William Shakespeare’s play – Henry V
These two lines in the beginning of William Shakespeare’s play signifies that this is a story that will include tremendous fields, grand battles, and battling kings. In the play, a character named Chorus who sets the scene apologizes in light of the fact that it is extremely unlikely for the play to precisely represent Henry V’s war against France on a tiny little stage with just a bunch of actors. Chorus also advises the viewers that we have to use our imaginations in order to help bring the magnificent events to life, since it is impossible for the play to “hold the vastly fields of France” and the thousands of soldiers and horses that were involved in the historic Battle of Agincourt.
Before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry disguises himself as a common soldier to see what his men think about the battle and about him as a king. He even exchanged his gloves with the soldier so that if both of them survived the war, they will be able to recognize one another. In the Battle of Agincourt, the England soldiers were outnumbered five to one. However, Henry did not think of that as an excuse to cancel the war. He still continued his plan. The French soldiers were already celebrating their win, and the English soldiers started to build in fear. The reason that the English soldiers were outnumbered was because there was a sickness going around killing these men. However, at the end of this battle England won. This reveals that Henry’s leadership skills and strategy helped his country to win the war. Henry was able to reveal his leadership skills through the war and demonstrated to the other country that he was fully capable and good enough to run a whole country on his own. Even though at first many people could not trust Henry because he used to live with thieves and drunkards at a tavern in the “contaminated” side of London, therefore many question if Henry is apt to be a king and hold the responsibility in governing a kingdom. However, Henry managed to prove that he has changed from a playful person to a serious person the moment he became a king. Henry V can be called a good king and leader because he has portrayed good leadership and motivated his men to win the Battle of Agincourt, he also changed his deviant ways to honorable ones in which he became the definition of what a good leader is. Yet because Henry was a good king and leader it can be argued that he was not a good person because he totally cut ties and betrays his good friend Falstaff as soon as he became a king. He also executes Bardolph and Nym for looting instead of giving them a different condemnation.
Even then, the fact that Henry reached the limit of being in war in which he at one point threatens to kill children, women, and elders in Harfleur which demonstrates that he was not a honorable person. This can be proven from an excerpt from the text, “If they do not surrender, they will kill the children, the maidens and old folks”. Hence, we could say that Henry is a good and responsible king but he is not a noble person. However, in becoming a great king, Henry is forced to act in a way that, were he a common man, might seem immoral and even impossible to be forgiven. Henry’s friendship with Falstaff signifies that no matter how close you were in the past, laws are still laws in which a king should follow in order to gain respect and trust from his people. In order to strengthen the stability of his throne, Henry betrays his friends such as Falstaff, and he puts other friends to death in order to uphold the law. Henry talks of favoring peace, but once his mind is settled on a course of action, he is willing to condone and even create massive and unprovoked violence in order to achieve his goal. Henry is a very determined person, and as a king, he totally ignores any obstacles that can stop him from achieving his goals. Even though England has not enough soldiers as compared to France, but Henry still continues the war. He is willing to do anything as long as his goals are achieved. He also has to set aside his personal friendship and do what was best to his kingdom even if it takes him to kill his own friends. Henry is also a religious person. Before the war starts, he prays to give thanks and gratitude to God. Furthermore, he believes that whatever the church says is a holy thing in which he must follows. So when the church gives an order or said something, Henry perceives it as a truth. Henry thinks that the church knows better and every order from the church is a sign that he must carry the plan in order to be a better king to his kingdom. That is why the moment his friend, Bardolph stole something from the church, Henry approves the punishment which is to hang Bardolph to death as it is a very serious mistake and an unforgivable sin to be committed in a holy church. No one should commit sins in the church. Henry V is in most respects a model of the ideal king who is wise, just, courageous, and kind. Yet there are a number of moments when less praiseworthy qualities seem apparent. It would be an overstatement to say he is a villain, but neither is he as perfect as his surface behavior would indicate. Although Henry V exhibits the virtues of an ideal king throughout the play, certain details suggest that some aspects of his nature are less than admirable, indeed, that there are elements of the villain, as well as the hero, in him. the positive qualities in him are to an extent counterbalanced by negative tendencies. One of the examples of Henry’s positive behaviors can be seen through his treatment towards his soldiers. He shows mercy toward a drunken soldier who insulted him. Henry plans to free him, but Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey advise him to punish the man instead. Henry decides to free the man anyway, and he lets Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey know that he has discovered their intended betrayal which is working with the French. The three beg for mercy, but Henry being an inflexible king, he asks how can they possibly seek mercy for themselves when they think an ordinary drunkard deserves no mercy. He has proved that he is a down-to-earth king and is willing to forgive his people who commits mistakes in front of him and not betray him behind his back, and that any kind of betrayal has to be punished and given no mercy. On the other hand, one of the examples of Henry’s negative behaviors is when he threatens to kill the refugees in Harfleur if they do not surrender, in order to conquest a city. As a King of England, he should not be doing that because he makes them feel as if it is not safe to live in their own country. Therefore, they has to surrender in order to survive and continue living in peace. As a conclusion, Henry V is a play where it shows how Henry transforms from an immature and playful man named Hal to a serious and responsible person the moment he became the King of England. We can see how great is his leadership skills which is portrayed through the victory in the Battle of Agincourt. He never lets any problems ruin his plan. We can also see Henry’s greedy behavior in the beginning of the play where Henry received a marriage proposal from Catherine in France and he rejected it because they only offered him a part of France. Henry wanted all parts of France because he perceived that France is meant to be inherited to him as his great grandfather rules France before. However, at the end of the play, he eventually married Catherine as soon as he met her face-to-face and mesmerized by her beauty.
