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"I cannot tell wat is like me": simile, paternity, and identity in Henry V.

RENAISSANCE TEXTS are frequently haunted by a fantasy of paternal parthenogenesis (sometimes rationalized in the idea of adopting a son) that elides the presence of the problematic woman and the uncertainty about legitimacy she creates. Critics often discuss Henry V in similar terms, pointing out that male ancestry is emphasized throughout, at the same time that the English claim to the throne of France (and eventually, of England) depends upon female inheritance. (1) These analyses reflect important truths about the play, but I would suggest that we are confronted here with something even stranger--an attempt at what one might call "filial parthenogenesis": (2) we are presented, that is, with the spectacle of a son trying to adopt a father, in a backward-looking effort to secure a legitimate line--an effort that is clearly of a piece with all the other examples of "preposterousness" that Patricia Parker finds throughout both of the tetralogies. (3) It has been remarked that this is a play that "speak[s] only of fathers," (4) but it would be more accurate to note that (at least where Henry is concerned) it speaks mostly of great-grandfathers and great-uncles. For, of course, it is Edward III and Edward the Black Prince that Henry must demonstrate (repeatedly throughout, conclusively at Agincourt) and that others must insist he is "like," securing his legitimacy in all senses, (5) and passing over "the fault [his] father made" (a locution that suggests sexual as well as kingly sins, which are conflated throughout the play and which both serve to create King Henry V; 4.1.294-95). (6) Critics who focus on the play's anxieties about and incomplete elision of women's contributions to patriarchal inheritance tend to elide, as Henry himself generally does, the problem created by his father's usurpation (though of course they are aware of it), while more traditional political critics often ignore the importance of "the woman's part." (7) I would argue that both elisions are, in fact, versions of the same thing--an attempt to create linearity, legitimacy, and clear meaning out of instability and indeterminacy, to construct a chain of significance and a secure point of reference where none exists. While the following analysis will, therefore, attempt to take into account the particulars of Henry's political and social situation, it will be considerably less character-driven than is usual in readings of this play, and more focused on the complexities and difficulties manifested in its poetic and linguistic forms, which are foregrounded throughout the text. (8)

"Warlike Harry, like himself"

In their effort to pass over his father's "fault," Henry and his companions quite clearly create another fault or gap: they repeatedly strain connections, constructing what will be termed "a crush'd necessity" (1.2.175) by insisting on identities created through faulty, comical, or tautological comparisons and similes. For Henry V is a play of similes--a fact that is periodically noted but rarely examined. (9) We are first introduced in the Prologue to the problems these similes create, in the well-known but dizzying lines that assert that if theatrical conditions could approximate those of reality, "Then should the warlike Harry, like himself / Assume the port of Mars" (5-6). The description of the King as "warlike" here seems fairly standard, but the addition of "like himself," in addition to being troubling in itself, back creates (in the manner of so much in the play) the word as a comparison ("like War") (10) rather than simply an adjective--a reading that is reinforced by the following assertion that the King would "assume the port of Mars." One is left, when one's head stops spinning, with the suggestion that Henry's identity is a matter of likeness, and that he becomes "like himself" by being "like" someone else (a mythical someone at that) and putting on his costume. This whole speech is usually read as an apology (sincere or not) for theatricality, acknowledging its necessary distance from the thing itself. But it is clearly suggested here, at the outset of the play, that "the thing itself" is merely a matter of acting, of performing likeness. This has, of course, been a problem in the Henriad at least since Hal's first soliloquy, but as the Prologue heralds, it becomes especially intense in this play." (11)

Indeed, the focus on likeness continues through this speech (cf. 7-8), culminating in the odd request that we "admit [the speaker] Chorus to this history; / Who, Prologue-like, your humble patience pray[s]" (32-33). Prologue-Lice? One might be forgiven for thinking that this actually was a Prologue--at least that is what the First Folio, the only source for this speech, clearly claims (printing in large type, "Enter Prologue")--and what any audience is likely to assume. The likelihood of these niggling oddities continuing to nibble at our minds is then reinforced by the first lines of the first scene, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury declares that the "self bill is urg'd / Which [earlier] ... / Was like, and had indeed against us pass'd, ..." (1-3; my italics)--lines that insistently echo the phrase "warlike Harry, like himself," but in which the relevant words ("self," "like") mean something else ("same," "likely") and are therefore nothing (or not very much) like.

To examine all the inadequate, comical, nonsensical, and troubling assertions of likeness in the play would be "to amplify too much, ... and top extremity" [KL 5.3.207-8), but I would "your humble patience pray" while I look closely at a few pertinent examples. One of the most striking is the Archbishop of Canterbury's proof that it would be beneficial for Henry to invade France, despite the threat of troubles in Scotland--a rhetorical demonstration that rivals for speciousness and tediousness (as well as for its capacity to befuddle a careful reader) (12) his more frequently discussed proof that Henry has a right to rule France in the first place. This very long speech begins:
      Therefore doth heaven divide
   The state of man in divers functions,
   Setting endeavor in continual motion,
   To which is fixed as an aim or butt,
   Obedience; for so work the honey-bees,
   Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
   The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
   They have a king, and officers of sorts,
   Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
   Others, like merchants, venter trade abroad;
   Others, like soldiers, armed in their string,
   Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds.
   Which pillage they with merry march bring home
   To the tent-royal of their emperor,
   Who busied in his majesty surveys
   The singing masons building roofs of gold,
   The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
   The poor mechanic porters crowding in
   Their heavy burthens at his narrow gate,
   The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,
   Delivering o'er to executors pale
   The lazy yawning drone.


