Biting more than "we" can chew: the royal appetite in Richard II and 1 and 2 Henry IV.
If we find no men of iron in Shakespeare's history plays, we do find a similar concern for an efficient system of judgment and justice. More particularly, in Shakespeare's kings we find the similar assumption that disconnection from civilization is necessary if good judgment is to appear, and that "vile participation," of which Henry IV accuses Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, will cause any royal to lose his "princely privilege" (3.2.86-87). (2)
It is an uncomfortable hypothesis, one that Foucault implicitly urges us to discard in his efforts to describe privilege or power as "exercised rather than possessed" (26). We must, according to Foucault, "abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended [...]" (27), and this includes knowledge of criminal activity. Prince Hal, after the accusation of "vile participation," promises his father to remove himself from "common sight" (3.2.88) and to "be more myself" (93)--self-knowledge in this case depends on distance from all the other "selves" whose company Hal has previously seemed to enjoy, depends on a suspension of participation in favor of a static appreciation for an equally static royal privilege. But according to Foucault the development of any knowledge hinges inevitably on participation in what he calls "power-knowledge relations" (27). Neither power nor knowledge exists alone as either privilege or property, but as strategy and activity (26). (3)
Unlike Spenser's work, Shakespeare's history plays were not explicitly written as guidebooks for hopeful courtiers. Yet his works on the Lancastrian ascendance include portraits of characters confronted with similar questions of how to rule, to judge, and thus to punish nobly, virtuously, and effectively. More often than not, Shakespeare's royals exercise poor judgment because of their very assumptions about the vileness of participation. It is when they are most eager to remove themselves from the taint of a despoiled social order that they reveal their own relations to it most undeniably, for the "crimes" they are quickest to condemn are "crimes" of participation--Bolingbroke and Mowbray, Exton, Hotspur, and Falstaff are deemed "vile" by the grossly physical reminders they display of their own associations with the material world. The criminals in Richard II and 1 and 2 Henry IV possess hearty and very literal appetites; the justice sought against them is a reaction to and against an intemperate, immoderate participation in the physical world. Justice and Temperance are linked in these plays as immediately and insistently as they are in The Faerie Queene.
In that work, Spenser's knight of Temperance, Sir Guyon, is gradually educated in the virtue, and it is such a thorough education that allows him, in the last of the cantos dedicated to him, to administer a justice that stems immediately from his earthbound experiences. His destruction of the villainous Acrasia's Bower of Bliss, while not as gruesomely violent an act as many of Sir Artegall's punishments, is certainly as severely absolute. But importantly, before he can rage against the vulgar artifice of Acrasia's bower, Guyon must confront, measure, and defeat the intemperate, licentious desires of his own mortal appetite. The power he exercises against her crime is only administered after he acknowledges his own inclinations toward criminal behavior.
Liz McAvoy and Teresa Walters begin their discussion of medieval notions of appetite with an allusion to book 2 of The Faerie Queene. They discuss how Sir Guyon's "body must be kept under 'sober government' or else its all-consuming appetites will cause it to turn 'Monster' and lead it to devour its own 'dignitie and native grace'" (4). McAvoy and Walters go on to explain:
Implicit in this description too is the need for a temperance that must come from within for best effect, and yet the notions of "government" and "misrule" are explicitly external forms of control [...]. Thus, the formulation of the [...] subject's notion of "self" is effected by the imposition of civilizing government (law) from without, and by its consumption in the form of narrative [...] until it is wholly devoured and assimilated. While government, then, is internalized by the subject, ideally becoming self-governance, so his own destructive appetites are simultaneously externalized, projected and reified as a threatening monstrous "other." (4)
The obstacles that challenge Sir Guyon, reminding him of man's capacity for intemperance, are all too present in Richard II and 1 and 2 Henry IV. The garden of England--weedy, unpruned, holding "foes [...] enrooted with [...] friends" (2H4 4.1.205)--seems at times just as offensively overgrown as Acrasia's artificial bower. Over each of these plays looms the constant threat of a monstrously intemperate overindulgence, shadowing an England that, more and more, "preys upon itself" (R2 2.1.39). This threat, however, does not appear by chance. McAvoy and Walters explain how "the strategic representation of monstrosity paradoxically casts into relief what is not monstrous and thus serves as a template for the limits of what it is to be a 'normative' human being" (5). Shakespeare's kings, though each differs in terms of the reverence he attaches to the abstract notion of kingship, are deeply interested in establishing stable, normative identities for their royal selves within likewise impregnable cultural or national narratives; to cast their desirable identities into relief too often necessitates the representation of an "other" into an exaggeratedly undesirable body, "held at the margins of identity ... constantly threaten[ing] the body politic from both without and within. Cultural narratives can thus be seen as simultaneously consumed and consuming" (McAvoy and Walters 5).
