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  • Title: The Famous Victories of Henry V: Introduction
  • Author: Mathew Martin
  • Textual editors: Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best
  • Production editor: Peter Cockett

  • Copyright Mathew Martin. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Mathew Martin
    Editors (Text): Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Famous Victories of Henry V: Introduction

    Famous Victories and Shakespeare's History Plays

    Famous Victories' enactment of the history of Henry V's life led to its further appropriation in subsequent English history plays, most notably Shakespeare's trilogy, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. Shakespeare's indebtedness to Famous Victories has long been acknowledged. As early as 1928 Bernard Ward concluded that Shakespeare took from the earlier history play "the entire design--lock, stock, and barrel" of his own three plays (273). More recently, arguing that the 1600 quarto edition of Henry V is a "workmanlike revamping of the old Queen's Men play" while the 1623 folio version is a "much fuller" and "multilayered" revision, Richard Dutton observes that "FV consists of 20 scenes [21 in this edition]. 1 to 7 correspond with parts of Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV; 8 and part of 9 correspond with 2 Henry IV; and the remainder of 9 to 20 (more than half the play) correspond closely with [H5] Q" (137, 139, 140). While "[t]here are relatively few verbal links between FV and [H5] Q," Dutton argues, "FV has provided Shakespeare with the essential shape of Q" (138). The play's status as Shakespeare's source has not always been beneficial, however. Bullough's verdict that "nothing shows the splendour of [Shakespeare's] imaginative alchemy better than the handling of this decrepit pot-boiler" (4.168) is only an extreme example of the disparaging comparisons that have been constructed.

    If the impulse to assert Shakespeare's superior art is set aside, though, comparisons between the plays can be instructive. The plays represent Prince Henry (Prince Harry or Hal in Shakespeare) in subtly but significantly different ways, for example. The differences are perceptible from the outset. Both Famous Victories and 1 Henry IV commence with the prince involved in highway robbery. Famous Victories' Prince Henry directly participates, as the blows about the shoulders given him by one of the receivers testify. In 1 Henry IV, in contrast, Prince Harry does not directly participate in the robbery dramatized in 2.2 but, rather, turns it into an opportunity to demonstrate Falstaff's cowardice. Moreover, while Prince Henry determines to spend the thousand pounds he and his companions have taken, Prince Harry resolves that "The money shall be paid back again, with advantage" (TLN 1515-1516 [[ edition links should not have query or fragment parts ]]). "The difference," Clare remarks, "is that Hal in 1 Henry IV is willing to take pleasure in the subordination of order and yet cunning enough to avoid directly inculpating himself" (106). The difference in characterization discernible here, Clare argues, extends throughout Famous Victories and Shakespeare's plays. If Prince Henry begins as a vicious rogue only to be miraculously transformed into the virtuous king, then, according to Clare, "Hal's character is entirely consistent. Throughout the trilogy he is self-aware and self-questioning. It is evident that Hal is consciously acting out the role he chooses for himself while, later, he performs the role chosen for him" (108). It is not that Famous Victories' Henry is better or worse than Shakespeare's but, rather, that the latter consistently manifests an interior depth not often, if at all, visible in the former.

    In the history of early modern English drama the development of interior depth of character is, arguably, accompanied by a related curtailing of the freedom of the actor, especially the clown, and a comparison of Famous Victories' clown Derrick and Shakespeare's Falstaff is as revealing as the comparison between Prince Henry and Prince Harry (Gurr, Playgoing 132-3). Falstaff, named Sir John Oldcastle in the initial version of 1 Henry IV (Corbin and Sedge 9-12), is superficially an oversized development of Famous Victories' Jockey, whose full name is Sir John Oldcastle (TLN 490), one of the three companions (the others are Ned and Tom) whom Prince Henry chastises and repudiates upon coronation. Yet while Shakespeare may have borrowed Jockey's companion position and narrative trajectory for Falstaff, Jockey is a sketchily developed character, and to fill out his character Shakespeare necessarily turned elsewhere. D. B. Landt writes that "Some of the personal qualities and functions of old Ned Poins (as well as Oldcastle and Dericke) have been incorporated into Falstaff, concentrating the action and centralizing the import and dramatic effect of the rejection" (73), adding that Falstaff also takes over "some of the Prince's more disreputable qualities" (74). In his study Shakespeare's Clown, however, David Wiles suggests that Falstaff's major model is Derrick: "The role of Falstaff can be seen as an elaborate reworking of the role of Derrick" (119), Wiles contends.

