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1 COMPAEATIVE i ama Volume 26__________Winter 1992-93__________Number 4 The Protean Prince Hal Matthew H. Wikander "Presume not that I am the thing I was," King Henry V, no longer the familiar Prince Hal, tells Falstaff. "For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,/ That I have turn'd away my former self" (2 Henry IV V.v.56-58).l Many critics have been vexed about the nature of the "former self" that he tells Falstaff he has turned away. The bald declaration of Hal's agenda in the soliloquy in Part 1, certainly, makes it clear that Hal has never been really in thrall to Falstaff, never really a member of the criminal rout at the tavern. In Part 2 he wearily wastes his time with them. When he "please[s] again to be himself," he tells us, he will "imitate the sun" (1 Henry IV I.ii.197, 200): but if he has not been himself in the tavern, who has he been? What was he doing? "Go, you thing, go!" Falstaff dismisses the hostess in Part 1. "Say, what thing? what thing?" she cries, and when Sir John calls her a beast, she pursues the issue: "Say, what beast, thou knave, thou?" "What beast? Why, an otter." "An otter, Sir John," Prince Hal interrupts, "why an otter?" "Why? she's neither fish nor flesh, a man knows not where to have her" (IILiii. 115-16, 124-28). Yet it is not the hostess but Hal who has been the amphibian in the play. Here in IILiii, he has just MATTHEW H. WIKANDER, Professor of English and Director of the Liberal Studies Program at the University of Toledo, is author of Princes to Act: Royal Audience and Royal Performance, 1578-1792, soon to be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. 295 296Comparative Drama returned from convincing his father of his loyalty and zeal. He is flourishing in both of his environments, the tavern and the court. The amphibian has its own complex range of suggestion. "[P]oor monster," Viola pronounces herself, neither man nor woman; her brother, lost at sea, was last glimpsed "like [Arion] on the dolphin's back," in amphibious linkage (Twelfth Night II.ii.34, I.ii.15). Sir Dauphine Eugenie finds himself among a riot of amphibians in the list of persons in Ben Jonson's Epicoene , along with Madame Centaure and Sir Thomas Otter, "a land and sea captain." Mistress Quickly, vigorously repudiating the name of otter in 1 Henry IV, falls into Falstaff's trap: "Thou or any man knows where to have me, thou knave, thou!" (III.iii.129-30). Viola, in a more homiletic vein, blames her attractive outside, her masculine garb: "Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness/ Wherein the pregnant enemy does much" (Il.ii. 27-28). Viola's sentiment here is in sympathy with the antitheatrical writings of the period, with their rejection of disguise and repudiation of the amphibious boy actors of the public stage. More vigorously aligned with that tradition of antitheatrical thinking is Jonson's representation of Morose's house of babble, a cacophonous theater in which the key revelation turns on the person of the boy actor himself. On the other hand, Hal, until he repudiates "the thing I was," seems content to be an otter; like Francis the apprentice shuttling from one room to another, he is continually promising "Anon, anon" while shuttling between his two worlds. The linkage between the otter, the "thing" that Hal was, and the boy actor points towards an indeterminacy in Hal. Like the boy actor or the apprentice, he is at a liminal phase of his development, neither fish nor flesh. As such, he joins the ranks of dubious creatures that Jonas Barish has grouped together in his important book The Antitheatrical Prejudice: Proteans and Chameleons, common seventeenth-century vilifications for actors.2 Proteus figures frequently in antitheatrical writings in the seventeenth century; Barish quotes, for example, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. It is all too common, Burton tells us, To see a man turn himself into all shapes like a Chameleon, or as Proteus transform himself into all that is monstrous...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 295-311
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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