The furnace of anger

Buckingham.jpg

Portrait of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham (1520)

In the first Act of Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII, there is a fascinating exchange between the Duke of Buckingham, who fumes over Cardinal Wolsey’s machination to destroy him, and the Duke of Norfolk, who urges cool-headedness. While Buckingham’s imagined calamity later materializes, Norfolk is right, in principle, about the need to exercise self-control when anger risks impaired judgment and hasty action. There is much to be learned here about the application of reason to the passions.

BUCKINGHAM

This butcher’s cur is venom-mouth’d, and I
Have not the power to muzzle him; therefore best
Not wake him in his slumber. A beggar’s book
Outworths a noble’s blood.

NORFOLK

What, are you chafed?
Ask God for temperance; that’s the appliance only
Which your disease requires.

BUCKINGHAM

I read in’s looks
Matter against me; and his eye reviled
Me, as his abject object: at this instant
He bores me with some trick: he’s gone to the king;
I’ll follow and outstare him.

NORFOLK

Stay, my lord,
And let your reason with your choler question
What ’tis you go about: to climb steep hills
Requires slow pace at first: anger is like
A full-hot horse, who being allow’d his way,
Self-mettle tires him. Not a man in England
Can advise me like you: be to yourself
As you would to your friend.

BUCKINGHAM

I’ll to the king;
And from a mouth of honour quite cry down
This Ipswich fellow’s insolence; or proclaim
There’s difference in no persons.

NORFOLK

Be advised;
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself: we may outrun,
By violent swiftness, that which we run at,
And lose by over-running. Know you not,
The fire that mounts the liquor til run o’er,
In seeming to augment it wastes it? Be advised:
I say again, there is no English soul
More stronger to direct you than yourself,
If with the sap of reason you would quench,
Or but allay, the fire of passion.

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2 thoughts on “The furnace of anger

  1. Those last 11 lines of Norfolk’s are brilliant! What has been your experience like with reading Henry VIII? How do you like it compared to other Shakespeare works that you have read? Does it illuminate the shows you’ve been watching (e.g. The Tudors)?

    • My experience of reading King Henry VIII is the same as my experience of reading other Shakespeare plays insofar as the Bard never fails to deliver a welcome combination of entertainment and education, pleasure and profit. Whenever I’m reading a work, I try to resist comparison to other works written by that author in order to let each work stand on its own. If and when I do make a comparison, I try to compare like with like. For example, it makes no sense to compare King Henry VIII (a history play) with Twelfth Night (a comedy).

      I challenged myself to read one of Shakespeare’s history plays because, first, I tend to read only his tragedies and comedies and, second, I am fascinated by the Tudor era. Why? As an Anglican, I am aware that Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth played critical roles in the English Reformation and the shaping of the Church of England. Also, since Shakespeare is one of my favorite authors, I want to better understand the royal family that presided at the time of his writing in the 16th century. I will admit that King Henry VIII is easier to follow because I have already been familiarized with the historical figures and basic plot line by watching The Tudors and Wolf Hall.

      I do find it necessary – and I emphasize necessary – to supplement any reading of Shakespeare with a video or live production because so much is missed on the page alone. A director supremely interprets Shakespeare because the staging of a drama involves vital decisions about the tone, volume, and pace of spoken lines, the body language, the interaction of the characters, and the movement in space. Comic scenes like the one between Anne Bullen and the Old Lady are often not understood or appreciated by the reader until he can see and hear the characters. Thankfully, I am in possession of a fine 2010 production of King Henry VIII from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – unbelievably, the first since 1613 when a canon fired as a special effect in the production “ignited the Globe’s thatched roof and razed the playhouse to the ground.”

      If you want to obtain videos for the plays that you will be reading in the Shakespeare class at your university, let me know and I will offer suggestions.

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