(As it appeared in the Shakespeare Quarterly, Fall 1990)
Copyright © 1996 Geoffrey G. Forward All rights reserved.
Falstaff, in 1 Henry IV, says "I deny your Maior" in response to Prince Hal's attack, "And thou a naturall Coward, without instinct" (2.4.464-65). This exchange has two problems that actors and directors, in particular, become acutely aware of as they put the play into performance; but all careful readers must be puzzled to some extent by the line's vague reference to the major premise of a syllogism that has not been made explicit in the text.
The first problem, of course, is to find the missing syllogism. Neither of the two syllogisms proposed in textual footnotes, one constructed by Hardin Craig and the other by David Bevington, is entirely satisfactory. The second problem is a scholarly quibble on the pronunciation of the word "maior" ("major") as "mayor"-a quibble that is not only an impossible-to-act gloss for any actor researching the role of Falstaff but also one that, in fact, has no evidence to support it.
Hardin Craig's syllogism is noted in the Variorum edition of 1 Henry IV, which quotes from his Shakespeare and Formal Logic, 1929; "Falstaff denies the major premise," referring to the syllogism Craig finds implicit in Hal's previous line. The Variorum also prints the syllogism Craig proposed:
(a) Major premise: Natural Cowards are Cowards without instinct.
But, as the note continues, Craig acknowledges a serious shortcoming: "In this syllogism," he says, "it is not the major that Falstaff denies, but the minor." Craig ascribes the mistake to Falstaff, suggesting that "Falstaff is more anxious to make a pun on the word major, which might mean mayor or officer, than he is to describe the syllogism. . . . [However,] he does actually deny the major term of the syllogism, i.e. 'a coward without instinct.'" In his own edition of the play, Craig simplifies this explanation, noting only, "i.e., major premise. Falstaff denies that he is a natural coward; he does not deny that he is affected by instinct."
Until recently, editors either accepted Craig's gloss without amendment or ignored the need for a subtextual syllogism. For example, the New Cambridge edition notes, "major: major premise," with no mention of the syllogism. Kittredge, in his Sixteen Plays of Shakespeare, explains, "I deny your major. A stock phrase in a formal argument; 'I deny your major premise,'" and adds, "Major was almost or quite identical in pronunciation with mayor. hence Falstaff's pun." The Riverside Shakespeare simply says, "major: major premise." The Arden Shakespeare restates the Variorum note, with Craig's syllogism. And David Bevington, in the revised edition of Craig's edition, retains Craig's note without change.
In his Oxford edition of 1 Henry IV, however, Bevington suggests a different syllogism. He points out that the exchange between Hal and Falstaff refers to an earlier argument between the two characters, and (incorrectly, I believe) he relates Hal's retort to the playacting in which the pair have just been involved; " If we are to drop the pretence of playacting, then I insist that you are a natural coward, not the 'coward on instinct' you invented as your excuse." Bevington then proposes the following syllogism:
(a) Major premise: Falstaff's cowardice 'on instinct' is merely one
of the pretences with which we have entertained ourselves.
He also notes, "Major may also be a quibble on 'Mayor,' . . . suggesting a parallel between 'mayor' and 'sheriff', both of them denied."
Neither Craig's nor Bevington's syllogism can receive unqualified acceptance. Given Falstaff's transcendent reputation in argument, it seems unreasonable to fault him, as does Craig, with careless slips or lapses in form and skill in the very sport at which he excels. Denying proof, major or minor, was a common tactic among Elizabethan logicians and orators when attacking an opponent's position, and we have no reason to suppose that Falstaff would be presented as inexpert in what to him would be a simple logical maneuver. Neither is Craig's syllogism redeemed by his assertion that Falstaff denies the "major term" of the syllogism. Such a tactic is impossible in the general theory of syllogistic reasoning. Bevington's syllogism at first glance appears more probable; however, closer examination reveals not only that the premises depart radically from the main point but that the syllogism itself does not conform to Elizabethan logical theory, in that it does not fit figure and mode, nor does its conclusion follow from its premises. Another syllogism is needed, one that avoids the problems of the two that have been proposed, that is, one that fits more closely with the action, the dialogue, Falstaff's character, and Elizabethan logical theory. Such a syllogism can be found through careful scrutiny of the scene and by following the Elizabethan formula for syllogistic construction.
