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“I cannot tell wat is dat”: Linguistic Conflict in Shakespeare’s King Henry V

Abstract : Shakespeare’s King Henry V is often portrayed and staged as a play not only about the glory, but also about the tragedy of war. That such conflicting interpretations came to be so repeatedly attached to the story of how the second English monarch of the House of Lancaster invaded France and won the battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War in 1415 can be explained especially in the light of the play’s textual and linguistic make-up. Indeed, and as I shall argue, Shakespeare’s history play is unique in the way that it is a linguistically troubled and conflicted piece of writing. As one of its most recent editors put it, “No play of Shakespeare’s makes so much use of differences in language and has more language barriers”. As I aim to demonstrate, the play is much more than an Anglo-French confrontation seen from an English angle. It anatomises the concept of nationhood: it is slippery, ambivalent, and fluid on the one hand and jingoistic and rigid on the other. Henry V is ideal when it comes to studying scenes in the other’s language, as well as otherness and alterity. The two scenes I shall mainly focus on in my talk– the scene almost entirely in French (3.5.), during which Princess Katherine of France tries to learn a few rudiments of English from her servant Alice, and the wooing scene between Henry V and the Princess where Alice acts partly as an interpreter between the two (5.2) – exploit and expose linguistic and cultural faultlines. Both scenes encapsulate many of the issues of the play at large. Moreover, while questioning the idea of foreignness through specific linguistic interplay, they challenge the very notion of Shakespearean scenic division in theatrically productive ways.
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Contributor : Jean-Christophe Mayer <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 5:46:33 PM
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Jean-Christophe Mayer. “I cannot tell wat is dat”: Linguistic Conflict in Shakespeare’s King Henry V. 'Henry V': Literary and Historical Territories at War, Dec 2020, Toulouse, Université Jean Jaurès, France. ⟨halshs-03098482⟩



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