I have forgot the map" (lines 5-6).2 The scene depicts a crucial moment in the alliance between the Percys and the Mortimers against Henry IV, and the stage business surrounding the map provides concrete evidence of the critically unfixed quality of Hotspur's thinking and leadership. It turns out that he has spoken too soon, for the map has not been left behind; Glendower, as befits his claim to be a magician, conjures it up only a moment after Hotspur has cursed its absence—though perhaps it was lying under Hotspur's nose all along.

This map has no precedent in Shakespeare's sources for the scene; characteristically, Shakespeare has taken Holinshed's bland remark that Lord Percy, the earl of March, and Glendower "divided the realme amongst them, causing a tripartite indenture to be made and sealed with their seales"3 and transformed the general idea into some strikingly effective stage business. The map's immediate significance is that it stabilizes in a visible way the plans, motives, and internal relations of the rebel leaders, literally giving shape and line to the future course of the rebellion.4 As Mortimer says at the beginning of the scene, "These promises are fair, the parties sure" (line 1), and the map itself, with its strict disposition of the land into three parts, is an emblem of this fairness and certainty: "The Archdeacon hath divided it [i.e., England] / Into three limits very equally" (lines 71-72).

The principal characters in the scene nonetheless devote much of their energy to transgressing, or, more aptly, forgetting, the evenhanded limits to the rebels' cosmos that seem to be implied in the lines of the map. Glendower brags...

(This entire section contains 1841 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

that the world has become less stable by virtue of his presence in it: "at my birth / The frame and huge foundation of the earth / Shak'd like a coward" (lines 15-17). Hotspur promptly associates Glendower's boasts with the "strange eruptions" of "Diseased nature" and attributes the "birth-quake" to Mother Nature's having had a bad case of gas (lines 26-31). The dialogue in the early part of the scene alternates between Glendower's claims to have exceeded the normal boundaries—"These signs have mark'd me extraordinary, / And all the courses of my life do show / I am not in the roll of common men" (lines 40-42)—and Hotspur's vigorous efforts to draw him back within them:

Glend. I can call spirits from the vasty deep.Hot. Why, so can I, or so can any man,   But will they come when you do call for them?

(Lines 52-54)

Yet, later in act 3, scene 1, the fabulist and the pragmatist have switched places; it is Hotspur who wants to deny the boundaries, over Glendower's objections. In this instance the boundaries Hotspur denies are actually those on the map:

Methinks my moi'ty, north from Burton here, In quantity equals not one of yours. 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.

(Lines 95-99)

Hotspur now favors a literal "turning" from the normal order of nature and the map's representation of that order:

I'll> have the current in this place damm'd up, And here the smug and silver Trent shall run In a new channel fair and evenly. It shall not wind with such deep indent, To rob me of so rich a bottom here.

(Lines 100-104)

Glendower at this point assumes the position of conservative skeptic earlier occupied by Hotspur and appeals to the common understanding, as it were, of the nature of rivers like the Trent: "Not wind? It shall, it must, you see it doth" (line 105). What Hotspur and Glendower "see," of course, is the map's schematic rendering of the Trent, which apparently offers as irrefutable evidence of the river's winding as would be offered by a visit to the Trent itself.

Mortimer and Worcester try to resolve this strange contretemps, Mortimer by inviting Hotspur to "mark" how the river's winding "runs me up / With like advantage on the other side" (lines 107-8) in a topographical balancing of contraries, Worcester by suggesting an engineering solution: "a little charge will trench him here, / And on this north side win this cape of land, / And then he runs straight and even" (lines 111-13). What Mortimer and Worcester attempt to discover within the lines of the map is the prospect of reciprocity and equity in the future course of the rebellion—which is to say that the map has become for them a picture of history in the making, space standing in for time. Yet their aspirations for an "orderly" rebellion are undercut by the nature of the solution that Worcester proposes: to resolve the difficulties raised by this alliance, an explosion will be required. The explosive possibilities are, indeed, already in evidence:

Hot. I'll have it so, a little charge will do it.Glend. I'll not have it alt'red.

(Lines 113-14)

This apparently serious impasse resolves itself, however, into a kind of sparring sustained by two parties who simply desire to be contrary to one another and thus refuse to occupy fixed positions. When Glendower abruptly capitulates, Hotspur just as quickly appears to lose interest in the disposition of the land:

Glend Come, you shall have Trent turn'd.Hot. I do not care. I'll give thrice so much land   To any well-deserving friend; But in the way of bargain, mark ye me, I'll cavil on the ninth part of a hair.

(Lines 134-38)

In his preoccupation with his personal honor, Hotspur here seems unaware of the way in which his language implies a transvaluation of the land—both the proprietary holdings of the Percys and England in general—from a primal source of power, a radical basis for his own actions, into mere currency, a thing to be given easily but also to be bargained with for one's own profit.5 In making this transvaluation, Hotspur falls under a characterization which has lately been made of quite a number of Shakespearean characters, including several in King Henry IV, Part 1, but has rarely been made of him. For all his reliance on the archaic trappings of chivalry, Hotspur proves to be another modern man.

