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Censorship and the Stage

Staging Sedition despite Censorship: the Representation of the People on the Shakespearean Stage in 2 Henry VI

Censure et sédition : la représentation du peuple dans la seconde partie d’Henri VI de Shakespeare
Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

Résumés

Comme pour tout autre phénomène touchant au théâtre anglais de la fin du XVIe et du début du XVIIe siècle, l’étude de la censure pose des difficultés liées à la nature très parcellaire des documents conservés. Parmi ceux dont on dispose se trouve le manuscrit d’une pièce portant les traces de la main du censeur, et révélant l’importance de l’interdit de la sédition sur scène. À partir de ce document, le présent article propose une lecture des ambivalences extrêmes de la scène traitant de la rébellion populaire menée par Jack Cade dans la seconde partie du Henry VI de Shakespeare à la lumière d’une censure exercée sur le texte, et non sur la représentation. C’est en utilisant les outils de l’énonciation théâtrale (le rôle, la structure dialogique, la dimension spectaculaire de la foule des rebelles) que Shakespeare a pu non seulement contourner la censure et montrer l’interdit, l’insurrection populaire, mais jouer avec les codes de caractérisation du héros aristocratique en construisant son personnage de Cade.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Janet Clare, ‘Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority’. Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Cen (...)
  • 2 Richard Dutton, Licensing, Censorship and Authorship in Early Modern England, Basingstoke: Pa (...)
  • 3 Patrick Tucker, Secrets of Acting Shakespeare. The Original Approach, New York and London: Ro (...)
  • 4 Martin White, “Authorship and Censorship of ‘Sir Thomas More’”, in Anthony Munday, William Sh (...)
  • 5 Janet Clare develops the case of 2 Henry VI, showing that the discrepancies between the 1600 (...)

1Stage censorship in Early Modern England is not an easy phenomenon to circumscribe, because of the relative lack of archival evidence, and also because of the potential bias resulting from the chosen paths of historical enquiry.1 As a result of the emergence of the public theatre, viewed as a potential threat to civil peace and moral order, the establishment of the office of the Master of the Revels in Elizabethan England (1581) and its expanding scope of action, from court performance to the commercial theatre, is rather well-documented.2 However, because of the nature of theatrical creation, involving the existence of just a few copies of the complete text of a play before and even during performance (each actor only being given his own part and not having access to the entirety of the play),3 it is quite difficult to trace the possible modifications made to the play texts as a result of either the threat — or the actual intervention — of the Master of the Revels. The existence of the manuscript of a play bearing the marks of the Master of the Revels’ hand prior to performance, that of The Book of Sir Thomas More, testifies to the practice of such forceful interventions, without providing any certainties as to whether all play texts were systematically subjected to similar processes.4The fact that one manuscript bears the traces of the censor’s intervention testifies to the nature of the censorship exerted, which aimed, in this case, at excluding scenes of popular rebellion or sedition, but gives no indication as to the frequency of such interventions on the new plays produced at the time. There are no existing records of such things as fixed standards of censorship for the Early Modern stage in England, and whatever transpires from the little evidence available has to be reconstructed from individual cases of censorship that are at least partially documented. One inductive method of enquiry rests in the comparison between different editions of a play, and in the hypothesis of an intervention by the censor explaining the textual discrepancies.5

  • 6 For a thorough account of the evidence leading to the ascription of the play to Shakespeare, (...)
  • 7 See Frederick Tupper Jr., “The Shakespearean Mob”, PMLA, vol. 27, n° 4, 1912: 490.
  • 8 J. Clare, op. cit., 62.
  • 9 Richard Helgerson, “Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists of History”, in Richard Dutton an (...)
  • 10 Geraldo de Sousa, “The Peasants’ Revolt and the Writing of History”, in David M. Bergeron (ed (...)
  • 11 Ibidem, 186.