The similes here seem to circle endlessly around themselves (like "warlike Harry, like himself, assum[ing] the port of Mars"), so that the tenor (men's actions) is explained by a vehicle (bee's actions), which is then explained by a series of other vehicles that turn out to be the same as the tenor with which we started (men's actions). (13) And they pile up in considerable excess (and to the possible erasure) of their putative point ("Scotland will take care of itself while we go to France"). This passage is usually explained as an imitation (a likeness) of Virgil's Georgics IV (149 ff.), (14) but it is worth noting that Virgil is actually speaking there about bees--which are being compared to men (with, of course, an implied lesson); his simile does not, that is, perform the tautological dance around an empty referent that this speech does. And that impression of the speech is reinforced when the similes pause for a moment, as the Archbishop draws a provisional conclusion: "I thus infer, / That many things, having full reference to one consent, / May work contrariously" (204-6). The full context of the scene demands that these lines mean (as all footnotes explain) something like "different activities may be united in a common [if somewhat vague] goal," but the form of the speech suggests a secondary reference to the similes themselves (both here and throughout the play), as it appears to describe many different "things" all working to evoke one (never entirely clear or stable) referent. At any rate, before one can completely get one's bearings, the speech takes off once more in an onslaught of similes ("As many arrows loosed several ways / Come to one mark; as many ways meet in one town, / As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea, / As many lines close in the dial's centre," 207-10) before finally reaching its (still somewhat vague) tenor--"So may a thousand actions, once afoot, / End in one purpose"--and its "logical" conclusion: "Therefore to France" (211-12, 213). QED.

It might be objected that I am unnecessarily complicating things here, since it is clear before he speaks that the Archbishop's point is that Henry should go to France. But I would argue first, that it is the form of this speech itself that unnecessarily complicates things; and second, that the fact that this is a tautological, strained "proof" of a foregone conclusion--what Exeter, describing the other side of the argument, has just called "a crush'd necessity" (175)--is precisely my point. The speech is, in this respect, similar to the impossibly complicated Salic law speech, whose force is decided beforehand and therefore in some sense always "clear." (15) It is like (and the play makes it difficult to avoid doing this, even as it calls the habit of mind to our attention) a son attempting to adopt the father of his choice, and thus guaranteeing his legitimacy after the fact, (16) like creating the myth of Agincourt in the image of the story we already know. All of these instances stake claims to straightforward linearity and self-identity; they are all simultaneously presented as purely rhetorical constructs, circling back on themselves and revolving around a non-existent referent, a hole in the middle of meaning, an empty "O" (Prologue 12,15). (17)

Alexander the Gross

The most obvious "crusher of necessity" in the play is Fluellen, who is able to prove anything with similes. Fluellen's well-known disquisition on Alexander the Pig is, however, bizarrely yet appropriately anticipated by Henry's most explicit attempt to create a patrilineal ancestry for all his men:
   On, on, you noblest English,
   Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
   Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
   Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
   And sheath'd their swords for lack of argument.
   Dishonor not your mothers; now attest
   That those whom you call'd father did beget you.
   Be copy now to men of grosser blood....


As readers have often noted, Henry calls on his men to prove their legitimacy by acting just like their "war-proof" fathers (who are, in turn, "like many Alexanders"). Even in this exaltation of patrilineal descent, however, the clear priority of the model to the imitation (and thus linear progression as a whole) becomes temporarily confused. After asking his men to imitate their fathers, Henry seems at first to be repeating that idea, asking them once more to copy paternal actions ("Be copy now to men ..."). When confronted with the phrase "grosser blood," one probably sorts out that "copy" here means "model" (a fact that itself undermines the clear ordering of exemplar and imitation), but the original confusion might last somewhat longer if one allows "grosser" momentarily to suggest "greater"--and thus to attach itself to Alexander. (18) And this will not prove a complete mistake. For as any (re)reader of Henry V knows, Alexander is gross (in several senses), as are Charles the Great, Pompey the Great, and all the other great men who haunt the play.

Fluellen will later defend his epithet "Alexander the Pig" by asking: "Why, I pray you, is not "pig" great? The pig, or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings, save the phrase is a little variations" (4.7.15-18). David Quint, in his incisive reading of this scene, points to the phonetic problem that causes Fluellen to substitute P for B, and thus "Pig" for "Big." (19) But the joke is clearly ideational as well, for a pig is big, is great, mighty, huge, magnanimous"--and gross--with "a little variations" (cf. the similar joke in Webster's The White Devil, when Brachiano, with malice aforethought, refers to "the corpulent Duke, / That is the great Duke," 2.1.179-80). And as a result, Fluellen's performance serves to undermine not only the humanist "assumption ... that the function of history is to produce exemplary models for human behavior" (though it certainly does that), (20) but synonyms, similes, and likeness tout court--and the whole mode of thinking that depends upon them. (21)

Fluellen proceeds to make hash of all comparisons, including, of course, the particular efforts to provide the King with heroic forebears:
   I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn. I tell you,
   captain, if you look in the maps of the orld, I warrant you sail
   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. If you mark Alexander's life well,
   Harry of Monmouth's life is come after it indifferent well, for
   there is figures in all things. (5.7.22-33)

"'Tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers.... for there is figures in all things." Or, as Malvolio will say not long after (echoing Exeter): "To crush this a little, it would bow to me" (TN 2.5.140-42).