At this point in the scene the map is set aside, and Shakespearean commentators tend to set it aside as well, perhaps with a passing note on the scarcity of references to maps in the plays and the even greater scarcity of actual maps—the other significant example being, of course, the map of Lear's ill-fated kingdom.6 But students of the plays may do well to keep Hotspur's map in mind not only as an emblem of a certain kind of slippage between the metaphorical and the concrete but also as an index of a specific version of modernity, a version connected with a set of human concerns that I would categorize as topographical.7 Hotspur's difficulty in finding the map (and in finding it to his liking) points to a larger crisis in his relationship with the objects portrayed on the map. The crisis is one of "alienation from the land," but with a rather different meaning than that phrase generally carries in contemporary critical discussion. The phrase does retain some of its usual economic connotations in the way I apply it here; the sixteenth-century context of enclosures, rural unemployment, and masterless men remains quite relevant to the dramatized situations of King Henry IV, Part 1, and the other plays in the tetralogy.8 At the same time, however, I would argue that the character of this alienation is a question as much of immaterial as of material considerations. Hotspur has lost or abandoned his sense of place, his connection to the land as a presence which is simultaneously concrete and conceptual, a network of tangible, visible topoi around which meanings accumulate and which thus serve to orient the person in time as well as in space, to locate the person as a historical being.

This displacement plays out in act 3, scene 1 in terms of Hotspur's fundamental inability to communicate with those other individuals who also claim the right to occupy a space on "the map." Though Hotspur's fortunes are crucially tied to those of the inhabitants of the marches and borderlands, he winds up his argument with Glendower by celebrating his own scorn, if not ignorance, of all things Welsh:

Hot. Who shall say me nay?Glend. Why, that will I.Hot. Let me not understand you then, Speak it in Welsh.

(Lines 116-18)

Shakespeare further stresses the rebels' difficulty in locating themselves upon a common ground of language during the interlude with Mortimer, Lady Mortimer, and Glendower that helps to conclude the scene; as Mortimer says, "This is the deadly spite that angers me: / My wife can speak no English, I no Welsh" (lines 190-91). These three characters may gesture toward a mutual language of love (or music) that will free them from the curse of Babel, but the excessiveness of Mortimer's own description of his plight—hinging upon "deadly spite" and anger—and the desperate note in his response to Lady Mortimer's Welsh imprecations—"O, I am ignorance itself in this!" (line 210)—suggest that the perils here are as much ethical and political as they are romantic. Despite the dreamy lyricism of this passage in the play, and despite the warmth of Hotspur's bawdy exchanges with his wife at the end of the scene, act 3, scene 1 in its entirety presents a sharply drawn tableau of a rebellion on the verge of collapsing irretrievably from within, its principals having lost the ability to perform any genuinely meaningful action in the history world of the play.

The pathos of this loss is quite evident at the end of act 5, when Hotspur, mortally wounded, cries, "O Harry, thou hast robb'd me of my youth! / I better brook the loss of brittle life / Than those proud titles thou hast won of me" (5.4.77-79). More than anything else, Hotspur laments the fact that he must surrender to Hal his right to a historical identity and instead make an ironic return to the land as dust and food for worms. Hal dwells on this very irony in his soliloquy over Hotspur's corpse:

When that this body did contain a spirit, A kingdom for it was too small a bound, But now two paces of the vilest earth   Is room enough.

(Lines 89-92)

Hotspur may use his dying breath to proclaim that "time, that takes survey of all the world, / Must have a stop" (lines 82-83), yet time does not stop with the end of Hotspur's life. His final grasp at a role in history—"O, I could prophesy"—is denied by "the earthy and cold hand of death" (lines 83-84), a force inseparably linked with the "two paces of. . . vilest earth" that he will finally come to occupy.

Prince Hal

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1188

That Hal should deliver Hotspur's eulogy (after first putting himself in a position to do so) is inevitable for all the obvious dramatic and thematic reasons; indeed, the contrast between Hotspur and Hal as "leaders of men" is one of the ancient commonplaces of Shakespeare criticism. However, the poles of that contrast have gradually shifted along with trends in twentieth-century criticism, so that a typical recent version has Hotspur in his familiar role as a scion of outmoded "feudal values," while Hal comes to represent some of the more unsettling aspects of the exercise of art, politics, and commerce in the modern capitalist state: his "authority" is linked in sinister ways with "the ambiguous figures of actor, Machiavel, and merchant."9

In many respects I agree with this characterization of Hal, but, as I have hinted above with regard to Hotspur, there is another way of reading the contrast which renders it considerably more complex. For Hal, despite his many transformations in the course of the tetralogy, is always unshakably "placed" within England. The knowledge suggested by the assertion "I know you all" that introduces Hal's best-known soliloquy (I.2.198) is perhaps less a matter of quasi-divine omniscience than of a tacit but long-standing familiarity with the land's inhabitants, both great and small. The soliloquy ends, of course, with Hal's confident assertion that he will become an actor in (and of) history, "Redeeming time when men think least I will" (line 217).