2The manuscript of The Book of Sir Thomas More, which, after strenuous paleography work, is now considered as part of the Shakespearean canon (it was included in the 2007 Oxford Shakespeare second edition of the Complete Works) bears the traces of the censor’s hand in scenes of popular upheaval.6 Yet, approximately at the same time as it was censored by Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, performance of 2 Henry VI was allowed, it seems, uncensored, and met with quite considerable success, while it features Shakespeare’s one and only instance of the staging of an English popular rebellion, Jack Cade’s, against the authority of the king. The historical Jack Cade rebellion took place in a context of social unrest in London, following a series of upheavals which Shakespeare echoes7 in his play. Given the context in London in the 1580s and in the 1590s, the scenes which would seem most likely to trigger the censor’s reaction are precisely those dealing with the Jack Cade rebellion, but there is no conclusive evidence of a substantial interference on the censor’s part.8 One explanation for this apparent paradox would be to ascribe the non-censorship of the scenes to the discredit the play sheds on the rebels, as Richard Helgerson does, stating that the rebels “are clearly identified as fools and knaves”.9 However, the play proves much more complex than a simple caricature of popular rebellion and cannot be considered as an illustration of its potential dangers echoing contemporary discourses such as John Cheke’s The Hurt of Sedition and how Grievous it is to a Commonwealth which was reprinted several times (1549, 1569, 1576) and widely circulated. Nor can the hypothesis of a portrayal of Cade as solely a fool hold in the light of Shakespeare’s choice to conflate the historical Jack Cade rebellion of 1450 with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which led him to alter radically the historical figure of Cade by making him an antagonist to literacy, an element he found in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt.10 As Geraldo de Sousa demonstrates, “[u]nlike the historical Jack Cade, both the peasants of 1381 and Shakespeare’s Jack Cade realize that texts, whose production, dissemination and preservation they cannot control, govern their lives”.11 That a play supposedly conforming to the rule of not portraying popular rebellion in a sympathetic light should place such a strong emphasis on the issue of text production and control is in itself a sign that there may have been more to the dramatization of Jack Cade than met the (censor’s) eye.

  • 12 Line Cottegnies, “Lies Like Truth: Oracles and the Question of Interpretation in Shakes (...)
  • 13 L. Cottegnies, op. cit., 31.
  • 14 J. Clare, op. cit., 76: “More so than any other genre, the Elizabethan history play, wi (...)
  • 15 Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation. The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Ea (...)
  • 16 Annabel Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, Cambridge (MA): Basil Blackwell, 1989, (...)

3There is a certain amount of discredit shed upon the rebellion, but it is intermingled with the presence of the voice(s) of the people, and discredit is equally shed upon authority and the law, making the interpretation of the Jack Cade scenes eminently equivocal. The figure of Shakespeare’s Cade is a complex one, serving several dramatic purposes: he is a dramatic quirk, subverting the rules of mimesis, a rebel leader expressing legitimate demands, but also a popular counterpart to the aristocratic conjuration of the Duchess of Gloucester, and a parodic mirror of the Machiavellian self-fashioning anti-hero.12 Like de Sousa, Line Cottegnies underlines the crucial nature of the passage and its subversive quality: “What is at stake here is the authority of speech and its relationship to history. This is a wonderfully ironic and metatextual moment: what does Shakespeare do, but himself constantly travesty historical facts? […] In blatant contradiction with historical sources, Cade is clearly shown as an actor playing a fictitious part on stage, and as such he is dramatically subversive”.13 Within a genre, the history play, which was particularly under scrutiny from the censor, constituting therefore, as Clare puts it, a “captive text”,14 such dramatic emphasis on a rebellious character indicates the presence of a subtext embedded in the apparent contents of the scenes and explaining the ambivalence and complexities manifest in the dramatic treatment of the popular rebellion, an illustration of what Annabel Patterson defined as “the hermeneutics of censorship”, i.e. the interplay between censor and playwright.15 Patterson, who in Shakespeare and the Popular Voice also analysed the system of “double ventriloquism”16 in Shakespeare’s Jack Cade scenes, did not subsequently link it with the censorship of sedition. In the light of Chris Fitter’s analysis, I would like to suggest otherwise.

  • 17 See Chris Fitter, “‘Your captain is brave and vows reformation’: Jack Cade, the Hacket Rising (...)

4The context of the production of 2 Henry VI is essential to understanding its hidden topicality: as Fitter shows, Shakespeare’s play was created in the wake of the Hacket uprising17 and the official propaganda that vilified him, sometimes by comparing him explicitly to Jack Cade. That Shakespeare should have chosen to portray Cade precisely at the time when this anti-Hacket propaganda was circulating conflates fact with dramatic fiction in a particularly striking manner, and the Punch-and-Judy slapstick that the killings ordered by Cade turn into, together with the identification of Cade with the Lord of Misrule, work against the portrayal of Cade as a blood-thirsty demonic creature:

  • 18 Ibidem, 181, my emphasis.

To interpret this Cade sequence solemnly as a political essay dispraising popular insurgency is to miss — as surely as the Elizabethan censor was intended to miss — these crucial performance values, the gratifications offered a commons’ audience by the outbreak of ‘playing’ in a ‘playhouse’.18

  • 19 See Chris Fitter, “Emergent Shakespeare and the Politics of Protest: 2 Henry VI in historical (...)