Shakespeare's plays represent the consuming nature of cultural narrative in the consistent links made between rhetorical and physical appetite. "The belly digests the world, which simultaneously digests the belly," as Bruce Boehrer expressively puts it (142). Additionally, in his discussion of the Early Modern period as a "transitional phase, during which dramatic representations show confusion and ambivalence toward locating selfhood and language," Nicholas Crawford asserts that "the distinction between the language of corporeality and the corporeality of language is often a blurry one [...]. The body talks and talk has body [...]" (253). This is certainly true in the history plays under discussion, where language reminiscent of consumption and overconsumption abound. Bodies talk first in and throughout Richard II, primarily because indulgence, in the garden of England as in the Garden of Eden, is quickly branded the most significant threat to the stability of Richard's monarchy. John of Gaunt may be the only character to fully understand that appetite is "as much a matter of power as it is of desire, taste or need" (McAvoy and Walters 9), and that to control appetite is to control power, but Richard himself perceives and worries over the same relationship. Just as in Genesis's Garden of Eden, the cultural narrative of Richard's (and Henry's) England demands that those judged guilty of overindulgence be banished, along with their intemperate appetites. In each play, England's kings, even as they attempt to weed out these appetites, threaten to demolish the very earth under their own feet by wielding a power they assume is stable rather than enmeshed in a "power-knowledge relation" (Foucault 27). Foucault points out the instability and potential ineffectiveness of a sovereign's judgment and punishment, for "[w]hat has to be arranged and calculated are the return effects of punishment on the punishing authority and the power that it claims to exercise" (91). Shakespeare's kings fail to consider thoroughly either the causes or the return effects of their judicial decisions. Whether they view their power as divinely willed, shrewdly acquired, or historically secured, they swagger onto the scene like so many Sir Artegalls emerging from Astraea's cave, assuming that the power they execute is secure and unequivocal. But to designate, based on this assumption, an individual or that individual's appetite as criminal implies a political security and stability, perhaps absent from any system of power, but certainly absent from the oscillating management of an England embroiled in rebellion. (4)
In his article on the language of treason in Richard II, Dermot Cavanagh suggests that the play's "principal conflict might well be characterized as a struggle over the authority to define the offense" of the selected offenders (135). Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke, and Prince Hal/Henry V each assume, often to their own detriment, that their position at the top of the political food chain, while it may not render them immune from threats, still gives them the prerogative to banish those threats before they materialize. Furthermore, they execute these punishments without ever defining exactly what it is they are punishing. They respond to perceived threats not as examples/offshoots of their own "vile participation," their own "destructive appetites," but as already external menaces, monsters/monstrosities that necessitate banishment and imprisonment outside the borders of civilization. Once banished, a threat is meant to be gone for good, contained because removed, as if banishing one desirous rebel were akin to banishing rebellious desire entirely. To hearken back for a moment to McAvoy and Walters, however, self-government, necessary for a stable political government, demands the acknowledging, the externalizing, and finally the overpowering of one's own destructive appetites. Shakespeare's kings skip the first step, marking any destructive influences they encounter as already external--foreign, unwelcome, and startlingly out of place. The garden of England is often envisioned, by Richard especially, as a garden without weeds, a fantasy bower of bliss. Unwilling to acknowledge that the cultural narratives of any postlapsarian body politic must "be seen as simultaneously consumed and consuming," Richard and later the Henrys insist England's weeds sprout from some other dirt, ignoring the crucial parts they themselves have played in making monsters out of molehills.
One first encounters language of overconsumption in act 1 of Richard II, where Bolingbroke and Mowbray are introduced in the midst of reciprocally accusing each other of treason. They are the first examples of noblemen who skip the necessary step of acknowledging their own destructive appetites. "With a foul traitor's name stuff I thy throat" (1.1.44), Bolingbroke declares; Mowbray retorts that the presence of the king somewhat curbs his "free speech, / Which else would post until it had return'd / These terms of treason doubled down his throat" (55-57). The images are vivid, vicious, and reminiscent of gluttony more than ordinary appetite; language is explicitly materialized, and both men wish to see each other literally choking over, before finally swallowing, the same accusation. "Now swallow down that lie," Mowbray demands of Bolingbroke (132). Clearly in all this language there exists a preoccupation with ingestion and regurgitation, as each man menacingly alerts the other: I know what you're really hungry for. As adversaries, Bolingbroke and Mowbray exaggerate each other's appetites, forcing the crime upon each other. The language that names the offense "is consistently adduced as evidence of a character's treasonous disposition" (Cavanagh 150), for if either Mowbray or Boling-broke is a traitor, his overzealous appetite will eventually give him away--thus the two men's reciprocal accusations, which suggest their desperate confidence that whoever finally fails to regurgitate the accusation of treason, whoever does manage to "swallow down that lie," will be proved the guilty glutton.
Of course, neither does swallow the lie, and the argument threatens to continue indefinitely. Each man is interested only in marking this destructive appetite--treason--as already external, wholly unappetizing, and thus detached completely from his own nature. Thus it remains difficult to tell where the desire for treason originated--in Bolingbroke, in Mowbray, or in someone else entirely. Whatever the truth of the matter, both men are guilty of attempting to turn the other into a monstrous "Other" against which each can stabilize his own ambiguous identity. Richard finally interrupts the argument, urging both men to "purge this choler without letting blood" (1.1.153)--more language reminiscent of regurgitation. Richard's command here is also diagnosis. Considering the influence of Galenic physiology in the early modern period, Michael Schoenfeldt explains that
[t]he goal of medical intervention was [...] to restore each individual's proper balance, either through ingestion of substances possessing opposite traits, or purgation of excess, or both. [...] [T]his regime imagined that bodies were perpetually in danger of poisoning themselves through their own nutritive material [...]. (3)
For Mowbray and Bolingbroke, however, purging their choler--getting it all out--would require from both men an admission of a particularly excessive appetite, one large enough to necessitate a purge. Neither man seems interested in openly admitting this, but they nonetheless reveal their appetites through their speech--"[t]he thinker and the thought, the speaker and the spoken, cannot be entirely separated" (Crawford 254). Although they agree to a formal duel, Mowbray looks forward to the fight as "this feast of battle" (1.3.92; emphasis added), while for Bolingbroke the very idea of a parley inspires the promise that
my teeth shall tear The slavish motive of recanting fear, And spit it bleeding in his high disgrace, Where shame doth harbor, even in Mowbray's face. (1.1.192-95)
Oddly coupled with their very recent need to externalize destructive appetite is this renewed fixation on mastication and ingestion. Despite the assurances each offers of his own innocence and loyalty to the crown, it is clear, as each man threatens to consume the other, to purge his guttural fury with further consumption, that both have the stomach for excess, for chaos and disorder.
