«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 ...»
political enemy. 34 He notes the same specious arguments behind Bolingbroke's murder of the favourites, Bushy and Green, in Richard II. Like Gaveston, these two men stand accused of morally corrupting the King and of destroying the royal bed (3.1.11-5). In fact, any distraction from the procreation of an heir has served Bolingbroke's ambitions and it is he
who will finally divorce the King and Queen in 5.3:
Just as in Edward II Mortimer destroys Gaveston by casting him as the parasitical favorite that he himself comes to resemble, so Bolingbroke condemns the favorites for the erotic and political divorce for which he is directly responsible. 35 In Richard II as in Edward II, we find the King's dependence upon favourites hinted at more than shown. There are suggestions that these men morally corrupt the King, that they offend the nobles through their 'baseness' and that they now wield too much power. However, the nobles' antipathy towards Richard is based on numerous offences, of which his favouritism is only one aspect. It is not until the Henry IV plays that Shakespeare foregrounds the political dangers of a future king's relationship with his favourite.
Falstaff may have encouraged the Prince to indulge in all kinds of supposedly immoral and illegal activities but it is the ideological infection that Hal takes which gives most cause for concern. It is a taste not so much for vice as for misrule, exemplified by Carnival. The seminal study of Sir John as Carnival scapegoat is that of C. L. Barber. He proposes a structure based on the triumphant reign (Part One) followed by the ritual trial and expulsion of Carnival (Part Two). Falstaff is a perfect embodiment of the pleasures of excess. It is not 34 Digangi suggests how that sodomitical rhetoric might be applied to the peers' relationship with the King.
These men have sought access to the king's body and power through socially disruptive and violent means.
Mortimer has committed an act of rape and regicide in the murder he designs for Edward II. See The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama, 100-33.
3 Mbid., 118.
just his addiction to sack, his gluttony or the suggestion of lechery that make him a symbol of the 'happiness' which the Archbishop wants to purge from the realm (22.214.171.124-6). Falstaff s impulse to anarchy reflects the spirit of travesty, laughter and liberty at the heart of Carnival.
His impulse to degrade is seen in his abuse of institutions of authority such as kingship, the Law, the Scriptures; in his rejection of chivalry and terms of 'honour"; in his abuse of words through punning. In his reading of Rabelais, Mikhail Bakhtin describes the political
subversiveness of Carnival thus:
All the symbols of the carnival idiom are filled with this pathos of change and renewal, with the sense of the gay relativity of prevailing truths and authorities. We find here a characteristic logic, the peculiar logic of the "inside out" (a I 'envers), of the "turnabout", of a continual shifting from top to bottom, from front to rear, of numerous parodies and travesties, humiliations, profanations, comic crownings and uncrownings. 36 In this context, Falstaff s grotesque body, stuffed with food, wine and even excrescence (126.96.36.1994-6), imagined as both pregnant and decaying (188.8.131.52-2, 1.2.245-6), becomes a symbol of Carnival's impulse to degrade. 37 Perhaps more importantly, his attitude towards kingship reveals exactly this sense of the 'relativity' of power and the Carnival rhythm of life constantly remaking itself.
Falstaff s performance as Henry IV inevitably defines him as the lord of misrule or the mockking of Carnival rites. 38 Within his little realm of Eastcheap, the knight travesties kingship:
36 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World tr. by Helena Iswolsky (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1984), 11.
37 The two main analyses of the tradition with especial reference to Falstaff are Willard Farnham's The Shakespearean Grotesque: Its Genesis and Transformations (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1971), 47-96, and Elizabethan Grotesque by Neil Rhodes (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), 89-130.
38 See Richard Levin, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 142-3, and Sandra Billington, Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 151-5.
