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Représentations et identités sexuelles dans le théâtre de Shakespeare

Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

“Hotspur’s Queer Identity : Wounds, Tongues, and Contested Narratives1

David L. Orvis


  • 1 My thoughts on the topic pursued in this essay have evolved over time. I would like to thank Meg L (...)

1In his first appearance in Henry IV, Part One, the eponymous king bemoans the fact that his son is not the soldier Hotspur has proven to be. Henry conveys his disappointment to Westmorland:1

  • 2 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations and citations to this and other Shakespeare plays refer to (...)

Yea, there thou mak’st me sad, and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son—
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue (1.1.77-802).

  • 3 On Hal’s proficiency as an actor, see David Boyd’s, “The Player Prince: Hal in Henry IV, Part 1”, (...)
  • 4 According to Bruce Smith, “Masculine identity is something that men give each other, [and] they do (...)

2Unaware that his son is merely playing the role of the prodigal, Henry expresses his desire to trade one Harry for another3. What is particularly striking about this lament is Henry’s proclamation that Hotspur is a “theme” articulated by “honor’s tongue.” In these terms, Hotspur’s identity as a valiant soldier exists only as it is reported by others, presumably nobles and other soldiers who can attest to his triumphs in battle. This is a queer prospect indeed, as it suggests that a soldier’s identity is contingent not upon acts of homoerotic violence, as various scholars have suggested, but upon competing narratives—or, in Hotspur’s case, themes— signifying those acts4. To put it another way, Hotspur’s reputation as a soldier—as an agent of martial violence—rests, ultimately, in the mouths of other men.

  • 5 Kahn Coppélia, Roman Shakespeare. Warriors, Wounds, and Women, New York and London, Routledge, 1997 (...)

3This need for others’ tongues arises, I would suggest, from the interminable (mis)interpretability of wounds, which serve, on the one hand, as markers of valiant martial service and, on the other, as orifices of same-sex penetration and infiltration. As Coppélia Kahn has shown, “[W]ounds mark a kind of vulnerability easily associated with women: they show the flesh to be penetrable, they show that it can bleed, they make apertures in the body. But through the discursive operations of virtus, wounds become central to the signification of masculine virtue5”. This semiotic crisis points to the need for others’ tongues. Without these signifying organs, wounds fail to signify anything at all; rather, they remain meaningless orifices. Hence, in Julius Caesar, Antony endeavors to stick his tongue in and ascribe meaning to Caesar’s wounds: “Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—/Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips/To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue” (3.1.262-264). Figured here and elsewhere in the play as tongueless mouths—“poor poor dumb mouths” (3.2.216)—Caesar’s wounds cease to mean anything until Antony infiltrates them with his tongue and signifies them. This act represents yet another sequence of homoerotic violence, one that is integral to the formation of the martial self: it is this moment of infiltration, as opposed to the initial act of homoerotic violence, that narrates the same-sex conquest of Caesar. In Coriolanus, too, wounds have the potential either to make or unmake martial masculinity—to buttress or belie protestations of courageous service to the state. Menenius exhorts the citizens to “Think/Upon the wounds his [Coriolanus’s] body bears” (3.3.50-51). These wounds do not speak for themselves. Rather, they require citizens to “put [their] tongues into those wounds and speak for them” (2.3.6-7).

4Doubtless Hotspur is aware of this need for tongues. As he pleads with Henry to pay the ransom for Mortimer’s release, Hotspur uses his tongue to give meaning to his uncle’s wounds:

He never did fall off, my sovereign liege,
But by the chance of war. To prove that true
Needs no more but one tongue for all those wounds,
Those mouthèd wounds, which valiantly he took
When on the gentle Severn’s sedgy bank,
In single opposition, hand to hand (1.3.93-98).

5In an effort to convince the king that Mortimer performed “valiantly,” Hotspur engages in an act that appears to be commonplace among Shakespeare’s soldiers, that is, using their tongues to invade and (re)signify the wounded bodies of others. For Shakespeare, this act appears to be transhistorical: by this I mean not only that the need for tongues crosses historical periods, from antiquity to early modernity, from the Roman tragedies to the English histories, but also that the struggle for the dominant narrative of same-sex conquest persists well beyond the death of any soldier. Indeed, each time Shakespeare’s plays are performed, the “mouthèd wounds” reappear on the martial body, requiring others’ tongues to attest to their significance. Consequently, the identity of Shakespeare’s soldier is ineluctably queer—not, I would suggest, because martial violence is inherently homoerotic, but rather because narratives about such violence require the tongues of other men and thus are never secure, are always contested.

  • 6 Barker Roberta, “Tragical-Comical-Historical Hotspur”, Shakespeare Quarterly 54.3, 2003, p. 288-307 (...)
  • 7 Ibid., p. 291.
  • 8 Barker includes an impressive list of actors who chose the role of Hotspur over Hal or Henry—a tes (...)

