«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
To every Tudor monarch after the Reformation, banishment seemed an obvious response to the infectious powers of 'heretics'. But the interpretation of such exile was inevitably more complex and heterodox than that allowed for in John Bale's play. As we saw in the introduction, Bale himself was central to the rewriting of Protestant exile, arguing that banishment was one of the sufferings of God's elite. The Protestant exile followed in the footsteps of St John, a parallel Bale developed in his commentary on St John's Apocalypse, The Image of Both Churches, written during his own exile. Similarly, banishment is an important aspect of the hagiography of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments. For many of his subjects a period of exile precedes martyrdom. One such figure is Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham. When Shakespeare chose to call his knight 'Oldcastle' in / Henry IV he inherited two opposing traditions of interpretation: the heretic-outlaw and the Protestant martyr. 21 By hinting at both perspectives in his creation of the 'debauched' knight, Shakespeare was bound to inspire both delight and horror in his audience.22 Within the play, the association also colours the character of Falstaff. His 'infection' of Hal and his banishment may both be related to the legend of Oldcastle, enriching the ambiguities of the play and further challenging the simple morality pattern.
Bale summarises the clergy's first accusations against the heresy of Oldcastle thus:
21 See Rudolph Fiehler's article 'How Oldcastle Became Falstaff, MLQ 16 (1955), 16-28.
22 Sir John Oldcastle (1599), a two-part play of which only part one remains, was written mainly to redeem the Lollard's reputation. The prologue denies Oldcastle's identification as a 'pampered glutton' and offers to represent him faithfully. It begs, 'Let fair truth be graced,/ Since forged invention former time defaced' (13-4), a reference to Shakespeare's plays. See The Oldcastle Controversy: Sir John Oldcastle Part 1 and The Famous Victories of Henry Fed. by Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1991).
That he was far otherwise in belief of the sacrament of the altar, of penance, of pilgrimage, of image-worshipping, and of the ecclesiastical power, than the holy church of Rome had taught many years afore. 23 At least the first three of these aberrations are expressed in the Puritan idiom of Shakespeare's Oldcastle/Falstaff. When Hal picks the knight's pockets he complains at the quantity of sack in comparison with bread (126.96.36.1993-4). Alice-Lyle Scoufos suggests that this may be a reference to the Lollards' rejection of transubstantiation as anything other than symbolic of Christ's blood and flesh: 'The Falstaff-Oldcastle figure carries only a symbolic amount of bread'. 24 Secondly, Falstaff makes a number of references to penance and reformation, perhaps satirising Hal's promise in 1.2, but also referring to the Puritan preoccupation with salvation. The knight punningly suggests that Hal will lack grace when he is a king (188.8.131.52-8) and that the Prince has led him astray until he is become 'one of the wicked', a common Puritan expression. Falstaff s apathy about salvation is satiric on one level but it may also reflect the doctrine that good works would not alter one's position in regard to God and that only faith and grace could save one. Falstaff refers to this sticky doctrinal point when he pretends for a moment to drop his creed. The knight says of Poins, *O, if men were to be saved by merit, what hole in hell were hot enough for him?' (107-8).
Finally, there may be a reference to Oldcastle's condemnation of pilgrimage in Falstaff s relish at the prospect of robbing pilgrims going to Canterbury' (124-5).25 The religious dispute between Oldcastle and Henry V may also find an echo in the relationship of Shakespeare's characters. According to various historical accounts, Henry V 23 'The Examination and Death of Lord Cobham' in Select Works of Bishop Bale, 16.
24 Alice-Lyle Scoufos, Shakespeare's Typological Satire: A Study of the Falstaff-Oldcastle Problem (Ohio:
Ohio University Press, 1979), 44-69, 78.