About Shakespeare’s Henry V
In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the construction of gender, especially its emphasis of masculinity, serves to justify war and its associated violence, control women, and solidify the gender hierarchy. Although Henry derives power from his masculinity throughout the play, he primarily does so when justifying war by feminizing France and overtaking the one female in a position of power, ultimately finding his identity as a ruler and a man in overtaking and controlling all things feminine.
Henry’s first major act of asserting his masculinity occurs when he attempts to justify war by masculinizing and feminizing the lands of England and France, respectively. He masculinizes the English at the beginning of Act 3 by declaring, “in peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man/as modest stillness and humility/but when the blast of war blows into our ears/then imitate the action of the tiger” (Act 3.1.3-6), essentially emphasizing the relationship between willingness and desire to fight for King and country and male virtue. Henry further implies that those who choose not to fight when their country is in need are lesser in terms of caliber of men and should “hold their manhood’s cheap” (Act 4.3.66) by idly sitting by. On the other hand, France is personified with feminine terms, is expressed as a “she”, and is represented as a female body through metaphors like ‘womby vaultages’ (Act 2.3.182), all of which indicate that the land is passive, fertile, and vulnerable to exploitation, much like the women in France. By first feminizing the country he wishes to control and suggesting that it is natural for the more masculine nation to dominate the feminine one, he makes his overtaking of the land and its people that much more feasible.
The play’s gender dynamics are also apparent in Henry’s superfluous act of wooing Katherine in Act 5, Scene 2. Katherine’s royal status provides Henry with the legitimacy his claim to the throne previously lacked, and although she may realize this, her position as a woman leaves her with no real option for action. His image’s salvation lies in her role as an integral political figure in her own country, and by dominating both her and her feminized country, he remains the ultimate victor. Though Shakespeare provides no background depicting an exchange that prompted Katharine’s desire to learn English, it is possible that she wisely takes the initiative to learn a second language and its associated social codes so not to subjugate herself or lose her agency within her inevitable, inescapable marriage. However, even this attempt proves futile, as she learns the English names for body parts, foreshadowing the masculine conquest of her body and country and the loss of any sense of autonomy she once possessed. Shakespeare emphasizes that women, like land, are solely considered property to seize control of, and “winning” Katharine is as important a symbolic victory as conquering France itself.
Shakespeare’s emphasis of Henry’s ideology of masculinity as something defined by physical strength-as showcased in acts of war-extends to the act of finding a partner in marriage; sexual conquest seems to be the ultimate act of masculinity, with men as victors and women as their victims. In this play, Shakespeare heavily relies on the idea of using overpowering strength that accompanies the very identity of being male to convince women to be submissive and resort to their subservient role. Men are to be active, both in war and in their pursuit of women while women are to remain passive and submissive, awaiting action from male figures. The minimal female presence indicates a “silencing” of women in the play and time period, and even male characters recognize the lack of agency held by women as Westmoreland states, “The king hath granted every article/his daughter first, and, in sequel, all” (Act 3.2.305-307), suggesting that Henry’s conquest of France is inseparable from his sexual conquest of Katherine.