6The present essay is concerned, ultimately, with the wounds of Hotspur. One reason for this is that Hotspur’s perception of his own wounds is incompatible with how he views the wounds of other soldiers. He acknowledges that other soldiers require others’ tongues to enact the precarious processes of signification and identification I have been sketching, but he refuses to see himself as embedded in these same processes. Hotspur’s fantasy, then, is that his masculine identity, distinct from all others in the play, is at once discrete and stable—not a fantasy at all. Not until his final words does he admit that his identity is determined by narratives he cannot control. Compounding this predicament, I think, is Hotspur’s prominent position in early modern productions of the play. “If titles are any indication,” writes Roberta Barker, “it may be fair to argue that Hotspur […] played a crucial role in fashioning the early success of the play we know as 1 Henry IV6”. Barker makes a compelling case for seeing Hotspur’s popularity among early modern spectators as rivaling, if not excelling, that of the king and his wayward son. To buttress her point, Barker quotes Scott McMillin, who explains, “For nearly three centuries, with Part One usually being played by itself, the plot ended with Hotspur defeated and Falstaff claiming victory. It is no wonder that the play was regarded both as a historical romance with Hotspur as its centre of heroic pathos and as comedy with Falstaff as its presiding spirit7”. If Hotspur blenches at the prospect of others invading his body, then the presence of playgoers, drawn to him more so than any other character on the early modern stage, only exacerbates the queerness of his position. Shakespeare, of course, reveled in such metatheatricality8.

7Hotspur’s perception of his lacerated body tells us a lot about the identity of the soldier in Shakespeare’s martial works. While Henry suggests at the play’s outset that Hotspur’s wounds signify honor, this seemingly dominant “theme” (to use the king’s own term) breaks down and reveals itself to be nothing more than a fantasy of martial masculinity, as temporal battles with other soldiers enact perpetual battles of signification. As Hotspur points out, his wounds become all the more agonizing when another character’s tongue threatens to invade them. He recounts a rather unpleasant post-battle exchange with a representative of the king:

I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold—
To be so pestered with a popinjay!—
Out of my grief and my impatience,
Answered neglectingly, I know not what—
He should, or should not—for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
And talk so like a waiting gentlewoman
Of guns, and drums, and wounds, God save the mark!
And telling me the sovereign’st thing on earth
Was parmacity for an inward bruise,
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villainous saltpetre should be digged
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroyed
So cowardly, and but for these vile guns,
He would himself have been a soldier (1.3.48-63).

8The impatience and discomfort Hotspur expresses here is the result of a non-soldier’s endeavor both to cure and to signify his wounds, which have long since grown “cold.” This is a matter of rank, certainly, as Hotspur finds the body of the king’s representative, his appearance and his smell, unbearable—perhaps even offensive. But it also signals Hotspur’s fantasy of an identity that is both discrete and fixed, an identity that he owns and controls. Indeed, in attempting to speak about and signify his own “cold” wounds, Hotspur exhibits his misguided belief that he has any control over the meanings of them.

9This sense of self is strikingly different from the way in which Hotspur perceives the body of his uncle, which, as the heated argument that ensues demonstrates, remains a site of contested narratives of martial valiance. Tracing this contorted logic throughout Henry IV, Part One enables us to see a distinction the play makes between Hotspur and his rival Hal: the former chooses to display his wounded body in an attempt to control the narratives circulated about it; the latter hides his body and evades the identity of the soldier until martial violence proves unavoidable. Though neither soldier can command the meaning(s) of his wounds, as both characters exist only in others’ tongues and others’ texts, their divergent approaches to the formation and expression of a martial identity lays bare a process that is at once compulsory and futile. In other words, Hotspur’s wounds can signify only the semiotic crisis that queers all soldiers.

  • 9 Butler Judith, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York and London, Routledg (...)
  • 10 Cf. Louis Althusser’s notion of interpellation, which suggests subjectivity or selfhood is always- (...)
  • 11 Edelman Lee, “The Sodomite’s Tongue and the Bourgeois Body in Eighteenth Century England”, in Homog (...)

10My thinking about this aspect of queer identity formation is indebted to the pioneering work of Judith Butler and Lee Edelman. In Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Butler suggests that discrete selfhood is a phantasm: “Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject9”. Thus, while the body serves as a (privileged) site of identity formation, this site, itself a cultural construct, produces a self that is always-already contested and always-already undergoing reinscription10. Lee Edelman makes a similar point in his essay on “The Sodomite’s Tongue and the Bourgeois Body in Eighteenth-Century England,” arguing that putting one’s tongue into another person’s orifices is a culturally transgressive gesture, one that undermines notions of bodily autonomy: “The representation, however formulaic, of one man’s tongue in another man’s mouth can not only figure the penetration of one orifice as an inlet for, and an image of, the sodomitical penetration of another, it can also suggest the connotative overlay in sodomy’s cultural construction of an anxiety about the authority and autonomy of one’s own signifying practices11.” In Henry IV, Part One, and in Shakespeare’s martial plays as a whole, the tongue enters wounds figured as mouths—“mouthed wounds,” according to Hotspur; “dumb mouths” according to Antony—producing and signifying an identity that is legible only in the testimonies spoken and written by other men. Thus, for all the soldier’s efforts to conquer other soldiers, he is, ultimately, an object himself, the topic of others’ (conflicting) stories.

  • 12 Charnes, op. cit., p. 437.
  • 13 Smith Bruce, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics, Chicago and London, Th (...)
  • 14 Salamon Linda Bradley, “Vagabond Veterans: The Roguish Company of Martin Guerre and Henry V”, in Cr (...)
  • 15 Low Jennifer, Manhood and the Duel: Masculinity in Early Modern Drama and Culture, New York and Bas (...)
  • 16 DiGangi contends that women, too, serve as Others against which masculine martial identity is cons (...)

