Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Canutus seems the kind of cheap-ass Edmund has just critiqued, saying, “my lord, you are too bountiful. / Half this expense would well have satisfied / the homely stomachs of our soldiers” (II.i.1-3). He is, however, interested in Southampton’s daughter, Egina, and requests that she be allowed to dine with him. Southampton instructs the girl: “behave yourself in honourable sort / and answer him with modesty and mirth. / A means may be to make thee Queen” (II.i.409-411). She presents such a good toast that Canutus proposes marriage. The Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to perform the ceremony, but what does Egina have to say? “I say a woman’s silence is consent” (II.i.452). Canutus thinks that was easy! “Why, here’s a match extempore, small ado / about a weighty matter. Some perhaps would have consuméd millions to effect / what I by some spent breath have compasséd” (II.i.453-456).
Edrick hopes his son Stitch will be accepted into his other son Edricus’ service. Edricus, who believes that “Whoso desires to mount a lofty pitch / must bear himself against the stubborn wind / and shun base common popularity” (II.ii.480-482), denies his father, calling him “grouthead … / you whoreson cuckold, you base vagabond / you slave, you mongrel peasant, dolt and fool” (II.ii.491-493). Edrick’s wife says, “I learned him all these names to call his father / when he was a child” (II.ii.496-497) and admits that Edricus is really the bastard child of a soldier she met on the way to a fair. Edricus calls her “old hag, witch, quean, slut, drab, whore and thief” (II.ii.501). He calls his brother “sheepbiter” (II.ii.504). Stitch has some shoemaking experience: “I am a cobbler for need, I can piece a shoe as well as the best” (II.ii.518-519). Edricus considers a bit:
We that by sly devices mean to mount
and creep into opinion by deceit
must not of all things have a scholar know
our practices, we must suppress good wits
and keep them under, we must favour fools
and with promotions win their shallow pates.
A ready wit would quickly wind us out
and pry into our secret treacheries
and wade as deep in policy as we.
But such loose-brainéd windy-headed slaves
such blockheads, dolts, fools, dunces, idiots
such loggerheaded rogues are best for us
for we may work their wills to what we will
and win their hearts with gold to anything.
Edricus, claiming to have been born to the Duke of Mercia, says that Stitch can enter his service but first he has to beat his parents out of town. Stitch complies, as Mrs. Edrick asserts triumphantly that Edricus is indeed her son.
Canutus is dismayed that Turkillus and Leofric have fled. Annoyed at having his wedding day daunted and egged on to mercilessness by Edricus, Canutus decides to take out vengeance on the two defectors’ sons: “I’ll cut their hands and noses off” (II.iii.589). He explains the dynamics of deterrence here: “these madcap lads / these nothing-fearing hotspurs that attend / our royal court” (II.iii.621-623) can dismiss capital punishment but not mutilation so easily.
A valiant heart esteemeth light of death
but honourable minds are jealous
of honourable names, then to be marked
which robs them of their honours, likewise robs
their hearts of joy, and like to irksome owls
they will be bashful to be seen abroad.
Uskataulf is sorry: “Alas poor souls it was against their wills / that their hard-hearted fathers broke the league” (II.iii.639-640). Stitch is ready with an axe. One of the boys asks instead that they be killed, perhaps in a battle, like gentlemen and Englishmen (II.iii.663-664). But Canutus is resolved:
Look how cold water cast on burning coals
doth make the fire more fervently to flame
even so your tears doth add unto my rage
and makes it hotter when it ‘gins to cool.
The boy refuses to have the job done by Stitch’s “base hands” (II.iii.685) and volunteers to do the chopping himself. It almost works until Canutus threatens violence on Stitch for giving the boy a weapon. Stitch does cut off the kid’s hands: “Let these my stumps crave vengeance at thy hands / thou judge of judges and thou king of kings!” (II.iii.704-705). Canutus commands that his nose be severed, and the kid swears “vengeance on this bloody Dane” (II.iii.709). The second boy meets his identical mutilation bravely and off they go to spread complaints against Canutus’ “cruel butchery” (II.iii.728): “Oh England, never trust a foreign king” (II.iii.729). Edricus laughs “to see the villains rave” (II.iii.732).
A messenger brings news that Ironside has beaten Canutus’ troops in the north. Canutus consults Edricus, worried that he’ll lose what his father won: “how shall I extribute my stock and name / that after age may not report my shame?” (II.iii.765-766). Edricus dismisses this latest setback to mere Chance or Fortune. Canutus wonders, though, about the recent signs in the skies: “the sun looks pale, the moon shines red, / the stars appear in the perturbed heaven / like little comets” (II.iii.785-787). Edricus doesn’t know, unless, he says, it means the fall of Ironside. Canutus recommends that Edricus not be such a flatterer: “Children may see thy lies, they are so plain. / Oh whilst ye live from flattery refrain” (II.iii.804-805). But he also realizes, “who can change the Ethiopian’s hue?” (II.iii.811).