Ends and Means
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the prefix “sub-” to be “of something immaterial, a quality, state, etc,” listing the root word “plot” as a term often associated with this definition. Therefore, to be a subplot means to be an immaterial plot, in light of this interpretation. This however is not the case with Shakespeare’s plays. In Shakespeare’s eyes, the subplot does not subvert, undermine, or remain immaterial to the principal plot, but rather it is wholly connected with and emphasizes it. Although for theatrical performances, they serve a practical purpose for costume changes and explanation of the plot, Shakespeare’s subplots serve a much higher calling. Throughout his historical, comedic, and tragic plays, Shakespeare manipulates the subplot not only to reflect the principle plot but also to attest to a greater truth-he illustrates that although the deeds are essentially the identical, the motivations behind those actions make the deed itself honorable or dishonorable. The Henry V principle and subplot focus on the theme of and corruption behind waging war, revealed in the contrast between King Henry V’s actions in war versus those of Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. Likewise, Much Ado about Nothing reveals that the art of deception can also be slanted for good or evil purposes, as revealed in the scheme against Beatrice and Benedict and the conspiracy against Hero and Claudio, respectively. King Lear also reveals that the motivation determines the morality of a deed, depicted in the daughters’ goals in obtaining Lear’s land by fighting among each other. Although the principle plot and subplots are identical in deed, they are skewed by the motivation behind the actual act. Just war. Moral war. These phrases are staples in political vocabulary in modern days. Shakespeare himself dealt with these concepts while writing Henry V. What does it mean to fight a moral war? Can there ever really be morality in war? Is “war crime” just a redundant phrase? In examining the actions of several characters in this play concerning England’s war with France, the concept of morality and war come to light. King Henry V, the former roguish Prince Hal, seems to approach this war with every aim of maintaining justice. Although he is duped by the Archbishop into the actual pursuit of the war, he tries his best to verify that he has just cause by pointedly asking the evidence to support his aim. Furthermore, Henry establishes a very strict code of honor for his men to follow: the French citizens and their property are to be treated with complete respect. Although he conquers and takes control of land that does not belong to him, he does so with at least some semblance of respect for the French. Lower down on the military hierarchy exists Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol-all former companions/lackeys of Falstaff and pub dwellers in Eastcheap. These individuals also approach this war as a means to add to their material wealth, but unlike Henry, Bardolph and Nym do so in a disrespectful manner. They proceed to pillage the conquered lands, taking advantage of individual property owners, rather than the government. They, unlike Henry, remain fully aware that their deeds are inappropriate and unfounded morally, even within the context of war. Remaining loyal to his decree and aim for justice, Henry puts these offenders to death for their crimes, thus perpetuating his image as a just conqueror. The subplot of this trio serves to emphasize the fact that there can be both injustice and justice in war-it all depends on the motivation in the pursuit of that war. Little white lies are the bane of every child’s first encounter with morality lessons. Is it ever justified to lie? What if the lie is intended to help people or to shelter their emotions? Much Ado about Nothing bases much of its storyline on the methods of deception through many vehicles: wordplay, sarcasm, disguises, and flat out misinformation. Whether the actual deed of this deception is appropriate or not depends entirely on the motivation behind the telling of the lie. Furthermore, determining the principle plot from the subplot remains quite subjective; regardless, one exhibits pure intent and therefore excusable trickery whereas the other arises from malicious intent and therefore deplorable deception. Throughout the first couple of scenes, there appears to be a battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick-whether the underlying emotion is fondness or hatred remains subjective as well. Led by Don Pedro, their friends and family lovingly plot to produce affection from their superficial hate. In telling both characters that the other confesses undying love for them, the conspirers knowingly instigate a lie. Because their pure aim is to bring together two strong personalities in love, their deed is forgiven and in fact encouraged by the audience. Conversely, the other plot reveals Don John deviously scheming as to how he can bring an end to the merriment in Messina. In an effort to bring ruin to Claudio, Don John deceives Claudio into believing that his fiancÃ©e Hero has taken a lover the night before their wedding. Unlike the plot of Don Pedro, Don John’s trick aims to bring tragedy, discord and unhappiness. Although both characters spread lies about innocent people, the intention behind these lies makes Don Pedro’s forgivable and Don John’s condemnable. Inheritance is a touchy subject, especially when the parent dispensing his possessions is still alive and asking his heirs to compete for his belongings. Fighting among one’s siblings for family property is an undesirable situation to say the least. After having “earned” their halves of Lear’s land by falsely confessing their love for him, Goneril and Regan remain discontent with their portion. They begin to fight over every aspect of their lives ranging from a man whom they both love to one another’s property. Their greatest desire is to acquire more and more wealth. This intrafamily feud produces a disdain for these women and their morals. The motivation behind their warring is improper and disrespectful. In contrast, Cordelia, now the queen of France, chooses to honestly convey her love for her father by saying she loves him only to the extent that she should. Offended by this, Lear banishes her from the kingdom and divides his property between Goneril and Regan. Because of her loyalty to her father coupled with her suspicion of her sisters, Cordelia remains in contact with Lear’s servants. Upon hearing of her father’s mistreatment, Cordelia wages war against her sisters. Although succumbing to sibling rivalry, her goal in conquering their land is to redeem her father and rightfully restore his land to him. Because Goneril and Regan’s methods employ dishonesty and greed, their rivalry and hostility is immoral. Because Cordelia acts out of honesty and loyalty, her conflict with her siblings is justified and admirable. Through the examination of these subplots and their relevance to the principle plot, Shakespeare obviously intended to reveal an insight into human nature through their integration in each play. Shakespeare never seems to condone black or white interpretation of people, events, ideas, or actions. The juxtaposition of principle plots and subplots further substantiates this position. King Henry V’s revelation of the two different conquests of France, Much Ado’s theme of deception and King Lear’s sibling rivalry reveal two very Shakespearean outlooks on life: 1) that nothing can be classified in simple “good” or “bad” terms without deeper analysis and 2) that the initial intention coupled with end may very well justify the means. War, deception, and rivalry can be either forgivable or inexcusable depending upon the intentions supporting the actions.