11This examination of wounds and the tongues that penetrate and (re)signify them represents a departure from other studies of Shakespeare’s queer soldiers. Whereas other scholars have focused on the initial act of male same-sex penetration and conquest as the formative moment in the soldier’s construction of selfhood, I am arguing that, in fact, it is a second, profoundly more transgressive and invasive form of violence that constitutes an inherently queer martial identity. I differ, then, from various critics who have understood the soldier’s sense of self as borne out of what Linda Charnes has aptly termed “homoerotic aggression12”. According to Charnes, male same-sex desire, expressed through homoerotic violence, supplants heteroerotic desire in the construction of the martial identity. Bruce Smith has attributed the salience of this homoerotic process to the predominance of the “Myth of Combatants and Comrades,” which “owes its hold on Renaissance imagination to the way it expresses, in specifically sexual terms, the ambivalences of feeling that are involved in male bonding generally.” This myth, suggests Smith, governs the “series of plays focused on soldier-heroes […] that gave males in early modern England their social authority—and their self-identity13”. Linda Bradley Salamon and Jennifer Low have made similar claims, though in admittedly different contexts. Salamon has argued that “early modern soldiers […] are depicted as quintessentially male bodies: their physical aggression in combat—or at minimum, the threat of such aggression—defines them14”. Low, meanwhile, in her analysis of masculinity and spatiality in texts about dueling, contends, “Inherent in the duel is the negotiation of status between combatants: the victor’s status increases, while the loser is shamed by defeat. The proxemic assumptions learned in fencing practice are severely compromised by loss: the duellist’s personal space has been violated, and even if he is not killed, his bloody wound weakens him both literally and symbolically15”. These studies of homoerotic aggression demonstrate unequivocally that the soldier’s occupation requires him to engage in acts that are at once sexual and violent. They also suggest that martial obligations entail forswearing the company of women who are, as Mario DiGangi and Nina Taunton have shown, alternately Othered and effaced, despite their presence and utility in military camps16.

12Without corporeal evidence, however, the processes scholars have identified fail to register martial masculinity. Homoerotic aggression and the repudiation of the feminine Other remain the mere conditions of masculine martial selfhood. Paradoxically, it is precisely this corporeal evidence—that is, wounds sustained in battle—that brings about the crisis in signification that undermines any attempt to fashion a masculine martial identity. To crystallize this paradox as it pertains to Hotspur, I would like to return, briefly, to the wounds of Caesar and Coriolanus. These Roman soldiers precede Hotspur in martial history but follow him in Shakespeare’s dramatic corpus, and in this respect they function both as models for and inheritors of the discursive practices that consign martial bodies—and, hence, martial identities—to others’ tongues. In particular, further consideration of the lacerated bodies of Caesar and Coriolanus makes clear exactly what is at stake in Hotspur’s quest to control the narratives that Henry, Hal, and others articulate through wounds. This analysis also helps explain the very different paths the two Harrys take to their inevitable showdown at the end of Shakespeare’s play.

13Antony’s efforts to (re)invade Caesar’s lacerated corpse suggests, for instance, that in Shakespeare’s plays a soldier’s identity is anchored in wounds that remain open to endless (re)interpretation and (re)inscription long after the martial body has expired. As I noted above, Caesar’s wounds are, in Antony’s words, “poor poor dumb mouths” that require a tongue to attest to their significance and, in so doing, reconstruct the emperor’s martial identity. In a moment of rhetorical flourish, Antony co-opts and re-signifies Caesar’s “dumb mouths” to rejoin Brutus and his conspirators and to incite the plebeians to revolt:

But were I Brutus
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stone of Rome to rise and mutiny (3.2.217-221).

  • 17 Studies of interpretation and signification in Julius Caesar include Marjorie Garber’s “Dream and (...)
  • 18 Giddens Eugene, “Honourable Men: Militancy and Masculinity in Julius Caesar”, Renaissance Forum 5.2 (...)
  • 19 Ibid., p. 20.

14Having brought out Caesar’s wounded body for everyone to see, Antony endeavors to rewrite the slain emperor’s identity: from selfish despot to beneficent sovereign. On the one hand, this is a transgressive gesture, as Antony seeks to revise the dominant narrative about Caesar and, through him, Rome; on the other hand, it represents yet another instance of (re)interpretation in a play about the problems of reading and interpreting a broad range of signifiers—omens, letters, dreams, bodies17. At the same time, then, Antony’s penetration of Caesar’s wounds is pivotal, changing the course and the outcome of the play, and unremarkable, articulating yet another narrative that will be contested and reinterpreted—if not in the play itself, then in the myriad other texts circulated about Caesar. As Eugene Giddens points out, Shakespeare’s play offers spectators a Caesar whose status as a military leader is ambiguous at best: “Caesar, as military conqueror, gets considerable glory, as the opening triumphal procession reveals, yet this glory is more complex than it immediately appears […] Caesar’s valour, so impressive to the plebeians, is subject to alternative representation18.” Further, Shakespeare’s manipulation of Roman mythology produces “a decrepit Caesar, who is no longer virile, and by the conspirators’ reasoning, no longer qualified to rule19”. Thus, while Antony may succeed in rousing the plebeians to revolt, Caesar’s identity as a soldier, legible only in the “dumb mouths” his martial body bears, remains unstable—the object of others’(competing) narratives.