This "landedness" emerges as well at moments of the play that carry less of an immediate thematic charge. It is detectable in Hal's bragging to Poins in act 2, scene 4 about his proficiency in the language of tinkers, a speech which also displays Hal's intensely local consciousness: "They take it already upon their salvation, that though I be but Prince of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy . . . and when I am King of England I shall command all the good lads of Eastcheap" (lines 9-11, 13-15). In act 3, scene 2, King Henry may accuse Hal of having "lost . . . [his] princely privilege / With vile participation" and by wearying all eyes (except Henry's) with his "common sight" (lines 86-88), yet this "participation" which Henry so much despises also indicates a quasi-organic relationship with England itself. That relationship manifests itself most curiously in the passing remarks which the king and Hal exchange about Shrewsbury's weather at the beginning of act 5:

King. How bloodily the sun begins to peer Above yon bulky hill! the day looks pale At his distemp'rature.Prince. The southren wind Doth play the trumpet to his purposes, And by his hollow whistling in the leaves Foretells a tempest and a blust'ring day.


While King Henry merely observes the weather, Hal interprets it, speaking as if he understood the wind's ominous "purposes," which run parallel to his own. The king's words inevitably recall Hal's promise to "imitate the sun" (I.2.197), and the implicit identification between Hal and the "southren wind" is reinforced by its "rhyming" with the language of Hal's earlier promise to his father concerning Hotspur: "the time will come / That I shall make this northren youth exchange / His glorious deeds for my indignities" (3.2.144-46). Hal can speak in an oracular way about the southern wind because he is himself a metaphorical wind from the south, visiting a tempest on his enemies from the north. In a sense, Hal is only speaking his mind here—a mind with a climate much like England's own.

A similar sort of metaphorical connection occurs in King Henry IV, Part 2, after Hal has ascended the throne. As he reinstates the chief justice in act 5, scene 3, he attempts to explain the sea change (as it were) in his character:

The tide of blood in me Hath proudly flow'd in vanity till now; Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea, Where it shall mingle with the state of floods, And flow henceforth in formal majesty.

(Lines 129-33)

Here Hal likens himself explicitly to a body of land, and perhaps more specifically to London itself, so dependent on the tidal movements of the Thames. The new King Henry emerges as the personification of his grandfather's deathbed vision of the ideal England, and as a kind of repatriation of the "land" (both physical and conceptual) lost during Richard II's reign.

Hal's embodiment of the land extends, of course, beyond England into Wales; from one play to the next the audience witnesses the identity of Wales as a nation and people gradually being subsumed into Hal's identity as prince and monarch. Just before his duel with Hotspur, Hal links himself with "one England" which cannot "brook a double reign / Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales" (5.4.66-67). The historical record provides Shakespeare with a notable poetic confirmation in the fact that Glendower and his troops never take the field at Shrewsbury—deferring, as it were, to Hal as the "true" representative of Wales: the country which Hotspur treats as so unambiguously foreign a land is, in however specious a sense, Hal's homeland. Both Glendower and Hal can "speak" for Wales, but Hal speaks with more authority (from the perspective of the history plays, at least), and thus displaces Glendower as a dynamic force in the drama.

Shakespeare picks up the matter of Hal's putative Welsh lineage again in King Henry V, through the character of Fluellen, who, in addition to providing Shakespeare with the opportunity for regaling his audience with some coarse ethnic humor, serves to display the empathy between the Welsh and their "Prince," as when Fluellen and Henry discuss wearing the insignia of the leek:

K. Hen. I wear it for a memorable honor; For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.Flu. All the water in Wye cannot wash your Majesty's Welsh plood out of your body, I can tell you that.


Fluellen has already invoked the Wye with similar intent while making his comical case for King Henry as a latter-day "Alexander the Pig" and Monmouth as the new Macedon. In arguing his point, Fluellen directs Gower to some interesting sources of evidence:

if you look in the maps of the orld, I warrant you sall find, in the comparisons between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations, look you, is both alike. There is a river in Macedon, and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth. It is call'd Wye at Monmouth; but it is out of my prains what is the name of the other river; but 'tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers, and there is salmons in both. (4.7.22-31)

Fluellen's speculative "maps of the orld" differ from Hotspur's map in that they will (he thinks) lead the viewer toward a sense of the sameness of things: "'tis all one." For the comparison that Fluellen proposes is essentially a matter of typology:10 Monmouth is to Macedon as the Wye is to the anonymous Macedonian river as Henry incorporates Alexander as the King of England incorporates the Prince of Wales. Henry's "one England"—Henry as the one England—begins to resemble a microcosm of the whole known world, past and present.

Henry V

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1304

Indeed, Henry does behave in King Henry V as though the known world belongs to England and England belongs to him. His actions in the play have their impetus in his lengthy discussion with the bishops about "Salique land" in act 1, scene 2—a scene which, while it may be unduly tedious for modern audiences, must surely have had a significant degree of topical interest for its initial viewers.

The wooing scene at the end of the play is perhaps more dubious than tedious, but Henry's relationship with the land (a land which now incorporates France) remains close to the surface:

Kath. Is it possible dat I should love de ennemie of France?

K. Hen. No, it is not possible you should love> the enemy of France, Kate; but in loving me, you should love the friend of France; for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it: I will have it all mine. And, Kate, when Fance is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine.Kath. I cannot tell wat is dat.K. Hen. No, Kate? I will tell thee in French . . .


Henry's French may be no better than Katherine's English, but it is nonetheless a kind of French—the kind an English king would speak. However awkwardly the French and English languages approach one another in King Henry V, their meeting betokens a larger assimilation: "thy speaking of my tongue, and I thine, most truly falsely, must needs be granted to be much at one" (lines 190-92).

