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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Henry VI, Pt.2: The first thing we do, let’s kill….Lady Catherine! (says Adam the rebellious Gardiner of Cheapside)



As every Janeite knows, the London commercial district known as Cheapside is the focal symbol of the snobbish ridicule that Caroline Bingley heaps upon the Bennet family (with Darcy’s measured approval) in Chapter 8 of P&P:
"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton."
"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near CHEAPSIDE."
"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
"If they had uncles enough to fill all CHEAPSIDE," cried Bingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."
"But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world," replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend's vulgar relations. …”

And in the final chapter of P&P we hear a faint but distinct echo of “Cheapside” as symbol of class inferiority in the narrator’s description of the married life of the Wickhams:
“Their manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a CHEAP situation, and always spending more than they ought….”

But it is the triumph of love over snobbery that has all Janeites cheering, when Eliza brilliantly bests Lady Catherine in mouth-to-mouth combat/class warfare:
"I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."
"True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

Eliza’s stirring “So far we are equal” is the rallying cry of a successful feminist egalitarian rebellion, and it is Caroline Bingley who eventually is forced to retire from the field, vanquished:
“Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy's marriage; but as she thought it advisable to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, she dropt all her resentment; was fonder than ever of Georgiana, almost as attentive to Darcy as heretofore, and paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth.”

In short, the upstart pretensions of Elizabeth’s rebellion against the quasi-regal power of Lady Catherine have (shockingly) emerged victorious, without the necessity of beheading that great lady of Kent and putting her head (and that of her comic consigliere, Mr. Collins), on matched poles at the sweep gates of Pemberley---because P&P is, after all, a comedy.

I deliberately chose that grotesque image of Lady C’s head on a pole, because I am pretty sure it was actually in the back of Jane Austen’s wickedly satirical mind when she wrote P&P. How so? Because, as I will show, lurking just beneath the surface of P&P are two improbable, interrelated Shakespearean sources for her above-exampled theme of rebellion of commoners against the privileged elite. And, as indicated in my Subject Line, one is Henry VI, Part 2, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, in the character of Jack Cade, leading of a popular insurrection headquartered in….(where else?) Cheapside, a major commercial district in the nation’s (as Mrs. Hurst would call it) “capitol”!

Wikipedia nicely summarizes the action in Act Four of the play: “York has been appointed commander of an army to suppress a revolt in Ireland. Before leaving, he enlists a former officer of his, Jack Cade, to stage a popular revolt in order to ascertain whether the common people would support York should he make an open move for power. At first, the rebellion is successful, and Cade sets himself up as Mayor of London, but his rebellion is put down when Lord Clifford (a supporter of Henry) persuades the common people, who make up Cade's army, to abandon the cause. Cade is killed several days later by Alexander Iden, a Kentish gentleman, into whose garden he climbs looking for food.”

With that brief background, I will now present to you the relevant passage in Act 4, the resonance of which with the class struggle in P&P should leap out at you and grab your imagination, as it did mine when I first read it, after first being led to them by the only two explicit references to “Cheapside” in the entire Shakespearean canon:

In Act 4, Scene 2, we read Cade’s parodic paradoxical vision of himself as king of an egalitarian England, as to which the ALL CAPS portions of Cade’s mocking rhetoric (subverted somewhat by the satirical deflations of his lieutenant Dick the Butcher) nonetheless remind us of Elizabeth Bennet’s stirring declaration of equality to Lady Catherine in various ways:

CADE     We John Cade, so termed of our supposed father,--
DICK      [Aside] 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.
DICK      Silence!
CADE      My father was a Mortimer,--
DICK      [Aside] He was an honest man, and a good bricklayer.
CADE      My mother a Plantagenet,--
DICK      [Aside] I knew her well; she was a midwife.
CADE      My wife descended of the Lacies,--
DICK       [Aside] She was, indeed, a pedler's daughter, and sold many laces.
SMITH   [Aside] But now of late, notable to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks here at home.
CADE     THEREFORE AM I OF AN HONOURABLE HOUSE.
DICK      [Aside] Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable; and there was he borne, under a hedge, for HIS FATHER HAD NEVER A HOUSE BUT THE CAGE.