  • 20 Philip Brockbank has argued that the hostility between the soldier and the tribunes is “one contri (...)
  • 21 Marshall Cynthia, “Portia’s Wound, Calpurnia’s Dream”, English Literary Renaissance, 24.2, 1994, p. (...)

15The dependence upon others’ tongues that compels Antony to prophesy over Caesar’s wounds is precisely what Coriolanus cannot bring himself to bear—an act so humbling and humiliating that he would rather be annihilated. At first, Coriolanus exhibits a sense of pride in his wounds, validated, no doubt, by his mother, who “thank[s] the gods” for his wounds, which “more becom[e] a man/Than gilt his trophy” (2.1.108; 1.3.36-37). The citizens and tribunes agree, proclaiming that “wounds received for’s country” are “marks of merit” (2.3.153). What agitates the soldier is the prospect of other men gazing upon and penetrating his wounds. As one tribune puts it, “If he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them; so if he tell us his noble deeds we must also tell him our noble acceptance of them” (2.3.5-8). The tribunes, playing upon the word power, recognize the agency they have over Coriolanus’s identity: “We have the power in ourselves to do it, but it is a power that we have no power to do” (2.3.4-5). There are, in fact, nearly as many tongues in Coriolanus as there are wounds: the first term appears twenty-one times, the second twenty-two. The final wound, which has no tongue to signify it, is, of course, Coriolanus’s, as Volumnia implores the tribunes to note “the wounds that he does bear for Rome!” (4.2.3020). In her Lacanian reading of the play’s representation of phallic masculinity, Cynthia Marshall observes that the wounds on Coriolanus’s body, open as they are to endless interpretation, simultaneously effect and reflect the lack that constitutes the soldier’s identity: “Like a woundman, Coriolanus is unable to claim his wounds as his own; he is unable to restrict their meaning to martial codes […]. Converted from active heroic subject to spectacularized object, Coriolanus is not only demasculinized but feminized. What eludes him is the signifying phallus that would guarantee his self-affirmation21”. This lack, however, must be (re)articulated, and in this respect the lacerations in Coriolanus’s flesh bespeak an identity that belongs to others. In other words, Coriolanus’s queer identity is attributable not only to his inability to control the meaning(s) of his wounds, but also to the profoundly troubling realization that he has no agency whatsoever in the formation of his martial selfhood. Imposed upon him by others’tongues, his identity as a soldier is determined, in an act of infiltration, by everyone but him. Or, to use Marshall’s terms, Coriolanus’s subjectivity exists only in the signifying/objectifying practices of everyone around him.

  • 22 My understanding of the death instinct is informed by Freud’s development of the concept in Beyond (...)

16By the close of Coriolanus, the hero’s identity, signified in his agnomen, is revoked, first by the citizens and then by Aufidius—all within the space of two acts. This loss of identity triggers a series of self-negating acts of violence through which Caius Martius hopes to reclaim his martial narrative. As one might expect, this proves futile. Aufidius exclaims, “Ay, Martius, Caius Martius! Dost thou think/I’ll grace thee with that robbery, thy stol’n name/‘Coriolanus’, in Corioles?” (5.6.90-92). Unable to restore his martial identity and the agnomen that authenticates it, Coriolanus pleads, in words that perhaps anticipate Sigmund Freud’s theory of the death instinct, for obliteration, for a return to a pre-organic state of nonbeing where he will no longer be compelled to negotiate the unending process of martial identity formation: “Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads,/Stain all your edges on me” (5.6.112-11322). The veracity of Caius Martius’s claim to his title matters less than his refusal to allow anyone to say otherwise:

If you have writ your annals true, ‘tis there
That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles.
Alone I did it (5.6.114-117).

  • 23 Smith Bruce, “Making a Difference: Male/Male ‘Desire’ in Tragedy, Comedy, and Tragi-Comedy”, in Sus (...)
  • 24 I have used The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile, edited by Charlton Hinman, New Y (...)

17What this final passage reveals, of course, is that Caius Martius recognizes he has no claim to his own identity. Someone else will “writ[e]” the “annals”—or the play, as the case may be—of Coriolanus. This is too much for the soldier to bear. Consequently, he wishes to be dismembered entirely. As Bruce Smith has noted, Caius Martius “positively begs the fate that befalls him at the end of the play23”, and to the chant of “Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!” the soldier is annihilated (5.6.130). Incidentally, this act of obliteration is what the people want, too, as they cry, “Tear him to pieces! Do it presently!” (5.6.121). Lest there is any confusion as to the significance of this suicidal gesture, the stage directions of the 1623 Folio make clear that the soldier enters one man and exits another. At his entrance, the stage directions indicate the following: “Enter Coiolanus marching with Drumme, and Colours. The Commoners being with him.” At his death, he is no longer identified by his agnomen:Draw both the Conspirators, and kils Martius, who falles, Aufidius stands on him.” The play’s final stage directions, which signal the “dead March,” refer to the corpse as “the Body of Martius” (646)24. Throughout the play, various figures endeavor to interpret and signify Caius Martius’s wounds. Some of these figures inhabit the play, as Menenius, Aufidius, and the tribunes do; others structure it, as the playwright, the stage directions, and the spectators do. At no point, however, does the soldier speak or write his own narrative. His martial identity, in all its queerness, is contingent upon—indeed, is the object of—the speeches and texts of everyone else.