Indeed, Bolingbroke's and Mowbray's appetites for disruptiveness seem insatiable, which in itself may be troubling. Their dispute, however, is arguably neither uniquely dangerous nor immediately threatening to Richard's inherently unstable government. (5) Perhaps because of the role he played in his uncle's death, Richard fails to see how the mixture of eagerness and redundancy in Bolingbroke's and Mowbray's speeches adds even a degree of absurdity to the proceedings; a similar situation will be rendered uncomfortably comic in a later scene (4.1) when another nobleman, Aumerle, is accused of treason, and in the midst of the accusation nearly everyone present throws down his own glove in zealous fury. Both scenes, the latter especially, invite the question: If everyone in the room has been accused of treason, how are the loyal to be separated from the disloyal? Is it not an impossible, even futile, undertaking? Carolyn Dinshaw, in her examination of reciprocal accusations of sodomy between fourteenth-century Lollards and orthodox clerics, explains how:
[t]he exact reversal tends in fact to drain the [original] accusation of specificity and render it an all-purpose vilification [...]. The suspicions such a reversal raises: that sodomy is everywhere, or sodomy is nowhere to be found--fingers are pointing but they don't rest anywhere. That you can't tell who's doing it: anyone can be accused, and there's no way of knowing. (68)
At face value then, the argument of act 1 is not so much dangerous as distasteful--an obnoxious quarrel stuck in circulating exchanges of I know you are but what am I? Richard, however, instead of realizing the pandemonium of a situation centered on vulgarity and name-calling, assumes Mowbray's and Bolingbroke's fingers may soon enough rest on him. To avoid this possibility, he exercises his royal privilege, cutting their feuding short, but in doing so he in fact legitimizes an argument that might otherwise have exhausted itself. For Richard it ceases to matter, if indeed it ever did, who is innocent or guilty; his solution, after aborting the duel, is to exile both men without ever clarifying their offense. He offers a strange speech that personifies a sleepy Peace, rudely awakened by the "rival-hating envy" (1.3.131) of two men with too many "sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts" (130), which "might from our quiet confines fright fair peace, / And make us wade even in our kinred's blood" (137-38). Richard ultimately suggests it was "eagle-winged pride" (129) that inspired the inappropriate ambitions of his noblemen, and, in apparent contrast to his earlier diagnosis, he lays the blame on an invasive external influence rather than an internal humoral imbalance. Tainted by this influence, Bolingbroke and Mowbray, according to the king, have grown frightening and threatening. Richard's "quiet confines" can hardly be expected to contain the kind of monstrousness that would fright peace and initiate bloodshed. The problem is Richard's rather weak metaphor fails to sell convincingly the threatening aspects of either man. Whatever the king might imply, it is far more likely that the men are banished not for instigating a violent duel but for what they threatened to expose through the reciprocal accusations that preceded the duel--namely, the susceptibility of the human subject, noble or not, to follow the whims and wills of its own destructive appetite. (6)
Thus the men are exiled--Bolingbroke for six winters, Mowbray for life. Here Richard displays what Foucault calls the "spectacular, unlimited, personal, irregular and discontinuous power, the form of monarchical sovereignty [that leaves] the subjects free to practice a constant illegality" (88). Richard's extreme punishment does not fit his subjects' crime, for indeed, in this crucial and public scene of judgment, it is never stated, beyond metaphor, what is their crime. Richard sends the foggiest of messages to his people about the truth of an offense and, thus, the truth of his power to answer it.
Cavanagh observes how strenuously the king, in his banishment speech, "insists on his possession of the kingdom--'our fields,' 'our fair dominions'" (142). England is repeatedly imagined as a garden in this play, specifically the Garden of Eden by John of Gaunt on his deathbed, and by Queen Isabella, indirectly, when she chastises the chatty gardener she dubs "old Adam's likeness" (3.4.73). Repeatedly Richard is taken to task for the substandard care he allots "this other Eden, demi-paradise" (2.1.42). As God's substitute, he has charge of England's/Eden's growth and protection, and as such he takes it upon himself to mimic God's judgment--he banishes sinners Bolingbroke and Mowbray for endangering his land. Whatever the explanation for their preoccupation with hunger and ingestion, their unhealthy appetites serve as unwelcome reminders of the gross impurity of human bodies, and the undesirability of this impurity inside any heavenly, unadulterated realm. Richard reacts as God reacts after Adam and Eve ingest the forbidden fruit and become embarrassingly aware of their own bodies. The problem is that King Richard, despite his symbolic status as God's substitute, is as human as any Adam. He chooses to deny the humanity that appears to him "as something inconsistent with kingship" (Kantorowicz 76) in favor of a full identification with his divine sense of self; he is a sinner banishing sin. In the reality of England, the king is just as guilty of potentially overindulging as any other subject, as he proves when he takes it upon himself to parcel out his England/Eden. Richard's negligent leadership and his "failure [as a] ruler has its root not in a criminal, but a diseased will" (Boas 354). (7) When John of Gaunt attempts to warn the king away from his destructive appetites, he employs explicit gustatory imagery to express his caution: "With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder, / Light vanity, insatiate cormorant, / Consuming means, soon preys upon itself" (2.1.37-39). By opening up England as fodder for consumption, Gaunt warns, Richard is indeed preying upon himself as representative of England's body politic; to satisfy his vanity he puts his own self-government and the government of his country at risk. Gaunt goes so far as to accuse the king of having more than a hand in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester: "That blood already, like the pelican, / Hast thou tapp'd out and drunkenly carous'd" (2.1.126-27). Richard, of course, denies he possesses such grotesque, ignoble appetites; instead he draws his strength from the soothingly familiar cultural narrative that, as a divinely ordained king, he suffers the pangs of no base appetite, that he escapes the "psychological materialism" Gail Paster describes in her theoretical work on "embodied emotions" in early modern English culture (12, 7). Passions, emotions, and appetites were believed to "flood the body not metaphorically but literally" (14), Paster explains; "substance embodied significance, because there was no way conceptually or discursively to separate the psychological from the physiological" (12). And yet Richard rather desperately attempts just this kind of separation in his efforts to define his own significance through an immaterial, psychological identity divorced from the physiological. For as long as he can he enjoys the illusion that his royal, public, divine body and his private, physical body are indistinguishable, or that his physical body, his humanity, has in effect been rendered moot by the crown. Isabella is too right when she speaks of "a second fall of cursed man" (3.4.76), for Richard, without his crown, is a man, no less cursed, no more divine, than any other.