I Don't Like You, But I Love You

Both Fluellen's particular linguistic difficulties and the efforts here to create a lineage for Henry lead ultimately (if not in a very straight line) to Katherine of France. Before discussing the Princess, however, I would like to glance briefly at a relevant speech containing one of the play's most celebrated comparisons (and an only slightly less celebrated crux): the Chorus's apparent reference to Essex's Irish expedition. In act 5, the citizens of London pouring out to meet King Henry are compared to the senators and plebeians of "antique Rome" rushing to greet "their conqu'ring Caesar" (26-29), who are in turn compared (in yet another sequence of seemingly endless similes) to the crowds that would welcome Essex upon his triumphant return from Ireland:
   As by a lower but by loving likelihood,
   Were now the general of our gracious Empress,
   As in good time he may, from Ireland coming....


Without commenting directly on the comparison to Essex, I want to highlight here the disputed (and variously interpreted) line, "As by a lower but by loving likelihood." Note that this line, which is clearly about similarity (22) (and in some sense about affection), creates in the audience an impression of insistent internal reflection, which is almost immediately corrected and seen as not really existing at all. "Lower" (which could, at the time, be a variant spelling of "lover") (23) seems almost to mirror "loving" (especially on the page, where the latter word would appear as "louing"), and "loving," in turn, seems ideationally similar to "like-lihood" (with which, finally, it has little to do). (24) A reader's sense of insistent mirroring here would also be reinforced by the Folio's repetition of "by"--or even by the Oxford editor's emendation "hy"--though it is not clear exactly what either might mean. (25) Even if one concedes that the second "by" is likely a scribal error in need of some emendation (if editors could only agree on one), that in itself attests to a sense of uncanny repetition felt and duplicated by at least one reader/writer.

In the "loving likelihood" line, notions of love and likeness bump up against each other, unsettling both. And the general sense of similarity (that is not really there) as well as the particular connection between similarity and love--which work together to construct a legitimate line for Henry--reach a final (anti)climax in the scene with Katherine of France. As many critics have pointed out, it is not enough for Henry to take Katherine as the spoils of war; he seeks, instead, to create a sense of love and mutuality between them that will underwrite the legitimacy of his inheritance, his rule, and his line, in both England and France. (26) We are therefore treated to a scene in which he tries, unsuccessfully even in his own eyes, to "conjure up the spirit of love in her, so that he will appear in his own likeness" (5.2.299-300; my italics). The most striking of many odd moments in this scene, in my view, occurs when Henry, trying to get the Princess to "love soundly with [her] French heart [and] ... confess it brokenly with [her] English tongue," asks, "Do you like me, Kate?" (5.2.104-6). Katherine replies, in a line that resonates throughout the play, "Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell wat is like me" (107). (27) Indeed. Henry, who has never been able to tell either, makes a linguistic leap to the English pun that Katherine does not intend but that is unavoidably heard by the audience, and pronounces grandly: "An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel" (108-9). And when that statement has been translated to Katherine's satisfaction, she declares boldly (in a sentence that Henry must himself translate and vocalize), "Les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies" [K. Hen. "The tongues of men are full of deceits" 115-16, 117-18). In so doing, she points to the fact that all the comparisons, all the assertions of identity, the claims of affection, and the attempts to create legitimacy within the play are simply rhetorical constructs, which, as Henry remarks of his and Katherine's attempts to speak each other's "tongue," at best "most truly falsely, must needs be granted to be much at one"(190-92). And as both Katherine and Fluellen in different ways make particularly clear, regardless of one's intention (this is not about whether or not we like Henry), the tongues of men are always full of deceits; something is invariably lost in the translation. (28)

Speaking In Tongues

Pardon de ne pas vouloir dire.

--Derrida, Literature in Secret

"I cannot tell wat is like me," is, of course, only one of many similar lines Katherine utters in the wooing scene. Traditionally, her responses have been read as signs of ignorance and submission, although more recently, critics have suggested that they may be taken as tokens of her agency, perhaps even of her resistance: Donald Hedrick provides an especially acute extended analysis of this kind. (29) But I would like to suggest something simultaneously less characterological and perhaps more unsettling: Katherine's responses do not assume agency, neither do they deny it; they do not clearly resist Henry, but they do not resist resisting. Remaining insistently opaque, the Princess never states a preference or refuses an offer. Sometimes, as in the line quoted above, she seems to be saying that she doesn't understand Henry's language; at other points, her answers suggest that she does not know the truth of what he predicts. But all of her statements revolve around their most extreme, indeterminate forms--"I cannot tell," "I do not know dat" (what?)--in which referent and fixed meaning are completely absent. Read this way, her answers seem remarkably similar, avant la lettre, to the famous formula of Melville's Bartleby the scrivener, "I would prefer not to," especially as it is read by Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze explains that this formula, like Melville's story, "means only what it says, literally":
   Its abrupt termination ... confers upon it the character of a limit
   function.... [It] is neither an affirmation nor a negation....
   The formula is devastating because it eliminates the preferable
   just as mercilessly as any nonpreferred.... It hollows out an ever
   expanding zone of indiscernibility or indetermination between some
   nonpreferred activities and a preferable activity. All
   particularity, all reference is abolished. (30)

He notes that in some of its occurrences, the repeated line seems more grounded because it is "completed by an infinitive," but adds that "even in these cases we sense the muted presence of the strange form that continues to haunt Bartleby's language." (31) And that is even more obviously true of Katherine's speech in this scene, since her more determinate responses are themselves about the incomprehensibility of language and meaning.

Deleuze further comments that a formula like Bartleby's not only "hollows out a zone of indetermination that renders words indistinguishable, that creates a vacuum within language," but also "stymies all speech acts": "It stymies the speech acts that a boss uses to command, that a kind friend uses to ask questions, or a man of faith to make promises." (32) Or those that a suitor uses to propose:

K. Hen. And, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine.

Kath. I cannot tell wat is dat.

K. Hen. Canst thou love me?

Kath. I cannot tell.