This scene is only the most manifest representation of a parallel Falstaff insists on between himself and Henry as mock-kings and as thieves. 39 Yet the idea that Falstaff might play the king also threatens lineal succession. The ideal of sovereignty is to pass on the Crown from one generation to another in an uninterrupted succession. In plebeian culture, as expressed by Carnival, time is seen not as a linear but as a cyclical movement. This attitude is explored by Michael D. Bristol who considers the festive agon between the figures of Carnival and Lent as 'an explicit structuring device in the two parts of Henry IV 40 According to Barber, Falstaff is in part a political scapegoat. His expulsion serves to redeem kingship from the abuses it suffered under both Richard II and Henry IV and the kingdom achieves a kind of closure. 41 Bristol comes to a different conclusion. In his account of the play, the ritual thrashing and expulsion of Carnival and Lent defy the absolutism that Henry IV and his son aspire to. Carnival will always return from banishment to drive out Lent. 42 At the end of 2 Henry IV. the new king banishes Falstaff forever but he does not exorcise the Carnival spirit of the plays. Bristol observes.
39 On the theme of counterfeit kingship see Douglas' confusion at the battle of Shrewsbury where, having killed a number of royal substitutes, he does not recognise Henry and asks 'What art thou/ That counterfeit'st the person of a king?' (184.108.40.206-7). See James Calderwood, Melodrama in Shakespeare's Henriad: Richard II to Henry V (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 47-67, and James Winny, The Player King: A Theme of Shakespeare's Histories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968), 106-14. On the subject of Bolingbroke as a thief see Robert Hapgood, 'Falstaff s Vocation' Sh. Q. 16 (1965), 91-8, 94-5.
40 Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), 204.
41 Barber describes Bolingbroke as a sceptic and opportunist who has brought chivalric and divine-right kingship into question. In contrast, Richard II has tried to use rituals magically and failed. Barber suggests that by expelling Falstaff, Henry V 'can free himself from the sins, the "bad luck", of Richard's reign and of his father's reign, to become a king in whom chivalry and a sense of divine ordination are restored', Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, 207.
42 Just as Falstaff is identified with Carnival, so Hal has a number of Lenten attributes. 220.127.116.11-9.
The rhythm that requires Lenten civil policy to be ceremonially expelled in the mock-trial of Jack-a-Lent is a piece of unfinished cultural and political business in the celebratory imagery of the final scenes of each of the Henry IV plays.43 Hence, we might see the play's structural affinities with and references to Carnival creating the uneasiness that Falstaff s exile often inspires, rather than serving to explain it away.
Hal casts off his plebeian associates and this Carnival ideology. He has no intention of basing a kingship on popular support to the detriment of his relations with the nobility and, as soon as his father is dead, begins assiduously to win the hearts of the alienated nobles and to sever his popular connections. Nevertheless, for some time it looks to others as though Hal has fallen prey to Falstaff s persuasion. The topsy-turviness and impermanence of Carnival thought is dreadful to Henry IV (18.104.22.168-52). Yet he perceives his son, Hal, to favour it. The
King prophesies with horror an England based on such misrule:
Hal's mingling with the populace and with the Carnival representative, Falstaff, is also seen to make him disloyal, unstable and potentially rebellious. 44 Henry refers to the Prince as his 'near'st and dearest enemy', one whom he expects shortly to take arms against him as a hired sword (22.214.171.124-8). But if, at the end of Part Two, Hal has cast off his own rebellious identity, the new king may still be threatened by the rebellious aspect of Falstaff.
43 Carnival and Theater, 207.
44 The Archbishop condemns the populace for fickleness in Part Two, 1.3.89-108.
The relationships between the rebel lords and Henry IV, and between Falstaff and Hal. are comparable in a number of ways.45 Northumberland, Worcester and their allies supported Bolingbroke on his return from banishment and claim to have placed him on the throne (126.96.36.199-41, 46-66). Falstaff too prides himself on being a king-maker. Throughout Henry IV Parts One and Two, he refers to the education and the protection he has bestowed on Prince Hal.46 Yet where in Part One, Falstaff s expressions of self-justification were generously ironic, in Part Two he has started to believe his own fantasies. His ambitions for the future (which in the first play centred on not being hanged or banished) are increasingly outrageous.
He will give Shallow any office he desires. He will free Doll and the Hostess from jail:
'Blessed are they that have been my friends, and woe to my Lord Chief Justice' (5.3.136-7).