The most obvious sort of assimilation here is represented by the impending betrothal of Henry and Katherine, yet even Henry's love-talk reveals his more general and more crucial affiliations:

take me by the hand, and say, "Harry of England, I am thine"; which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal, but I will tell thee aloud, "England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is thine, and Henry Plantagenet is thine" . . . (Lines 236-40)

The structure of this speech becomes suggestive when the phrase "of England" is treated as carrying a definite possessive meaning: England possesses the king, who in turn possesses Katherine "of France." Once France becomes part "of England," then Henry can assign to Katherine a nominal ownership which begins with England and ends with Henry himself. But this last is like a series of concentric circles within a primum mobile: England moves the cosmos, with Henry pervading that cosmos from center to periphery.

The entire scene may seem overdrawn, yet it does bring a subtle sort of closure to the narrative of placement and displacement which runs through the tetralogy. Just before the betrothal, Henry muses to the French king over the transformative power of love:

. . . you may, some of you, thank love for my blindness, who cannot see many a fair French city for one fair French maid that stands in my way.

Fr. King. Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively: the cities turn'd into a maid; for they are all girdled with maiden walls that war hath [never] ent'red. (Lines 316-23)

The word "perspectively" has usually been associated with some form of the optical tricks or the trompe l'oeil techniques that became so popular in the sixteenth century: a painting of a woman that resolves, on closer examination, into an urban landscape. The word may also suggest simply a shift in perspective, the transformation of an object from one set of dimensions into another, as in a map. Katherine becomes a visual representation of the territory which Henry now controls—a distinctly ominous development, as feminist readings of the history plays suggest,11 but also a final confirmation of Henry's ability to make sense of and to use the "map" of the land placed before him.12

Shakespeare's presentation of Henry V does, often enough, suggest a deep-seated ambivalence about his character; one has only to consider the always open question of the banishment of Falstaff at the end of King Henry IV, Part 2. But this question hinges in large part on the sense, shared by both audiences and critics, that Falstaff is "close to the land," an authentic vestige of the English countryside and its folkways. While Falstaff s language and peculiar energeia may suggest this, his overall role in the plays does not. He may claim in act 2, scene 4 of King Henry IV, Part 1, that banishing "plump Jack" would be like banishing "all the world" (lines 479-80), but audiences and readers already know about his weakness for hyperbole; moreover, such a claim fails to localize Falstaff in any way. For while he may be a knight, Falstaff appears not to be "landed"; he is a transient being, with no specific habitation other than the Boar's Head Tavern. Falstaff does "come down to earth" with his false death at Shrewsbury, where, as the stage directions indicate, Hal "spieth Falstaff on the ground." But Falstaff cannot stay put; he "riseth up," refusing to be "Embowell'd" (5.4.111), and (significantly) he takes Hotspur's corpse with him. After deciding to pretend that he has himself killed Hotspur, he says, "Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me" (lines 126-27). The words are patently ironic—the audience, of course, sees Falstaff the entire time—but beyond the reflexive theatricality of the remark there lies a sense that Falstaff, for all his great size, is (like a fairy in the daylit world) an invisible being—invisible, at least, within the world of fact. Falstaff cannot lose his place because he has no place to begin with. Thus Hal can treat Falstaff at the end of King Henry IV, Part 2, as if Falstaff lived only within Hal's nighttime dreams but not within any actual "ten mile" radius of the king, wherever the king should happen to reside on English soil (5.5.49-51, 65).

In the quality of his "residence," then, Henry is delivered to the Elizabethan audience as a central moral and historical referent: he is the king who comprehends the land, in both of the important senses of comprehension, and thus represents an idealized feudal relationship between ruler and nation—"nation" understood not so much as polity or people but as a macrocosm of the manor, with Henry as lord and the people as tenants of an extensive but thoroughly domesticated property. Shakespeare's Henry may perch on the cusp of modernity, but he also offers the Elizabethan audience a nostalgic dream-vision of the medieval king, at home in the world because he is the world.

We can note as well in Shakespeare's presentation of Henry an interesting variation on the familiar idea of the king's two bodies, the transient, physical "body natural" and the eternal, immutable "body politic."13 In King Henry V, the identification between the body of the king and the "body" of the nation is so close that the loss of the one is in effect the loss of the other, as is suggested by the brief summary of Henry VI's reign at the close of the play, in which the Chorus equates the gradual dissolution of monarchical authority with the physical disintegration of England and its borders: "Henry the Sixt . . . did this king succeed; / Whose state so many had the managing, / That they lost France, and made his England bleed" (act 5, epilogue, lines 9-12). The sense of the possessive pronoun in line 12 is ambiguous; "his" appears to refer to "Henry the Sixt," but it forms part of the rhyme with line 10 ("this king succeed" / "his England bleed"). "This king" is carefully aligned with "his England," so that the nation remains identified with Henry V even after his death. The troubles of Henry VI's reign are metaphorical wounds in the corpse of the late king, whose demise signals a hiatus in the ability of the English monarch to act effectively in history.

