As I mentioned in my last entry, I do not have a solid grasp on English history, so I didn’t know anything about John Cade and his uprising before this play. After reading Act IV and getting Shakespeare’s dramatization of Cade’s Rebellion, I still don’t think I really know anything about it. According to Shakespeare, York may have put Cade (or an impostor) up to the rebellion so that he (York) could come back from Ireland and heroically put down the insurrection he started, and maybe win the crown in the process. Also according to Shakespeare, Cade himself was a braggadocio and a buffoon whose closest allies mocked him mercilessly. Perhaps the reality was very different, but Billy’s version of Cade felt like the first clearly drawn character out of the two plays I’ve read thus far. This isn’t to say that other characters haven’t emerged as unique voices, but Cade was different from his first line as he takes up arms against all educated folks, right up to his last, when he dies an ignominious death in a Kentish garden.
This Act was mostly fighting, as John Cade descended upon London with a mob of commoners, executing any learned men he came across. As he made his way closer to the heart of the city, Cade was revealed as a fairly complicated person. He was a power-hungry madman laying waste to his own country in blind pursuit of the throne of England. He was also aware of his own hypocrisy and had to struggle to cast aside his doubts to continue fighting. He was a pawn in a larger game, but chose to play as though he was the master. Perhaps my favorite thing about John Cade was how viciously funny his character is. My favorite example of the humor here is in a brief lull in the fighting, Cade decides he is to be called Mortimer from now on, after the ancestor who connects him to his claim to the throne. He proclaims that it is treason punishable by death to refer to him as John Cade any longer. Immediately after, a messenger arrives shouting “John Cade!” in his rush to inform his leader of approaching danger. Cade, of course, has the messenger beheaded on the spot.
Eventually, the rebellion is thwarted and John Cade finds himself on the run, hiding in a garden in Kent. The owner of the garden finds him and wants to know what’s up and Cade insults him heartily, so they fight and Cade is slain. Such is the end of great men.
Other happenings of note did occur in Act IV, such as Suffolk getting beheaded after trying to cross over to France. Also, York comes back from Ireland with his army, just as planned, and says he needs to go ahead and kill Somerset now. The king has Somerset put in protective custody, however I don’t think Somerset is very safe.
Only one more act of Part Two left! The action and violence of this play has far exceeded the first play. I miss Joan of Arc and wish she’d gotten the full treatment John Cade got in this play. Alas, I guess we can’t have it all.