Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Parallels on War and "Vent" 1 of 2

The Bacon and Shake-Speare parallel views on War - and "Vent"

Part 1 of 2

Though Shake-Speare's personal views on war cannot entirely be known for certain (since his characters sometimes say contrasting things about it), there is equally no ground for inferring that they were any different from Bacon's. Following are some detailed resemblances between statements about war by Bacon and Shake-Speare characters.

Bacon's views on war are summarised in his Essay on the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates:

"No body can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politique. And certainly to a kingdom or estate a just and honourable war is the true exercise. A civil war indeed is like the heat of a fever. But a foreign war is like the heat of exercise and serveth to keep the body in health. For in a slothful peace both courages will effeminate and manners corrupt".

This has various ingredients:

(a) A war must be "just and honourable". Bacon repeated this 9 times elsewhere in his works, 5 of those times using the expression "just and honourable", and the other 4 times either "just" or "honourable". Shake-Speare may have imposed the same condition. For in Henry V, 4.1.127-9, the King, visiting his camp incognito, says:

"Methinks i could not die anywhere so contented, as in the King's company, his cause being just and his quarrel honourable".

This is a typical Bacon/Shake-Speare tautology since "his cause being just" and "his quarrel honourable" mean the same thing. Bacon combines "just" with "quarrel" in one of the texts listed above:

"To a war (such as may promise success) there are three things required: a just quarrel [etc. etc]".

(b) Bacon describes war with the metaphor "exercise". So does Shake-Speare in Coriolanus 1.5.14-20:

Lartius:              Worthy sir, thou bleed'st;
                 Thy exercise hath been too violent
                 For a second course of fight.
Coriolanus:         Sir, praise me not;
                 My work hath not yet warm'd me

(Compare Bacon's poem Device of an Indian Prince L.9: "No nation breeds a warmer blood of war").

(c) A civil war is a fever. This was the main and persistent theme of Shake-Speare's English history plays, and undoubtedly represented his personal view.

(d) A foreign war cures the evils of a slothful peace. In a letter of advice to the Earl of Rutland (drafted by Bacon for the Earl of Essex) Bacon combined (c) and (d):

"I account no state flourishing but that which hath neither civil war nor too long peace".

Shake-Speare touches on slothful peace in 2 Henry IV, 4.5.209-214, quoted below. See also Hamlet 4.4.27.

(e) Another attribute of war is mentioned by Bacon, not in his Essay but in his History of Henry VII. There Bacon records (one presumes largely in Bacon's own words) a speech by Henry VII to Parliament in which he said:

"I have in this time that I have reigned weeded out my bad subjects and tried my good. My people and I know one another, which breeds confidence. And if there should be any bad blood left in this kingdom, an honourable foreign war will vent it or purefy it".

By "bad blood" Henry meant "sedition". He may have meant also "slothful blood". A foreign war as a means of dispelling sedition at home is mentioned by Shake-Speare in two texts. In 2 Henry IV, 4.5.207-214 the King says:

"...I might well lodge a fear
To be again displac'd; which to avoid,
I cut them off, and had a purpose now
To lead out many to the Holy Land,
Lest rest and lying still might make them look
Too near unto my state. Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action hence borne out
May waste the memory of the former days".

"Rest and lying still" perhaps suggest slothful peace, one consequence of which is sedition.
In Coriolanus 1.1.223-5 we find:

Messenger:   The news is sir, the Volsces are in arms.
Coriolanus:    I am glad on't; then we shall ha' means to vent
                    Our musty superfluity.

This was suggested by North's translation of Plutarch (Shake-Speare's source) which says: "they levied out of...the city of Rome a great number to go against the Volsces, hoping by the means of foreign war to pacify their sedition at home". "Our musty superfluity" was the seditious persons  (Rome being short of food). Note that, like Bacon, (but unlike Plutarch or North) Shake-Speare uses the word "vent" of the foreign war. The same word takes us next to Coriolanus 4.5.227-31 where the word has caused much perplexity:

end of part 1 

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