5In a subsequent article, Fitter convincingly demonstrates that there exists a subtext for 2 Henry VI which links the play to a context of political unrest, and prevents any simplistic interpretation of the apparent orthodox discourse that the play puts forward concerning popular upheavals.19

  • 20 Ibidem, 133.
  • 21 A. Patterson, op. cit. (1991), 12-13, 18.

6Rebellious crowds were in Elizabethan England both a source of political anxiety for the crown and a thematic element upon which the censor’s energies were focused. The interplay between fiction (drama) and reality is constant in Shakespeare’s plays. Rebellious crowds are never too far from the staged action, and the crowds of Verona shout “Clubs!” in Romeo and Juliet (act 1, scene 1), a note that would have sounded extremely familiar to Shakespeare’s spectators, as “Clubs!” was the rallying cry for the apprentices in London, resonating not far from the outer walls of the theatres. The treatment of historical matter in 2 Henry VI is the first dramaturgical element that hints at the presence of such a subtext. In Fitter’s words, “[t]hat Shakespeare’s primary concern was political engagement of his contemporary moment, rather than reconstruction of the mid-fifteenth century is clear in his recurrent departures from the Chronicles: a process varying from the subtle to the blatant”.20 The rebellious people portrayed in 2 Henry VI resemble Elizabethan London mobs, be they the followers of William Hacket in 1591 or the apprentices’ riots. The dramatic strategy is twofold: the diegesis follows the pattern of history and whenever riotous crowds are portrayed, they are eventually defeated, because the written text is what was submitted to the censor for licensing. The elements belonging to performance, however, may — and often do — contain subversive elements that enable the playwright to paint a less univocal picture than the one ascribed by the censor. The historical dimension of the play serves as a sort of smokescreen and, at the same time, the play is made to contain enough topical allusions for the spectators to perceive that it is offering a point of view on contemporary events under the guise of the history genre. This type of strategy corresponds to the hermeneutics of censorship as defined by Patterson, an encoding process whereby the writer could address contentious issues of his day, but indirectly, so that the text would not be censored.21 It is such specific strategies of displacement that I would now like to turn to in the particular case of 2 Henry VI in order to demonstrate that Shakespeare displaced a number of dramaturgical conventions used in the representation of battlefield heroes and kingly genealogy onto the figure of Jack Cade, making his characterization deliberately ambivalent, so that criticism as well as praise can be read into it.

  • 22 Ronda Arab, “Ruthless Power and Ambivalent Glory. The Rebel-Labourer in 2 Henry VI”, T (...)
  • 23 Idem.
  • 24 Ibidem, 7.
  • 25 Ibid., 7-10.

7For Ronda Arab in 2 Henry VI, “[…] the performative skills of the rebels’ jesting fill the stage with appealing play: the rebels are funny and festive, and through their self-referential and sometimes self-parodic humour, they control a great deal of the political rhetoric of the play”,22 but their festive quality does not “fit seamlessly into the Bakhtinian carnivalesque”23 and juxtaposes both their horrific ruthlessness and their admirable physical prowess.24 This dichotomy is very revealing of the deliberate ambivalence of the text. In her analysis of the first mention of Cade in the play, in the Duke of York’s description of Cade in battle, Arab insists on the image of the Morris dancer in which she reads an ambivalent image, both festive and bellicose, revealing the presence of the worker’s strong muscular body and its use as a dramatic tool to present the rebel in a positive light.25 I would like to suggest that this positive characterization is also effected through the subversion of a number of dramatic codes, the first of which being the dramatic portrayal of Cade as a hero.

8Portraying a character in a laudatory way before he makes his first stage entrance is a dramatic convention used for battlefield heroes: in 1 Henry VI, John Talbot is described in detail as a hero to Gloucester, Bedford and Winchester by a messenger:

  • 26 William Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, (1.1.120-131), in The Complete Works, eds. Stanley Wells and (...)

Messenger: […]
More than three hours the fight continuèd,
Where valiant Talbot above human thought
Enacted wonders with his sword and lance.
Hundreds he sent to hell, and none durst stand him;
Here, there, and everywhere, enraged he slew.
The French exclaimed the devil was in arms:
All the whole army stood agazed on him.
His soldiers, spying his undaunted spirit,
‘A Talbot! A Talbot!’ cried out amain,
And rushed into the bowels of the battle.
Here had the conquest fully been sealed up,
If Sir John Falstof had not played the coward.26

9Talbot is described in act 1 scene 1, and his first entrance is in act 1 scene 4. In the case of Cade in 2 Henry VI, York’s description is in act 3 scene 1, and Cade makes his first entrance in act 4 scene 2. The fact that it is the Duke of York, a noble character, who describes Cade, gives even more weight to the strong impression he made:

  • 27 William Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI, (3.1.360-370).

