Midpoint: Debunking a Legend

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Henry the Fifth.

There are 3228 lines in the play, so the midpoint takes place at line 1614, which occurs 46 lines into Act Three, Scene Seven. The scene takes place in the French camp the night before Agincourt. Our main (and titular) character is nowhere to be seen (or heard) in this scene. The exact center comes as the Dauphin discusses “the prescript praise and perfection of a good and particular mistress” (III.vii.45-46).

Only there’s one thing off here.

The Dauphin is talking about his horse.

I would argue that by seeing the enemy for what they are, we’re debunking the legend of Agincourt.

In fact, if you take twenty lines before and after the midpoint, as we’ve been doing for the sake of this experiment, then the entire section is about the Dauphin’s horse and his disparaging remarks regarding the other nobles’ mistresses.

The Dauphin goes on and on about his “prince of palfreys” (III.vii.26), about which he “once writ a sonnet in his praise” (III.vii.38). When Orleans notes that sonnets are usually written to one’s mistress, the Dauphin explains, “(his) horse is (his) mistress” (III.vii.43).

The Constable begins to give the Dauphin some grief over this, saying that he saw this “mistress shrewdly shook (the Dauphin’s) back” (III.vii.47-48), and when the Dauphin says he’s seen the same thing (the Constable’s horse throw him), the Constable responds, “Mine (mistress) was not bridled” (III.vii.50).

And this is the key. The horse (a male one, I might add) is the Dauphin’s mistress. The Constable’s mistress doesn’t wear a bridle–she’s a woman. If this seems a stretch to see this as a disparaging view of an effeminate homosexual, it’s not. The Dauphin then lectures the nobles (“be warned by me” [III.vii.55]) on his “horsemanship” (read sexuality), concluding that “they that ride so (not like the Dauphin) and ride not warily, fall into foul bogs” (III.vii.55-56). As noted a few days back in our monthly trip to Bawdy-ville, the “foul bogs” phrase references the female genitalia. Be ruled by me, the Dauphin says, or you’ll end up with women as your mistresses. [Mon Dieu!]

The Constable ends this discussion (as the subject changes at line 68, just after our 40-line “sweet spot” closes), stating that the Dauphin’s discussion amounts to “such proverb so little kin to the purpose” (III.vii.67).

The entire midsection has no relevance to “the purpose.”

So why is it there if the midpoint is so important (as I’ve been positing these past years)?

I would argue that by seeing the enemy for what they are, we’re debunking the legend of Agincourt. Henry is no hero because he led the victory there… and we certainly do not see him fighting (as we did in The First Part of Henry the Fourth). Any leader could have pulled off the victory against THESE fools.  “This Star of England” (V.Epilogue.6) is no star, but a caretaker of the monarchy, one who inherited the throne from a usurper and will beget a worse caretaker who will just as easily lose France. The line of marginal monarchs and villains will go on until the War of the Roses ends, with the ascension of the Tudor line, a true line of monarchs, of which the playwright’s Elizabeth is the current.

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