Gadshill, Hotspur, and the Design of Proleptic Parody


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In Act II, scene iii of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, Hotspur enters reading a letter from "a shallow cowardly hind," who is castigated by Hotspur for daring to question the success of the proposed rebellion. Efforts to identify the "coward" or to associate the letter with either political or dramatic figures persist to this day but with little success.1 These efforts themselves are often dismissed as attempts to create a false significance or to literalize the play. Thomas Courtenay, for example, asserts that "nothing shows more clearly how these historical plays have taken the place of history than the pains taken to trace this letter to some particular person."2 Modern editors, apparently convinced there is no solution, simply note that the correspondent is not identified. We are left then with a nagging problem: why, if he is important, is the correspondent not identified? Why was Shakespeare either so careless or so secretive?

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