Henry V: A Genius (Ironic) Hoax?
- Mark Alcamo (see profile)
- Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616, English drama--Early modern and Elizabethan, Satire
- Item Type:
- irony, Shakespeare, Elizabethan drama, Literary criticism, War Studies, War literature
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- Henry V has one of the most divisive critical histories in the Shakespeare canon. For the first two hundred years after being published it was seen as a patriotic celebration of King Henry V and his victory at Agincourt, but starting with William Hazlitt in 1817 numerous commentators have seen Henry as less than heroic, and in 1919 Gerald Gould made an astonishing claim that Shakespeare was actually being ironic in the play, that it is “a satire on monarchical government, on imperialism, on the baser kinds of ‘patriotism’, and on war.” This observation has influenced much of the subsequent commentary on the play. Andrew Gurr, among others, has noted the crux of the divergent views relates to whether the play is seen staged (celebratory) versus read (cautionary and ironic). John Arden even called the ironic play a “secret play” within the text. This paper endorses the thesis there is a covert ironic play by showing two speeches where Shakespeare has poetically and obliquely used bawdy imagery and wordplay to completely undermine and subvert the surface meaning of the speeches—and that he even leverages off this covert imagery elsewhere in the play—supporting the ironic interpretation and inviting much more scholarly attention to a close reading of the play. I even characterize a correct manner of interrogating the text as if in a battle of wits with Shakespeare, where we will find a largely under appreciated masterpiece—and that beyond a reasonable doubt, the play is ironic.
- This essay is an introduction to the author's book, "A Genius Hoax: Shakespeare’s Trojan Horse War Play." The book is a companion guide to the irony (and the anarchy) of Shakespeare's Henry V that reviews much of the ironic commentary on the play but focuses on new findings that uncover a covert subversive play realized in the reading/study of it, vice the staging of it.
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