Henry IV

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2227

Henry V's charisma in the tetralogy—whether that charisma is construed as positive or negative—is closely connected with his aura of uniqueness. This aura emanates less from his personality or his accomplishments than from his ability to occupy a particular symbolic position in the historical narrative more securely than anyone else on the stage: he is the supremely oriented historical actor ("herein will I imitate the sun"). Unlike Hotspur, he need not worry about losing the map, because he carries the map within himself. His sense of direction is privileged, in every sense, and he is the only character in Shakespeare's historical universe who maintains this privilege from first to last. As such, he has the rather opaque quality that accompanies any figure of nostalgia; a being neither wholly anticipated nor subsequently duplicated in history, he seems not quite human.

The moral distance between Henry V and Henry VI was brutally obvious—we might say too obvious—to both Shakespeare and his audience; but Shakespeare was also interested in limning the distance between Henry V and his father. Henry IV, too, is deeply concerned with orienting himself properly within the world and within history, but his capacity to do so is more like Hotspur's than like Hal's. This is not so much because Henry and Hotspur both fall under a long shadow of usurpation and rebellion, but rather because they are both placed outside the world they wish to inhabit in ways that the political action of the plays never makes fully explicit. Henry IV, for one thing, has never entirely overcome the onus of exile laid upon him by his unfortunate predecessor. After Richard banishes the two contestants in King Richard II, Henry (i.e., Bullingbrook) demands of Mowbray that he confess his treason, for "had the King permitted us, / One of our souls had wand'red in the air" (I.3.194-95); the death of one of the parties to the duel would have forestalled either confession or pardon. But exile—even in its mitigated version—reduces Bullingbrook to a similar state of wandering, as he himself confesses to Gaunt a few moments later: "Must I not serve a long apprenticehood / To foreign passages, and in the end, / Having my freedom, boast of nothing else / But that I was a journeyman to grief?" (lines 271-74). Bullingbrook's use of metaphor here is telling: exile is a form of servitude which does not culminate in a firmer sense of identity or purpose.

The uncertainty of exile overshadows even Bullingbrook's moments of triumph in King Richard II His reentry in act 2, scene 3 begins with a query about local geography:

Bull. How far is it, my lord, to Berkeley now?North. Believe me, noble lord,   I am a stranger here in Gloucestershire.


Interestingly enough, Hotspur also has trouble "locating" Berkeley Castle in Henry IV, Part 1, when he attempts to explain his hatred of Bullingbrook to Northumberland:

In Richard's time—what do you call the place?— A plague upon it, it is in Gloucestershire— 'Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept— His uncle York—where I first bow'd my knee Unto this king of smiles, this Bullingbrook—'Sblood! When you and he came back from Ravenspurgh—North. At Berkeley castle.Hot. You say true.


To Bullingbrook and Northumberland, as to Hotspur, the region surrounding Berkeley Castle presents itself as alien, but Bullingbrook is "a stranger here" in a sense that transcends the merely parochial. When, later in the scene, he boldly attempts to reclaim his inheritance—"As I was banish'd, I was banish'd Herford, / But as I come, I come for Lancaster" (lines 113-14)—we remain aware of something chimerical in Bullingbrook's character, a fundamental doubt concerning the title which should properly belong to him. The rhetorical questions he directs to York seem to remain suspended, not entirely answerable: "Will you permit that I shall stand condemn'd / A wandering vagabond, my rights and royalties / Pluck'd from my arms perforce—and given away / To upstart unthrifts? Wherefore was I born?" (lines 119-22).

This problem of establishing location—of things, names, purposes—culminates in Exton's murder of Richard, an act inspired, ironically enough, by the same sort of question:

Exton. Didst thou not mark the King, what words he spake? "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" Was it not so?[1.] Man. These were his very words.Exton. "Have I no friend?" quoth he. He spake it twice, and urg'd it twice together, did he not?[1.] Man. He did.


At the close of the play, Exton tries unsuccessfully to provide Henry with a locus, an unambiguous center from which the question "Where is the King?" could receive a clear answer: "Great King, within this coffin I present / Thy buried fear. Herein all breathless lies / The mightiest of thy greatest enemies, / Richard of Burdeaux, by me hither brought" (5.6.30-33). Henry, though, is unwilling to "come home" in such a way; appropriately, he punishes Exton by passing on to him the burden of exile: "With Cain go wander thorough shades of night / And never show thy head by day or night" (lines 43-44). At the same time, Henry plans to provide a more legitimate locus for himself by undertaking the most solemn and sacred of all homeward journeys in the western world: "I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land, / To wash this blood off from my guilty hand" (lines 49-50).

At the beginning of King Henry IV, Part 1, however, Henry is forced to admit that "this our purpose now is twelve month old" (I.1.28). It is also clear in his initial speech that Henry thinks of the Holy Land not only as the general site of a crusade but as a physical place, to be experienced concretely as such:

Forthwith a power of English shall we levy . . . To chase those pagans in those holy fields, Over whose acres walk'd those blessed feet Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail'd For our advantage to the bitter cross.

(Lines 22, 24-27)

This is less the language of the crusader than of the penitent pilgrim, tracing the footsteps of Christ along the Via Dolorosa, aspiring to tread the same ground that Christ had trod.14 In Henry's case, however, the act of pilgrimage is never entirely separable from the ethic of the crusade; like so many other Christian monarchs, Henry wishes to transform Jerusalem from a city on the periphery of the European world to a city at the center of the oikumenê as well as at the center of the believer's consciousness. By restoring Jerusalem in this way, Henry will, he hopes, achieve the sort of historical fulfillment that seems perpetually to elude him in England.