2 = See also references to Falstaff singing psalms in Part One 2.5.132-3 and Part Two 1.2.189-90. For a list of Falstaff s Biblical allusions see Naseeb Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare's History Plays (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989), / Henry IV, 136-52. 2 Henry IV. 153-72.
called Oldcastle before him and tried to make him recant his heretical views. In Shakespeare's play. Hal and his companions refer to the knight as damned. They jest that he has sold his soul to the Devil for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg during Lent (184.108.40.206-5) but the association with the 'heresy' of Oldcastle is there to be made. Moreover, Falstaff s damnation is partly ensured by his refusal to recant, that is, to break the devil's word or to listen to Hal. The knight refuses to be corrupted by the Prince any longer: 'I'll be damned for never a king's son in Christendom' (96-7). Of course, outside Eastcheap, the infection is seen to work the other way around. Hal is in danger from Falstaff s insinuations.
We might also give this a historical-religious gloss if we remember that Oldcastle was apparently credited with trying to convert Henry V at their last meeting. 26 Finally, Falstaff s banishment may have recalled the Oldcastle legend. Having escaped the Tower and been excommunicated but refusing to present himself for trial, Oldcastle remained hidden in Wales for several years and was officially named an outlaw. That 'banishment' was a recognised part of the legend is reflected in John Weever's The Mirror of Martyrs (1601).
Here Cobham has left Elysium for a time to tell his story. He describes his outlawry in Wales:
Furthermore, the terms of Falstaff s exile may relate it to Elizabethan and Jacobean legislation against heresy. Shakespeare follows his sources in designating the exact distance 26 Shakespeare's Typological Satire, 48.
27 Extracts reprinted in The Oldcastle Controversy, 223-53.
that must be maintained between Falstaff and the King as ten miles. 28 Although the dramatist may offer this detail in the cause of historical accuracy, it may also have had some contemporary significance. In 1585, 'An Act against Jesuits. Seminary Priests, and other such like disobedient Persons' instituted various measures to protect England from the ingress of Catholics from seminaries at Douai, Rheims and Rome as well as from foreign universities.
Principal among the demands of this legislation was the expulsion of Jesuits and seminary priests from the kingdom within forty days. If the offenders did not leave they would be charged with high treason and executed. Those who recanted and agreed to swear an oath of
obedience to the Queen were still perceived as pernicious:
If any Person so submitting himself, as aforesaid, do at any Time within the Space of ten Years after such Submission made, come within ten Miles of such Place where her Majesty shall be, without especial Licence from her Majesty [...] then and from thenceforth such Person shall take no Benefit of his said Submission, but that the same Submission shall be void as if the same had never been.
Similarly, after the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, James I took steps to protect himself from contact with any Catholic. 'An Act to prevent and avoid Dangers which grow by Popish Recusants" (1605) warned that 'the Repair of such evil-affected Persons to the Court, or to the City of London, may be very dangerous to his Majesty's Person', a danger prevented if they were instead confined to their private houses in the country. The Act demands that all known recusants and those who have not been to church for three months, must now live and remain outside a ten-mile radius of London or else face a fine of one hundred pounds.
28 Holinshed describes how the King 'banished them all from his presence [...] inhibiting them upon a great paine, not once to approche, lodge, or sojourne within ten miles of his court or presence' Hall concurs though he takes his measurement from Henry's 'courte or mansion'. Narrative and Dramatic Sources, vol. 4. 280, 286.
The Famous Victories is the nearest approximation to Shakespeare's terms where the King warns his followers 'not upon pain of death to approach my presence by ten mile's space" (9.46-7).
Falstaff s association with Oldcastle deepens our sense of the 'dangerous' personality that Shakespeare's king banishes from his presence. The hint that Oldcastle was not only charismatic enough to raise a rebellion but that in private conference he tried to convert Henry V might reinforce an audience's sense of Falstaff s persuasive charms. It also places them in a national context. The contemporary laws to keep heretics at a safe distance from the sovereign were not just concerned with the possibility of regicide. They also recognised the infectious power of the heretic's transgression and the danger accruing to the state from the king's religious conversion or moral turpitude. This issue is dramatically realised on the Elizabethan stage in a series of history plays focused on the 'weak king dilemma'.29 One recurring aspect of this dilemma is the insinuation of a young and ambitious courtier into the affections of the king. This relationship poses a complex threat. The new counsellor may morally corrupt the king, pandering to his weaknesses and encouraging tyranny, or he may destroy the balance of power, in particular the delicate relationship between the king and his nobles. These circumstances, allied with the courtier's own aspirations, may thus undermine the stability of the realm and suggest rebellion. We have seen banishment as the traditional response to moral and religious infection in the morality play (and to a lesser extent in Elizabethan/ Jacobean law). In the history play of the late sixteenth century, developing out of hybrid morality forms like King Johan and Magnificence, banishment is also a means to deal with this dangerous relationship.
