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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Henry Tilney as Henry V and as Hamlet

Elissa Schiff just wrote the following very interesting exegesis (which I heartily endorse) of a veiled allusion to Henry IV Part 2 in the veiled sexual banter of Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen:

[Elissa]: "Well, it is most obvious that Henry, who knows Bath and the Pump House rules, is aware that he is breaking with propriety by engaging Mrs. Allen in extended conversation. She knows this as well, but by responding to him, she knowingly extends that conversation and even introduces Catherine to a man to who she has not been formally "introduced." That the conversation involves materials used to clothe a woman's person further hints at the impropriety. That Henry (Tilney) has caused a rent in Mrs. Allen's dress is suggestive of the "rent" in moral code (even if it is a ridiculous moral code to us) and connects to the "Tearsheet" - descriptive of a woman who engages in "immoral" behavior. That Mrs. Allen continues this bantering conversation long after she need seems apparent. But, she is happy to be out and flirting with a handsome young man rather than at home with her gouty husband.

In Henry IV, Part 2, we find the former gad-about Prince Hal settling into his rightful position as more sober heir to the throne and Falstaff in decline. Henry will now be separating himself from Falstaff and his ways. He attaches a servant/page to "watch out" for the increasingly gouty Falstaff, which Falstaff resents mightily and vows to attire in a uniform of "vile apparel"; Falstaff then heads off to the "stews" to visit Mistress Doll Tearsheet." END OF ELISSA'S POST

By happy serendipity, I know that JA was thinking of Henry IV Part 2 when she wrote the character of Henry Tilney, because it was only last month that I addressed a local library group about the allusion to Hamlet which I have discovered in Edgar Alan Poe's The Tell Tale Heart, and I had also discovered that an integral part of Poe's allusion to Hamlet pertains to Henry IV Part 2!

Here is what I wrote about the Poe allusion in the Shaksper group a few weeks ago:

"Poe's title [The Telltale Heart] hints toward the answer. The word "tell-tale" points to the following line spoken by Scroop, the Archbishop of York, about the dying King Henry IV in Part 2 of Henry IV (the play):

“For he hath found to end one doubt by death Revives two greater in the heirs of life, And therefore will he WIPE his TABLES clean And keep no TELL-TALE to his MEMORY That may repeat and history his loss To new remembrance…”

This allusion to Part 2 of Henry IV, while I believe it to have been intentional on Poe's part, is not, I assert, the end point of Poe' Shakespearean allusion in The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes, there are parallels between the King's paranoia about Prince Hal being eager for him to die so that he might replace his father on the throne, on the one hand, and Poe's narrator who murdered the old man who might be his father, on the other.

But otherwise, I do not particularly perceive any strong parallels between the two stories. Rather, I claim that Poe's allusion to that passage in Part 2 of Henry IV is primarily a literary way station, the first stop in a two-stage allusive "flight" to Poe's ultimate Shakespearean destination.

Because although most Bardolaters would not, I think, recognize the above passage I just quoted from Part 2 of Henry IV, they WOULD recognize the FOLLOWING very famous passage in ANOTHER one of Shakespeare's plays:

“Remember thee! Yea, from the TABLE of my MEMORY I'll WIPE away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there..."

Of course that is HAMLET speaking to the Ghost of his dead father, and isn't it obvious that these two passages in two separate plays of Shakespeare are so closely connected?--so obvious, that the connection was seen and footnoted hundreds of years ago by Shakespearean editors. "

What the above illustrates, Elissa, that is relevant to your discovery of Henry IV Part 2 lurking in the subtext of Northanger Abbey is that the characters of Prince Hal and Hamlet were VERY STRONGLY connected in Shakespeare's imagination (you could almost say that Hamlet is a combination of Prince Hal and Falstaff!), and so it seems to me that JA (who was, in my opinion, one of the greatest Shakespearean critics of all time, even though she never wrote a word of formal literary criticism, but in terms of what her shadow stories show that she understood from Shakespeare's plays) showed she understood this connection by giving Henry Tilney strong characteristics of both Hamlet AND Prince Hal.

And note what happens at the end of Northanger Abbey---"Prince Hal" aka Henry Tilney in a metaphorical sense vanquishes his paranoid, dictatorial father General Tilney, just as in the Henriad, Prince Hal sobers up and takes over as King Henry V--and the final delicious irony is that one day the greatgrandson of Henry V's wife Catherine---aka Henry VIII---would be the person who seized Northanger Abbey from the Catholic Church and gave it to General Tilney's ancestor!

Cheers, ARNIE

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