Friday, February 4, 2011

A little diplomacy, please

Warwick. Tell him from me that he hath done me wrong,
And therefore I'll uncrown him ere't be long.


Oh dear. Things had only just settled into a somewhat uneasy standoff between the York camp and the scattered forces of Henry VI when Edward IV - York's son, who has managed to grab the crown for himself - had to go ruin everything for the lack of a little simple diplomacy. Echoing Henry VI's renunciation in part 1 of his own long-distance betrothed, a French noblewoman, in favor of his own choice, Edward sends Warwick to France as an ambassador with a marriage proposal for a French princess - but then changes his mind about the marriage. He leaves his father's old ally, Warwick, in an embarrassing position when he decides he'd actually prefer to marry an Englishwoman! And oh wait, he's actually gone ahead and gotten married - sorry, Warwick, that you had to go all the way to France as an ambassador to present the proposal only to have it retracted. Never mind that you are acutely aware that the whole thing made you look like an idiot.

OK kids, of the lessons we've learned from the Henry VI plays, I think we could all agree on these: that the English nobles are proud; they easily take offense; they don't mind changing sides; and oh yes, each of the major nobles can raise his own personal army. Moral of the story? DON'T MAKE AN EARL LOOK STUPID - he will never forgive you and he'll probably appoint a day to meet you in pitched battle somewhere.

Edward's lack of diplomacy reminded me of another example of how NOT to talk to people, this time from Henry VI part 2. The Earl of Suffolk, in peril of his life, having been captured by pirates, says the wrong thing over and over again:

Earl of Suffolk. Obscure and lowly swain, King Henry's blood,
The honourable blood of Lancaster,
Must not be shed by such a jaded groom.

Drones suck not eagles' blood but rob beehives:
It is impossible that I should die
By such a lowly vassal as thyself.

(4.1.203-05, 2265-67)

Lesson number 2: if others (especially a bloodthirsty band of pirates) are holding all the weapons, it is probably not the greatest idea to talk to them this way.

Both Warwick and Suffolk's pride would not let them suffer their wrongs in silence; in both cases, their determination to fight cost them a dear account. Diplomacy, that could have helped to avoid it all, is nowhere to be seen. But they will not be dissuaded from their pride and their fighting, even when there is little point to it; as the Mayor of London says in part 1,

"Good God, these nobles should such stomachs bear!
I myself fight not once in forty year." (1.3.451-2).

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