Henry V: Pious or Practical?
In Henry V, Shakespeare presents the king as a man who is exceptionally deft with his use of language and politics. Henry conquers France in a relatively short amount of time with a small army, and after his victory he declares, “Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum,” (IV.viii.123) which indicates his desire to give God all of the credit for defeating the French. Given Henry’s Machiavellian mode of kingship, however, his actual religious conviction can be called into question. Since his power as the King of England is derivative of the Divine Right of Kings, he needs God to be on his side to maintain legitimacy, and this concept is all the more important in his case because of the fact that he inherited the crown from a deposer. In order to fortify his legitimacy, Henry poses as a pious king and through his language presents the idea that God fights for England, but he only calls upon the deity when it suits his purpose.From the beginning of the play, Henry uses religion as a foundation for his desired conquest as he questions the clergy about the legality of his claims in France. When he asks, “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” (I.ii.96) the Archbishop gives him a biblical reference from the book of Numbers as evidence that his claims are lawful. Henry then goes on to subtly invoke God into his language of conquest as he calls on “God’s help” (I.ii.222) and “God’s grace” (I.ii.262) to accompany him in his pursuit of the French throne. After receiving the insulting gift from the Dauphin, Henry’s determination to invade France becomes even stronger, but he still places God first in his language. He commands his nobles to mobilize their forces so that, “God before/ We’ll chide this Dolphin at his father’s door.” (I.ii.308) With God set up as his forerunner, Henry is ready to carve his way into France as if it were a holy crusade. Men will be more willing to die for their king if his cause is favored by God and is not simply a boyish spat between rival princes. Henry plays on the religious conviction of his subjects in his rousing, charismatic battle speeches.The first verbal spark that Henry uses to incite his troops is his speech in front of Harfleur when he tells his men to take on the guise of war. After calling upon the warrior within them, Henry gives his men a battle cry that invokes God in his name, “Cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” (III.i.34) Henry carefully chooses his words so that they will have the weight and effect that he desires. In this case, he wants his countrymen to believe that God is on their side, making their cause righteous, and he also wants to personalize himself to his laymen by calling himself Harry instead of his kingly title. From the soldiers’ perspective, they are fighting a divinely sanctioned war with their friend Harry leading them, and their leader knows how to strengthen their spirits when necessary.Sick, tired and outnumbered, the small band of English soldiers begin to despair when Exeter declares the odds as “…five to one” in favor of the French who “…all are fresh,” (IV.iii.4). Hearing Westmerland’s desire for reinforcements, Henry is compelled to motivate his troops, and he does so by sanctifying the battle scene. Although St. Crispin is only the patron saint of shoemakers and not part of the canon of major Christian figures, Henry uses his holiday to bring a sense of nobility to the fight. The king tells his troops that they will always remember the Feast of Crispian as a day when their mettle was tried and proved. Instead of remembering the battle as simply being on October twenty-fifth, the soldiers’ memories will recall that they fought on a day that honors a Christian martyr, which makes their sacrifice all the more honorable because it has religious implications. This speech is essentially pure propaganda, because of the fact that Henry is conjuring up an outmoded saint in order to sanctify his bloody conquest in the eyes of his followers. Westmerland’s change of heart is indicative of the success of the king’s words as he does an about face from wanting reinforcements to exclaiming, “God’s will, my liege, would you and I alone,/ Without more help, could fight this royal battle!” (IV.iii.75). With his expedient religious language, Henry motivates his beleaguered “band of brothers” to face the massive French army with renewed vigor fueled by the sanctity that their king imparts upon the day and their cause. Henry clinches the scene by his final religious entreaty, “And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!” (IV.iii.134). This cry turns the conflict into a trial by combat like that in the beginning of Richard II, in which the combatant who is in the right will be victorious because he has God on his side, and if the soldiers follow this logic, then their cause can be seen as righteous because it was God who chose the victor. While these speeches are examples of Henry’s public use of religion he makes an important entreaty to God in a private soliloquy in the first scene of Act IV.At this particular point in the play, Henry recalls his father’s ascension to the throne with a sense of foreboding as he pleads with God to “…think not upon the fault/ My father made in encompassing the