To manipulate is a curious verb that itself presents two very defined meanings: ‘To handle, esp. with skill or dexterity; to turn, reposition, reshape, etc., manually or by means of a tool or machine’, or ‘To manage, control, or influence in a subtle, devious, or underhand manner’.
The ambiguity that follows such a verb can usually be cleared with a sufficient context but the ambiguity of Shakespeare's uses of manipulation can be a little bit more equivocal. With this being said, we could approach his ‘manipulation’ of disguise, deception and illusion in two ways:
a) The ‘dexterity’ in which he develops a plot including a perceptible use of those three analogues. b) The less noticeable ‘influence’ of Shakespeare upon his texts through the use of disguise, deception and illusion, in order to cleverly accomplish something, which could be, for example, a specific audience response.
It seems logical to discuss firstly what it is not hidden in the text; all the information a simple reader can gather from the storyline. Thus, what follows is merely an approach and interpretation of the two histories that we have studied in this module ‘The Plays of Shakespeare’, Henry V and Julius Caesar (English and Roman histories respectively).
Secondly, a study of what is intended within the plays, that is to say a representation through the voice of some critics of what is behind the plot will be discussed later.
Undoubtedly, Shakespeare displays enormous rhetorical ability, very frequent during the Elizabethan period. His works provide a wide range of literary devices combined with a complex syntax. However, it is also in his creativity in terms of a narration of historical events that he makes the human nature shine through mechanisms such as disguise, deception and illusion.
• Physical disguise: the element of disguise tends to appear in many of Shakespeare's plays. Usually this method is used either to cover up the inner truth or to show our own true nature. Nevertheless, this technique does not seem to be recurrent in historical plays unless the purpose of the disguise turns into a different direction. In Act IV, Scene I in Henry V, we observe how in the battle, the king dresses up as a commoner in order to find out what the soldiers think of him, only to discover the low moral that they had as they were outnumbered in the battle. This then lead him to deliver an influential speech to raise the spirit of the warriors.
• There is another more striking element surfacing the plot: the rhetorical disguise. In many occasions, the disguise shows up in a rather linguistic way. That is to say, the characters seem to ‘dress up’ the true meaning of the words, delivering a more desired message to the audience or manipulating the actions of other characters. For instance, the story begins with the Archbishop of Canterbury discussing with the Bishop of Ely the need to come up with a plan that will divert the direction of the new law. With this in mind, the Archbishop of Canterbury prepares himself to give an extended speech to the king where he “assures” Henry that the procedure of invading France is completely legal. At first sight, it was inevitable to think that the invasion occurs as a manipulative action carried out by the church to save their interests.
CANTERBURY He seems indifferent,
Or rather swaying more upon our part
Than cherishing the exhibiters against us;
For I have made an offer to his majesty,
Upon our spiritual convocation
And in regard of causes now in hand,
Which I have open'd to his grace at large, As touching France, to give a greater sum
There is yet another...