9 February 2011
Venue: Lecture Theatre B10, General Library Building, Alfred Street
Faculty of Arts lecture by Professor John Kerrigan, University of Cambridge, 2011 Alice Griffin Shakespeare Fellow.
Why is Shakespeare’s Irish captain, MacMorris, so profane? Why does the valiant Welshman Fluellen swear ‘By Jeshu’? To answer these incidental questions is quickly to be led into the plethora of binding language in Henry V, with its highly dramatic potential not just to secure through speech acts but to mislead, threaten and betray. This lecture puts the play’s preoccupation with oaths and vows into context, both in Shakespeare’s output and in the culture of his time. It pays particular attention to Irish, Welsh and, to some extent, Scottish elements in and around this pre-emptively ‘British’ play. The result is an account of Henry V very different from the traditional, heroic one, which found its fullest realisation in Olivier’s heavily cut film. Shakespeare has not given us an epic of English courage, led by an exemplary monarch, but a harsher, more sceptical work, alert to the coerciveness of language as well as the potency of physical force. A play as relevant to the wars of 2011 as Olivier’s movie was to the closing stages of World War II.
Professor Kerrigan is internationally renowned for his work on Shakespeare and early modern literature, as well as on modern British and Irish poetry. His books include Revenge Tragedy (1996), Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 (2008), and a major edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and ‘A Lover’s Complaint’ (1986/2005).