crown!” (IV.i.294). Although this seems like an honest prayer to heaven, this speech has a certain hollow ring to it. To begin with, it is in verse, which suggests that the language is duplicitous, and Henry’s efforts to exonerate Richard are constituted by a series of quantitative measures that lack moral quality and direct participation by the king himself. Henry states,”Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,Who twice a day their withere’d hands hold upToward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have builtTwo chauntries, where the sad and solemn priestsSing still for Richard’s soul.” (IV.i.298-302)These efforts, while appearing to be sincere, are essentially an attempt by the shrewd king to establish a price for forgiveness of his father’s transgression that Henry so dubiously dubs as an “encompassing,” and even though this speech is done in private, all of the lamentations he describes are visible to his subjects. Any Englishman who recalls Bullingbrook usurping Richard will see that his heir is making a costly effort to seek forgiveness. By manipulating the Christian doctrine of forgiveness, Henry is once again seeking to establish a legitimate foundation for his kingship in the wake of his father’s questionable actions. Despite his lack of honest religious conviction, Henry’s prowess as a military king makes him a successful conqueror and the outnumbered English win France, and the king is quick to credit God with the victory.As soon as Montjoy tells Henry that he has won the day, he states, “Praise be God, and not our strength, for it!” (IV.vii.88), which brings Henry’s insinuation that the battle was a religious trial by combat in which the English were righteous to fruition. Throughout the play he made claims to the righteousness of his cause, and with a decisive victory it is easy for Henry to cement his claim to divine legitimacy. Any common Christian soldier would certainly have his faith strengthened by his king’s words and triumph2E Henry drives the point home with more heavenward praise,”O God, thy arm was here;And not to us , but to thine arm alone,Ascribe we all! …Take it, God,For it is none but thine!” (IV.viii.106-112)The thousands of dead Frenchman and the hundreds of dead Englishmen then, are portrayed by Henry as having died in a holy crusade approved by God, and what began as a prideful dispute between two young rulers has become a war sanctioned by heaven. In the chorus that opens up Act V, it is said that Henry does not want the medieval equivalent of a ticker-tape parade, because he is “…free from vainness and self-glorious pride,” (V.20) but the fact that the chorus states this characterization so plainly leads it to be a questionable assessment. Henry came to France to expand his empire, and his exceptional leadership abilities made his campaign a success. There is no indication, other than Henry’s own assertions, that God had any part in the battle whatsoever.As the heir to a man who took the throne by force and not by inheritance, Henry needs to ensure that his own claim to the throne is not called into question, lest he have to fight off an insurrection like the one that threatened his father, and there is no better legitimacy than can be granted by the Creator Himself. With his exceptional charisma and use of language, Henry portrays himself as having earned the approval of God, whom his power is supposed to derive from in the first place. Henry’s subjects see that he publicly exonerates Richard with lavish proceedings, they hear him claim that God is on their side, and they win a battle in which the odds were stacked well against them. In the eyes of a religious public, their divinely anointed king has proven his legitimacy by earning the favor of their higher Lord and brought them a decisive victory against an historical rival. In the eyes of a close reader of Henry’s character, however, it can be seen that Henry is a shrewd politician who is constantly using religious language to indirectly assert his own authority. By displacing the credit of his victory to God, he is crediting himself as being God’s true representative on earth and not simply the capable son of a usurper. Religion is a practical political expedient for Henry that firmly establishes his hold on the crowns of both England and France, and his use of God’s name is not a result of any true sense of religious conviction.Works CitedThe Riverside Shakespeare 2nd edition. Edited by Evans, Tobin, et al. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, 1997.
God and War: King Henry’s Religious Concern in Henry V
In Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Henry constantly considers the position of God in his endeavors of war. The King’s pondering of God’s view of and hand in war continuously guides his decisions and and methods. Henry’s consideration of God eventually leads England to success even though the hand of God might not have had the same effect that the King and the soldiers believe it does. Many argue that King Henry acts impulsively and immorally when deciding to go to war. However, one can clearly see that Henry searches for God’s wisdom when making decisions regarding his men and country. Moreover, King Henry’s faith uplifts his men, proving that his faith aids in the victory.