Bolingbroke sees to it that "the fiction of the oneness of the [king's] double body breaks apart" (Kantorowicz 79), but in the process of his deposition, Richard himself begins to acknowledge his role as consumer: "I live with bread like you, feel want, / Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, / How can you say to me I am a king?" (3.2.175-77). Though he ultimately affirms neither, here, and in the play's death scene, Richard is finally forced to confront not only his literal appetites, but the intrinsic imperfections attached to his humanity. (8) It is perhaps not coincidental that the first blow Richard strikes lands on the prison's keeper, whose duty it has been to bring Richard meat. "Taste of it first" (5.5.99), Richard orders, and when the keeper refuses to do so--and thus refuses to elevate Richard's appetites to a less obviously base and human level--it is the last straw for the former king. Schoenfeldt remarks that "the consuming subject was pressured by Galenic physiology [...] to conceive all acts of ingestion and excretion as very literal acts of self-fashioning" (11). Boehrer agrees that "digestion itself, in Renaissance popular and medical terminology, is a process that both collapses and reinscribes distinctions of the nature/culture variety" (119). Debased as he is, Richard has no sincere interest in examining such distinctions, in refashioning a self; he'd rather mourn what he continues to think of as his true self, the one stolen by Bolingbroke. The keeper, by refusing to "taste of it first," neglects to pay homage to this shadow identity; Richard makes him pay for it. "Patience is stale, and I am weary of it" (5.5.103), he says, beating the keeper for his impudent reminder of Richard's fall from grace. What in fact has grown stale, and therefore un-consumable as a stable cultural narrative, is Richard's divine, Christological embodiment. He himself continues to chew on it regardless. After Exton enters and strikes his death blow, the dying Richard's final thoughts are of his separate soul, whose "seat is up on high"; meanwhile his very material, "gross flesh sinks downward" (5.5.112). Once again Richard denies his body, the seat of appetite, and even looks forward to its falling away. Exton, however, is equally affected by both the words pouring out of Richard's mouth and the blood pouring from his body: "As full of valure as of royal blood! / Both have I spill'd" (5.5.113-14). Richard's valor spills out of him, intermingling with the blood from his wounds. Despite his attempt to distinguish self from body, our last sight of Richard marks him as a body brimming over with a tangible, material spirit. (9)
If the play ended here a reader might leave it with a sense of poetic justice, but the play goes on. A crime, a murder, has been committed, and it is an obvious one; however, on further examination even this crime cannot be clearly defined. The new king finds himself in the same position as the old king at the play's commencement--too uncomfortably close to a crime. Exton cannot be brought to trial because Bolingbroke would no doubt be implicated--"Though I did wish him dead," Henry admits, "I hate the murtherer, love him murthered" (5.6.39-40). Henry acknowledges part of his own appetite--like any consumer, he entertains certain cravings, certain desires for self-gratification, in this case that some "friend will rid me of this living fear" (5.4.2) that is the continued existence of Richard II. But Henry is not yet comfortable with, or perhaps not aware of, what Richard seemed overly aware of and even dependent on: the king's power to construct public and encompassing cultural narratives. "From your own mouth, my lord, did I this deed" (5.6.37), Exton says to the king, who with these words is too soon confronted by his own destructive appetite, made literal, regurgitated here in words. This is perhaps Richard's legacy--the threat of overindulgence, so ingrained in England's land, its subjects, and its kings, has invaded language itself, and as a result every speech act becomes at the same time a purge. Exton physically locates "this deed" inside Henry's body--in his mouth. Henry reacts to what Exton more than implies--that the words the king speaks originate in, and share an inseparable connection with, his body and his bodily appetites. With his whole being Henry wishes Richard dead; Exton sees a chance to satisfy his new king's deepest desires.
Like Richard before him, Henry comes face to face with his lack of self-government. By publicly verbalizing his desire to see Richard dead, he in effect normalizes and legitimizes his own excessive appetite. It is a dangerous oversight that results in nothing less than the unjust assassination of a king. Henry finds himself in an awkward position wherein he must ensure that his extreme ambition does not become a new norm in which all participate. Exton is punished for an act Henry professes he loves but denies he wanted; only a monster, he implies, could actually carry out such a desire--murder for self-gain. In order for Henry to undo his mistake, Exton must be made a monster. Henry thus reacts the same way the Richard of act 1 reacted to the public duel: he orders that Exton "with Cain go wander thorough shades of night, / And never show thy head by day nor light" (5.6.43-44). Henry banishes Exton, hoping any fingers might point after the literal murderer rather than rest on the power who wished it. Exton is made a monster so that England will not point accusing fingers at its new monarch, already mourning the lamentable idea "that blood should sprinkle me to make me grow" (5.6.46). Amidst this grotesque imagery, the play ends as it begins, with the exile of a subject who has made appetite too rudely visible.
While Richard and Henry IV try to distance themselves from excessive human appetite, Prince Hal's strategy is just the opposite. Hal makes it clear early on in 1 Henry IV that his approach involves getting as close as he can to indulgent defilement, that "loose behavior" he promises to in good time "throw off, / and pay the debt [he] never promised" (1.2.208-09). "I'll so offend," he pledges, "to make offense a skill" (1.2.216). Hal easily spots rude appetite in the idle folk with whom he mixes; it is not his purpose to deny the existence of those "base contagious clouds" that "smother" the brightness of the sun (1.2.198-99). Thus he frankly acknowledges the common man's tendency to act on intemperate desires, but in terms of McAvoy and Walter's description of successful self-government, Hal, like his father and Richard before him, denies the full presence and heavy influence of his own destructive appetites. The sun to those base clouds, Hal assumes the authority to define offense, enough to hail it a skill. His plan is to internalize a vulgarity he considers already wholly external to himself; his offensive behavior is a showy performance, a trick as disingenuous as that of the entertainer who swallows his sword. As Boehrer says of Ben Jonson, Hal "can eat and drink until he chokes and still remain temperate" (91). Carousing with reprobates, Hal enjoys a supposedly unique ability to exist comfortably among them. Indeed, Barbara Everett suggests that "1 Henry IV is as fine as it is because of the depth with which it shows Hal as no other than a man among men" (125). Inhabiting both the court plot and the tavern plot, Hal can appear at ease in both when necessary, certain about where he really belongs and when he is really himself. Moderation, for Hal, is already "not something [he] does but something [he] is" (Boehrer 91), and it is this belief in his unassailable, impregnable self-control that allows Hal to imitate while simultaneously criticizing "the unyok'd humour" of his idle companions (1.2.219). Hal's secure self-definition is made suspect soon enough, however. His composure has a limit, and it is illustrated in the stretched belly of Sir John Falstaff, for it is finally Falstaff's appetite, more than any major or minor unlawful offense, that is rendered obscurely criminal in one of Henry V's first acts as king.