18The bodies of Caesar and Coriolanus function, both pre-and post-mortem, as the fleshly conduits through which ineluctably queer identities are forged. That these soldiers’ corpses are displayed for everyone to see—Caesar’s presented by Antony, Coriolanus’s mounted by Aufidius—demonstrates both the primacy and the contingency of wounded bodies. Indeed, while wounds have the potential to signify valiance and/or cowardice, victory and/or defeat, masculinity and/or effeminacy, these significations require the tongues of others. Though the violent deaths of Caesar and Coriolanus may warrant notice because these characters headline their respective plays, an analogous scene takes place near the end of Henry IV, Part One. In this instance, the body is Hotspur’s, the tongue Falstaff’s. Though Hal is responsible for Hotspur’s death, this does not prevent Falstaff from seeking to penetrate and take possession of the corpse and through it the deceased soldier’s identity:

I am afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead. How if he should counterfeit too, and rise? By my faith, I am afraid he would prove the better counterfeit. Therefore I’ll make him sure; yea, and I’ll swear I killed him. Why may not he rise as well as I? Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me. Therefore, sirrah, [stabbing HOTSPUR] with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me. He takes up Hotspur on his back (5.4.119-126).

  • 25 Studies of Falstaff’s origins have traced the knight back to the Vice figure from the tradition of (...)

19At once the most grotesque and most perceptive character in the play, Falstaff recognizes that Hotspur’s reputation—his “theme,” as Henry puts it in the play’s first act—depends not upon the conditions of his death but upon what others have to say about such conditions25. Spectators watch as Falstaff, in his characteristically histrionic fashion, goes about changing the story: as it turns out, Hotspur was not dead, and it was Falstaff, not Hal, who dealt the choleric warrior his deathblow (in his thigh, apparently). Preposterous as this new narrative is, Hal does not discount it, even though he (and everyone else in the theater) knows better. To Falstaff, Hal says, “Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back./For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,/I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have” (5.4.149-151). It is Falstaff who exits with Hotspur’s body. This gesture is significant for at least two reasons: first, it suggests that, even though the circumstances of his death are widely known, Hotspur’s body is open to endless (re)interpretation and (re)inscription (a “lie” in this case becomes an agreed upon truth); and second, it shows that Hotspur’s identity belongs to the discordant narratives others circulate about him.

20Though Hotspur has acknowledged this about other soldiers—his uncle, for instance—he refuses to see himself in a similar predicament until his own death is imminent. Whereas earlier in the play he had professed to “defy/The tongues of soothers” (4.1.6-7), Hotspur acknowledges in his final speech that his identity belongs to others’ tongues:

Percy: O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue. No, Percy, thou art dust
And food for— [He dies]
Hal: For worms, brave Percy (5.4.82-85).

21In words that anticipate (textually) and recall (chronologically) Antony’s, Hotspur aims, in his dying breaths, to “prophesy” over his own body with his own “tongue.” Before he can finish the sentence, however, he is interrupted—first by his own recognition of the futility of his speech act (“no, Percy”), then by death, and finally by Hal, who completes the utterance. This act of completion both embodies and enacts a process of narration and identity formation that will persist far beyond the decomposition of Hotspur’s body and the cessation of his thoughts. Earlier in this same passage, Hotspur acknowledges that while his defeat at the hands of Hotspur has brought about death, there is another “wound” that will never close, one that will continue to be penetrated by other men even after the body rots away:

O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth.
I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me.
They wound my thoughts worse than sword my flesh (5.4.76-79).

22The loss of his “proud titles” becomes a kind of perpetual wound that will undergo continuous reinvasion. In fact, each time the story is retold—each time the play Henry IV, Part One is restaged—Hotspur is stabbed, his wounds tongued, all over again. Thus, in death as in life, Hotspur’s wounds remain the province of others’ stories—Hal’s and Falstaff’s, certainly, but also the countless actors and actresses who portray them. And, of course, there is Shakespeare, who has revealed to audiences in England and around the world the queer processes Hotspur cannot escape. Without these other tongues to tell his tale, Hotspur, quite simply, does not exist.

  • 26 In his germinal essay “Invisible Bullets,” Stephen Greenblatt makes explicit the parallels to be d (...)

23Hal, too, is ensconced in this process. Or rather, he becomes ensconced the moment he throws off the disguise of the prodigal son and takes up the identity of the martial prince. Ever the Machiavel, Hal manages to conceal his martial body—to keep it out of circulation—until absolutely necessary26. Indeed, while Henry registers in the play’s opening scene his disappointment in his son, he says nothing about Hal’s failure as a soldier—because, in brief, he is no soldier at all. That this is Hal’s choice—evidence, perhaps, of his Realpolitik— is apparent from the prince’s by now familiar first soliloquy, where he says of his comrades, his combatants, and everyone else in the play and in the theater:

I know you all, and will a while uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him (1.2.173-181).