York:
In Ireland have I seen this stubborn Cade
Oppose himself against a troop of kerns,
And fought so long till that his thighs with darts
Were almost like the sharp-skilled porcupine;
And in the end, being rescued, I have seen
Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,
Shaking his bloody darts as he his bells.
Full often like a shag-haired crafty kern
Hath he conversèd with the enemy
And, undiscovered, come to me again
And given me notice of their villainies.27

  • 28 My analysis differs from Ronda Arab’s reading of Cade: “His strength is described in the cont (...)

10Cade is characterized by York as outstandingly brave, able to fight by himself against a troop of Irish soldiers, and to endure extreme pain. If John Talbot, the epitome of battlefield heroes for Shakespeare’s Elizabethan spectators, is anything to go by, Cade is described in very laudatory terms. But the displacement of conventional dramatic codes goes even further than simply putting him into the position of an acknowledged heroic character: the system of reference used to assess his worth is an icon of popular culture, a Morris dancer. What we have here is therefore the conventional dramatic presentation of a hero, normally used for characters whose heroic status is not questionable (Talbot, or a number of tragic protagonists in Shakespeare’s subsequent plays, such as Macbeth or Coriolanus), but used to characterize the leader of a sedition, and an appraisal of his worth based on an icon of popular culture. Both aspects concur to underline the subversive dimension of such a process of characterization, all the more so as Cade is also masterful in the art of theatrical performance: he can take on the appearance and speech mannerisms of an Irishman.28

11Just before Cade makes his first entrance, he is preceded on stage by two rebels who are defined as rebels and as theatrical performers: First Rebel: “Come and get thee a sword, though made of a lath;” (4.2.1-2). Bearing in mind the fact that this immediately follows the violent execution of Suffolk and his head and body being produced on the stage by Whitmore “There let his head and his lifeless body lie, / Until the Queen his mistress bury it” (4.1.144-145), the rebels’ poor weapons seem harmless in comparison. The two unnamed rebels are also knowledgeable observers giving the spectators all the information they need to identify the leaders of the rebellion, in keeping with a conventional structure of induction in which the position of power is occupied not by members of the royal family, but by the leaders of the rebellion:

Second Rebel: I see them! I see them! There’s Best’s son, the tanner of Wingham—
First Rebel:
He shall have the skins of our enemies to make dog’s leather of.
Second Rebel:
And Dick the butcher—
First Rebel:
Then is sin struck down like an ox, and iniquity’s throat cut like a calf.
Second Rebel:
And Smith the Weaver—
First Rebel:
Argo, their thread of life is spun. (4.2.23-31)

12With these three figures (Best’s son, the tanner of Wingham, Dick the butcher and Smith the weaver) the country is safe: Best will turn the enemies’ skin into leather, Dick will slaughter iniquity and sin, and Smith will kill the enemies. This trinity of skilled artisans is therefore in its own unconventional way a governing body able to safeguard the nation. The popular government thus defined has all the qualities required of more conventional aristocratic governments, and its composition guarantees England is safe from sin and vice, and able to fight off its enemies. Just as in the praise of Cade’s skills on the battlefield, the passage is a combination of the conventional discourse on good government, and of popular values and references.

13The dialogue quoted above can be read in two ways:

    • 29 Such is Ronda Arab’s reading, ibidem, 11.

    as the illustration of the savagery of the artisans, turning men’s bodies into the same material as animal bodies,29 if the dialogue is considered per se.

  • as the guarantee of the safety and prosperity of the nation and of the best possible and effective use to be made of the new leaders’ skills for that purpose, in a country where men are effectively slaughtered like animals, if the dialogue is considered in context, i.e. just after Suffolk’s body and severed head have been displayed on stage, a bloody stage-image necessarily still very vivid in the minds of the spectators, and after the rebels have armed themselves with wooden swords — akin to stage props — for lack of proper ones. The comic vein contained in the sword of lath, a prop used for the Vice, is also perceptible in the parallel that can be established between Suffolk’s head in the previous scene and the mention of iniquity’s throat “cut like a calf”. (29)

14In the first interpretive option, the dialogue appears as highlighting the savagery of the rebels, in the second option, a much more subversive subtext appears: just as they need to get themselves swords, be they of a lath, the rebels follow the model of existing rulers as far as murder is concerned, with the added advantage that their professional skills enable them to deal with slaughter and corpses, so that they eventually appear as more apt to rule because they are artisans.