At the beginning of Part One, Hotspur inveighs against 'this unthankful King,/ [...] this ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke' (1.3.134-5). He incites his father and uncle to rebellion, to
At the battle of Shrewsbury, Falstaff describes his victory over Hotspur with hurt pride, hinting at the ingratitude of Hal and Henry IV if they will not reward his valour (188.8.131.52Thereupon, Hal promises to uphold the lie for the knight's profit. In Part Two, the Lord Chief Justice at least, still believes that Falstaff did good service at Shrewsbury. Yet this play opens with Falstaff in disgruntled mood suggesting that Hal is almost out of his favour (1.2.27-8) and presuming at the end that Henry V will not be able to rule without him.
45 See for example Anita Helmbold's comparison of Falstaff with Hotspur and with the Archbishop of York in 'King of the Revels or King of the Rebels?: Sir John Falstaff Revisited'. The Upstart Crow 16 (1996), 70-91.
46 See for example. 184.108.40.2063-7 and 4.2.113-21.
Banishment seems likely to inspire a rebellious defiance in Falstaff.
At this point it is important to recall that Oldcastle was not condemned as a heretic alone but as a rebel leader. During his exile he took part in an attempted coup which met at St Giles field on Twelfth Night, 1415. Having been forewarned, the King's troops were ready to intercede and a number of rebels were captured. When Oldcastle was finally brought to trial, he was accused of having attempted to depose and murder the King, the King's brothers, the prelates and other lords, intending to become regent himself. The topsy-turvy realm which he had apparently planned (though sounding rather like Henry VIII's reformation), involved the abolition of religious orders, the sending of monks out to work and the plundering and destruction of churches and cathedrals.47 Falstaff s skirmishes with Hal may include some significant threats. In Part One, when the Prince refuses to go thieving, he declares 'By the Lord, I'll be a traitor then, when thou art king' (1.2.144-5). After Hal's apparent cowardice at
Gadshill, he rebukes him:
If I do not beat thee out of thy kingdom with a dagger of lath, and drive all thy subjects afore thee like a flock of wild geese, I'll never wear hair on my face more. You, Prince of Wales! (2.5.136-9) 48 Such remarks as these have led Gary Taylor to conjecture that when Shakespeare wrote Part One he was anticipating a sequel in which the knight would prove a traitor to Henry V. The necessity of changing the knight's name from Oldcastle to Falstaff may have altered his 47 See James H. Wylie. The Reign of Henry the Fifth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914-29). 3 vols., vol. 1, 263-4.
48 On the association with the Vice see I Henry /Fed. by David Bevington (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 185, n. 131. This may also be a reference to the Battle of Carnival and Lent. In Jacke a Lente: His Beginning and Entertainment (pub. 1630), John Taylor describes how on Palm Sunday, 'whole herds of oxen, and flocks of sheep, are driven into every town for no other purpose but to drive Lent out of the country'. The Old Book Collector's Miscellany ed. by Charles Hindley (London: Reeves and Turner, 1872). 3 vols.. vol. 2, 19.
character.49 One problem with this argument seems to me to be a lack of motivation for rebellion in both parts of the play. The Oldcastle of Part One lacks the religious conviction that apparently drove his historical counterpart. The association of Falstaff with rebelliousness does not mean he will take up arms. Nevertheless, critics who have interpreted the banishment of Falstaff as a response to such a threat include William Empson who argues that he is 'dangerously strong, indeed almost a rebel leader'. 50 Similarly, Anita Helmbold
considers Falstaff a political liability:
Civil disorder, no matter how appealing, cannot be condoned; Falstaff, no matter how lovable, is an enemy of the state. For reasons of state, Hal must thrust Falstaff away, a task that is as distasteful as it is essential. 51 In this vein, Helmbold offers a striking reading of the meeting between Prince John and York in Part 2. She suggests that John's outrage at a royal favourite turned traitor (4.1.248-52) is far more appropriate to Falstaff than to the Archbishop who does not seem to have received any particular patronage from Henry IV. One particular speech by John has multiple
applications to Hal's relationship with Falstaff:
This ties in with our earlier consideration of the danger posed by an ambitious courtier. Yet John's speech also reminds us of Hal's first soliloquy in which he claimed to abuse his own
Gary Taylor, 'The Fortunes of Oldcastle', Sh. S. 38 (1985), 85-100, 95-6.
See Essays on Shakespeare ed. by David B. Pirie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 29-78, 68.
'King of the Revels', 88.