Whether consciously or not, Henry is also participating in the medieval tradition that literally placed Jerusalem at the center of the map, and that figured significantly in what might be called the geographical imagination of Europe. The pictorial beginnings of this tradition are in the so-called T-0 maps, which date from at least the time of the sixth-century bishop Isidore of Seville, who included one in his Etymologiae. These maps present an archetypally—and, one might add, typologically—well-ordered world, a circle divided into three parts (Europe, Africa, and Asia) by a "T" laid on its right side and composed of the Nile, the Don, and the Mediterranean, the last forming the leg of the T. In Isidore's map the three parts reflect not only the conventional continental divisions but Noah's disposition of the world among his sons Shem, Ham, and Japhet in the tenth chapter of Genesis.15 By roughly A.D. 1100, Jerusalem has come to occupy the point at which the lines of the T join to form a cross.16

There are, of course, no T-0 maps on display in the Henriad; but this ancient picture of a bounded world, organized simply and providentially around an immutable center, is eminently serviceable in suggesting the "mental map" that Henry carries with him.17 The vision of a holy city at the heart of a static world offers at least the hope of a serene antithesis to the dynamic but uncentered realm over which he struggles to rule.

That Henry is thinking in such terms is clear both at the close of the scene, when he repeats to Warwick, Surrey, and Blunt his long-standing wish—"And were these inward wars once out of hand / We would, dear lords, unto the Holy Land" (lines 107-8)—and earlier as well, when Henry prays for a map of sorts to guide him: "O God, that one might read the book of fate, / And see the revolution of the times / Make mountains level, and the continent, / Weary of solid firmness, melt itself / Into the sea . . ." (lines 45-49). Henry desires a book that will render graphically both the past and future of the world he now inhabits. Unlike the Holy Land of the T-0 map, the land in the book of fate is a disordered one, expanding, contracting, and finally dissolving; the closer analogy would be to Hotspur's "revolutionary" map, with its shifting boundaries and altered river course. Henry differs from Hotspur, though, in drawing a moral lesson—albeit an entirely disheartening one—from his study of the "terrain" of human action: "The happiest youth, viewing his progress through, / What perils past, what crosses to ensue, / Would shut the book, and sit him down and die" (lines 54-56). Clearly, Henry is preparing for the hour when he will shut the book on a land with which he has never managed to identify himself.

That hour arrives in act 4, scene 5, during which Henry's chronic sense of dislocation finds its ironic denouement. Shakespeare provides a potent visual emblem within the scene, when Henry wakes from his fitful sleep to ask, "Where is the crown? who took it from my pillow?" (line 57). The question may strike us as slightly comical, suggesting as it does that Henry's notion of himself as king is dependent on an entirely portable "prop"—a prop which is now in another room, resting for the moment on his son's head. His suspicions about Hal's motives give rise to the fear that under Hal England will lose all its familiar boundaries, reverting to a prehistoric feral state: "O thou wilt be a wilderness again, / Peopled with wolves, thy old inhabitants!" (lines 136-37).18 Yet Henry's assessment of his own reign, which he delivers to Hal in a speech that effectively functions as a deathbed confession, is suffused with the king's understanding of his own refusal to honor the proper boundaries: "God knows, my son, / By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways /I met this crown . . ." (lines 183-85). His concluding advice to Hal is extraordinary in its cynicism, suggesting a continuing consciousness that, all along, the "wilderness" and the "wolves" have merely been concealed from view by a thin veneer of civility:

. . . all [my] friends, which thou must make thy friends,   Have but their stings and teeth newly ta'en out; By whose fell working I was first advanc'd, And by whose power I well might lodge a fear To be again displac'd; which to avoid,   I cut them off, and had a purpose now To lead out many to the Holy Land,   Lest rest and lying still might make them look Too near unto my state.

(Lines 204-12)

Here, at last, Henry acknowledges the threat of displacement in the most pragmatic terms; it is a threat he not only fears but has exploited for his own purposes.

In this account the most penetrating irony is that Henry's journey to the center of the world would actually have been an attempt to de-center the consciousness of his own subjects, to blur and confuse the bounds of Henry's reign over England. In order to preserve his rule, Henry has paradoxically sacrificed the possibility of finding the center of his "state" in England itself. And he advises Hal to follow a similar course, without acknowledging—for when did Henry ever seem aware of it?—the close identification that already exists between Hal and the land, and Hal's gift not only for finding but for enlarging his own "center."

Shakespeare adapts Henry's dying words from Holinshed, but those words are nonetheless symbolically charged, as Henry discovers that the only Jerusalem he will ever reach is one altogether close to home:

King. Doth any name particular belong Unto the lodging where I first did swound?War. Tis called Jerusalem, my noble lord.King. Laud be to God! Even there my life must end. It hath been prophesied to me many years, I should not die but in Jerusalem,   Which vainly I suppos'd the Holy Land. But bear me to that chamber, there I'll lie, In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.

(Lines 232-40)19

At this moment Henry could say, as Edmund does at the end of King Lear, "The wheel is come full circle, I am here" (5.3.175). Henry has indeed arrived at a specific place—just as Hotspur finds his "two paces of the vilest earth"—but it is not the place he thought to occupy. His final dislocation takes two distinct forms: not only does Jerusalem come uncentered on Henry's mental map of the world, but the locus of the monarchy, Westminster itself, suddenly shows itself as foreign terrain—for Henry has never known the name of the presumably familiar chamber in which his reign will conclude.