15The third and most elaborate displacement of dramatic conventions to avoid characterizing Cade solely as a negative character rests in his own speech of introduction, and the double genealogy constructed by his speech and Butcher’s and Weaver’s interventions.

Cade: We, John Cade, so termed of our supposed father—
Butcher
(to his fellows) Or rather of stealing a cade of herrings.
Cade
: For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes – command silence!
Butcher:
Silence!
Cade
: My father was a Mortimer—
Butcher
(to his fellows): He was an honest man and a good bricklayer.
Cade
: My mother a Plantagenet—
Butcher
(to his fellows): I knew her well, she was a midwife.
Cade
: My wife descended of the Lacys—
Butcher
(to his fellows): She was indeed a pedlar’s daughter and sold many laces.
Weaver
(to his fellows): But now of late, not able to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks here at home.
Cade
: Therefore I am of an honourable house.
Butcher
(to his fellows): Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable, and there was he born, under a hedge; for his father never had a house but the cage.
Cade:
Valiant am I—
Weaver
(to his fellows): A must needs, for beggary is valiant.
Cade:
I am able to endure much—
Butcher
(to his fellows): No question of that, for I have seen him whipped three market days together.
Cade
: I fear neither sword nor fire.
Weaver
(to his fellows): He need not fear the sword, for his coat is of proof.
Butcher
(to his fellows): But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burned i’th’hand for stealing sheep.
Cade
: Be brave then, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it a felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king, as king I will be—
All Cade’s followers
: God save your majesty!
Cade
: I thank you good people! (4.2.33-74).

  • 30 C. Fitter, op. cit. (2004), 183.
  • 31 R. Arab, op. cit., 18.

16Fitter underlines that Shakespeare’s Cade has claims to kingship, an element that Shakespeare did not find in the chronicles.30 This passage is generally considered as undermining the credibility of Cade and as demonstrating that his own men do not take him seriously: even Ronda Arab, whose analysis underlines a number of subversive elements in the scene, writes that “before Stafford even enters and begins to disparage both Cade’s artisanal and putatively aristocratic lineages, the rebels themselves have already done both […] Whenever Cade makes self-elevating claims, his own men deflate his pretensions with punning asides that insist upon his commoner birth”.31

  • 32 The method is inspired by Patrick Tucker’s reconstruction of Shakespearean parts from t (...)

17However, the final move of Cade’s onstage audience, who unite to praise him in unison and acknowledge him as their king (73), does not quite fit into such interpretations and indicates that the passage may be more subtle than it first seems. Two systems of values are conflated in the text again, and the figure of Cade stands ambiguously in between. A careful analysis of the structure of the dialogue shows that his lines reflect a number of codified dramatic conventions in the representation of kings: the first person plural — the regal we — is the first word he utters, he then uses anaphoras (“My”, lines 40, 43 and 45; “I”, lines 57 and 60) and an instance of inverted subject/verb word order (“Valiant am I”, 54). The rhetoric as well as the themes of regal authority and legitimacy are identical to those used by actual members of the royal family elsewhere in the play, and appear all the more strikingly if the part of Cade is reconstructed: instead of considering the text of the play with Cade’s lines alternating with Butcher’s and Weaver’s, if we go back to what the original part must have looked like, Cade’s speech appears in all its regal glory:32

Cade: We, John Cade, so termed of our supposed father— For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes – command silence! My father was a Mortimer— My mother a Plantagenet— My wife descended of the Lacys— Therefore I am of an honourable house. Valiant am I— I am able to endure much— I fear neither sword nor fire. Be brave then, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it a felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king, as king I will be—
[All Cade’s Followers
: God save your majesty!]
Cade
: I thank you good people! —

