Daily Archives: September 16, 2010

Henry V


The hanging of Bardolph in Shakespeare’s Henry V

Yes, there has been a recent post about Henry V, but today is his birthday (1387-1422).

Frye in “A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres” on Shakespeare’s Henry V and the distinction between comedy and tragedy via irony:

There seems to be a far less direct connection between history and comedy: the comic scenes in the histories are, so to speak, subversive.  Henry V ends in triumph and marriage, but an action that kills Falstaff, hangs Bardolph, and debases Pistol is not related to comedy in the way that Richard II is related to tragedy.

But tragic myths are significant in shape as well as social function, as tragedy selects only myths that end in catastrophe, or near it.  Tragedy derives from the auto [mythical Eucharist] of its central heroic figure, but the association of heroism with downfall is due to the presence of another element, an element which, when we isolate it, we call irony.  The nearer tragedy is to the heroic play, the more we feel the incongruous wrongness of it.  These two attitudes are complacency: the feeling of rightness produces terror and the feeling or wrongness pity. The nearer the tragedy is to auto, the closer associated the hero is with divinity; the nearer to irony, the more human the hero is, and the more the catastrophe appears to be a social rather than a cosmological event. Elizabethan tragedy shows a historical development from Marlowe’s demigods in a social ether to Webster’s analysis of a sick society; but Greek tragedy, which never broke completely from the auto, never developed a social form, though there are tendencies to it in Euripides. (CW 21, 108)