"Presume not that I am the thing I was" (5.5.56), Hal warns the baffled Falstaff in the final scene of 2 Henry IV, just before banishing him. As the unveiling of a magician's complex trick the statement has a certain sensational effect, but as the prelude to a serious criminal condemnation it fails to impress, for the directive (indeed the entire scene) says more about Hal than it does about Falstaff. What, finally, are we to understand to be Falstaff's crime in this final scene? For what exactly is he being punished? Presumption? Informality? Possession of a graceless bulk? If it is true that Hal never was "much in love with vanity" (1H4 5.4.106), then Falstaff never was a real influence on his behavior, and so his punishment/banishment should have nothing to do with Hal--who he was or is. The final scene of 2 Henry IV reveals that, if anything, Sir Jack was more on the mark when he earlier accused his prince of doing "much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it. Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing, and now am I [...] little better than one of the wicked" (1H4 1.2.91-95).
Some may argue that, as in so many of his speeches, Falstaff is speaking insincerely here, and thus his claims cannot be trusted. But Falstaff's disingenuousness does not necessarily render his speech(es) untrue. He playfully suggests quite early in 1 Henry IV that Hal has been the one in control of the relationship and that he himself has fed off Hal's influence--to excess, by all appearances--and, in so doing, he in fact reveals the irony at the heart of his relationship with Hal. For if the prince's earlier speeches are to be believed, he is never at any point in danger of succumbing to Falstaff's vices. Rather it is Falstaff who is in danger of being first exploited, then demonized, and finally ostracized by his insincere prince. By banishing him, Hal attempts to legitimize an influence he has already claimed Falstaff never really enjoyed; Hal cannot succeed in his legitimizing efforts because he is trying to have it both ways--Falstaff cannot be both a bad influence and no influence. Thus the consequences of Falstaff's offenses are never clarified; nor is the truth of Falstaff's actual crime(s) against the state. Foucault explains how "[i]n order to be useful, punishment must have as its objective the consequences of the crime, that is to say, the series of disorders [into society] that it is capable of initiating" (92). Falstaff is guilty of several real crimes, including taking bribes from soldiers over whom Hal has granted him the charge. Arguably, then, many of his transgressions are licensed by Hal, given their close relationship. It is this intimacy that makes it impossible to define the specific disorders Sir John alone initiates into society, for he is so often not alone in the course of the play. He never forgets his relationship with Hal the man, whom he admits he'll dare to cross: "Why, Hal! Thou knowest, as thou art but man, I dare, but as thou art Prince, I fear thee as I fear the roaring of the lion's whelp [...]. The king himself is to be fear'd as the lion. Dost thou think I'll fear thee as I fear thy father?" (3.3.145-47, 149-50). Hal encourages Falstaff's irreverence with his characteristic, and just as flippant, responses to Falstaff's taunts--usually composed of elaborate insults ("thou whoreson, impudent, emoboss'd rascal" [3.3.156-57], for example)--and/or references to Falstaff's weight. Hal can hardly be said to condone Falstaff's delinquency, but, given their blithe relationship, he can hardly be said to send a clear message of disapproval or caution either. As interested as the newly crowned Hal appears to be in instituting a new and stronger form of justice in his kingdom, he sets a bad precedent with his arbitrary retribution against a subject whom he cannot seem to decide is dangerously influential or not.
One emblematic scene in 1 Henry IV can best serve to illustrate Hal's attitude toward power, influence, and self-government; it occurs in the last act of the play, as the prince stands between the fallen bodies of both Hotspur and Sir John. In an earlier scene Hal and Falstaff encounter each other:
Falstaff: Hal, if thou see me down in the battle and bestride me, so; 'tis point of friendship. Prince: Nothing but a Colossus can do thee that friendship. Say thy prayers, and farewell. (5.1.121-24)
This is hardly the first time that Hal has mocked Falstaff's weight, far from it. Hal habitually greets him with epithets most illuminating: Falstaff is "fat-witted" (1.2.2), a "fat-kidney'd rascal" (2.2.5), a "whoreson round man" (2.4.141), a "tun of man" (2.4.448). Hal claims "there's no room for faith, truth, nor honesty in this bosom of thine; it is all fill'd up with guts and midriff" (3.3.153-55). As Everett puts it, 1 and 2 Henry IV "are full of Falstaff's fatness," and where Richard II might be considered "a thin play" in the sense of being "unpeopled [...], the Henry IV 's are fat" (120).
In the previously quoted scene from act 5, Falstaff is likened to a body so huge only a Colossus could straddle it. Hal puts Falstaff in the company of giants, of the colossally vast--a body too huge to bestride or even behold, and thus impossible to befriend. To contemplate Falstaff as a giant alters his character in certain fundamental ways. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, in the preface to his book Of Giants, explains how "to gaze on the giant as something more than a body in pieces requires the adoption of an inhuman, transcendent point of view [...]. To comprehend both the body of the giant and the human body as complex, totalized wholes is a visual and epistemological impossibility" (xiii). By labeling Falstaff a giant, Prince Hal removes him from the realm of human companionship. Whether he lives or dies, he is effectively shut out, exceeding, with his bulk, Hal's limited frame of reference. Perhaps Falstaff anticipates this rejection--hence his request that Hal bestride him so. Indeed, much earlier in the play Falstaff reveals his anxiety over his weight; during the robbery of act 2 Falstaff identifies the beset-upon travelers as "gorbellied knaves" (2.88) and "fat chuffs" (89), all the while representing himself as young and fit: "Ah, whoreson caterpillars! bacon-fed knaves! they hate us youth" (84-85). His attempt to alter the frames of reference of those who gaze upon him could be judged as an attempt to externalize in order to justly vilify his own destructive appetites. What is offensive in himself he turns over to bodies not his own--it is his obviously illusory attempt to (literally) fit in, to rise above the overindulgent and thus demonstrate a complete understanding of a disciplined self-government (which, admittedly, he has yet to put into practice). Unfortunately, Hal refuses to cooperate with Falstaff's pretended representation of himself as a temperate man. By placing him in the company of the giant, the monstrous, Hal mercilessly exposes Falstaff's indulgence; Hal turns Sir John into a cartographer's sea creature, a beast set "at the margins of the world [...], a morally and physically deformed creature arriving to demarcate the boundary beyond which lies the unintelligible, the inhuman" (Cohen xiv). Hal's simple slight serves as a forewarning of Falstaff's eventual banishment--he is off Hal's map.