K. Hen. Shalt not thou and I between Saint Denis and Saint George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard? Shall we not? What say'st thou, my fair flower-de luce?

Kath. I do not know dat.

K. Hen. Come, your answer in broken music, for thy voice is music and thy English broken; therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break thy mind to me in broken English--wilt thou have me?

Kath. Dat is as it shall please de roi mon pere.

(5.2. 174-76, 194-95, 206-11, 343-47)

Finally, in remarks that also resonate with Shakespeare's play, Deleuze notes that "the formula at first seems like the bad translation of a foreign language," but then adds that this hypothesis underestimates its power: "Perhaps it is the formula that carves out a kind of foreign language within language." And in that respect, he maintains, it is like "masterpieces of literature," which "constitute an original language within language, ... which ... sweep up language in its entirety, sending it into flight, pushing it to its very limit in order to discover its Outside, silence or music." (33) The relation of this kind of maddening indeterminacy to the fascination exerted by Shakespeare's plays (and other texts we value highly) is an idea whose "muted presence" is undoubtedly apparent behind the linguistic explorations of this essay, and it is one to which I would suggest we return. (34) For the moment, however, I would like simply to pursue the obvious relevance of Deleuze's statements to the problems of translation in this scene and this play--and to Katherine's ultimate silence here.

Comparison of Katherine to Bartleby is, I believe, an important corrective to the more obvious comparison--to Kate in The Taming of the Shrew: the latter connection clearly exists, but the differences it points to are at least as important as the similarities. One of the most striking differences is made clear by Laurie Maguire's generally acute analysis; she comments: "The only element missing that would make the wooing scene in Henry V a perfect partner to the wooing scene in The Shrew is innuendo, but this has already been supplied by the French lesson in iii.iv, in which Katherine's innocent exploration of the body leads her from military vocabulary to inadvertent bawdy." (35) But it is difficult to see how the earlier scene, which occurs between two women (and which is further problematic in ways explored below) can exactly "supply" the sexual connection that is lacking between Henry and Katherine--especially in a scene theoretically focused on marriage and reproduction. In sharp contrast to the meeting between Kate and Petruchio, there is no banter here, there is no "chafing," (36) there is no sexual relation at all. And this crucial difference is highlighted by the quite different use of the word "tongue" in the two plays and scenes. Katherine Minola is, above all, a woman with a tongue, an attribute that signals her arrogation of patriarchal privilege to herself--making her threatening but also sexy, if only she would learn the correct use of her tongue (that is, to comply with the order, "Kiss me, Kate," and only secondarily to deliver a long speech supporting patriarchy, which is presented at a version of the same thing). (37) In the first scene between Kate and Petruchio, we are therefore predictably presented with a lot of sexual play involving the "tongue":

Pet. Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting. In his tail.

Kath. In his tongue.

Pet. Whose tongue?

Kath. Yours, if you will talk of tales, and so farewell.

Pet. What, with my tongue in your tail?


"Tongues" [langues] are also repeatedly invoked in the scene in Henry V, but these references seem, in contrast, resolutely linguistic; they are remarkably lacking (for any Renaissance text) in obvious bawdy suggestion, directing our attention instead to the prominence of language(s) in this play, to the fragmentary ("broken," 106, 243, 244, 246) nature of all tongues, and to the impossibility of their ever meeting to create something whole, unitary, and intact. Some of the innuendo apparent in Petruchio's lines is of course "supplied" in the ensuing exchange between Henry and Burgundy, when Henry comments, "And so I should catch the fly, your cousin, in the latter end" (5.2.311-12). But this entire exchange is presented as an obscene locker-room conversation between men, which pointedly occurs in the wake of the king's admitted failure with Katherine; and Henry's anally inflected joke, although ambiguous in meaning, is clearly not focused on the reproductive issue he had hoped to secure. (38)

Of course, a version of "Kiss me, Kate" does occur during the wooing scene in Henry V. But once again, the differences between the two plays are as striking as their similarities. When Katherine Minola is asked to kiss in public, she at first demurs [Kath. What? In the midst of the street? Pet. What, art thou asham'd of me? Kath. No, sir, God forbid, but asham'd to kiss"), but after Petruchio threatens to take her back home, she assents to her "love" ("Nay, I will give thee a kiss, now pray thee, love, stay," 5.1.144-48). We are in the world of the rape fantasy here, where "no" means "yes" (or more precisely, "It would be immodest of me to say yes, so I am glad you forced me"). Katherine of France is characteristically more ambiguous and impersonal in her response, saying (in French, of course): "Les dames et demoiselles pour etre basisees devant leur noces, iln'est pas la coutume de France" (5.2.258-59). After securing a translation, Henry counters her statement; (39) but Katherine does not reply, and the force of the kiss that follows, like everything involving the Princess, is completely opaque. It has been read variously as something that she really wants, as something that is forced upon her (a rape, but not a fantasy), and as something that doesn't necessarily occur (40)--and the text provides us with no means of conclusively adjudicating among these various claims. Similarly, her ensuing silence does not clearly mean, as some assert, that she has become submissive, or as others would have it, that she resists Henry's domination. (41) It doesn't clearly mean at all.