In Woodstock, the King's uncles/counsellors are banished, to be replaced by his new favourites. These 'flattering minions' (2.3.87) are credited with leading their monarch astray.
29 Michael Manheim draws together the monarchs of Woodstock, EdwardII and RichardII under the heading of 'Wanton Kings'. He suggests a number of parallels between them but particularly that all three deal with court favourites who are -corrupt, youthful comelatelies whose political abuses are paralleled by varying degrees and forms of personal corruption'. See The Weak King Dilemma, 15-75, 16.
They indulge his taste for exorbitant dress and for holiday festivities. Green wants it declared treason for any man with a grey beard to come within forty feet of the court gates (2.2.173-5).
Under the influence of these favourites Richard becomes tyrannical, imposing excessive taxation and draconian punishments. Woodstock is appalled by these innovations and by the
fact of innovation itself. He is replaced by ignorant and socially inferior youth:
Rebellion must inevitably follow.
In Edward II, Marlowe dramatises the crisis resulting from a king's infatuation with one particular courtier. Piers Gaveston is perceived as a morally corrupting influence (2.5, 4.150).
He indulges Edward's lascivious tastes with poetry, music and masques (1.1.50-70) and encourages him to waste the kingdom's treasure on such spectacles. Perhaps more distressing to the peers is the contempt for hierarchy that this infatuation breeds. Gaveston is referred to by the peers as 'base and obscure' (1.100), a slave (2.25), peasant (2.30) and groom (4.291), wholly unworthy the affections of a prince, let alone the highest honours of the realm.30 The peers chafe at Gaveston's ambitious pride' (2.31) and at his disdain for their nobility, whilst the commons apparently detest him as a 'night-grown mushroom' (4.284). Moreover, excessive taxation and a catalogue of failures in foreign policy inspire rebellion on every side. Contempt for the King is blatant: 'Libels are cast against thee in the street./ Ballads and 30 Mortimer Junior deplores the impoverishment of the nobility at 4.406-20.
rhymes made of thy overthrow' (6.174-5). Edward had prophesied that his love for Gaveston would ruin the kingdom. 31 When the nobles demand the banishment of Edward's new favourites. Spencer and Baldock, and the King again refuses, this danger is made explicit.
Mortimer Junior asks:
MORTIMER JUNIOR: A desperate and unnatural resolution. (12.27-33) Banishment is the means by which the nobility has sought to protect the King from Gaveston's influence and his own dangerous susceptibility. The play opens with the favourite recalled from exile, only to be banished, recalled and once more expelled.32 But it has also expressed the peers' increasingly blatant ambition to make Edward their puppet.33 Their demand that Spencer and Baldock be banished seems to have no moral foundation other than the truism that all courtiers are flatterers (11.161-9). This gratuitous action may in retrospect heighten the ambiguity surrounding Gaveston's exile, hi an excellent chapter, 'The homoerotics of favoritism in tragedy', Mario Digangi describes how Mortimer has constructed a rhetoric of sodomy in order to justify the banishment and execution of his 31 See also 4.48-50, 11.135-42 and in particular Kent's testimony that the King's love for Gaveston will be 'the ruin of your realm and you', 6.205-8.
32 Catherine Betsey sees banishment in Edward II as a figure for the elusiveness of desire, the lover's absences giving his passion material form in 'Desire's Excess and the English Renaissance Theatre: EdwardII, Troilus and Cressida. Othello' in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage ed. by Susan Zimmerman (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 84-102, 84.
33 It should be noted that Edward turns this weapon against the nobles. He blackmails the peers into recalling Gaveston by expelling Isabella from the court. 4.209-12. In scene 6, he tries to banish Mortimer and Isabella.