And that was the ancestor of Eliza’s “I am a gentleman’s daughter” in Cade’s assertion of himself as descended from “an honourable house”. After some more boasting, we then hear:

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 felony to drink SMALL BEER: all the realm shall be in common; AND IN CHEAPSIDE SHALL MY PALFREY [horse] GO TO GRASS: and when I am king, as king I will be,--
ALL         God save your majesty!
CADE       I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I WILL       APPAREL THEM ALL IN ONE LIVERY, THAT THEY MAY AGREE LIKE BROTHERS and worship me their lord.
DICK       THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.

And then we have the source for the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Eliza in the Longbourn wilderness:

MICHAEL    Where's our general?
CADE           Here I am, thou particular fellow.
MICHAEL     Fly, fly, fly! Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother are hard by, with the king's forces.
CADE           Stand, villain, stand, or I'll fell thee down. He shall be encountered with A MAN AS GOOD AS HIMSELF: HE IS BUT A KNIGHT, IS A’?
MICHAEL     No.
CADE            TO EQUAL HIM, I WILL MAKE MYSELF A KNIGHT PRESENTLY.
Kneels           Rise up Sir John Mortimer.
Rises              Now have at him!
Enter SIR HUMPHREY and WILLIAM STAFFORD, with drum and soldiers
SIR HUMPHREY
REBELLIOUS HINDS, THE FILTH AND SCUM OF KENT,
Mark'd for the gallows, lay your weapons down;
Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:
The king is merciful, if you revolt.
WILLIAM STAFFORD
But angry, wrathful, and inclined to blood,
If you go forward; therefore yield, or die.
CADE
As for these silken-coated slaves, I pass not:
It is to you, good people, that I speak,
Over whom, in time to come, I hope to reign;
For I am rightful heir unto the crown.

You can see that Cade is not scared by these dire threats, and that prompts the Lady Catherine of the piece, Sir Humphrey, to get very personal and nasty about Cade’s family of origin:

SIR HUMPHREY
VILLAIN, THY FATHER WAS A PLASTERER
AND THOU THYSELF A SHEARMAN, ART THOU NOT?

To which Cade wittily retorts:

CADE                               AND ADAM WAS A GARDENER.

So here we have reason to believe that one of the reasons JA chose to name Eliza’s uncle from Cheapside “Gardiner”, since he was the butt of Caroline Bingley’s mockery.

And then, finally, we have Cade’s fantasy of himself as the lost heir of the Earl of March, reclaiming his aristocratic birthright---and is this not the story of the other attempted rebellion in P&P, when Wickham, either the biological or the psychological second son of the late Mr. Darcy, seeks his revenge on his “brother” Darcy in every way he can think of?:

WILLIAM STAFFORD   And what of that?
CADE
Marry, this: Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.
Married the Duke of Clarence' daughter, did he not?
SIR HUMPHREY             Ay, sir.
CADE                              By her he had two children at one birth.
WILLIAM STAFFORD   That's false.
CADE
Ay, there's the question; but I say, 'tis true:
The elder of them, being put to nurse,
Was by a beggar-woman stolen away;
And, ignorant of his birth and parentage,
Became a bricklayer when he came to age:
His son am I; deny it, if you can.
DICK                    Nay, 'tis too true; therefore he shall be king.

But in the end, unlike with Eliza, Wickham’s “rebellion” is crushed.

In a followup post, I will tell about the other Shakespeare history play which Jane Austen wove into the class warfare theme of P&P, which also involves Cheapside, but indirectly---- of course I’m referring to the Henriad, with all the scenes which occur in Eastcheap, not very far from Gracechurch Street where the Gardiners live and St. Clement’s church where Wickham and Lydia tie the knot, with Mr. Darcy (aka the Prince of Whales—Prince Hal) as their witness!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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