  • 27 In addition to the studies of Hal-as-Machiavel (see previous note), see Jonathan Goldberg’s “Desir (...)

24The political implications of this passage—its defining Hal’s role as a new kind of leader, a new kind of king—have been explored elsewhere27. For the purposes of my analysis, it is sufficient to note the seductiveness of Hal’s rhetoric, its ability, as Jonathan Goldberg has observed, to draw in, in addition to the characters who serve as the ostensible targets of his machinations, a broad range of early modern scholars, many of whom find it “all but impossible to resist the attractions of the prince” (145). I would add that Hal’s emphasis on concealment and camouflage, on disguising his martial and monarchical aspirations in what he calls “loose behaviour” (1.2.186), extends to include his martial body. Whereas Hotspur calls attention to his martial body in hopes of controlling it, Hal buries his in the taverns. Whereas Hotspur derides his wife’s sexuality and obsesses over the need for “bloody noses and cracked crowns” (2.4.83), Hal cavorts with the likes of Falstaff and Poins. My point here is not that Hal has escaped notice—quite the opposite, as his father has made clear—but that he understands that soldiers have no claim to the discursive practices that constitute martial reputations and identities. That is, Hal knows at the outset what Hotspur learns only in death.

25To clarify this point, one need only look at Hal’s initiation into the world Hotspur has endeavored to negotiate since long before the start of the play. In his first onstage appearance with his father, Hal promises to abandon his profligate ways and become “more [him] self” (3.2.93). To do this, Hal must accouter himself as a soldier:

I will redeem all this on Percy’ s head,
And in the closing of some glorious day
Be bold to tell you that I am your son;
When I will wear a garment of all blood,
And stain my favours in a bloody mask,
Which, washed away, shall scour my name with it (3.2.132-137).

26While it is clear that the “garment” envisioned here will be fashioned in part from Hotspur’s blood and entrails, the need for redemptive violence to “wash away” one identity (the prodigal son) and forge another (the martial prince) indicates that Hal will need to acquire his own wounds and spill his own blood as well. Just before Hal engages Hotspur in one-on-one combat, the king notes that his son’s body is already bleeding profusely: “Harry, withdraw thyself, thou bleed’st too much” (5.4.1). As with Shakespeare’s other soldiers, Hal perceives these wounds, which he terms “shallow scratch[es]” (5.4.10), as corporeal evidence that he has arrived. The sexual connotations of this first blood, which associate Hal’s first wounds with the breaking of the hymen, are echoed by none other than Hotspur, who refers to their pending battle as “the maidenhead of [their] affairs” (4.1.59). Hotspur has been engaged in such battles, which are at once physical, erotic, and semiotic, since long before the start of the play; Hal, at the play’s close, has assumed the identity of the soldier and has thus implanted himself in a process that he cannot, even in death, escape.

27For all their differences, then, Hal and Hotspur are compelled to negotiate the same process of identification that queers all of Shakespeare’s soldiers. The inevitability of this identificatory queerness is, as I have been arguing, attendant upon pervasive crises in signification which are themselves unending and unavoidable. Hotspur’s wounds are significant in that they exemplify the violence that processes of identification and signification require. Indeed, while identity formation is often understood as functioning on the level of language—performing, as it were, a kind of figurative and/or cognitive violence—the wounds of Hotspur show that the forging of a martial identity is at once semiotic and corporeal. That is, Hotspur’s wounds are both visual representations and the privileged sites of the violence through which his unstable identity is constructed and undermined. Through Hotspur, Shakespeare is able to open up for spectators an inherently violent process, exposing both its ineluctability and its futility. So while various scholars have argued that Shakespeare’s soldiers could be termed queer for a variety of reasons—for their homosocial bonds, for their disavowal of women, for their homoerotic aggression—what the wounds of Hotspur suggest is that he and all other soldiers are queer, ultimately, because they are soldiers.


1 My thoughts on the topic pursued in this essay have evolved over time. I would like to thank Meg Lota Brown, Paul Hartle, Kari Boyd McBride, and David M. Robinson for helping me think through the theoretical concerns that inform my argument. Meg Lota Brown encouraged me to press forward with my examination of tongues, wounds, and the semiotic crises they engender and evince, and I am grateful for her support in this and other endeavors.

2 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations and citations to this and other Shakespeare plays refer to The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus, 2nd ed., New York and London, W. W. Norton, 2008.

3 On Hal’s proficiency as an actor, see David Boyd’s, “The Player Prince: Hal in Henry IV, Part 1”, Sydney Studies in English 6, 1980-1981, p. 3-16.

4 According to Bruce Smith, “Masculine identity is something that men give each other, [and] they do so under a complicated system of rules whereby they alternately abet and oppose one another.” For Hal and Hotspur in Henry IV, Part One, this means the following: “It is necessary for Harry, first to identify with Hotspur as the ideal son, and then to kill him in order to achieve his own identity as king-in-the-making.” Smith Bruce, Shakespeare and Masculinity, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 66. I describe other critics’understandings of this dynamic, which Linda Charnes has aptly termed “homoerotic aggression” below. Charnes Linda, “‘So unsecret to ourselves’: Notorious Identity and the Material Subject in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida”, Shakespeare Quarterly 40.4, Winter 1989, p. 413-440, p. 437.

