A Question of ‘Honour’: Anne Barnard, social justice and the Henriad

  • Laurence Wright


Can post-revolutionary notions of social justice be imposed on pre-revolutionary works of art? This article explores the concept of honour in the Henriad, using experiences of Lady Anne Barnard to illustrate how Shakespeare’s critique of monarchical government can speak meaningfully to political behaviour across time. Starting with her excoriating dismissal of Governor George Yonge’s dishonourable regime, captured in her description of 1 Henry IV as performed for the opening of the African Theatre in Cape Town in 1801, the paper goes on to unpack her complex attitudes to slavery, including her courageous decision, described as a “debt of honour”, to take care of her deceased husband’s previously unknown ‘love child’ conceived with a slave, Rachel van de Caap. The account draws on fresh insights found in Stephen Taylor’s recent biography of Anne Barnard and argues that the Henriad’s treatment of honour resonates across time, supplying counsel that post-revolutionary ages would do well to heed.