Jack Cade… the great-great-not-so-great grandson of Jack Falstaff (or is that the other way around?)

When we meet the rebellious Jack Cade for the first time, in Act Four, Scene Two of The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, he is a purely comic figure.  Something completely different from any other character in this play (and quite honestly unlike any character we’ve seen thus far in the Canon… no other character thus far has had Cade’s bizarre combination of charm, bravado, ego, and self-deprecation (the closest we come in the plays we’ve studied thus far are Petruchio [charm, bravado, ego, but no self-deprecation], and possibly Titus (bravado, ego, slight self-deprecation, but certainly no charm).  Cade’s unlike anything to come before, but in him we get a glimpse of the future in another great anti-hero: Sir John Falstaff.

John (also known as Jack) Falstaff, for the uninitiated, is a Shakespearean creation, a minor character with major influence.  Falstaff will begin his “life” in The First Part of Henry the Fourth.  In both The First and Second Parts, Falstaff is a father figure to the young Prince Hal, the boy who will become King Henry the Fifth.  Falstaff’s a lowlife, a thief, a coward, a drunk, and funnier than hell.  Such a character is fine for a father-figure for a prince, but a king?  No.  And so when Hal’s real father, Henry IV, dies, Hal must put Falstaff down, in a public repudiation.  But like Doyle killing off his own Sherlock Holmes, killing off Falstaff wasn’t easy for Shakespeare, especially after Queen Elizabeth voiced an affection of the old rogue.  So Shakespeare brought him out of retirement in The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Needless to say, the old “knight” has a bit of a following.

It’s only logical to conclude that to create such a beloved and iconic figure, an author might want to practice on the creation.  Jack Cade (like Fastolfe from The First Part of this series) seems to be just such a practice run.  Let’s take a look at our first exposure to the man.  The commentary made on his opening speech to the masses, a commentary delivered by his own cronies in asides, is one that pokes fun at the image Cade presents of himself:

CADE
We John Cade, so termed of our supposed father—

DICK [to his fellows]
Or rather, of stealing a cade of herrings.

CADE
For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes—Command silence!

DICK
Silence!

CADE
My father was a Mortimer—

DICK [to his fellows]
He was an honest man, and a good bricklayer.

CADE
My mother a Plantagenet—

DICK [to his fellows]
I knew her well; she was a midwife.

CADE
My wife descended of the Lacys—

DICK [to his fellows]
She was, indeed, a pedlar’s daughter, and sold many laces.

SMITH [to his fellows]
But now of late, not able to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks here at home.

CADE
Therefore am I of an honourable house.

DICK [to his fellows]
Ay, by my faith, the field is honourable; and there was he born, under a hedge; for his father had never a house but the cage.

CADE
Valiant I am.

SMITH [to his fellows]
A must needs, for beggary is valiant.

CADE
I am able to endure much.

DICK [to his fellows]
No question of that, for I have seen him whipped three market-days together.

CADE
I fear neither sword nor fire.

SMITH [to his fellows]
He need not fear the sword, for his coat is of proof.

DICK [to his fellows]
But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt i’ the hand for stealing of sheep.

CADE
Be brave, then, for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king—as king I will be—

ALL
God save your majesty!

CADE
I thank you, good people! There shall be no money. All shall eat and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

— IV.ii.33-80

The sequence is filled with puns: Cade is jokingly said to have gotten his name for stealing a barrel (a “cade” [IV.ii.35]) of fish; his father was a Mortimer (name) vs. a mortarer (a “bricklayer” [IV.ii.43]); his wife is of the Lacy family line vs. “sold many laces” (IV.ii.49).  Throw in some bawdiness (the “furred pack…bucks” [IV.ii.51] exchange we discussed a couple of days ago, and extended wordplay (“honorable” [IV.ii.53] house vs. jail [“cage” (IV.ii.56)]; “valiant… beggary” [IV.ii.57-58]), and you have some pretty clever use of language.

Note in the above version, the direction is explicit to be “to his fellows”; this is from the Pelican edition, which uses Folio as its source; in the Quarto, however, uses the direction “Aside.”

Now, as mentioned earlier in the month in Podcast 20, there’s a couple of ways the scene can be played: the asides can be played to Cade and his cohorts (as if inside jokes between Cade and his inner circle) and or to the audience (as ironic observations on Cade’s statements); the former can be played for laughs, the latter less so.  If we go with the former, the cleverness is played out by Cade and his boys, much like Falstaff’s self-deprecating self-description (“diced not above seven times a week, went to a bawdy house not above once in a quarter of an hour” [1HenryIV: III.iii.15-17]).  If we play it in the latter fashion, it falls more into line with Falstaff’s defensive explanation of his being robbed in Act Two, Scene Four of 1HenryIV.  Regardless, in either or both readings, we can see Cade as a early rough draft of the fat old knight.

Later in the same scene, Cade must defend his lineage to Stafford, Duke of Buckingham:

CADE
Marry, this: Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March,
Married the Duke of Clarence’ daughter, did he not?

STAFFORD
Ay, sir.

CADE
By her he had two children at one birth.

STAFFORD'S BROTHER
That’s false.

CADE
Ay, there’s the question; but I say, ’tis true:
The elder of them, being put to nurse,
Was by a beggar-woman stol’n away;
And, ignorant of his birth and parentage,
Became a bricklayer when he came to age:
His son am I; deny it if you can.

DICK
Nay, ’tis too true; therefore he shall be king.

SMITH
Sir, he made a chimney in my father’s house, and the bricks are alive at this day to testify it; therefore deny it not.

STAFFORD
And will you credit this base drudge’s words,
That speaks he knows not what?

ALL
Ay, marry, will we; therefore get ye gone.

— IV.ii.138-155

Here, Cade begins his defense with the factual (Mortimer married Clarence’s daughter), then moves into conjecture (“Ay, there’s the question; but I say, ’tis true”), then to bald-faced lies (“a beggar-woman stol’n away”).  When Cade’s men defend their leader’s logic, they attest to the last portion (Cade’s father was a bricklayer)… assuming this proves the rest of Cade’s supposition.  And for the rabble, it does: they “credit this base drudge’s words, // That speaks he knows not what.”  This sort of logical gymnastics hearkens ahead to Falstaff’s “catechism” on honor (1HenryIV: V.i.129-140), during which he proves that the concept of honor cannot help him in the real world, and thus “(he)’ll none of it” (V.i.138-139).

Finally, when Cade realizes that he’s lost his troops (and therefore his rebellion as well), he states that out of necessity, “here is no staying” (IV.viii.213-214), and thus he must “betake (him) to (his) heels” (IV.vii.218).  This is analogous to Falstaff’s decision to fake his own death on the battlefield so that he can survive: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life” (1HenryIV: V.iv.118-119).

In a play that can afford no dominant comic figure–as we barely have a protagonist, we can’t have a minor construct taking over the play–Shakespeare has the luxury of experimenting with a new character type, an iconic comic figure (though in this play, the creation becomes a monster — Frankenstein-like — destroying all around him), a figure that he’d create fully less than a half-decade later.

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