5 Kahn Coppélia, Roman Shakespeare. Warriors, Wounds, and Women, New York and London, Routledge, 1997, p. 17.

6 Barker Roberta, “Tragical-Comical-Historical Hotspur”, Shakespeare Quarterly 54.3, 2003, p. 288-307, p. 288.

7 Ibid., p. 291.

8 Barker includes an impressive list of actors who chose the role of Hotspur over Hal or Henry—a testament, perhaps, to the popularity of the choleric soldier, from early modernity to the late nineteenth century: “Luminaries such as Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, William Macready, and Edmund and Charles Kean all chose to wear Hotspur’s sword, while Hal was most often played by supporting actors” (p. 291).

9 Butler Judith, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York and London, Routledge, 1993, p. 95.

10 Cf. Louis Althusser’s notion of interpellation, which suggests subjectivity or selfhood is always-already ideologically inflected. In other words, ideology interpellates individuals as subjects or selves. Althusser’s by now familiar example is the hail from a police officer (“Hey, you there!”): “Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject” (118). Contrary to what Butler has suggested and what I am arguing, Althusser supposes interpellation or “hailing” as a unilateral act. Althusser L., Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1971.

11 Edelman Lee, “The Sodomite’s Tongue and the Bourgeois Body in Eighteenth Century England”, in Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory, New York and London, Routledge, 1994, p. 121-128, p. 125. I thank David Robinson for calling my attention to this essay.

12 Charnes, op. cit., p. 437.

13 Smith Bruce, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 58.

14 Salamon Linda Bradley, “Vagabond Veterans: The Roguish Company of Martin Guerre and Henry V”, in Craig Dionne and Steve Mentz (ed.), Rogues and Early Modern English Culture, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 2004, p. 261-293, p. 264.

15 Low Jennifer, Manhood and the Duel: Masculinity in Early Modern Drama and Culture, New York and Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, p. 75. In addition to the studies I have surveyed here, see Mario DiGangi’s examination of homoerotic violence and martial masculinity in Fletcher’s tragedicomedies: Digangi M., The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 134-160; and, in a different context, Jonathan Walters study of the (im)penetrability of the Roman soldier’s body: Walters J., “Invading the Roman Body: Manliness and Impenetrability in Roman Thought”, in Judith P. Hallet and Marylin B. Skinner (ed.), Roman Sexualities, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 29-43.

16 DiGangi contends that women, too, serve as Others against which masculine martial identity is constructed. Comparing war manuals and soldier conduct books to several tragicomedies produced contemporaneously, he concludes, “The representation of disorderly homoeroticism […] stigmatizes not male homoerotic desire in particular, but the ‘effeminacy’ of men who act like women or desire women”, op. cit., p. 25. The implication here is that martial masculinity is compromised not, necessarily, when men become the objects of homoerotic violence but when men associate with or too closely resemble the feminine Other. The pervasiveness of this threat is the subject of Nina Taunton’s exploration of “erosions of the masculine self” in martial discourse, Taunton Nina, 1590s Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlone, Chapman and Shakespeare’s Henry V, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2001, p. 16. Taunton “locat[es] the nexus of anxieties about nation and manhood specifically in the war literature of the [1590s], and… measur[es] its accumulation of articulated reactions to the threat of foreign invasion against specific events”, p. 16-17. This analysis demonstrates that while proscriptions against women in the military camps pervade martial discourse, there is an abundance of evidence that suggests not only that wives, servingwomen, and prostitutes lived and worked among the soldiers, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that these women were positioned, when they were not rendered invisible, as the real threat to martial masculinity.

17 Studies of interpretation and signification in Julius Caesar include Marjorie Garber’s “Dream and Interpretation: Julius Caesar”, in Dream in Shakespeare. From Metaphor to Metamorphosis, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1974, p. 47-58; Cynthia Marshall’s “Portia’s Wound, Calpurnia’s Dream, Reading Character in Julius Caesar”; English Literary Renaissance, no 24.2, 1994, p. 471-488; Robert D. Moynihan’s “Stars, Portents, and Order in Julius Caesar”, Modern Language Studies, no 7.2, Fall 1977, p. 26-31 and Frances Teague’s “Letters and Portents in Julius Caesar and King Lear”, The Shakespeare Yearbook, no 3, 1992, p. 87-104.

18 Giddens Eugene, “Honourable Men: Militancy and Masculinity in Julius Caesar”, Renaissance Forum 5.2, winter 2001, p. 1-34, p. 18.

19 Ibid., p. 20.

20 Philip Brockbank has argued that the hostility between the soldier and the tribunes is “one contribution among many to the play’s probings of the integrity of the state”: P. Brockbank, “Introduction”, in Coriolanus, ed. P. Brockbank, The Arden Shakespeare 3rd series, London, Thomson Learning, 2003, p. 1-89, p. 38. As non-soldiers charged with the task of evaluating a soldier, the tribunes clearly bother Coriolanus, but I would argue that this aspect of their interactions only exacerbates an already volatile situation.