The Border of History

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1949

Welcome destruction, blood, and massacre! I see (as in a map) the end of all.

(King Richard III 2.3.53-54)

Shakespeare's audience watched the plays of the second tetralogy in theaters that retained the conventional shape of a map of the world; the theater called The Globe would make the connection explicit.20 Shakespeare himself made dramatic use of the notion of the theater as a metaphor of the oikumenê in the prologue to King Henry V: "Suppose within the girdle of these walls / Are now confín'd two mighty monarchies, / Whose high, upreared, and abutting fronts / The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder" (prologue, lines 19-22). The prologue invites the audience to suppose, in effect, a tripartite world—the third part, of course, being taken by the audience.

The center of this world is occupied by the protagonist of the drama; in the plays of the second tetralogy, that protagonist is drawn from history. The audience witnesses the struggle of that figure to maintain position as the rightful occupant of that space. This is one of the central tropes of dramatic presentation; historical drama provides the additional element of the protagonist struggling to hold a "place" in history. Only Hal/Henry V controls this place successfully within the tetralogy. And while the Elizabethan audience might savor this achievement, they would also be aware of its anomaly—that this one figure is surrounded by many others who aspire to occupy the center of the world's stage but can never quite seem to find it, and instead stand in danger of falling from the stage altogether.

The loss of a locus is equivalent to the loss of historical being; it is a loss revealed in failures of both action and language. This double loss can be sensed in Shakespeare's presentation not only of Hotspur but of Henry IV; the king's final exit to "Jerusalem" in King Henry IV, Part 2, signals both his personal demise and the end of his usefulness as an actor in either drama or history. The audience's pleasure in Henry V's triumph as a figure of history is tempered by awareness that the stage is more commonly traversed with uncertain footsteps by exhausted—and exhaustible—figures like his father, and Hotspur.

The appropriate genre for such figures is tragedy—a genre which, in Shakespeare's hands, closely resembles that of the history play, but with a crucial shift in emphasis. The protagonists of the late tragedies are those who claim the dramatic and historical center but either cannot locate or cannot occupy that fixed place except, paradoxically, in death: Othello, multiply alienated, deprived of his customary military duties, and finding too much time on his hands in Cyprus; Hamlet, never entirely at home in Denmark, delivering his boldest affirmation of identity—"This is I, / Hamlet the Dane!" (Hamlet 5.1.257-58)—literally at the edge of the grave; Macbeth, who finds the very land itself turning against him at the end of the play; and Antony, disoriented in Egypt, in a drama distinguished by its extraordinarily rapid shifts in setting. Most plangently, there is Lear, who divides his kingdom into a "tripartite world" by way of a map, but who (along with the audience) comes to see "the shape and stability of the kingdom replaced by vagaries of movement and motive, and Lear's map itself, by an unmapped wilderness of lust, ambition, and deceit."21

The causes of Shakespeare's great turn toward tragedy at the end of the sixteenth century are exceptionally complex; here I would only offer the observation that this turn appears to involve a significant shift in Shakespeare's presentation of the ability of his protagonists to orient themselves within the places they are said to inhabit. The plays of the second tetralogy revolve, however elliptically, around an essentially pastoral vision of a monarch who achieves an ideal consonance with the land of England, and thus an iconic status in history. The tragedies that emerge from Shakespeare's pen during the waning, difficult years of Elizabeth's reign and the turbulent early years of James's suggest, albeit indirectly, that this vision of "terrestrial harmony" belongs to the past and cannot be reclaimed, since the more recent protagonists of history, and especially those who rule, have proven inadequate to its pursuit.


1 G. K. Hunter, "Elizabethans and Foreigners," Shakespeare Survey 17 (1964): 38. Hunter's article remains an excellent introduction to Elizabethan ideas about the larger world.

2 My text for the plays is G. Blakemore Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston, 1974); all references use this edition and cite the text according to act, scene, and line.

3 The relevant passage from Holinshed is in Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London, 1957-75), 4:185.

4 In a speech partly drawn from the First Folio version of King Henry IV, Part 2, Lord Bardolph also aspires to "map out" the revolt in order to ensure its orderly progress; at the same time, and unlike Hotspur, he understands the necessity of laying the "model" against one's "estate," the material resources that are actually available for the enterprise (I.3.41-57). We might say, in linguistic terms, that Bardolph is aware of the perilous gaps that can open up between signs and referents. The same recognition eludes Hotspur.

5 In Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca, N.Y., 1990), Phyllis Rackin focuses on the occurrence of this sort of transvaluation in King Richard II, best captured in John of Gaunt's speech at act 2, scene 1, lines 57-64, where Gaunt's ironically quibbling use of the word "dear" "reduces the incommensurable value of what is loved to the commercial value of an expensive commodity. . . . The enduring, immanent value of land and sea (real estate) has been replaced by the fluctuating, mediated value of the market, represented by legal documents ('inky blots and rotten parchment bonds')" (p. 101). I would suggest, though, that Hotspur's map is not this sort of "legal" document; it represents something much more archaic and much closer to the immanent value of land and sea.