And here, another commentary on "Bartleby"--Derrida's analysis in The Gift of Death--seems particularly relevant. Derrida introduces his remarks into a discussion of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac. After exploring Abraham's ambiguous response to (human) questions regarding the sacrifice, he makes a comparison to Bartleby:
   Just as Abraham doesn't speak a human language, just as he speaks
   in tongues or in a language that is foreign to every other human
   language, and in order to do that responds without responding,
   speaks without saying anything true or false, says nothing
   determinate that would be equivalent to a statement, a promise, or
   a lie, in the same way Bartleby's "I would prefer not to" takes
   responsibility for a response without response.... The modality of
   this repeated utterance that says nothing, promises nothing,
   neither refuses nor accepts anything, the tense of this singularly
   insignificant statement, reminds one of a nonlanguage or a secret
   language. Is it not as if Bartleby were also speaking "in
   tongues"? (42)

These remarks seem to resonate eerily with the (non)response for which Katherine is responsible in her scene with Henry. But Derrida further notes that in both of the pointedly patriarchal, "monstrous yet banal" tales he is considering, "it is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman"; and he queries whether these stories are not predicated on that absence, whether they do not depend on a sacrifice before the sacrifice--"a woman's sacrifice or the sacrifice of a woman." (43) Perhaps Katherine could be seen here as a figure for that absent woman, speaking opaquely of her own sacrifice, speaking a "language that is foreign" (in several senses) to her audience, "speaking in tongues," in a manner that might be familiar to Abraham and Bartleby, but that is far removed from The Taming of the Shrew.

Certainly, the wooing scene effectively pulls the sundry languages and translations in Henry V into its constellation of inadequate, failed comparisons and similes. (44) In "The Task of The Translator," Walter Benjamin's famously opaque and "untranslatable" essay, (45) we are told that translation must inevitably fail--even a translation within a language, of which I take the comparisons in this play to be a sect or scion. (46) Benjamin further suggests, as Paul de Man explains, that any translation necessarily unsettles the original, unsettles its status as original, and reveals that it was always already unsettled and "undone." (47) De Man notes that translation thus necessarily alienates us from language--and from our own language more than any other: "What the translation reveals is that this alienation is strongest in our relation to our own original language, that the original language within which we are engaged is disarticulated in a way which imposes upon us a particular alienation, a particular suffering." (48) I would suggest that this is, in fact, what is happening throughout Henry V--even (and perhaps especially) in the notorious scene in which Katherine "learns" English (3.4). Since it is entirely in French, this scene forces its intended audience (us English speakers) to perform translation throughout, if we are fully to understand its bawdy wordplay--and in so doing it serves to reposition several common English words (most notably "foot"), to dislocate them from their accepted meanings. (49) However the scene positions Katherine (and it seems significant that missing from the list of body parts she learns is the always-available-for-sexual-innuendo "tongue"), the joke here is not entirely at the expense of the Princess or her native langue. (50) In some of his most unsettling remarks, Benjamin claims that a true translation, insofar as it can begin to exist, must (like Bartleby's formula) be purely literal and formal, beyond meaning, approximating and finally turning into silence. That is clearly not what occurs in the "English lesson," but Katherine's responses in her later scene seem to approach this condition; and it is, of course, with silence that she leaves us.

And her father follows naturally in her footsteps. On the all-important question of the heir who would ground Henry's line in both countries, conferring upon him legitimacy and significance, Katherine, as we have seen, remained typically opaque. The question comes up in another form with the French king, who is asked to underwrite Henry's legitimacy by adopting him as his son and heir. Significantly, the article to which he is to subscribe is presented in (never translated) French and Latin; the English lords report that "The King hath granted every article ..."

Only he has not yet subscribed this:
   Where your Majesty demands that the King of France, having any
   occasion to write for matter of grant, shall name your Highness,
   and with this addition in French, Notre tres cher fils Henri, Roi
   d'Angleterre, Heritier de France; and thus in Latin,
   Praeclarissimus filius notster Henricus, Rex Angliae, et Heres
   Franciae. (5.2.332, 335-42)

And equally significantly, as Christopher Pye points out, this demand is never clearly accepted or refused. (51) The King first replies ambiguously to the English complaint ("Nor this have I not, brother, so denied / But your request shall make me let it pass"), and when Henry renews his request ("I pray you then, in love and dear alliance / Let that one article rank with the rest, and thereupon give me your daughter"), the King willingly sacrifices Katherine and her issue--but he never responds directly to the initial demand (333-47). Finally, of course, Henry's desire to establish (and legitimate backward) a line--to secure (patriarchal) reference, to create with Katherine a son who will guarantee his own position as the inheritor of both England and France--is answered in the deeply unsettling Epilogue where we are abruptly reminded of the failure of Henry VI: as the play in general presages and the final scene with Katherine in particular suggests, King Henry V's issue is nothing but the empty heir.


I have presented portions of this paper at SAA seminars led by Marjorie Rubright and Jonathan Hope and at an ISA seminar led by Suzanne Wofford and Stuart Sillars, and I have benefitted from the responses of the participants in these. I am especially grateful to Richard Burt and to the members of the Shakespeare seminar at the Harvard Humanities Center, led by Coppelia Kahn and Bill Carroll, for their comments and questions.

(1.) See especially Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, "History and Ideology, Masculinity and Miscegenation: The Instance of Henry V," Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading, by Alan Sinfield (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 109-42; Katherine Eggert, "Nostalgia and the Not Yet Late Queen: Refusing Female Rule in Henry V," ELH 61 (1994): 513-50; Rebecca Ann Bach, "Henry V and Testicular Masculinity, or According to the OED, Shakespeare Doesn't Have Any Balls," Renaissance Drama n.s. 30 (1999-2001): 3-23; Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories (London: Routledge, 1997). I have found all of these analyses quite illuminating,

(2.) Jonathan Goldberg, in Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), points briefly to something similar in 2 Henry TV (151), and discusses in more detail the fantasy of paternal parthenogenesis in both parts of Henry TV; see also Patricia Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

(3.) Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, 20-65; see also Phyllis Rackin, Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 84-85.

(4.) Bach, "Henry V and Testicular Masculinity," 14.