21 Marshall Cynthia, “Portia’s Wound, Calpurnia’s Dream”, English Literary Renaissance, 24.2, 1994, p. 471-488.

22 My understanding of the death instinct is informed by Freud’s development of the concept in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Simply put, the death instinct is “an urge inherent in all organic life to restore to an earlier state of things”. Freud S., Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, vol. 18, London, Hogarth Press, 1955, p. 1-283, p. 36. I use the concept narrowly to refer to Coriolanus’s drive to extricate himself, via suicide, from a process he finds untenable. Though Freudian psychoanalysis remains a locus of controversy in early modern studies, a number of scholars have offered historicized analyses of the death instinct that have proven useful to me as I think about the plight of the early modern soldier. Jonathan Dollimore, for example, has observed, “Well before Freud, there were those who entertained the attraction of death almost as scandalously as he did. They did not need a theory of the death drive to know that if death both drives and frustrates desire it is also what desire may seek in order to be free of itself. As Hamlet famously meditated, to die is a consummation devoutly to be wished”. Dollimore J., Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture, New York, Routledge, 1998, p. xx. For book-length studies on fantasies of death in early modern culture, see Cynthia Marshall’s The Shattering of the Self: Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts, Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002; Christopher Pye’s The Vanishing: Shakespeare, the Subject, and Early Modern Culture, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2000; and Robert Watson’s The Rest Is Silence: Death as Annihilation in the English Renaissance, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, University of California Press, 1999.

23 Smith Bruce, “Making a Difference: Male/Male ‘Desire’ in Tragedy, Comedy, and Tragi-Comedy”, in Susan Zimmerman (ed.), Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, New York and London, Routledge, 1992, p. 127-149, p. 136.

24 I have used The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile, edited by Charlton Hinman, New York, W. W. Norton, 1968, for citation and reference for these stage directions. Citations refer to page number in this edition.

25 Studies of Falstaff’s origins have traced the knight back to the Vice figure from the tradition of English morality plays and the Lord of Misrule typically associated with Twelfth. Dover Wilson’s John, The Fortunes of Falstaff, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1943 continues to be influential, though Alan C. Dessen, in Shakespeare and the Late Moral Plays, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1986, shifts the focus from Part One to Part Two of Henry IV. For a Bakhtinian reading of Falstaff, see François Laroque’s “Shakespeare’s Battle of Carnival and Lent: The FalstaffScenes Reconsidered (1 and 2 Henry IV)”, in Shakespeare and Carnival. After Bakhtin, ed. Ronald Knowles, New York, St Martin’s, 1998, p. 83-96. At the same time, however, Falstaff offers some of the keenest insights. Marjorie Garber observes, “For all of his flaws, he speaks, upon occasion, a crucial and even a painful truth, as when, for example, he acknowledges that he lives in a fallen world”: Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare After All, New York, Pantheon, 2004, p. 327.

26 In his germinal essay “Invisible Bullets,” Stephen Greenblatt makes explicit the parallels to be drawn between Shakespeare’s Hal and Machiavell’s The Prince: “The Henry plays confirm the Machiavellian hypothesis that princely power originates in force and fraud.” Greenblatt S., Shakespearean Negotiations, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1988, p. 21-65, p. 65. See also John Roe’s Shakespeare and Machiavelli, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2002, p. 63-93.

27 In addition to the studies of Hal-as-Machiavel (see previous note), see Jonathan Goldberg’s “Desiring Hal”, in Sodometries. Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1992, p. 145-175; Beatrice Groves’s “Hal as Self-Styled Redeemer: The Harrowing of Hell and Henry IV, Part 1”, Shakespeare Survey, n ° 57, 2004, p. 236-248; Henry D. Janowitz’s “Prince Hamlet and Prince Hal: The Trial of the Crown,” Shakespeare Newsletter, n ° 50, 2000-2001, p. 21; Walter E. Meyers’s “Hal: The Mirror of All Christian Kings”, in a Fair Day in the Affections. Literary Essays in Honor of Robert B. White Jr., ed. Jack M. Durant, M. Thomas Hester and Robert O. Tilman, Raleigh, Winston Press, 1980, p. 67-77; Phyllis Rackin’s Stages of History: Shakespeare’s English Chronicles, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1990, p. 77-80; and Matthew H. Wikander’s “The Protean Prince Hal”, Comparative Drama, no 26.4, Winter 1992-1993, p. 295-311.


Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Affiliate in Women’s Studies at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA. His research focuses primarily on subjectivity and sexuality in early modern English literature and culture. Currently he is working on a monograph that examines performances of queer marriages on the early modern English stage. His publications include “‘Thy glorious household-stuffe’: Doctrinal (Re)Inscription in George Herbert’s Church Furnishing Poems”, in Shared Space: Reconsidering the Sacred and Profane in English Renaissance Literature, ed. Mary A. Papazian. Newark, Delaware University Press, 2008, p. 285-320. “‘Lustful Jove and his adulterous child’: Classical Paiderastia as Same-Sex Marriage in Marlowe’s Dido Queene of Carthage”, in Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England: Gender, Instruction, and Performance, ed. Kathryn McPherson and Kathryn Moncrief. Aldershot, Ashgate, [Forthcoming 2011]. “Reclaiming ‘Old Sodom’ and ‘Dear Dad’: Vanbrugh’s Celebration of the Sodomitical Subject in The Relapse.” The Journal of Homosexuality 57, no. 1 (2010), p. 140-162.

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010