    As clown types, Derrick and Falstaff have much in common, from their cowardice in combat to their metatheatricality (which Derrick demonstrates in his play-acting with John, and Falstaff in his play-acting with Prince Harry in 1 Henry IV 2.4). Weimann comments that "What the comedians behind the roles of Dericke and Falstaff perform is an enactment of their clowning selves through the mimesis of mimesis" (190), a performance of their actorly selves in laughter-producing tension with their character roles. Contemporary evidence of this kind of metatheatricality survives in an anecdote about the popular Queen's Men's clown Richard Tarlton's improvisations as Derrick during a performance of Famous Victories: "At the Bull at Bishophs-gate, was a play of Henry the fift, wherein the judge was to take a box on the eare; & because he was absent that should take the blowe, Tarlton himselfe, ever forward to please, tooke upon him to play the same judge, beside his owne part of the clowne: and Knel then playing Henry the fift, hit Tarlton a sounde boxe indeed, which made the people laugh the more, because it was he" (Bullough 4.289-90). No doubt the laughter continued when in the next scene Tarlton playing Derrick playing Prince Henry calls the actor playing John playing the Lord Chief Justice a "clown" for letting him strike him. "[T]he clown-as hero insistently defeats the efforts of those in authority to preserve the outer dressings of social stability" (201), remarks Peter Thomson, referring specifically to the composite image of Tarlton created by the collection of anecdotes, Tarlton's Jests (1611), from which this anecdote is taken. 1 Henry IV 5.4, in which Falstaff plays dead to escape being killed by the rebel Douglas at the Battle of Shrewsbury, might have afforded similarly metatheatrical performative possibilities for the clown who played Falstaff, Will Kemp.

    35In spite of the metatheatricality that they share as clown figures, however, Derrick and Falstaff differ significantly, in ways that at least partly reflect important developments in the Elizabethan theatre. Derrick is plebeian, a poor carrier and the victim of Prince Henry's abuse of his princely powers, while Falstaff is of gentle social status, a knight who hopes to profit from Prince Harry's abuse of that princely power. Derrick is recruited into the army; in 2 Henry IV, Falstaff is doing the recruiting. The laughter Derrick provokes is often socially critical. In contrast, the laughter Falstaff provokes is frequently ironic and self-reflexive, as when he defends his own character in the third person while play-acting with Prince Harry in 1 Henry IV 2.4 or debunks the notion of honor at the end of 5.1 of the same play. One might suggest, then, that when reworking Derrick into Falstaff Shakespeare exchanged some of the unruly, oppositional force of Derrick's clowning for greater depth of character. This would be consonant with Thomson's general claim that in the 1580s and 1590s "the threat of the act of acting was dampened by a shift in audience expectation, away from an admiration for the overwhelming performer towards an admiration for the subtle impersonator. Shakespeare's was the supreme contribution to this shift, since it was in his work that the dramatic 'character' most vividly emerged" (205), adding that "The ideology of character is implicitly conservative of the status quo" (205).

    Even so, although its dramatic technique is not as sophisticated as that of later dramatists such as Shakespeare, Famous Victories knows how effectively to employ the ideology of character, most conspicuously in its treatment of Henry's wooing of the French princess Katherine (Catherine in Henry V) in scenes nineteen and twenty-one. Shakespeare clearly modelled his dramatization of the wooing in Henry V on these scenes. The differences illustrate that the ideology of character need not always be conservative or, more precisely, that it can serve multiple, not necessarily reconcilable, conservatisms.

    Both plays represent the French princess as an object: a bargaining chip, and later part of the spoils of war. In scene nine of Famous Victories Charles VI attempts to buy out Henry's claims to the French crown with a package that includes "fifty thousand crowns a year with his daughter, the said Lady Katherine, in marriage" (TLN 901-902); in scene twenty-one she is the last "trifle" (TLN 1684) that the victorious Henry demands of the conquered French, although she is hardly a trifle given that only through her reproductive function is Henry able to secure the French crown for his heirs. In Henry V Henry is quite explicit about Catherine's political importance as an object: "She is our capital demand, comprised / Within the forerank of our articles"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3084-3085 (5.2.TLN 3084-3085), Henry tells the French Queen Isabeau.

    In both plays Henry adopts the pose of a rough, blunt, but sincere wooer. Telling Katherine to speak to him in "plain terms" (TLN 1513), Famous Victories' Henry states that "I cannot do as these countries do that spend half their time in wooing" (TLN 1515-1516). Likewise, Shakespeare's Henry tells Catherine "I speak to thee plain soldier"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3140 (5.2.TLN 3140) and asks her to "take a fellow of plain and uncoined constancy"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3143-3144(5.2.TLN 3143-3144). In both plays the princess resists Henry's proposal by calling Henry her father's enemy and, ultimately, deferring to the authority of her father (here we find in Shakespeare strong verbal echoes of the earlier play), thus acknowledging her own status as sexual and political object of exchange between men. Famous Victories' Katherine asks Henry "How should I love him that hath dealt so hardly with my father?" (TLN 1525-1526), later stating that she "must first know his [her father's] will" (TLN 1533) before she answers Henry's suit. Shakespeare's Catherine asks Henry "Is it possible dat I sould love de enemi of France?"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3159 (5.2.TLN 3159), later stating that she will marry Henry "as it shall please de roi mon père"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3236 (5.2.TLN 3236).

