Sexual domination and conquest


There is however one potent ideological discourse legitimating war and which is not questioned in the play. Jean Howard has called it "an emergent culture of performative masculinity" in which status and identity had to be secured by personal achievement. (Howard, 189) This trend emerging during Queen Elizabeth's rule addressed the anxiety caused by the position of control and domination exerted by a woman.

In Henry V Princess Katherine has the key function of securing Henry's claim to France. Force alone, de facto power, in the conquered country does not suffice; Henry needs de Jure legitimacy, which can be acquired by closing a treaty and via marriage, i.e. through the female.[39] Henry's unease about his succession to the throne through the female surfaces in his request that he be named —"Notre tres cher fils Henry, Roy d'Angleterre, Heritier de France" (5.2.357-58).

The more important the female influence, the more must masculinity be stressed.[40] Hotspur's wife, for example, who was Mortimer's sister and could thus legitimate her husband's claim to the throne, was strictly controlled and domesticated. King Henry's wooing as "a plain soldier" testifies to the aura created around the misogynous soldier.[41] Hotspur's love declaration to Kate "when I am a-horseback I will swear /I love thee infinitely " (1 Henry IV, 2.3.95-96) develops into Henry's words to Katherine " I love thee cruelly", `I got you scambling " (through struggles of war) (5.2. 185) Sexual domination and conquest are conflated through the whole play. Jean Howard has shown that "the entire French kingdom is represented as a woman to be conquered by the masculine force of the English." (Howard, 213)

The cities Henry would like to possess are like maids, provided he sees them "perspectively" as the French king advises him, "for they are all girdled with maiden walls, that war hath never entered." (5.2.316-17) Princess Katherine is like one of these cities. "Shall Kate be my wife?"(318) is Henry's unexpected conclusion to the French King's discussion of the cities. He calls Katherine his fleur de luce (the emblem of the French royal family) and the name of Harfleur could be construed as Harry's fleur/flower. The "romance " in the final act does not cancel off the sexual violence envisaged earlier, but consolidates it. (Cziernieki, 72)

Henry V along with Richard III are singular among Shakespeare's plays in posing sexual violence, rape, as a legitimate form of domination. In other plays rape is stigmatised as ignoble and unmanly and is associated with plebeian rebels (e.g. Jack Cade's rebels in Henry VI) or with barbarians (the sons of the Gothic queen in Titus Andronicus or Caliban in The Tempest). In Henry V rape as an extreme form of sexual domination testifies to military and sexual potency. In the dominant construction of masculinity, which conflates military and sexual conquest, rape becomes a necessary performance. (Howard , 196)

Both the French and the English alike participate in this ideology of masculinity. The English can defeat the French and are entitled to do so because they are manlier.( Sinfield, 133) The Dauphin understands the English to be better fighters and translates this skill in terms of superior masculinity, defined as power over women.

Our madams mock at us and plainly say

Our mettle is bred out, and they will give

Their bodies to the lust of English youth

To new -store France with bastard warriors (3.6.29-31) The English king's "puissance" is meant to signify both power and sexual potency. The latter presupposes both sexual and military conquests. One feature reinforces the other. The conquest of France involves the validation of the English king's manhood. Henry justifies his decision to start war against France by declaring that

Either our history shall with full mouth

Speak freely of our acts, or else our grave,

Like Turkish mute, shall have a tongueless mouth,

Not worshipped with a waxen epitaph (1.2. 231-234)

The Turkish mute is actually a eunuch. The phallus and the military might are mutually constitutive.

Another aspect of the construction of masculinity fully validated in the play and which makes violence, sexual violence included, necessary is the obsession with the danger of "effeminacy", of "the disastrous sliding into the female".(Howard, 134) Effeminacy can only be warded off in aggressive and assertive actions that are fashioned upon the behaviour of predatory animals. Henry himself provides the best example:

Then imitate the action of the tiger:

Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage,

Then lend an eye the eye a terrible aspect,

Let it pry through the portage of the head,

Like the brass cannon. …

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit

To his full length…

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game's afoot. (3.1.6-11, 15-17,31-31)

Henry's advice to his soldiers is designed to model their posture and to fashion their bodies and minds. Hardness, stiff sinews, blood and terrible ferocity make up the ideal set up to them. No space is left for a kind of manhood that would not be fighting. This construction of masculinity asserts itself in war; in its turn it legitimates violence and war.

The juxtaposition of conflicting discourses, some of which are contested while others go unquestioned, the interaction of overt and covert meanings, of opposed loci of authority, all this defers and complicates any definitive and unambiguous conclusion that we might like to draw on the legitimacy of Henry's war .

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