Frog-Bashing: Time Honored And Respectable

February 25, 2003

John Derbyshire says in NRO that Frog-bashing is an old and respected pastime and led to Shakespeare’s first successful play:

All this anti-French commentary these past few weeks has stirred warm feelings of nostalgia in my breast. This is my home territory; this is stuff I know. Frog-bashing is only an occasional and desultory pleasure for Americans, but growing up in England, I took in Francophobia with my mother’s milk.

A couple of lifetimes earlier, William Shakespeare had his first commercial success with the play we know as Henry VI Part I, one of the most anti-French works in all of English literature.

There are no good French people in this play at all. Every one of them is arrogant, or crafty, or duplicitous, or in league with “fiends.” One of the French principals bears the name “Bastard of Orleans.” All their victories are won by tricks, or by the use of unfair, un-gentlemanly weapons like cannon. Most scandalous of all to French sensibilities is Shakespeare’s portrayal of the French national heroine and saint, Joan of Arc. In Henry VI Part I Joan is a scheming slut who dabbles in the black arts. “Search out thy wit for secret policies, And we will make thee famous through the world,” hisses the Bastard to Joan after the loss of Rouen. She goes off to consult her “fiends.”

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