(5.) Note the similarity to the manner which Leontes in The Winter's Tale will later attempt to assure himself of his son's legitimacy by pointing to their "like [ness]" (1.2.120-60). Unless otherwise noted, all references to Shakespeare's plays are to The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

(6.) The sexual suggestions of "fault" here are supported by the frequent use of the word in this sense in the sonnets (cf. esp. 35.5, "All men make faults...."; for many other examples, see Stephen Booth's commentary in Shakespeare's Sonnets (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977). William Empson, in Some Versions of Pastoral (New York: New Directions, 1974), 102-10, and Goldberg, Sodomefries,152-56, comment interestingly on the similarities between Hal in the Henry IV plays and the "faulty" male beloved in the sonnets. One might also consider the later exchange in Lear regarding Edmund's illegitimate birth:
   Gloucester. Do you smell a fault?
   Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so


See also Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, 42-43, for puns on "fault" in Henry V.

The prayer before battle in which Henry asks God not to "think upon" his father's fault, is, in fact, one of only two times that he explicitly mentions his father in this play. The other occurs, significantly, in his conversation with Katherine; he declares: "Now beshrew my father's ambition! he was thinking of civil wars when he got me; therefore I was created with a stubborn outside" (5.2.224-27). Even more obviously than the earlier lines, this passage brings together political and sexual "faults."

(7.) For a rare critic who talks simultaneously and well about the play's anxieties regarding both kinds of illegitimacy, see Katharine Eisaman Maus, Introduction to Henry V, in The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 2008), I: 1471-80.

(8.) Claire McEachern notes the characterological focus of much criticism of the play; she explains this, however, by reference to the "Elizabethan personification of the crown": "Discussion of the play's representation of power in terms of personhood derives from a similar inflection in Elizabethan discourses of communality" (McEachern, "Henry V and the Paradox of the Body Politic," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 [1994]: 35). While her analysis is extremely acute and quite informative, it thus also points to way in which much new historicism recreates older character criticism in different key, constructing in the process a relatively secure referent that allows it to overlook the linguistic complexities of the text.

(9.) Most commentary focuses on particular examples, usually the comparison to Alexander, whether understood primarily as serious (e.g., Richard Hillman, "'Not Amurath an Amurath Succeeds': Striking Crowns into the Hazard and Playing Doubles in Shakespeare's Henriad," in Intertextuality and Bomance in Renaissance Drama: The Staging of Nostalgia [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992], 26-57) or not (e.g., David Quint, "Alexander the Pig: Shakespeare on History and Poetry," Boundary 2 [1982]: 49-63; Quint does explore the wider implications--for historiography--of his reading). For important exceptions, see Krystian Czemiecki's complex psychoanalytic analysis, "The Jest Disgested: Perspectives on History in Henry V," in On Puns: The Foundations of Letters, ed. Jonathan Culler (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 62-82, and R. Allen Shoaf's examination of likeness in the second tetralogy, which includes a discussion of Katherine's line, "I cannot tell wat is like me" (Shoaf, Shakespeare's Theater of Likeness [Washington, DC: New Academia, 2006], 93-104). For documentation of the general Renaissance fascination with similes and a survey of the "new rhetorical sub-category" that emerged during this period, "the collection or compendium of similes," see Shirley Sharon-Zisser, The Risks of Simile in Renaissance Rhetoric (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 214-15.

(10.) This reading is reinforced in the Folio, which capitalizes the word ("Warlike"); see The First Folio of Shakespeare, the Norton Facsimile (New York: Norton, 1968).

(11.) Cf. Christopher Pye's brilliant analysis of "mock sovereignty" in the play in The Regal Phantasm: Shakespeare and the Politics of Spectacle (London: Routledge, 1990), 13-42.

(12.) In performance, these speeches are usually cut, shortened, and/or mocked.

(13.) The speech itself further picks up ("therefore") from a shorter simile of Exeter's that uses music as its vehicle and attempts to counter yet another simile that has the opposite force; see 1.2.169-83.

(14.) Gary Taylor, in his notes to the Oxford edition, and Edward I. Berry cite T. W. Baldwin's earlier argument that Shakespeare used Iodocus Willicius's sixteenth-century commentary on Virgil in writing this speech; Baldwin sought to disprove previous suggestions that Elyot's Governor was the source [Henry V, ed. Gary Taylor, The Oxford Shakespeare [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982]; Berry, "'True Things and Mock'ries': Epic and History in Henry V," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 78 [1979]: 2, n.5; Baldwin, William Shakespeare's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944], 472-79). Of all of these texts, Elyot's seems the closest to Shakespeare's in form, although it is still considerably more linear in its argument; it is, however, the least like Shakespeare's speech in its particulars, and most recent commentators do not accept it as a unquestioned source (Virgil, Georgics, ed. R. A. B. Mynors [Oxford: Oxford University Press], 1994; Sir Thomas Elyot, The Book named the Governor [1531], ed. S. E. Lehmberg [London: Dent], 1962).

(15.) In his Introduction to the Oxford edition, Taylor argues that an early modern audience would be familiar and "willing to grapple" with the particulars of this speech (34-37). Nevertheless, the speech seems to go out of its way to add unnecessary information and commentary ("as I said," 1.2.52) and to call ironic attention its own "clarity" ("So that as clear as is the summer's sun, ..." 1.2.86); and it remains comically unclear to Henry himself, who is forced to ask at the end: "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" (1.2.96).

(16.) Cf. Henry on the futility of his penitence for his father's fault "after all" (4.1.305). See also the attempt to present a "moral" reason for killing the French prisoners after the fact, and Henry's repetition of his order.