While God may not have directly decided that the English would win the war, King Henry’s faith in God and the religious ties he makes to war allow him to influence the hearts of his men, leading him to win the war. Part of King Henry’s success in Henry V derives from his moral consciousness and his tendency to view the lives of his people as high in importance, in accordance with his virtues. When making the decision of whether to enter into war, King Henry is most concerned with the morality of the war. He warns Canterbury, “Take heed how you impawn our person, how you awake our sleeping sword of war. We charge you in the name of God, take heed, for never two such kingdoms did contend without much fall of blood” (I.ii.23-27). Henry is hesitant to spill innocent blood until he is sure that the cause of war is just. His concern displays that he is self-aware of the morality of his actions as a king. This honorable personality trait eventually helps his soldiers to trust and respect him more— his virtues lead his soldiers to want to fight for him. He asks Canterbury, “May I with right and conscious make this claim,” (119) displaying that he will not allow his people to die if it is not for a righteous cause. Henry’s view of the justice of war highly contrasts the mocking gift of the Dauphin of France. The gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin displays the Dauphin’s impulsiveness and willingness to sacrifice innocent lives without a sincere thought. King Henry responds to this petty gift with a heavy speech about the bloodshed and horror of war, conveying that his view of war is much more mature. His seriousness inspires his lords, and eventually his soldiers.
Near the end of the play, Henry’s soldiers will see his faith in God and his morality, which raises their morale and helps them to win the war. Before Battle, Henry conveys that he is a good king by disguising himself and going out into the tents to assess the morale of his soldiers. In finding that his men are criticizing him for being the cause for their deaths, he again responds by connecting war to morality God’s plan. Henry says, “War is His beadle, war is His vengeance,” (IV.i.164-165) explaining that a king is not responsible for the sins of his people, and encouraging his soldiers to repent their sins and fight with their minds open to a higher purpose. He also tells his men that if God grants them the gift of survival, they should be thankful. As he declares “and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, He let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare” (177-181). King Henry’s view of God’s hand in war inspires his soldiers to be aware of a higher purpose while in battle. His soldiers respond positively, one saying, “I’m determine to fight lustily for him” (84-85). Henry’s faith in God boots his soldiers’ morale and eventually leads them to defeat the French.
A similar effect occurs when King Henry gives the Saint Crispin’s Day speech in Act 4 scene 3. He begins every declaration with ‘By God,” instilling religious excitement in his soldiers. He declares that any man who does not want to fight with the rest of the men in the name of God should go home. This speech inspires the English forces into exuberance, and helps them to win the battle. King Henry’s referring to God in his speeches before battle have a direct result over his soldiers’ morale, and his religious faith and morality teaches his men to trust and respect him, and want to fight under his command.
Strawberries to Withered Flowers: Shakespeare’s Use of Garden Imagery to Define a King
Throughout English history, kings have been judged by both their political strength and by their personal conduct. Each of these criteria is equally important in assessing the success or failure of a King’s reign. In William Shakespeare’s history plays, Shakespeare often uses imagery as a tool for comparing how successfully a king is running his government, describing the kingdom as either a managed or unkempt garden. The personality and political skill of a king determine whether the garden is in unruly or pristine condition, and this imagery plays a distinct role in defining a king’s true character. In The Life of Henry V and The Tragedy of King Richard II, Shakespeare uses garden imagery to reveal whether each king is keeping the State in order or not. Throughout each play, the imagery reveals how Henry’s and Richard’s different political and personal approaches to ruling affect their leadership abilities, defining how the State should be run to achieve maximum success and marking the progression or decline of each king’s rule.
Henry V’s boisterous adolescence casts a shadow of doubt on his ability to rule his kingdom effectively and causes his character and personality to undergo scrutiny. When Ely discusses the days of Henry’s youth to Canterbury, however, he states, “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,/ And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best/ Neighbored by fruit of baser quality”(1.1 ll. 62-64). Although Henry surrounded himself with frivolous parties, women, and whatever else brought him pleasure during his adolescent years, his true character was simply dormant and waiting for the passing of time to make him mature enough to rule his country. The image of Henry as a strawberry surrounded by nettle not only excuses his behavior as a young man but also foreshadows the difficult war with France he will endure. Henry is surrounded by the intimidating force of the French but he must push through these harsh realities for him to grow into the King his country can rely on.
Henry’s true character as a fully blossomed adult is evident after he fulfills his destiny and takes the French crown. In the epilogue the chorus says, “Fortune made his sword, / By which the world’s best garden be achieved/ And of it left his son’s imperial lord”(Epilogue ll. 6-8). Henry used his good fortune and combined it with his own strength to give him the advantage he needed to achieve his goal. The “world’s best garden” is a symbol of the great kingdom that Henry has now created: the blossoming and orderly garden imagery that reveals Henry’s true character shows that Shakespeare believed that Henry’s personality was fundamental to his success as a ruler.
