Kent’s Best Man: Radical Chorographic Consciousness and the Identity Politics of Local History in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI

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Hampton-Reeves, Stuart (2014)

In this article, the character of Jack Cade in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI is reconsidered through an exploration of the local history and traditions of Kent. I argue that Shakespeare, through Cade and his followers, created a sense of local historical consciousness which directly challenged the structures of chronicle history and manifests itself in various acts of self-affirmation. Shakespeare departed from his sources by giving Cade a Kentish identity. I also challenge the modern critical consensus that Shakespeare made Cade more violent than he was in the play’s chronicle sources.
  • References (12)
    12 references, page 1 of 2

    1. See Greenblatt, “Murdering Peasants” 25.

    2. For more discussion of Shakespeare's audiences see Berry; Dawson and Yachnin; Gurr; and Patterson.

    3. See Montgomery for a definitive summary of the arguments about the provenance of hTe First Part of the Contention and its relationship to provincial tours.

    4. I have used the Norton Shakespeare throughout for references to Shakespeare's plays; however, for convenience I have retained the play's conventional short .tIintle 2 Henry VI theNorton, it is published as The First Part of the Contention, adopting the play's title on its ifrst publication in 1594.

    5. For more on this, see Zell; and Clark.

    6. The significance of this motto to Kentish identity should not be underestimated even today. The local population of most English counties probably do not even know that they have a motto, but in Kent the wordiisnpviacrtat of the fabric of civic life with many businesses, schools, and institutions using it as part of their name, among them the Invicta Grammar School, Invicta Telecare, Radio Invicta, and the Kent Invicta Football League.

    7. One of the main areas of disagreement in critical studies of the work is precisely over whether Shakespeare treats the working classes sympathetically or not. F-or example, Wil son is scathing about Shakespeare's caricature of working class issues, whilst Helgerson writes with disillusion about Shakespeare, having looked for a radical Sha-kespeare and in stead found a peasant-hating conservative. Yet others, most notably Cartelli, have followe Greenblatt's lead in acknowledging the political complexities of Cade and seeing in this a way of rescuing Cade's (and Shakespeare's) political reputation. Holstun put this view forward; see also Cheng. Productions frequently cut the text to simplify the causes of the riot, and at the same time inflate the level of violence onstage so that, to take one example, the Jack Cade in the Royal Shakespeare Company's adaptation The Plantagenets presented not two heads but a multitude of severed heads. See Hampton-Reeves and Rutter 162-64.

    8. When coined by Ptolemy in Geograp,hitahe term was meant to contrast with “geography”; see Knapp 183.

    9. There has been extensive exploration of “chorography” as both a form a- nd a para digm of history. See Helgerson; Rackin; Gillies; Sullivan; and Howard. For a more recent use of chorography as a critical term, see Holland. Albers, FrankR.“eality, Utopia, andRepresentation: The Case of Jack Cade. ” Shakespeare Jahrbuch 127 (1991): 77-89. Aleyn, Charles. The Historie of That Wise and Fortunate Prince, Henrie of that Name the Seventh. London, 1638. Alsop, J. D. “Lambarde, William (1536-1601).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

    Oxford: Oxford UP, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008. Accessed 2 Feb 2012. Arab, Ronda. “Ruthless Power and Ambivalent Glory: The Rebel-Labou2reHreninry VI.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 5.2 (2005) 5-36. Barber, C. L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom. New York: Meridian, 1963. Bernthal, Craig A. “Jack Cade's Legal Carnival.” Studies in English Literature 15004-21.2900 (2002): 259-74. Berry, RalphS.hakespeare and the Awareness of the Audience. London: Macmillan, 1984. Bristol, Michael. Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England. New York: Methuen, 1985. Bullough, GeofreyN.arrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. 3. Earlier English History Plays: Henry VI, Richard II,IRichard II. London: Routledge, 1966. Cartelli, Thomas. “Jack Cade in the Garden: Class Consciousness and Class Conflict in 2 Henry VI.” Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England.

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