6 Spevack cites thirteen uses of "map" by Shakespeare, including two uses in comedies, three in tragedies, one in a "romance," and six in histories; see Marvin Spevack, The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), p. 788. For a gnomically presented but fascinating discussion, see Frederick T. Flahiff, "Lear's Map," Cahiers Élisabéthains 30 (1986): 17-30. Though different in its style and specific preoccupations from my own efforts here, Flahiff s article is close to mine in its general approach to the geographical dimension of Shakespeare's plays.

7 The cultural uses of topography have—perhaps not surprisingly—received a good deal more attention in the social sciences than in the humanities. Especially noteworthy is the work of the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan; see, for example, his Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1974), Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis, 1977), and Landscapes of Fear (New York, 1979). For a sweeping historical survey of many of the issues that Tuan addresses theoretically, see Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley, 1967). A very accessible (and lavishly illustrated) primer on the conceptual dimensions of cartography is provided by David Turnbull in Maps Are Territories: Science Is an Atlas (1989; Chicago, 1993); see also two essays by J. B. Harley, "Meaning and Ambiguity in Tudor Cartography," in English Map-Making, 1500-1650: Historical Essays, ed. Sarah Tyacke (London, 1983), pp. 22-45, and "Maps, Knowledge, and Power," in The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design and Use of Past Environments, ed. Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 277-312. Among literary-critical works that make an approach to these topics, see John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge, 1994), which examines Hotspur's map briefly (pp. 46-47); Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago, 1988), pp. 1-25, esp. pp. 17-18; and Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago, 1992), pp. 107-47.

8 On the shifting demographics of the late Elizabethan period, see Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, N. J., 1982), pp. 121-48.

9 Rackin, pp. 77, 80. For particularly influential contemporary accounts of the "modern" Hal, see Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988), pp. 40-65, and Mullaney, pp. 76-87.

10 Gillies describes this "form of geographic moralisation" as "typo-geographic"; see his short comment on Fluellen's speech (p. 48).

11 As in, for example, Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, 1991), pp. 97-108, and Rackin, pp. 167-76.

12 The most extended discussion of the analogy between "land" and "woman," and of male exploitation of this relation, is Annette Kolodny's The Lay of the Land: Metaphor and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975).

13 For a recent historicist account of the political implications of Henry V's corporeality, see Claire McEachern, The Poetics of English Nationhood, 1590-1612 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 83-137, which bears particularly on the dynamics of the wooing scene.

14 Medieval pilgrims were evidently preoccupied with the notion of Christ's feet touching the ground of Palestine, probably out of a perception that the effort to retrace His steps would allow for a kind of physical sympathy with Christ's person ("I walk as He walked") which would otherwise be difficult to achieve. Mandeville accordingly invokes Christ's feet in his very first sentence (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, trans. and intro. C. W. R. D. Moseley [Harmondsworth, 1983], p. 43).

15 See C. Raymond Beazley, The Dawn of Modern Geography: A History of Exploration and Geographical Science from the Close of the Ninth to the Middle of the Thirteenth Century (c. A.D. 900-1260), 3 vols. (London, 1901), 2:576-79, 627-33. See also Hunter (n. 1 above), pp. 38-39, and, for the T-0's connection with Noah's division of the world among his sons, Flahiff, pp. 25-26. Stephen Greenblatt discusses the T-0 map and the tradition of Jerusalem as center in relation to Mandeville's Travels in Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago, 1991), pp. 41-43.

16 Beazley, p. 578. Beazley believes the earliest example of a T-0 map with Jerusalem at the center is one belonging to St. John's College, Oxford, dated 1110; he speculates that the map was crudely copied from a Byzantine original brought to western Europe after one of the early crusades.

17 In England the T-O map survived into the sixteenth century and even later; E. G. R. Taylor cites an example in an anonymous manuscript Cosmographia, transcribed in 1530 for Henry VIII's library though probably produced by a London monk around 1510 (see her Tudor Geography 1485-1583 [London, 1930], pp. 13-14); and Hunter identifies a very late example used to illustrate John Cayworth's Enchiridion Christiados, a Christmas masque, published in 1636 (p. 246n).

18 The danger of the encroaching wilderness makes itself felt in King Henry IV, Part 1, as well, whenever the "matter of Wales" is invoked. In the English popular imagination, Wales, along with the surrounding border region, was de facto a wilderness whose human inhabitants were only a few steps removed from the wolves. Shakespeare introduces this idea in the first scene of the play (I.1.44-46). It is the Prince of Wales in the history plays who bears the responsibility for domesticating the country which is nominally his; thus when Fluellen praises the king as a "countryman" in King Henry V (4.7.111), the implication is that this domestication has occurred.

19 On Henry's desire to reach Jerusalem, as this evolves from King Richard II to King Henry IV, Part 2, see James Black, "Henry IV's Pilgrimage," Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (1983): 18-26.

20 For a discussion of the more recondite dimensions of this equation, see Frances A. Yates, Theatre of the World (Chicago, 1969). See also Gillies (n. 7 above), pp. 70-98.

21 Flahiff (n. 6 above), p. 19.

Source: "Losing the Map: Topographical Understanding in the Henriad" in Modern Philology, Vol. 94, No. 4, May, 1997, pp. 475-95.


Law and Justice


Love and Romance