For Richard II, the garden imagery that depicts his character and personality is in stark contrast to the imagery used toward Henry V. When the gardener is in the royal garden describing Richard’s downfall, he compares the King to the bark of the fruit trees, “being over-proud in sap and blood, / With too much riches it confound itself”(3.4 ll. 60-61). Richard is over-confident, and this trait has spoiled his ability to defend himself and his kingdom. His inability to see his weaknesses brings about his own failure as a leader; his lacking personality is portrayed as a tree that is too ripe to maintain itself. In comparison to Henry V’s well-groomed and pristine garden, Richard’s garden is becoming both overgrown and wilted due to his own lack of strong and reliable character. Richard even foreshadows his own demise when he visits John of Gaunt on his deathbed and ignores his dying words. After John’s death, Richard states, “The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he”(2.1 l.154). Richard’s lack of respect toward the dying man’s last words, which warn him that he does not have the personality needed to rule with an iron fist, reveals that he cares more about himself than about the success of his kingdom. He does not realize that it is himself that is the “ripest fruit” and will soon fall. Nonetheless, his overconfident and weak personality is reflected in the over-ripe and wilting garden imagery that describes him.
Politically, Henry V does not always abide by the moral standards that he expects his own subjects to strive to meet. It becomes apparent that Shakespeare applies different moral standards to kings than to mere mortal men when Burgundy addresses the King after the final battle, saying, “And as our vineyards, fallows, meads and hedges, / Defective in their natures, grow to wildness, / Even so our houses and ourselves and our children/ Have lost, or do not learn for want of time/ The sciences that should become our country”(5.2 ll. 54-58). Henry has fought a brutal war and defeated the French on their own soil. The “wildness” of France’s garden reveals that they are truly defeated, for their “garden” no longer maintains the order it once had. For Shakespeare, kings such as Henry must separate their emotions from their actions during war-time. A great warrior king must destroy the orderly government (garden) of his enemy to create the perfect kingdom for his own nation. France was undoubtedly surprised by Henry’s ability to fight a great battle and win because when the constable realizes Henry’s incredible power he asks, “Is not their climate not foggy, raw, dull, / On whom the sun looks pale, / Killing their fruit with their frowns?”(3.5 ll.16-18) Henry’s political savvy has surprised the French because they were under the impression that that Henry was simply a spoiled adolescent child. The constable describes Henry’s rule as “foggy, raw, (and) dull” because that was all he believed the English throne was capable of reacting to: inhospitable and life-choking conditions. Shakespeare excuses Henry’s wild behavior as a young man, however, by using it to make his current political skills look that much more impressive. The focus on the withering and pale garden imagery of his youth compared to the strong imagery of his triumph reveals Henry to be the heroic king that Shakespeare assuredly believed him to be.
The garden imagery that reflects Richard’s political skills pales in comparison to the imagery surrounding Henry V. When Henry Bolingbroke returns to England to take Richard’s crown, the gardener makes reference to how Richard should have tended his “garden,” saying, “Go thou, and, like an executioner, / Cut off the heads of too fast-growing sprays/That look too lofty in our commonwealth. / All must be even in our government”(3.4 ll. 34-37). Ironically, according to this statement, Henry Bolingbroke is acting more like a king than Richard himself. Richard has left the country without leaving any defense behind to save his crown. He did not “cut off” Henry’s head like he should have when he decided instead to banish him from the country. This made the “government” uneven, providing Henry with the perfect opportunity to seize the throne. Richard has made one mistake after another, proving that his skills as a politician are less than adequate. Alluding to Richard’s downfall, the gardener then says, “the whole land is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up, / Her fruit trees all unpruned”(3.4 ll. 44-46). Richard’s kingdom is in wild disarray and it is entirely his own fault because it is he who ignored the warnings of others and believed himself to be infallible as King. The imagery that describes his plight reveals that it is Richard’s lack of cunning political skills that make him unworthy of his crown.
The personality and political skills of Richard II are greatly deficient, especially when he is compared to Henry V. Shakespeare uses garden imagery to reveal how the State should be maintained, and while it is evident that Henry lives up to these standards, Richard simply does not meet the criteria. At the end of each play, the “garden” of England is vastly different. Henry’s is large, orderly, and well maintained, while Richard’s is overgrown in parts and wilted in others. Shakespeare describes Henry as the true heroic King, which in turn makes Richard’s failure that much more disappointing. In the simplest terms, the grass truly was greener on the side of Henry V.