    Both plays, however, complicate, in different ways, this simple exchange scenario in the ways they create the dramatic illusion of depth in Henry's and Katherine's (Famous Victories) or Catherine's (Henry V) characters. Consistent with its use earlier in the play in scene eight when Prince Henry chides himself for not having visited his sickly father, in scene nineteen Famous Victories uses the soliloquy to harmonize Henry's political exterior and sexual interior, thus stressing his sincerity as Katherine's suitor. For a brief moment, after the nobles engaged in the political negotiations have exited the stage and before Katherine enters, Henry is alone on stage. The playwright takes this opportunity to give Henry a revelatory moment of self-address: "Ah Harry, thrice-unhappy Harry! Hast thou now conquered the French king and begin'st a fresh supply with his daughter? But with what face canst thou seek to gain her love, which hath sought to win her father's crown? 'Her father's crown,' said I? No, it is mine own. Ay, but I love her and must crave her. Nay, I love her and will have her" (TLN 1491-1499). The exterior and the interior, the political and the sexual, are aligned in Henry's character: if marriage with Katherine is Henry's political objective, Katherine herself is object of Henry's erotic desire; just as Henry is a bold warrior, so too he is a brash wooer. In Henry V, however, no such aside or soliloquy signals the sincerity of Henry's desire for Catherine, and the wooing scene provides a number of indications--such as Henry's obviously feigned inability to understand French (see 5.2.TLN 3101-3110 and 3168-3182, in which is it is clear that Henry does not need Alice to interpret)--that in his role as plain-speaking suitor Henry is merely continuing the performative self-fashioning in which, as we have seen, he has been engaged from the beginning of 1 Henry IV.

    40Similarly, Famous Victories foregrounds Katherine's political agency, only to set it in tension with her secret erotic desire. Katherine enters scene nineteen as her father's political emissary: "my father sent me to know if you will debate any of these unreasonable demands which you require" (TLN 1504-1505), she tells Henry. She frankly wields her sexuality as a political weapon: "I would to God that I had your majesty as fast in love as you have my father in wars. I would not vouchsafe so much as one look until you had debated all these unreasonable demands" (TLN 1519-1522), she exclaims. Yet concealed by and in conflict with her intense politicization of the sexual is, Famous Victories reveals, Katherine's romantic attraction to Henry: "I may think myself the happiest in the world, that is beloved of the mighty king of England" (TLN 1539-1540), she declares in an aside after speaking to Henry the expertly balanced equivocation that "Whereas I can put your grace in no assurance, I would be loath to put you in any despair" (TLN 1535-1536). This conflict in Katherine's character between the political and sexual is, of course, reconciled in the concluding marriage agreement, in which Katherine can simultaneously acquiesce to the political demands of the situation and get what she wants sexually. Being commanded by her father to "Agree to it [the marriage]" (TLN 1964), Katherine comments in an aside that "I had best while he is willing, lest when I would, he will not" (TLN 1695-1696); then, addressing the assembly of nobles, she states simply that "I rest at your majesty's command" (TLN 1697). Oberer contends that the interaction between Henry and Katherine in scene nineteen "is about mutual capitulation; the audience is invited to believe that their marriage will be a partnership of equals, since Katherine and Henry both show an expertise in manipulation" (175). Here at the conclusion of the play's final scene the audience is invited to believe in a romanticized mutuality that both reinforces and obfuscates the harsh framing realities of political and gender domination.

    In contrast, like Isabella's feelings for Duke Vincentio at the end of Measure for Measure, Catherine's "true" feelings for Henry at the end of Henry V remain opaque. Catherine might seem more passive than her counterpart in Famous Victories insofar as she does not actively participate in the political negotiations by attempting to use her sexuality to extract political compromises from her conqueror. She resists Henry's advances by pretending not to understand him, by drawing attention to the potentially deceitful and insincere nature of Henry's rhetoric, and by insisting on her status as political object without agency. "I cannot tell"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3182 (5.2.TLN 3182), is frequently her short deflationary reply to Henry's extended efforts of verbal love-making; early on in the dialogue she tells Henry that "les langues des hommes sont pleines de trumperies"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3106 (5.2.TLN 3106); at the end of their dialogue she tells Henry that she will be his bride "as it shall please de roi mon père"TLN 3236 [[ edition links should not have query or fragment parts ]] (5.2.TLN 3236). Perhaps understanding the legitimating ideological function of romanticized sexuality, Shakespeare's Henry would like his Catherine to possess the interior of Famous Victories' Katherine: "Come, I know thou lovest me"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3185-3186 (5.2.TLN 3185-3186), he fantasizes, "and at night when you come into your closet you'll question this gentlewoman about me; and I know, Kate, you will to her dispraise those parts in me that you love with your heart"Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3186-3189 (5.2.TLN 3186-3189). But Catherine refuses to embody an imaginary resolution to the real contradiction between the political and the sexual with which this play culminates, and Henry's fantasy recalls to the audience the scene earlier in the play in which it does see Catherine in her closet: knowing that "Il faut que j'apprenne à parler" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 1325). English, in 3.4 Catherine is taught by Alice the English names for various body parts; she halts the lesson when the sexual double-entendres of her mispronunciations far too precisely name what her own translation into an English queen will mean: "Lefoot et lecount? O Seigneur Dieu, ils sont les mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d'honneur d'user [Fuck and cunt? Oh my God! They are foul words, corrupting, rude, and impudent, and not to be used by ladies of honour]" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 3169-3170).