Leaving the battle between Hal and Hotspur for the moment, Hal, after performing "fair rites of tenderness" (5.4.98) over the body of Percy, notices the body of his colossal friend. Symbolically Hal could be said to stand here in a classic position between two extremes. Both rebellious idealism and base instinct have fallen, while pragmatic Hal stands victorious, the picture of measured restraint. But this picture illustrates a false conclusion. Hal has dueled only Hotspur, not Falstaff; he has not in fact struggled physically against both extremes and come out victorious after rejecting and neutralizing both. The prince's defeat of Hotspur alone cannot even be called a victory for temperance and self-government. Hotspur's dying words accuse Prince Hal of base robbery of the former's youth and titles, and he is even robbed of finishing his last sentence:
Hotspur: No, Percy, thou art dust And food for-- Prince: For worms, brave Percy. (5.4.85-87)
The interruption marks a troubling, even sinister moment of intimacy between the two men, one looming over the diminishing other, forcing his last words into his mouth. Indeed Hotspur will be food for worms--likely he would have claimed as much for himself--but at the moment of his death he is food for no one but Hal. The prince may indeed be compared to a kind of cannibal in this scene, "gaining the strength and virtue of the conquered" Hotspur (Dorius 23). If Hal is finally a legitimate consumer of cultural narratives such as the one embodied by Hotspur, however, he seems to be a rather finicky one; even as he praises Hotspur's "great heart" he disparages his "ill-weav'd ambition" (88), insisting that "thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave" (100). Hotspur is made unrecognizable--"But let my favors hide thy mangled face" (96)--even as he is quite unmistakably put in his place--"two paces of the vilest earth / Is room enough" (91-92). Hal celebrates his rival's spirit even as he diminishes and disparages it as wholly inappropriate and wholly forgettable. Hotspur is honored as he is dismissed. As Dorius puts it, "the Prince seems to be eating his cake and having it too" (23).
In defeating Hotspur, Hal does exactly what he earlier promised--he exchanges Percy's "glorious deeds for [his] indignities" (3.2.146). In comparison to Hostpur's valiance, Hal's matter-of-factness is disappointing even in this moment of victory. It is as if the struggle was over before it truly began. Without hesitating as to whether or not he has the wisdom or the authority, Hal picks and chooses the parts of Hotspur's character to praise and emulate and banishes his more inconvenient qualities "to sleep with thee in the grave, / But not remembered in thy epitaph" (5.4.100-01). Hal may eulogize his rival well, but he does not truly reach out to the extremity of Hotspur's world view, never questions how such a great heart could court such ignominy. Like Hal's ruffian friends, Hotspur, long before their single-combat, was already externalized for the prince as a threat, his digestible, imitable qualities separated from the inimitable. Hal is less a predacious cannibal here than a fastidious, even squeamish kind of scavenger, and thus he misses out on the unique understanding his rhetorical merge with Hotspur--his hungry, cannibalistic act--could have provided. Looking at the body of the man whose attributes he has partly consumed in the effort to stabilize his new and improved identity, Hal has the unique opportunity, as Cohen describes, to "ponder what he once was from the outside, as a foreigner," and realize that he "was always already a stranger to himself [...]" (3-4). Boehrer agrees that "linguistic labor," including labor picked up, or picked out, from another's mouth, "is important exactly because it transgresses the divide between outside and inside" (123). At this moment of plurality, the prince, with his strange new identity as both Hal and Hotspur, might see the permeability and "the fragility of autonomous selfhood, how much of the world it excludes in its panic to remain selfsame, singular, stable" (Cohen 4). Unfortunately, Hal's interruption of Hotspur at the moment of his death marks, for the prince, not a moment of plurality but of play-acting, another opportunity for Hal to pause the action in deference to his own autonomous selfhood and in celebration of the sure success of the narrative he has already scripted for himself. Stephen Greenblatt has remarked on Hal's "inescapable and inevitable" redemption, which "is not something toward which the action moves but something that is happening at every moment of the theatrical representation" (30). Unwilling to entertain his own capacity for monstrousness, Hal ignores an opportunity for an enlightened and increased self-governance, first with Hotspur, and next with Falstaff.
By playing dead, laying his huge bulk in Hal's path, Falstaff offers the prince an identical opportunity to engage in a real struggle against an extreme. Cohen explains:
To gaze at the giant either through an exterior (gigantic) or interior (human, all too human) frame of knowledge is to fail to capture both categories in their fullness. Only in the constant movement between these two hermeneutics can the monster's nature be glimpsed. This [...] dual positionality as "intimate stranger" is a disturbing site that [...] indicate[s] an abjected realm outside but entwined within the "normal" [...] a surprising place, perhaps, to find so vast a body awaiting. (xiii-xiv)
For Hal, in this moment, Falstaff is dead, as is his point of contact with the tavern world. By its own volition, something huge has fallen away from Hal. But as ever, the prince does not reflect on Falstaff's true vastness--his frame of reference is too narrow. There is no longer any room for a Falstaff in Hal's life; instead of attempting to study the full picture of giant Jack, Hal focuses on the more manageable future image of Falstaff "embowell'd" (5.4.109), his body--and thus his character, the world he stands for--in pieces rather than whole. As a whole body the picture is quite different, for as a dead thing Falstaff will become part of the landscape, merging with the earth, the dirt. Weeds must sprout from him; thus the garden metaphor from Richard II returns, for, as Dorius remarks, "the final evolution of the metaphor of the fat garden and of the sick body politic is probably the fat man" (24). Hal's stubbornly limited understanding of power, however, dictates that he think of the stubborn weeds, the base giant, as externalities, invaders, when in fact they come from the same dirt. That Hal fails to recognize this is the reason Falstaff must come back to life, must spring up again like a weed, demanding attention, ruining the perfect picture Hal has painted for himself. Daring Hal to deny it, Falstaff swears he was the man who gave Hotspur his mortal wound: "If the man were alive and would deny it, zounds, I would make him eat a piece of my sword" (5.4.152-53). Further reference to ingestion aside, it is an absurd statement, and it mirrors the absurdity of Hal's own theatrics, finally placing them under suspicion. To deny that instinct has its roots in England's body, and in that of its prince(s), is an absurdity as unfeasible as swallowing a sword. Falstaff reanimates to remind the king of the instinct they share. Both he and Hal are jugglers of language, practical jokesters; indeed, if anything comes naturally to these two characters, it is their instinct for trickery, for theater. Falstaff implies that any deception he himself might manufacture, Hal could top. Falstaff's lies keep Hal honest.