(17.) On the absence within the "wooden O," see Rackin, Stages of History, 84; see also Czemiecki, "The Jest Disgested."

(18.) See also Parker's comments on puns on "gross/engrossing" in the Henry IV plays (160, 164). Henry's sentence here, of course, ends "and teach them how to war" (3.1.25), sorting out any possible confusion, and adding the previous reading to the list of presumed "identities" in the play that do not really exist at all.

(19.) Quint, "Alexander the Pig," 6.

(20.) Ibid., 49.

(21.) See also Shoaf, Shakespeare's Theater of Likeness, 94-95. For the definitive

view of the Renaissance mind as operating in this fashion, see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1992), chap. 2; critics as acute as Jonathan Gil Harris and Michael Hattaway seem at times to assume that the play simply participates in this mode of thought (Harris, Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009], 67; Hattaway, "The Shakespearean History Play," in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's History Plays, ed. Michael Hattaway [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], 3-22).

(22.) This is true whether the word "likelihood" itself means, as various readers and editors assume, "similarity" or "probability"--or, as I would argue, both.

(23.) The OED cites this spelling for "lover" in the sense "eulogist" (lover, n.1), and the spellings "lowar" and "lowear" as variants for the more common sense of the word (lover, n.2).

(24.) Foucault points out that one "form of resemblance is provided by the play of sympathies" (23; his italics); but insofar as that idea is present here, it is strained beyond belief.

(25.) The Oxford edition prints "high-loving," conjecturing that the Folio's "by" was a error for "hy"; the Arden edition moves further from the Folio text and substitutes "as." The Riverside and the Pelican let "by" be, without any comment (King Henry V, ed. T. W. Craik, The Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series [London: Methuen, 1995]; Henry V, ed. Claire McEachern, The Pelican Shakespeare [London: Penguin, 1999]).

(26.) Howard and Rackin see this as reflecting changing ideas about kingship and marriage.

(27.) I have removed the modern quotation marks.

(28.) See also Parker on "translation" (149-84); she explores in interesting ways the various puns (including conveyance and counterfeiting) suggested by this word, but she does not focus much on the process of translation itself.

(29.) See Donald Hedrick, "Advantage, Affect, History, Henry V," PMLA 118 (2003): 470-87; this essay also provides an excellent summary of more traditional analyses. For approaches similar to Hedrick's, see Dollimore and Sinfield, "History and Ideology, Masculinity and Miscegenation"; Donald Hedrick and Bryan Reynolds, "'A Little Touch of Harry in the Night' Translucency and Projective Transversality in the Sexual and National Politics of Henry V," in Performing Transversality: Reimagining Shakespeare and the Critical Future, by Bryan Reynolds (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 171-88; Corinne S. Abate, "'Once more unto the breach': Katherine's Victory in Henry V" Early Theatre 4 (2001): 73-85); Peter B. Erickson, "'The Fault / My Father Made': The Anxious Pursuit of Heroic Fame in Shakespeare's Henry V," Modern Language Studies 10 (1979): 10-25. My perspective here is partially anticipated by Karen Newman's compelling brief reading in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 105-8; Newman, however, contextualizes and develops her perceptions quite differently.

(30.) Gilles Deleuze, "Bartleby; or The Formula," in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 68-90; see also Herman Melville, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," in Melville's Short Novels, ed. Dan McCall (New York: Norton, 2001). Interestingly, Deleuze also refers briefly to another character named Catherine, Heinrich von Kleist's "Catherine Heilbronn," who has "her own formula, close to that of Bartleby's: 'I don't know' or simply 'Don't know'" (193, n.14; cf. 80). Richard Burt first called Deleuze's essay to my attention; my ideas throughout this final section are indebted to conversations with him.

(31.) Deleuze, "Bartleby; or The Formula," 69.

(32.) Ibid., 73.

(33.) Ibid., 71-72.

(34.) For stunning explorations of this relation, see Stephen Booth, Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, and King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983).

(35.) Laurie E. Maguire, "'Household Kates': Chez Petruchio, Percy, and Pantagenet, " in Gloriana's Face: Women, Public and Private, in the English Renaissance, ed. S.P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 150. Maguire makes an excellent case for calling both women "Katherine," as they nominate themselves, rather than "Kate," the diminutive used by their suitors. I have chosen, however, to use "Kate" at times to refer to Katherine Minola in Shrew, not only because it makes differentiation easier, but also (and primarily) because this is how she is usually named by readers, audiences, and adapters of Shrew--and I think that is significant: "Kate" is a name that is ultimately conferred upon her by the play as well as by Petruchio. The difference from Henry V is immediately apparent if one even tries to imagine anyone outside the play referring to the French K(C)atherine in this manner.

(36.) In his seminal essay, "Fiction and Friction," Stephen Greenblatt uses this term--which is invoked both in medical manuals and in the meeting of Kate and Petruchio in Shrew ( describe the erotic banter that typifies Shakespearean comedy; he points out that such banter effectively mimics the verbal and physical rubbing with which husbands were frequently counseled to excite their wives, raising their temperatures in order to bring about the female orgasm often thought necessary to ensure pregnancy (Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," in Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], 66-93).

(37.) This is not the place to enter fully into the controversy about how to take that speech, but I would suggest briefly that it doesn't really matter whether Kate's words here are thought to be "ironic," because they are "so aptly fitted and naturally performed" (as the Lord says of the part played by an actor that has stayed in his memory although the actor's name has vanished, /naM.82). The play as a whole, I believe, gets much its force from its simultaneous contradictory suggestions that the gender hierarchy is an artificial, socially constructed order, which it is useful to observe anyway--and that it is a "natural" expression of a woman's sexual desire to be dominated by a stronger man (this is underwritten by the fact that Kate and Petruchio's sexuality is coded as "real" in the play, as opposed to the artifice and deceits of conventional courtly love, represented by Lucentio and Bianca).