A syllogism is built by following a line of formal reasoning to establish the truth of a proposition. "The Art of Logic," as described by Thomas Wilson in The Rule of Reason, has a theory of "the repugnauncie of Proposicions," which includes the concept of "contraries," in which "this rule is for ever true: that twoo contradictories can never be both true." For example, "That is a horse"/"That is not a horse." Out of such opposing propositions comes what is called the principalquestion, i.e., "Is that a horse?" In establishing the principal question, we are following Quintilian's advice on determining "the state of the cause." He explains that though many arguments may be involved in a case, "the state of the cause will be that which the pleader regards as the chief object to be gained, and the judge as the chief object of attention; for it is on this that the cause will take its stand."
Beginning with Falstaff's first entrance in this scene (2.4.99), Shakespeare is at some pains to develop two "contradictories," or opposing propositions, from which come both the comedy and the conflict. The first contrary concerns Falstaff's cowardice. Falstaff's opening sally is a general denunciation of cowards: "A plague of all Cowards I say . . ." (l. 101). This theme is continued in lines 111, 118, 120-21, 126, 130-35, and 140. The opposing contrary is Falstaff's Bravery, broached with "there lives not three good men unhang'd in England, & one of them is fat, and growes old" (ll. 113-16), and developed through the story of the robbery, where Falstaff portrays himself as a valiant warrior fighting stoutly against overpowering odds. (But even in the midst of this, the cowardice theme is not allowed to slip our minds: "A plague of all Cowards" [l. 154].) Finally, faced with a demand for proof of one of his outrageous lies (l. 215), Falstaff winds up with a courageous, albeit bombastic and evasive flourish: "What, upon compulsion? No: were I at the Strappado, or all the Racks in the World, I would not tell you on compulsion" (ll. 217-19).
Hal, however, can stand Falstaff's bravado no longer, and he contradicts Falstaff with a version of the story that contains an implied accusation of cowardice. He describes Falstaff in the act of running away: "Then did we two, set on you foure, and with a word, outfac'd you from your prize . . . And Falstaffe, you carried your Guts away as nimbly, with as quick dexteritie, and roared for mercy, and still ranne and roar'd, as ever I heard Bull-Calfe" (ll. 235-40). Given the generally accepted belief that anyone who runs away is a coward, the accusation of cowardice, though not specifically state, is easily understood. Here, then is the basic conflict between Hal and Falstaff in this scene: "Falstaff is a coward"/"Falstaff is brave," or differently stated: "Falstaff is a coward"/Falstaff is not a coward." Out of these two contradictory statements comes the principal question: "Is Falstaff a coward?"
According to logical theory, a syllogism is composed of three propositions. Wilson gives them their usual names:
The first is called Maior, that is to saie, the Proposition at large; The seconde is called Minor, that is to saie, the lesse, or several Propositione. The thirde is called Conclusio. . . . (p.58)
For a syllogism to be irrefutably true, its major and minor premises must be absolutely true or believed to be true. In practice this simply means that all parties involved in the argument accept them without reservation. Such agreement as a prerequisite is stated by Quintilian: "an argument is a process of reasoning affording a proof, by which one thing is gathered from another, and which establishes what is doubtful by reference to what is certain. . . . He emphasizes the fundamental need for something in the argument that is undoubted:
. . . for unless there be something which is true, or which appears to be true, and from which support may be gained for what is doubtful, there will be no ground on which we can prove anything. (Vol. 1, 336)
In the same passage Quintilian lists several kinds of "certain" proofs, of which two interest us here. The first is "what is perceived by the senses, as what we see, what we hear"; the second is "what is admitted by the general consent of mankind." In our case, first, Hal and Poins saw ("perceived by the senses") Falstaff running away, and, second, part of our belief system ("general consent of mankind") is that a man who runs away is a coward.
