Speakers at the "Shakespeare-Tage" 2007

James Siemon

Paper: “Anon’s ‘Anon’: Hesitation, Honor, Habitus and the Birth of the Author”

In her late essay entitled “Anon,” Virginia Woolf conceives of Elizabethan literature as a natural co-creation arising from an exchange between a rich oral culture of anonymous voices and the new, more individualized voices of Shakespeare and his fellow early professional writers. 1 Henry IV brings a representative anonymous figure onstage in Francis the drawer, who is one of the trio “Tom, Dick and Francis” (the early modern equivalent of the interchangeable “Tom, Dick and Harry”) with whom Prince Hal spends his offstage time. Instead of making an onstage vocal contribution to the play that would match his offstage material and political contributions to the Prince and his future rule, this ‘Anon’ figure is reduced to hesitation, bald repetition (“Anon, anon”), and silent paralysis, before being ultimately relegated to service as tavern functionary and mere metaphor for the linguistic limitations that Hal imputes to Hotspur, “the theme of honor’s tongue.” This paper will reconsider Francis’s silencing and Hal’s limited interpretation of it in relation to the careers of his silencers: Hal, the prince-in-waiting to a usurper, and Shakespeare, the playwright-on-the-rise in a suspect quasi-profession, as both negotiate the early modern demand for an occupational “calling” while occupying semi-undefined positions amid the competing values and social languages of honor culture, Protestant humanism and emergent capitalism.