(38.) Pye comments that "Henry mirthfully insinuates that his conquest will simply make him the passive victim of a homoerotic capture.... To 'catch the fly in the latter end' is ... to catch it from behind" (31-32); Goldberg, however, notes in response that it is not clear that whether Henry imagines himself or Katherine as being taken a tergo: "Only when it is assumed that anal sex marks the difference between hetero-and homosexuality can the banter be read as homoerotic; rather, the sexual fantasy is sodomitical, because either way non-procreative sex is involved" (158). Of course, Henry's lines, like Petruchio's "tail" joke, could conceivably admit of a vaginal interpretation as well (see OED tail, n.1 5c), but the anal suggestions seem unavoidable in both exchanges and overwhelming in the latter.

(39.) He places them both, as monarchs, above "nice customs," and declares: "The liberty that follows our places stops the mouth of all find-faults, as I will do yours, for upholding the nice fashion of your country in denying me a kiss" (5.2.267, 271-75).

(40.) This last suggestion is Hedrick's (479); Hedrick also considers the first possibility, as does Abate, "Once more unto the breach," 80-81); for a cogent statement of the second, most frequent reading, see Howard and Rackin, Engendering a Nation, 214-15.

(41.) Maguire is unusual among the "submissive" critics in viewing that stance as a change from Katherine's earlier behavior in the English lesson and throughout most of the wooing scene; Hedrick suggests that she becomes "a shrew of silence" (481).

(42.) Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (2nd ed.) and Literature in Secret, trans. David Wills. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 75. Derrida takes the notion of "speaking 'in tongues'" from Kierkegaard's discussion of Abraham in Fear and Trembling, which forms the basis for his own analysis. In his related essay, Literature in Secret, he discusses the connection between the ideas explored here (and the Abrahamic inheritance in general) and our culture's conception of "literature."

(43.) Derrida, Gift of Death, 76.

(44.) For a very different view of Shakespeare's use of French, see David Steinsalz, "The Politics of French Language in Shakespeare's History Plays," Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42 (2002): 317-34. For other considerations of language^) in the play, see Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama, 97-108; P. K. Ayers, "'Fellows of Infinite Tongue': Henry V and the King's English," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 34 (1994): 253-77; Paola Pugliatti, "The Strange Tongues of Henry V," The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 235-53.

(45.) Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator," trans. Harry Zohn, in Selected Writings, vol. 1 (1913-26), ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Tennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, 253-63). In his analysis of this text, Paul de Man demonstrates its (appropriate) "untranslatability" (De Man, "Conclusions: Walter Benjamin's 'The Task of the Translator,'" in The Resistance to Theory [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009], 86); I owe much of my understanding of Benjamin's essay to de Man. See also Derrida, "Des Tours de Babel," trans. Joseph F. Graham, in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002) 102-34; Derrida's comments on the interpenetration of notions of translation and (patrilineal) generation, genealogy, and survival in Benjamin's essay are especially illuminating in this context.

(46.) Benjamin explicitly says that translation is not about resemblance or analogy; implicit in this dictum, I believe, is the demand that translation not be naturalized or made logical. I would argue that Shakespeare's play suggests not the opposite of Benjamin's prohibition but its converse: rather than translation's being a type of resemblance, kinship, or analogy, the numerous attempts to assert likeness" here are all a subspecies of (failed) translation. Early modern rhetorical texts did, moreover, often conceptualize metaphor (and tropes in general) as "translation"; see Sharon-Zisser, The Risks of Simile in Renaissance Rhetoric 193-94, 199.

(47.) De Man, "Conclusions: Walter Benjamin's 'The Task of the Translator,' "84.

(48.) Ibid.

(49.) See 3.4.50-56. This is true in a different way of the robe-count-cunt joke in these lines. To really follow this complicated wordplay (and not simply grasp that an indecent term for women's genitals has somehow been evoked), English speakers must first understand the middle term as a mispronunciation of "gown" (a connection that, I confess, eluded me at first); and they will still be bothered by other associations with "count" that have nothing to do with either "robe" or "cunt" ("count" is the Folio reading, which is preserved in the Riverside; Q1 has "con," which creates similar problems: the Oxford edition assists the reader by emending this to "cown" and supplying an explanation). Of course, regardless of the level of understanding, everyone is aware that something comically bawdy is occurring here, but the fact that non-French speakers are usually aided at a performance not only by the context and the laughter of other spectators, but by the gestures of the actors (who generally point to the body parts in question) simply reinforces my point. Critical references to this scene as "the French lesson" (see, e.g., Maguire's remarks, above) further attest to the alienation that English speakers experience here.

(50.) Critical suggestions include that she is implicitly acknowledging her conquered status and being objectified for the purpose of titillating the audience (e.g., Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama, 101-3; Howard and Rackin, Engendering a Nation, 8, 206; Helen Ostovich, "'Teach you our princess English?': Equivocal Translation of the French in Henry V," in Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History, ed. Richard C. Trexler [Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994], 154-55); that she is taking the initiative in learning new social codes in order to avoid traditional subjugation (Abate, "Once more unto the breach," 75); that she learning about own sexuality in anticipation of her eventual fate (Lance Wilcox, "Katherine of France as Victim and Bride," Shakespeare Studies 17 [1985]: 61-76; and that she is learning English in order not to use it (Hedrick, "Advantage, Affect, History, Henry V," 481).

(51.) Pye, The Regal Phantasm, 37-39.
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Date:Jan 1, 2013
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