Polonius said that “Brevity is the soul of wit”, so in an effort not to spend too much time procrastinating from my very, very busy comprehensive exam study schedule, “I will be brief.”
I know that they often get caught up in the mix of letters and numbers, but it’s most definitely worth your while to read any of Shakespeare’s early “Henry” plays: Henry the Fourth, parts 1 and 2, Henry the Fifth (a personal favourite), and the three parts of Henry 6.
Having only read the Henry 6 plays this summer, I was really happy to see that the blandness of the play’s name is not reflected in his very exciting characters, especially the women. In 1 Henry 6, we see the sharp-tongued Joan of Arc wrestle the French dauphin to the ground (in layman’s terms, she kicked his butt!), but I’d have to give the “Ladies with Attitude” award to Eleanor Cobham, who offers us today’s arresting image:
Could I come near your beauty with my nails
I’d scratch my ten commandments in your face. (2 Henry 6, 1.3.142-3)
Ouch! I can’t help laughing when re-reading such serious Renaissance trash-talking! It both recognizes that she’s a woman and therefore lacks the conventional weaponry of the period (which was left to the men, who promptly began killing each other), but also that she is ferocious on her own. So the next time you need an effective threat (or party gag), think about Eleanor Cobham. It’s her brand, Shakespeare’s brand, of rhetorical power that will reduce your opponent either to laughter or to tears.