Thus Falstaff's lowest point is also his highest in that it marks a strong assertion of the large space instinct requires. He no longer attempts to externalize his own appetites. Despite the ailing body he presents in 2 Henry IV, Falstaff has enlarged himself to a point that cannot be diminished. A sick body may soon enough be a dead body, and it is the dead monstrous body, decomposing, feeding the earth with an unmanageable misrule, that Hal, by the end, and despite the misrule he and his brother have already legitimized, has taught himself he must fear. Valerie Traub describes how it is
[n]ot only fat Jack's gut but also what goes in and comes out of his body [that] is the object of constant discussion--especially sweat and oil ... Such a focus on the bulging and the protuberant, the openings, permeabilities and effusions of Falstaff's body situate him as a "grotesque body." (462)
Perhaps, but it is necessary to consider the "critical link" in the early modern period "between health and flow" (Schoenfeldt 14). According to Schoenfeldt,
Bakhtin's powerful formulations about eating and festive release have been in some ways too influential, generating an opposition between the classically immured body and the precivilized, unregulated body that is belied by the very regime that produced the discourses of health and sickness. (13)
According to Galenic physiology, Falstaff's excretions are not illustrations of the grotesque but of the necessary regulation of bodily humors. Falstaff's body is unobstructed--it flows. His body talks, and his talk has body. This is as close as the play comes to a clarification of Falstaff's offense: at the end of 2 Henry IV, Henry V baldly advises Falstaff to "[m]ake less thy body" (5.5.52). What Falstaff represents is the largeness of his kind, the scope of immodesty. (10) He and all his company "are banish'd till their conversations / Appear more wise and modest to the world" (5.5.100-01). The truth of their crime is nothing less than that they exist in the space and in the numbers (and with the appetites) that they do. "Banish Sir John, and banish all the world" (1H4 2.4.479-80), Falstaff earlier warned his prince, for if Falstaff goes, all the conversations, the small histories, the talking bodies, in short, the people who "people" 1 and 2 Henry IV, go with him.
Small wonder then that the Hal of Henry V is so eager to go to war, to walk the camps without noble company, "a friend" (4.1.36) to soldier, slave, fool, peasant, wretch, and all manner of "bad neighbor," for the latter
makes us early stirrers, Which is both healthful and good husbandry. Besides, they are our outward consciences And preachers to us all, admonishing That we should dress us fairly for our end. Thus may we gather honey from the weeds And make a moral of the devil himself. (4.1.6-12)
This new and lonelier Hal, eager for neighbors, for voices, for bodies, and perhaps for "small beer" (2H4 2.2.6), would have benefited, it seems, from the advice given to Sir Guyon in the last stanzas of book 2 of The Faerie Queene. After transforming a group of beasts, malformed by Acrasia, back into men, the knight and his loyal Palmer come across one man "that had an hog beene late, hight Grylle by name" (2.12.86), who berates his liberators for restoring him to his original condition. Guyon, somewhat begrudgingly, accepts his Palmer's advice to "[l]et Grylle be Grylle, and have his hoggish mind" (87). An act of leniency, surely, but one that can be justified in light of the self-governance Sir Guyon has managed to attain. His own hoggish impulses he has defeated; those external to him need not be threatening. But Hal is no Guyon; neither is Richard; nor is Henry IV. Like a true cultivator of virtue, and like any good gardener, Guyon has been willing to get his hands dirty, to wallow hoggishly but come out clean. Richard may greet England's dirt with motherly tears; Bolingbroke may look eagerly to foreign shores for the sake of his own; Hal may envision early graves dug out for the foes in his path. No doubt each king assumes a deep contact with his land, but human contact is another matter, one that breeds a more pressing anxiety. "Most subject is the fattest soil to weeds" (2H4 4.4.54), Henry IV laments in a suspicious analogy that most clearly reveals just how apprehensive the royals remain in their efforts to identify criminals and crime. Prince Hal is the soil in this analogy, his companions the weeds; they are attracted to Hal, and he "is over-spread with them" (56). This may initially seem to be a legitimate concern, and a compliment to Hal, but a more appropriate and less suspicious analogy would have compared Hal to a shoot, bulb, or seed--within or emerging from the soil--his rough companions the weeds that choke him. By metonymically linking Hal with the soil rather than with a plant emerging from that soil, Henry IV once again implies his distaste for "vile participation" via physical contact, as well as his ideal picture of a flat and unsullied England, its surface undisturbed by any outgrowths, weeds, or otherwise. But this is a false picture, for Henry IV himself later admits that in ruling over his "poor kingdom, sick with civil blows [...] my care could not with-hold thy riots" (4.5.133-34). Henry's first statement acknowledges that some disturbances, some riots, are inbred, germinating beneath the surface, while his next statement, in which he wonders what his kingdom will do "when riot is thy care" (135), (11) implies that other disturbances, other riots, arrive from the outside. Small wonder then that Henry IV is so quick to conclude that England, simultaneously consumed and consuming, "wilt be a wilderness again, / Peopled with wolves, thy old inhabitants" (136-37). The possibility he, Hal after him, and Richard before him, fail to properly entertain is that a wilderness is what England has always been, peopled with wolves, with weeds, with giants, with kings--all of them in the closest of contact, feeding and feeding off of each other, impossible to banish for long, or for good.
