Shakespearean Follies

Shakespearean Follies

Shakespearean Follies

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Dec. 30 1999 3:30 AM

Shakespearean Follies

Subject: Culturebox's Rusty Shakespeare

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Date: Thu Dec 23

Judith Shulevitz needs to brush up on her Shakespeare as well, I'm afraid. Fluellen's statement in Henry V, Act IV, Scene VII is, in full:

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Kill the poys and the luggage! 'tis expressly

against the law of arms: 'tis an arrant a piece of

knavery, mark you now, as can be offert; in your

conscience, now, is it not?

To this statement Gower, another soldier, replies:

'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive; and

the cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha' done

this slaughter: besides, they have burn'd and

carried away all that was in the king's tent;

wherefore the king, most worthily, hath caused every

soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O, 'tis a

gallant king!

This then prompts an extended comparison on the part of Fluellen of Henry V and Alexander the Great. Thus, Fluellen's condemnation was for the French slaughter of the boys in the English baggage train--a slaughter conducted, apparently, by French soldiers who fled the battle. This is what Fluellen and Gower think provoked King Henry's command to kill England's French prisoners, and both soldiers fully approve of that command.

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John Keegan's excellent book The Face of Battle also looks at the issue and concludes that his command was well within the norms of warfare for the period. Henry V is, in fact, Shakespeare's archetype of the perfect Hero-King precisely because of his Machiavellian qualities (which certainly are present)--Henry understands, as he explains during his tour of the army before Agincourt, that the moral demands upon a King are very different from those upon ordinary men.

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Subject: Re: Culturebox's Rusty Shakespeare

From: Judith Shulevitz

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Date: Tue Dec 28

Guatam Makunda has a point. I did misread the passage. But he (or she) is wrong to conclude that I thereby vitiate my larger argument.

First things first. I stand corrected: Fluellen is in fact referring to the French slaughter of the English servants. But I submit that there's a good reason for my having misread the text on the fly. Fluellen's remark follows immediately Henry's order to his men to kill their prisoners, which would have scared anybody in Shakespeare' audience who knows anything about war: The side whose captured soldiers have been murdered invariably retaliates by killing the men it has captured, and the men ordered to slit their prisoners' throats understood that. I think Shakespeare means for us to confuse the two for a moment, until Gower replies and we know where we are.

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Fluellen does not then go on to compare Henry to Alexander the Great, exactly. Fluellen, in the great tradition of the Shakespearean Fool, uses the comparison to make Henry out to be an ass. Fluellen first compares Henry to Alexander the Pig, is corrected by Gower, defends his malapropism, then goes on to say that the reason Alexander and Henry are alike is they both kill their friends! (Henry, of course, killed Falstaff metaphorically by cutting him to the quick.) Obviously, we are meant to laugh at Fluellen's nonsense, but still. When a Shakespearean fool mocks a king, intentionally or not, we have to sit up and take notice.

As for Keegan and The Face of Battle, Guatam Makunda inadvertently makes my point for me: Keegan would not have had to weigh in if there wasn't a raging debate about the rightness or wrongness of Henry's actions.

Is Henry the archetype of the Hero, Machiavellian or otherwise? I would argue that Shakespeare did not create archetypes. He created characters. Indeed, he may have created Character itself. What makes a Shakespearean character is his roundedness, his moral complexity, his good sides and his evil sides, all mixed in. As Harold Bloom puts it, Shakespeare more or less invented our modern notions of psychology. Is Henry all good? Hell no. Is he all bad? No, not really, but he's out there, and Shakespeare knew it. My point was simply that he's not an exemplary role model, and it's ridiculous for business executives to think that Shakespeare had handed them a road map to the unproblematic exercise of power.

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Subject: Moneybox's Faulty Logic

From: Silas Dogood

Date: Wed Dec 22

Moneybox thinks the stock market doesn't reflect the health of the overall economy because "just" 48 percent of Americans own stock. Using this reasoning, and bearing in mind that in 1929 less than 10 percent of the populace owned stock, we may be assured that the crash of '29 and the Great Depression were only coincidental and not causally linked. Uh huh.

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Subject: A Trifling $1 Trillion

From: gbh

Date: Wed Dec 22

The net worth of the U.S. household sector has increased by close to $20 trillion in the last five years. If the "wealth effect" still follows the rule of thumb outlined by Moneybox--5 cents in consumer spending for every dollar of wealth created in the stock market--that means a boost to consumption of $1 trillion. That would account for about a third of nominal GDP growth over the past five years. Sounds pretty consequential to me. Plus when you consider that the savings out of income is close to zero, the old 5 percent number is undoubtedly low.

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Subject: What L.A. Times Scandal?

From: Epicurus

Date: Wed Dec 22

Chatterbox, like David Shaw in his interminable piece in the Los AngelesTimes, never makes it clear why the revenue-sharing arrangement between Staples and the newspaper was such an egregious violation of journalistic ethics. Dumb, maybe (as Chatterbox points out), but where is the attack on integrity? The ad side of all newspapers is constantly trying to get the ed side to say nice things about those advertising. In this case, though, the advertisers in the "special issue" of the LAT magazine were companies other than Staples. And the Times writers were never pressured to do puff pieces.

Yes, the Times, almost unwittingly, was an instrument for Staples to engage in a kickback scheme--i.e., Staples leaned on contractors and vendors to pony up for ads for which they got some return. But this breach is more an offense by Staples. The LAT was on the hook for support already. But again, the writers were free to write what they wanted, so why is the staff there so exercised (which they became only after the WSJ and NYT started knocking their conduct)?

One more point: Chatterbox says the LAT participated in a bad business deal. Perhaps. But he should take into account that the LAT also has a corporate commitment to downtown L.A. and that through its continuing expansion, the paper as well as the town would benefit. Enlightened self-interest and all that.

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Subject: Free It's a Wonderful Life!

From: Mike Gebert

Date: Tue Dec 28

Your discussion of the copyright status of It's a Wonderful Life is correct enough, but I think you're wrong to regard the current Republic Pictures copyright (rooted in its underlying copyright of the musical score) as a settled legal concept. It's true no one has challenged it--but would you want to be the station manager at the UPN station in Provo who took on NBC's exclusive rights in court? In fact, the seemingly farfetched act you suggest would liberate the movie. Removing the music track is not so farfetched at all; the 1939 movie Love Affair has been released on video with its score replaced for exactly that reason. Surely It's a Wonderful Life would be even more worth the trouble, if any video distributor thought they could do it without immediately facing a battalion of high-priced lawyers.

This same legal gambit has been used for years in the world of classic film distribution. When the balance of power among public and private parties was fairly even, the private copyright never stood up for very long. A famously shady and litigious film distributor once tried to gain control of, among other things, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (long since public domain) by buying up the rights to the Thomas Dixon novels it was loosely based on; he was pretty much laughed away by his rivals.

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