In designing a syllogism, Wilson points out that "in every perfeicte argument called Syllogismus, the first proposition [must] be universal." The first proposition is the major premise. It is found by seeking "a woorde whiche is more generall then that which is [to be] proved." For example "all men" is more general than "Falstaff"-that is, "Falstaff" is included in the generic term "all men." The second, or minor, statement is an undoubted true statement which shows that the object of our question is included in the first, or universal premise. The conclusion to the syllogism is composed of the major and minor terms.
Recreating Hal's rational for his conclusion that Falstaff is "a naturall coward" reveals that it is based on sound syllogistic reasoning. It goes like this:
(a) Major premise: All men who run are cowards.
Here we have a universal major premise that encompasses the particular, or "the severall," a minor premise, and a conclusion that follows by necessity. The major premise is of the "certain" proof listed by Quintilian as that "admitted by the general consent of mankind," and the minor premise is of the type "perceived by the senses." The reasoning is a perfect argument, and Falstaff is proved a coward.
However, logical theory also prescribes defenses against such argument. Wilson says, "Objections are then used, when we . . . bring an other thing, as an example, to overthrowe that, whiche was spoken before. . . ." An objection may come in the form of a denial of the major or minor premise in an attempt to render the syllogism faulty or inconclusive. As Wilson writes,
We use a denighal when of two Proposicions in the Argumente, wee denighe either the Proposicion at large, or the several by showing the fault. . . (p. 205)
Hal's accusation is meant to be a mortal thrust at Falstaff's reputation, but Falstaff's expertise in argumentation includes a ready proficiency in defensive tactics. With hardly a hesitation he neatly sidesteps and recovers in proper logical form:
I knew ye as well as he that made ye. Why heare ye my Masters, was it for me to kill the Heire apparant? Should I turne upon the true Prince? Why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules: But beware Instinct, the Lion will not touch the true Prince: Instinct is a great matter. I was a coward on Instinct. (ll. 246-51)
Falstaff's stout denial follows precise logical method. We find it prescribed in Aristotle's Analytica Posteriora: ". . . the objection we raise against a proposition put to us as true in every instance is either an instance in which, or an occasion on which, it is not true." Falstaff cannot deny the minor-he did run, there are witnesses to prove it-so his only chance is to attack the major. His evasion, or "objection," is to deny that all men who run are cowards. He maintains that some men may run for a reason other than cowardice, such as the "instinct" to "not touch the true Prince." Though not explicitly stated, it is possible that he also includes in this "instinct" the ability to recognize the true prince through a disguise. With this objection, he renders the universal proposition non-universal-therefore faulty-and makes the syllogism ineffective.
This is a perfect tactic because it creates an inescapable dilemma for Hal. If he argues against Falstaff's objection, he weakens his personal position and presence as the "true Prince" (i.e., the essence of the true Prince shines through any disguise). He might also be accused of arguing against his privileged position, based on the dogma of divine right and protection of kings. Both openings present the possibility of attack from Falstaff in the form of ridicule. On the other hand, if Hal doesn't defend his proposition, his argument fails and his elaborate joke recoils upon himself. The point is a difficult one for both Hal and Falstaff, since it comes down to one man's word against another's. Hal would find it as difficult to prove that Falstaff did not recognize him as Falstaff would be hard put to prove that he did.
With Hal momentarily stunned, Falstaff glibly sallies forth with another logical maneuver-i.e., diversion. Wilson disparagingly notes that some "subtle" or "braggyng" men may use such means. They may, he says,
. . . shift awaie, from the violence of [their] adversarie, by makyng some digression or gevyng occasion of some other talke, whereby the adversarie, either is driven to forget his argument, or els beeyng blinded with to moche matier, is forced either to goe no foorther, or els to thinke himself content. (p. 158)
To preserve his advantage, Falstaff attempts to "shifte awaie" by suggesting a "Play extempory." Hal makes a half-hearted attempt to pursue his position, "The argument [of the play] shall be, thy runing away" (.\l. 260); but for the moment he lets the argument go.
In this state of suspension, the question of Falstaff's "instinct," or the reason for his running away, becomes a minor question. Yet such minor questions take priority because they need to be answered before the principal question can be addressed. As Quintilian explains it, an argument may involve "several questions, among which we include those of least importance," as well as "the great question on which the cause turns." The "great question" is the principal question and those of lesser importance are the minor questions. In the case before us, the minor question of Falstaff's "instinct" has to be settled before the principal question of Falstaff's cowardice can be proved.