18What differs from conventional regal speeches is the presence of another voice, the voice of the people, represented alternately by Butcher and Weaver, who interrupt Cade’s every line and comment upon his assertions, using the language of the people and their own system of reference. The dialogical structure here is very elaborate: Cade speaks a line, or a half-line, is then interrupted by Butcher or by Weaver; they both comment, in their own language, in prose, upon what Cade has just said. The effect onstage is close to one of non-synchronized dubbing: every assertion by Cade is immediately translated by Butcher or Weaver into a version that is both closer to the truth about Cade’s genealogy, and more easily understandable for the members of the stage crowd and similarly for those spectators who are members of the people. The effect is therefore ambivalent: from the point of view of an aristocratic or conservative spectator, Cade can be seen as a liar and a usurper trying to justify his horrid act of rebellion with the excuse of a fictitious genealogy manifest in his use of aristocratic speech mannerisms. Seen in this light, Butcher’s comments ridicule Cade by exposing his lies. This is for instance Fitter’s and Arab’s interpretation of Butcher’s so-called asides. But on the other hand, Cade does succeed in getting the full support of the crowd: thanks to his speech, the crowd speaks in a single voice and proclaims him king. This manifest political triumph is completely at odds with the interpretation of Butcher’s lines as meant to ridicule Cade, and this tension in the text is probably not fortuitous, but deliberate.

19I would therefore like to suggest another possible analysis of Butcher’s comments upon Cade’s genealogy: as Cade delivers his recognizably aristocratic speech of legitimacy, the crowd pays no attention, prompting him to order Butcher to “command silence!”. The necessity for Cade to use Butcher in order to impose his authority upon the crowd eloquently demonstrates the powerlessness of (his) regal rhetoric: it is Butcher’s words that the crowd listens to, not Cade’s. Therefore Butcher’s lines are the source of Cade’s political power: Butcher does little more than translate Cade’s assertion of aristocratic legitimacy into the assertion of his truly popular origins, which wins the assent of the crowd, something Cade’s claim of an official linkage to the royal family is powerless to do by itself. Reconstituting his part as we have done above shows that the dialogue was constructed with Cade’s speech as a starting point, and that Butcher’s and Weaver’s lines were added in order to provide a kind of responsorial effect in which Cade is the soloist, and Butcher the chorus-like voice: Butcher’s and Weaver’s parts, when put together, unlike Cade’s, do not make sense if isolated from the rest of the dialogue, because they merely respond to what Cade says:

Butcher: Or rather of stealing a cade of herring. Silence! He was an honest man and a good bricklayer. I knew her well, she was a midwife. She was indeed a pedlar’s daughter and sold many laces.
Weaver
: But now of late, not able to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks at home.
Butcher
: Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable, and there was he born, under a hedge; for his father had never a house but the cage.
Weaver
: A must needs, for beggary is valiant. No question of that, for I have seen him whipped three market days together. He need not fear the sword, for his coat is of proof.
Butcher:
But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burned i’th’hand for stealing of sheep.

20When considered in this light, from a dramatic and performative point of view, Cade’s speech and his two followers’ comments or asides are far from antagonistic, and the dialogical structure resulting from the combination of the two is anything but disorderly. On the contrary, they complement each other: the simple origin of Cade, underlined by Butcher “Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable, and there was he born, under a hedge; for his father never had a house but the cage” has biblical overtones, just as Cade’s promise to multiply loaves and hoops recalls Jesus’ miraculous feeding of four thousand people with seven loaves of bread (Mark 8:5), and the regal rhetoric of Cade needs Butcher’s and Weaver’s ‘translations’ into popular ‘real-talk’ to gain him the political power he craves. The passage is eminently ambivalent, exposing Cade as a fake when he claims to be descended from the Plantagenets and the Mortimers, ridiculing him in the punning on Lacys and lace (46-47), calling him a beggar (55-56), if the responsorial structure and its powerful conclusion are disregarded (the assent of the crowd is a moment of triumph for Cade, with all the vocal and stage power of the unison speech on stage from the spectators’ point of view). But if the responsorial structure and its powerful effects are considered, the dialogue cannot be seen as resulting in failure: Cade succeeds in uniting his followers, and is acknowledged triumphantly as their leader. In this perspective, the passage demonstrates that the rhetoric of kings and an official kingly genealogy are powerless upon a crowd, unless they are dubbed into more ordinary, familiar language that exposes a common genealogy. At the very least, the dialogue promotes a common genealogy (Cade’s real origins) to the same level as a royal one (Cade’s claims to a regal origin). If taken radically, it insinuates that regal origins and rhetoric need to be complemented by popular origins and the language of the people in order for the leader to be acknowledged as such. Like all parodies of regal legitimacy, it sheds upon the foundations of monarchical power (in the play, and in the spectators’ real lives) a highly subversive light, especially as the speech precedes the King’s own summary of his genealogy and claim to the throne of England, rather in the form of a lament than of an assertion:

King Henry: Was ever king that joyed an earthly throne And could command no more content than I? No sooner was I crept out of my cradle But I was made a king at nine months old. Was never subject longed to be a king As I do long and wish to be a subject. (4.8.1-6)

21As we mentioned earlier, there is little evidence of a censorial intervention upon the Cade scenes in 2 Henry VI so that their ambivalence is very likely to be the result of a complex process of double-encoding, one abiding by the constraints of censorship and making Cade appear as a traitor and a fool, and the other transgressing those constraints and characterizing Cade as a popular hero and a ruler whose legitimacy derives from the people. There seem to be two different strategies of obliqueness at work in this portrayal of Cade in 2 Henry VI to evade censorship.