Boas, Frederick S. "Shakespeare and his Predecessors." Richard II. Ed. Charles Forker. Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition. London: Athlone Press, 1998. 353-359.
Boehrer, Bruce. The Fury of Men's Gullets: Ben Jonson and the Digestive Canal. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997.
Cavanagh, Dermot. "The Language of Treason in Richard II." Shakespeare Studies 27 (1999): 134-160.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999.
Crawford, Nicholas. "Language, Duality, and Bastardy in English Renaissance Drama." English Literary Renaissance 34.2 (2004): 243-262.
Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham: Duke UP, 1999.
Dorius, R.J. "A Little More Than a Little." Shakespeare Quarterly 11.1 (1960): 13-26.
Everett, Barbara. "The Fatness of Falstaff." Proceedings of the British Academy 76 (1990): 109-128.
Forker, Charles, ed. Richard II. Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition. London: Athlone Press, 1998.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House, 1977.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Invisible Bullets." Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. 18-47.
Kantorowicz, E.H. "The King's Two Bodies." Richard II: Critical Essays. Ed. Jeanne T. Newlin. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984. 73-93.
McAvoy, Elizabeth Herbert, and Theresa Walters. Consuming Narratives: Monstrous Appetites of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2002.
Paster, Gail Kern. Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004.
Schoenfeldt, Michael. Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. A.C. Hamilton. London: Pearson Education, 2001.
Traub, Valerie. "Prince Hal's Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body." Shakespeare Quarterly 40.4 (1989): 456-474.
CHRISTINE HOFFMANN is a fourth-year PhD candidate at the University of Arkansas, currently at work on her dissertation, which will examine the potential connections between, and the pedagogical effects of, print communication in post-Gutenberg, Renaissance England and electronic communication in the contemporary West.
(1) All quotations from The Faerie Queene, A.C. Hamilton, ed.
(2) All quotations from The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd edition, G. Blakemore Evans, ed.
(3) Foucault has much more to say on the process of knowing in Discipline and Punish. He inspects the investigative procedures developed in the Middle Ages, finding that "to judge was to establish the truth of a crime, it was to determine its author and to apply a legal punishment. Knowledge of the offence, knowledge of the offender, knowledge of the law: these three conditions made it possible to ground a judgment in truth" (19). Yet modern procedures of investigation require more complicated conditions of knowledge:
The question is no longer simply: "Has the act been established and is it punishable?" But also: "What is this act [...]? To what level or to what field of reality does it belong? Is it a phantasy, a psychotic reaction, a delusional episode, a perverse action?" It is no longer simply: "Who committed it?" But: "How can we assign the causal process that produced it? Where did it originate [...]? (19)
The plays under discussion anticipate these modern questions, for crime and rebellion are at the heart of them, and they pulse with questions similar to Foucault's: What is rebellion? Who commits it? Where does it originate?
(4) H.N. Coleridge agrees it is
nearly impossible to lay down rules for the formation of a state [...] for man is destined to be guided by higher principles, by universal views, which can never be fulfilled in this state of existence [...]. It is forgotten that the human faculties, indeed, are parts and not separate things [...]. You could never get chiefs who were wholly reason, ministers who were wholly understanding, soldiers all wrath, labourers all concupiscence, and so on through the rest. (134)
See "The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge" in Charles Forker's Richard II, 127-134.
(5) Their behavior as noblemen, however, certainly does not bode well. G.S. Gordon suggests that the vicious patriotism of both men lacks any kind of moral foundation: "There is none of the characters of the play who is not a patriot and a royalist, from the king to his gardener; and the tragedy lies there. For patriotism where there is no moral order means civil strife; and royalism where the king is unworthy means civil strife again, with usurpation and death" (450). See Forker's Richard II, 449-451. Gordon's key point is that this lack of moral foundation is shared by every character. Bolingbroke and Mowbray overdo it here, but their behavior is by no means anomalous, and Richard makes a mistake in treating it as such.
(6) Bolingbroke and Mowbray's unbalanced dispositions are the real threat. Schoenfeldt explains: "As temperance became a central ethical virtue for the Renaissance, health assumed the role of a moral imperative [...]. Illness in turn was perceived as a symptom of immorality. One of the more troubling aspects of Galenic medicine is that while it makes the patient the agent rather than the victim of his or her health, it also provides a framework for blaming the patient for the illness [...]" (7).
(7) J.A.R. Marriott agrees that as a king Richard is "an irreparable failure; and his ruin is plainly ascribed to his own mental and moral degeneration" (498). See the excerpt from Marriott's English History in Shakespeare in Forker's Richard II, 495-500.
(8) Stephen Greenblatt agrees: "There are moments in Richard II in which the collapse of kingship seems to be confirmed in the discovery of the physical body of the ruler, the pathos of his creatural existence" (40).
(9) Here we see part of a process Boehrer describes as a combination of nature and artifice (what I am calling cultural narrative); according to Boehrer, the two terms "combine into hybrid amalgamations of cultured nature, natural culture, cultured cultures, and so on. The distinctions never go away, but neither do they stand still" (120-21).
(10) Such capacity is recognized by various noblemen throughout the plays, quick to recognize the collectively immodest appetite of the masses. Henry IV worries that his subjects have "glutted" and "gorg'd" themselves on Hal's presence (IH4 3.2.84). The Archbishop of York dubs "thou fond many" (2H4 1.3.91) a "beastly feeder," so full of Bolingbroke
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up. So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard, And now thou wouldn't eat thy dead vomit up, And howl'st to find it. (95-100)
(11) Once more out of his father's favor, Hal is now synecdochally linked with "riot."
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||criticism of William Shakespeare's plays|
|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
|Previous Article:||"The DNA Molecule": May Swenson confronts modern paradigms.|
|Next Article:||Buchenwald, books, and the identity of the intellectual in the works of Jorge Semprun.|