The importance of the "instinct" theme is shown in the way it is kept alive in the scene. First, Hal ironically accuses Peto and Bardolph of having Falstaff's "instinct'(ll. 298-301). Next, Falstaff praises the Scot, Douglas, for having "good mettall in him, he will not runne" (ll. 324-25), to which Hal responds, "Yes, Iacke, upon instinct" (l. 330)-i.e., when confronted by the "true Prince"-to which Falstaff quickly agrees, "I grant ye, upon instinct." Next, Falstaff asks Hal if he is not afraid of his renowned enemies, and Hal retorts, "Not a whit: I lacke some of thy instinct [i.e., to run and cry for mercy]" (l. 344). Nowhere in the scene do they settle the "instinct" question, so that the principal question, likewise, remains in doubt.
At the end of the role-playing scene, the question of Falstaff's cowardice is revived when Falstaff describes himself as "valiant Iacke Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being as hee is olde Iacke Falstaff" (ll. 446-47). At this point Bardolph and then the Hostess bring word that the sheriff is at the door. Rather than distracting or frightening Falstaff, these announcements appear to spur him into a single-minded effort to prove his argument. He twice attempts to reengage Hal in the play and the debate, first with "Out you Rogue, play out the Play: I have much to say on behalfe of that Falstaffe" (ll. 454-55), and again with "Do'st thou heare Hal, never call a true peece of Gold a Counterfeit: thou art essentially made, without seeming so." (ll. 461-63).
The specific interpretation of Falstaff's last line above has been the subject of much controversy. It is important to have a clear understanding of Falstaff's motivation and purpose in saying this line, because, ultimately, it affects the actor's thinking as he denies Hal's major. The line should probably be understood as a combination of proofs by example and comparison. Quintilian, in Institutes of Oratory, says that both of these are "the third sort of proofs, which are introduced into causes" and separates them according to their degree of persuasive power: "Of all descriptions of proof, the most efficacious is that which we properly term example, " and "Next to example, comparison is of the greatest effect." Wilson, in The rule of Reason, explains, "An exaumple, is a maner or argumentation, wher one thing is proved by another for the likenesse that is founde to be in theim both."
This particular statement of Falstaff's is of that species of comparison "by which what we enforce is rendered more credible." The comparison, of course, is between Falstaff as a "true peece of Gold," namely, a "brave man," though his actions appear to belie it, and Hal, who is "essentially made," that is, a "true Prince," though he appears not to be so in his actions (i.e., carousing in the stews, associating with riff-raff, robbing, etc.). The phrase "true peece of Gold" is reminiscent of "true Prince," though here it refers to Falstaff, and, in the comparison, it matches with "essentially made"; while "counterfeit," meaning both "Imitation of that which is genuine" and "disguised" (OED), corresponds to "without seeming so." Thereby Falstaff proves that he and Hal are alike in that they both deceive by their outward appearances. His argument is practically impregnable because he uses Hal himself for an example. He proves that thing which is doubtful by that which cannot be called doubtful. The validity of his reasoning cannot be assailed because Hal cannot deny the proof-Hal is "essentially made without seeming so." The only option Hal has is to restate stubbornly his original contention, which he still believes to be true though he is helpless to prove it. He reacts to Falstaff's line with a rhetorical jibe: "And thou a naturall Coward, without instinct." This is nothing but a return to their original unsettled argument. They are still at stalemate.
The dialogue, however, seems to give evidence that Falstaff is tenaciously pursuing a line of reasoning designed to prove his own worth. When opportunity to demonstrate his bravery appears in the presence of the sheriff, he declares, "if you will deny the Sherife, so: if not, let him enter" (ll. 466-67). But, characteristically, his bet is hedged. There are other men here who are also in danger of the cart and the hangman-Poins, for example, who was Hal's associate in his robbery prank on Falstaff. Falstaff gambles that Hal will not let them be caught, even if he would abandon "plump Iacke." He guesses right.