221- The undeniable deliberate ambivalence of the passage that we have focused upon reveals that two meanings can be inferred from it, depending on whether one merely reads the lines (sees the lines as énoncés), as the censor must have done, or whether one considers them as the script of a performance, i.e. within a context and in a context of enunciation. Whereas the sheer meaning of the lines if isolated from their immediate stage context can rightfully make the reader / censor think that Jack Cade and his followers are ridiculed as buffoons, the performative dimension of the passage, its context of utterance, as well as its effects upon Cade’s onstage audience, underline his complete success in asserting his status as their natural leader. The triumphant unison of the onstage crowd is a moment of jubilation for any spectator.

232- The subversion of the codes of characterization: on the battlefield, Cade belongs to the category of Shakespearean heroes / protagonists. His speech to the crowd is a fully assertive speech in the vein of Shakespearean regal speeches, with the added element of the need for a different type of genealogy and a different type of language to achieve its full power upon the crowd, hinting at the possibility of redefining political legitimacy on the grounds of popular assent.

24For a man of the stage, and for his spectators, Cade’s long-prepared first entrance is a case of undeniable stage jubilation — a far cry from the teary-eyed weakling figure of King Henry VI throughout the play — symbolically defeating the censor’s pen and inkhorn, in a similar vein to Cade’s sentence for the Clerk of Chatham’s: “Away with him, I say, hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck”. (4.2.108-109).

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Bibliographie

ARAB Ronda, “Ruthless Power and Ambivalent Glory. The Rebel-Labourer in 2 Henry VI”, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, vol. 5, n° 2, Fall/Winter 2005: 5-36.

CLARE Janet, ‘Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority’. Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship, Manchester: Manchester UP, 2nd edition, 1999.

Cottegnies Line, “Lies Like Truth: Oracles and the Question of Interpretation in Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 2”, in Line Cottegnies, Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille, Tony Gheeraert, Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise and Gisèle Venet (eds.) Les Voix de Dieu. Littérature et prophétie en Angleterre et en France à l’âge baroque, Paris: P. Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2008, 21-34.

De Sousa Geraldo, “The Peasants’ Revolt and the Writing of History”, in David M. Bergeron (ed.), Reading and Writing in Shakespeare, London, Associated UP, 1996, 178-193.

DUTTON Richard, Licensing, Censorship and Authorship in Early Modern England, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.

Fitter Chris, “‘Your captain is brave and vows reformation’: Jack Cade, the Hacket Rising, and Shakespeare’s Vision of Popular Rebellion in 2 Henry VI”, Shakespeare Studies, 2004: 173-219.

____________, “Emergent Shakespeare and the Politics of Protest: 2 Henry VI in historical contexts”, ELH, vol. 72, n° 1, 2005: 129-158.

GIDLEY Fran, “ Shakespeare in Composition. Evidence for Oxford’s Authorship of ‘The Book of Sir Thomas More’”, The Oxfordian, vol. VI, 2003: 29-54.

HELGERSON Richard, “Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists of History”, in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (eds.), A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Histories, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, 26-48.

Laroque François, “The Jack Cade Scenes Reconsidered: Rebellion, Utopia or Carnival?”, in T. Kishi, R. Pringle and S. Wells (eds.), Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions. The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Tokyo, 1991, Newark: U of Delaware P, 76-89.

Patterson Annabel, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, Cambridge (MA): Basil Blackwell, 1989.

____________, Censorship and Interpretation. The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991.

Shakespeare William, The Complete Works, eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.

TUCKER Patrick, Secrets of Acting Shakespeare. The Original Approach, New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

TUPPER Frederick Jr., “The Shakespearean Mob”, PMLA, vol. 27, n°4, 1912: 486-523.

WHITE Martin, “Authorship and Censorship of ‘Sir Thomas More’”, in Anthony MUNDAY, William SHAKESPEARE and Others, Thomas More, London: Royal Shakespeare Company, Nick Herne Books, 1985.

