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Invading the Other (Through Language)

Page Three Audio File

2.1 France: A Maid to be Conquered

2.2 Le Fer Representing France
2.3 The Perlocutionary Nature of Language: Renaming and “Taming” the Other

2.1  France: A “Maid” to be Conquered

Denigrating Le Fer in such a way while he is in his own territory shows the aggressiveness of the invading English army. The violence of the attack is conveyed by sexual metaphors throughout the play, the English king depicting France as a woman to be violated. “In 3.3, Henry threatens to invade Harfleur with a speech that returns obsessively to images of rape,”  substantiates Claire McEachern, then quoting the following passages: “And the fleshed soldier, rough and hard of heart, / (...) mowing like grass / Your fresh fair virgins and your flow’ring infants” (3.3.11-4); “If your pure maidens fall into the hand / Of hot and forcing violation?” (3.3.20-1).  

Later on, Charles VI comments on this fact telling Henry V: “Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively, the cities turned into a maid” (5.2.332-3). The threat of rape and destruction of “fertile France” (5.2.38) is given tangible reality when the French king consents to the union of his daughter and Henry V. Besides, the English lesson given by Alice to the French princess shows that Henry V’s conquest was both physical and linguistic: “Katharine learns English and performs an anatomy of her body, laying herself open to semantic invasion as her innocent English words are transformed into French sexual slang.” 

In the same vein, Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin explains that a physiological dimension is at stake when the linguistic conquest takes place. When Princess Katherine learns English, she is symbolically dismembered since she is taught the translation of body parts; in so doing, she opens the door – or the gate, to extend the metaphor of the city – to a sexual invasion. 

2.2  Le Fer representing France

If France is symbolically represented through the maids populating the realm, the personal pronoun “she” (France) becomes “they” or “he” (4.4.75) when the French are mentioned. Act 4, Scene 4 is the only scene of direct confrontation between England and France, and one may see Le Fer as representative of the French. Pistol subjects Le Fer to his authority in a scene filled with homoerotic associations. Indeed, Pistol threatens to assault the French soldier’s body: he first threatens to put his hand in Le Fer’s throat (“I will fetch thy rim out at thy throat in drops of 
crimson blood,” (4.4.14-5), and then to violate him when he says: “I’ll fer him, and firk him” (4.4.27). According to Thomas Craik, the term “firk” means “to beat (OED v.4); [but it is also] used with overtones of ‘fuck’ in Dekker’s Shoemaker Holiday (1.232; 7.44; 13.28) and perhaps here.” 

A plethora of sexual puns on Pistol’s name can be found in 2 Henry IV. He is called “Captain Peesell” (2.4.163), the peesell/pizzle being the penis of an animal; “I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets” (ibid., 2.4.115-6), are Pistol’s own words to express his hedonistic desire, “discharge” standing for “To effect a seminal ejaculation. Literally, to unload oneself upon.”)  In Henry V, we also hear that “Pistol’s cock is up” (2.1.53). Knowing that, it seems legitimate to see in the French soldier’s kneeling (4.4.54) the proof of his submission and the threat of rape. The North Fulton Drama Club production (2013), along with a significant number of contemporary productions, chose an actress to perform Monsieur Le Fer’s part, as if this character embodied the state of France under the shape of a woman to be tamed. 

Video Transcript

2.3  The Perlocutionary Nature of Language: Renaming and “Taming” the Other

Le Fer gives up on his freedom because of the threat of physical violence, but also because of the linguistic attack led by Pistol. The English soldier attempts to make Le Fer his prisoner subduing him from a linguistic point of view. He manipulates the French soldier’s name that he unknowingly changes into “O Seigneur Dew,” and uses the new name in order to alter Le Fer’s very essence. As claimed by Laurie Maguire, “Relabelling someone without their invitation or agreement is a powerful statement,”  and the insistent repetitions of the new name (4.4.7, 4.4.8, 4.4.9, and 4.4.10) show that Pistol is trying to impose a new “English identity” on the French soldier using anglicized French words to transform the French individual into an English commodity, a hostage.  
In a similar way, Henry V tries to make Princess Katherine his, turning her into an English queen while bombarding her with the diminutive “Kate” twenty-four times in the last scene of the play (5.2). Comparing the English king and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Laurie Maguire considers the diminutive form of the name as “a deliberate attempt by the males to re-create the Katherines as Kates: in other words, to tame them by (re)naming them.”  Thanks to the perlocutionary effect of the new names they coin, Pistol and Henry V seek to establish their authority and superiority over the character they rename.

Indeed, the perlocutionary force of language refers to the power of words to produce an effect on their objects.  Here, “O Seigneur Dew” and “Kate” replace the proper names of their bearer as if the new names acted on the characters so that they forget their previous selves and become who the renamer wants them to.

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