* * * * *
What, then, is the syllogism the "maior" of which Falstaff denies? The one that best fits the situation and the dialogue is the one that was introduced earlier in the scene:
(a) Major premise: All men who run are cowards.
This syllogism avoids the problems of Craig's and Bevington's syllogisms while conforming to all the syllogistic criteria we have discussed. It follows proper Elizabethan form, is based on the principal question of the scene, allows Falstaff to remain focused on his objective (proving he is brave), follows easily from the dialogue, and, as we shall see, allows Falstaff to make a witty pun on "major," showing his presence of mind in the midst of danger. It is also simple and easily understood, a great virtue in the theater.
Now let us look at the second problem, the "major"/"mayor" quibble. Falstaff's pun on "major" as "officer" is apparent, but I believe an aural pun, based on a similar pronunciation of "major" and "mayor," was unlikely for the Elizabethans and certainly impossible for today's audience. The Variorum notes a difference of opinion over the "major"/"mayor" pun, with some scholars basing the pun at least partially on pronunciation and some not. Ritson is quoted as asserting, "Falstaff here intends a quibble; major, which sheriff brought to his mind, signifies as well one of the logical parts of a proposition as the principal officer of a corporation, now called a mayor." Malone disagrees: "To render this probable, it should be proved that that the mayor of a corporation was called a major." to which Ritson replies, "The identical pronunciation in question happens to be preserved in I Henry VI, as printed in the folio of 1623 [I,iii,85]." (The word is spelled "maior" in both places, though Ritson spells his proof word "major.") This pronunciation note has since been followed by a number of scholars. For example, Kittredge notes, "Major was almost or quite identical in pronunciation with mayor. Hence Falstaff's pun," and the note in the Arden edition explains that the pun is a "quibbling on 'major/mayor', pronounced often spelt alike." None of these notes questions the assertion that "maior" ("major") is pronounced the same as "maior" ("mayor"). The Elizabethan spelling for both "major" and "mayor" is "Maior," but that does not signify they have the same pronunciation.
A brief look at the relationship between printing and pronunciation in the sixteenth century will help to clarify this point. Elizabethan printing practice customarily used the symbol i both for a vowel and the consonants j and y. Ronald B. McKerrow, in An Introduction to Bibliography, observes that "most [printers] founts had i, j, u, and v, but j was only used in the combination ij (often a ligature) or in numerals, as xiij." In 1551 John Hart, in The Opening of the Unreasonable Writing of Our English Toung, descries the confusion this causes. "I confesse," he writes, "that we abuse to writ the y, and so do we the i, for the same sound." (The symbols y and i both represented the vowel sound in "be.") And he complains, "The other abuse of the i, is that we make yt a consonant [j as in "judge"] wythout any diversifyng of his shape from the voell." Then he recommends that we "writ the vowell as we have alwais done, and consonant longer under the line: on this wise j." In a subsequent work published in 1559, On Orthographie, Hart is specific about the pronunciation of the symbol j. He says the sound is "thus dz: for which we mought have used also this marke j." John Wilkins, in An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language, which contains a dictionary, makes a clear distinction between the pronunciation of the j and y (or i). He carefully points out that "It seems to be plain, that J Consonant is a Compound of D, and Zh." In his dictionary he himself spells "major" with a j and "mayor" with an i ("maior").
It is clear that for the Elizabethans the printed symbol i represented two different sounds-a vowel, as in "be," and a consonant, as in "judge." It is also clear that the consonant i was not pronounced anything like the vowel i. On this evidence the only link between "major" and "mayor" is through the visual medium of print, making the connection entirely orthographical and highly obscure, if not impossible, in the aural context of a stage production. An oral pun would depend on some sort of speech defect or mispronunciation of j when saying "major," in which case we would be in danger of losing the primary meaning of "major" as "major premise." A pun still exists on "major" as "officer," or "sheriff," but no argument can be made for a "major"/"mayor" pun on the basis of pronunciation.
The "I deny your Maior" line has been a particularly thorny one for scholars, actors, directors, and other reading or working on the play. The above explanations simplify the text at this point, making it much easier to understand and perform.
|Articles||Geoffrey G. Forward Home Page||SpeechMasters of America||Shakespeare Related Web Pages|
|Shakespeare USA Home|