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Notes

1 Janet Clare, ‘Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority’. Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship, Manchester: Manchester UP, 2nd edition 1999, chapter I, “Historicism and the Question of Censorship in the Renaissance”, 1-21.

2 Richard Dutton, Licensing, Censorship and Authorship in Early Modern England, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.

3 Patrick Tucker, Secrets of Acting Shakespeare. The Original Approach, New York and London: Routledge, 2002, 9-10.

4 Martin White, “Authorship and Censorship of ‘Sir Thomas More’”, in Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare and Others, Thomas More, London: Royal Shakespeare Company, Nick Herne Books, 1985.

5 Janet Clare develops the case of 2 Henry VI, showing that the discrepancies between the 1600 quarto version and the 1623 text signal the removal of speeches that would potentially present the rebellion in a sympathetic light. Op. cit., 6-10.

6 For a thorough account of the evidence leading to the ascription of the play to Shakespeare, see Fran Gidley, “Shakespeare in Composition. Evidence for Oxford’s Authorship of ‘The Book of Sir Thomas More’”, The Oxfordian, vol. VI, 2003: 29-54.

7 See Frederick Tupper Jr., “The Shakespearean Mob”, PMLA, vol. 27, n° 4, 1912: 490.

8 J. Clare, op. cit., 62.

9 Richard Helgerson, “Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists of History”, in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (eds.), A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Histories, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, 34.

10 Geraldo de Sousa, “The Peasants’ Revolt and the Writing of History”, in David M. Bergeron (ed.), Reading and Writing in Shakespeare, London: Associated UP, 1996, 185-186.

11 Ibidem, 186.

12 Line Cottegnies, “Lies Like Truth: Oracles and the Question of Interpretation in Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 2”, in Line Cottegnies, Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille, Tony Gheeraert Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise and Gisèle Venet (eds.) Les Voix de Dieu. Littérature et prophétie en Angleterre et en France à l’âge baroque, Paris : P Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2008, 30. Cade is also a Lord of Misrule, see François Laroque, “The Jack Cade Scenes Reconsidered: Rebellion, Utopia or Carnival?” in T. Kishi, R. Pringle and S. Wells (eds.), Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions. The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Tokyo, 1991, Newark: U of Delaware P, 76-89.

13 L. Cottegnies, op. cit., 31.

14 J. Clare, op. cit., 76: “More so than any other genre, the Elizabethan history play, with its concessions to the censor, is a captive text”.

15 Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation. The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991.

16 Annabel Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, Cambridge (MA): Basil Blackwell, 1989, 50.

17 See Chris Fitter, “‘Your captain is brave and vows reformation’: Jack Cade, the Hacket Rising, and Shakespeare’s Vision of Popular Rebellion in 2 Henry VI”, Shakespeare Studies, 2004: 173-219.

18 Ibidem, 181, my emphasis.

19 See Chris Fitter, “Emergent Shakespeare and the Politics of Protest: 2 Henry VI in historical contexts”, ELH, vol. 72, n° 1, 2005: 129-158.

20 Ibidem, 133.

21 A. Patterson, op. cit. (1991), 12-13, 18.

22 Ronda Arab, “Ruthless Power and Ambivalent Glory. The Rebel-Labourer in 2 Henry VI”, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, vol. 5, n° 2, Fall/Winter 2005: 6.

23 Idem.

24 Ibidem, 7.

25 Ibid., 7-10.

26 William Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, (1.1.120-131), in The Complete Works, eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. All subsequent references to Shakespeare’s plays are taken from this edition.

27 William Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI, (3.1.360-370).

28 My analysis differs from Ronda Arab’s reading of Cade: “His strength is described in the context of his participation in battle against the Irish, yet he is as Irish as the Irish themselves”. Op. cit., 10.

29 Such is Ronda Arab’s reading, ibidem, 11.

30 C. Fitter, op. cit. (2004), 183.

31 R. Arab, op. cit., 18.

32 The method is inspired by Patrick Tucker’s reconstruction of Shakespearean parts from the First Folio texts. See op. cit., for instance 45-47.

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Delphine Lemonnier-Texier, « Staging Sedition despite Censorship: the Representation of the People on the Shakespearean Stage in 2 Henry VI »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI - n°3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 25 novembre 2013, consulté le 20 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/5499 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.5499

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Auteur

Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

Delphine Le monnier-Texier is a senior lecturer in Shakespearean and drama studies at Rennes 2 University. She has written a number of articles on Shakespeare’s plays as well as on the plays of Samuel Beckett. She is currently working on the notion of character in Shakespearean drama and on contemporary stage adaptations of Shakespearean plays.

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