Misogyny in 1 King Henry IV

In her essay “Taming the Shrew Within: Internalized Misogyny in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV”, Sarah Christy seeks to point out and analyze examples of misogyny within the titular play.  Rather than simply sum up her arguments, I’d like to critique a few as well, because I think she is stretching to make a couple of her points. 

Christy begins by discussing the general marginalization of the women in this play.  While there are many men, the play contains only three women.  Christy argues that this allows for a more diverse cast of men, while the women are each simply confined to the role of “woman” without much separating their characters.  They only exist to provide the female perspective as opposed to the wide-ranging male perspectives.  This is a valid argument, and Christy explains it concisely; though she does miss out on a fantastic opportunity to expand on this idea with specific examples from the play.   She instead chooses to look at the marginalization of women through the varied male perspectives.  This is certainly a necessary lens to view the misogynistic nature of the play, but leaves the essay lacking a balance of textual examples, which are aplenty in the next section.

Christy then begins to construct her argument for why the men are misogynistic.  Although society and gender constructs of the period play small roles in this, Christy argues, the primary cause for their misogynistic behavior is the men’s own individual insecurities about masculinity.  This premise is where my views diverge from Christy’s.  I think that she is underplaying the effect of societal gender roles in her arguments.   Claiming the men’s misogyny arises from their own individual insecurities regarding their masculinity ignores the root of the problem in my opinion.  I don’t think these men aren’t born with preconceived notions of femininity and masculinity or the urge to protect the latter.  These concepts are thrust upon them by a misogynistic culture.  In downplaying this Christy seems to be portraying innately insecure men, when really insecurity of this nature is a cultural phenomenon.

Besides that disagreement I have with the basis of her argument, I found the evidence Christy presents of misogyny as a cause of insecurity to be for the most part quite good.  She examines abstract examples of misogyny from men who aren’t even interacting with women at the time of their remarks, as well as more concrete examples of men being directly misogynistic towards women.

First, Christy tackles the abstract.  She references the fact that Henry uses female pronouns when he speaks of the soil being thirsty for blood.  The belief that women are evil and bloodthirsty, Christy claims, was not too uncommon, and she refers to a popular pamphlet by Joseph Swetnam to reinforce her claim.  She also refers to Glendower criticizing his son’s feminine behavior, as well as the advice he gives Mortimer about not crying to his wife, an act perceived as feminine at the time.

Christy then moves on to the more obvious and direct misogyny exhibited by some of the characters.  The first example she gives is of Hotspur’s denouncement of the femininity displayed by a messenger.  Hotspur directly criticizes the man’s effeminacy, and curses him for it.  The author also mentions Hotspur’s objectification of his wife in another scene.  Hal is portrayed by Christy as showing his misogyny through his mistreatment of Falstaff.  Because Hal ribs Falstaff for his rotund form, Christy claims that he is really expressing revulsion at the fact that Falstaff looks like a pregnant woman.  It seemed as though the author was making a bit of a stretch with this point, and the literature she referenced did not back up her conclusion.  Finally, Falstaff is examined.  The charge levied against him is his mistreatment of the tavern keeper, Mistress Quickly.  Christy posits that by undermining the woman’s power and mistreating her, Falstaff is showing his misogynistic tendencies.

All in all, I found that the essay was interesting, but a bit without purpose. I would have preferred to see some conclusions rather than just pointing out random examples of misogyny.   The author establishes that the play was written in a very misogynistic time period about a slightly more misogynistic time period.  She does point out some interesting examples of misogyny within the play, especially the more abstract instances, but all this really amounts to is writing a paper about “Where’s Waldo” where the author points out all of the locations of Waldo.  Bravo on finding them, but you already knew they would be there.

 

Works Cited:

Christy, Sarah. “Taming the Shrew Within: Internalized Misogyny in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV.” Undergraduate Review: a Journal of Undergraduate Student Research 10 (2009): 56-61. Web. 21 June 2015.