King Henry’s Competence as a Ruler in Henry V
“King Henry’s Competence as a Ruler in Henry V”Often remembered for his wild and boyish characteristics, King Henry assures his fellow English and those who oppose him that he has evolved from Prince Hal into a competent king. Although some of Henry’s actions in battle carry immoral implications, he defines a “competent” king as one who fully exercises the responsibilities of a ruler, as seen by his response to the Dauphin’s claim that Henry is still only a youth. Henry’s composed demeanor and well-devised rhetoric when speaking to various characters reveals that he is confident in his abilities as a ruler. Therefore, Henry’s rhetoric serves to convince the other characters and the audience, rather than himself, that he is capable of holding the throne of England, as he has grown from his past as Prince Hal and will “show [his] sail of greatness” upon the “throne of France” (I.ii.275-276).Upon receiving the Dauphin’s gift of tennis balls, which symbolizes Henry’s image as a mere sportsman without governing capability, Henry responds with clever and serious rhetoric. The Dauphin’s insults do not dismantle Henry’s demeanor, revealing just how much the English King has matured: Henry says that he is “glad the Dauphin is so pleasant” and grateful for the Dauphin’s “present” and “pains” (I.ii.260-261). As Henry converts the imagery of a tennis game to that of a war, his words and attitude become very stern; he states that England “will in France, by God’s grace, play a set” and “strike [King Charles’] crown into the hazard” (I.ii.263-264). Henry acknowledges the Dauphin’s references to the wild Prince Hal by arguing that he never valued his position in England. Henry does assert, however, that he has made use of his boyish past.“To be like a king,” Henry states, he will “show [his] sail of greatness,” and the Dauphin’s mockery will “mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down” and leave the unborn cursing the Dauphin’s ridicule. (I.ii.275-288) Henry’s rhetorical tactics carry a weight of severity that is somewhat masked by his earlier word play. As he compares war to a tennis match, Henry seems to be casually voicing threats, but, toward the end of his speech, he uses rhetorical manipulation to pin the cause of the impending war on the mockery of the Dauphin. The audience already knows that Henry has made the decision to wage war on France prior to his speaking with the ambassador, but Henry makes it seem as if the Dauphin’s insults have caused him to declare war. Henry’s manipulation also makes it seem as if he is quick to anger, thus providing the image of a serious ruler who is capable of overtaking the French empire. The primary function of the rhetorical manipulation, however, is to convince the Dauphin and France that Henry is a competent ruler; he could have simply stated that he has declared war, but his tactics place responsibility on the Dauphin, revealing hasty and clever decision-making.In his argument with Michael Williams, Henry’s rhetoric serves to justify his duties as king and to convince his soldiers that a competent ruler is not responsible for his soldiers’ deaths. Williams states that King Henry is responsible for the ungraceful deaths of his soldiers because those who die, since they were led in battle by Henry, could not disobey orders for they are the king’s subjects. Henry objects with a set of analogies that focus on the structure of people dying in the process of following the orders of a superior. Henry argues that a king’s duties do not require him “to answer [the] endings of his soldiers,” just as the father and masters “purpose not their [subjects] death / when they purpose their services” (IV.i.151-154). Although a soldier, son and servant are subjects to their superiors, Henry argues that a king demands the service of his men but does not order them to die.Henry’s rejection of responsibility does not serve to demean his power as king, but to assert that those who die in battle are suffering God’s vengeance due to their own personal sins. A king, Henry argues, is not more “guilty of [his soldiers’] / damnation that he was before guilty of those impieties / for which [his soldiers] are now visited” because those who die should be prepared for God’s justice. (IV.i.169-171) By arguing that “every subject’s duty / is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own,” Henry transfers the responsibility of death back to the soldiers. (IV.i.171-172) In addressing the soldiers’ souls, Henry targets their most intrinsic parts; the soldiers are essentially forced to clear their consciences before battle in fear of suffering an unpromising afterlife. Henry is again clever in his rhetorical manipulation because the soldiers are both obligated to follow their king and also left with the responsibility of their own deaths. If a man dies without repenting his sins, he is deserving due to his lack of faith, and if he dies after he has repented, it is to his advantage for his conscience is clear before the judgment of God. If a soldier were to live after clearing his conscience, Henry argues, it would mean he has been blessed by God for his preparation, and should therefore advise others to prepare for death. Henry’s logic and manipulation convince the audience that he is a capable ruler by avoiding his soldiers’ claims of conviction, and therefore avoiding the negativity of death produced by war. By transferring responsibility from himself to his soldiers, Henry creates a system that encourages his soldiers’ obedience while also making their fate strictly a product of repentance and God’s will.After his argument with Williams and Bates, Henry expresses, in a soliloquy, how he is burdened with the lives of all his people. The responsibilities placed upon Henry only bring him grief, for the only compensation he gains in being king is a ceremony, which holds no value for Henry. In an attempt to find value in his ceremonies, Henry addresses “Ceremony” directly by asking for its worth and why he should admire it. Henry states that Ceremony only provides “place, degree and form,” things which merely instill fear in others through “poisoned flattery” (IV.i.236-243). Henry does not find satisfaction in the fame and glory that kingship supposedly brings because all that is produced from Ceremony is superficial and meaningless. Since Henry sees that Ceremony as all that separates him from an ordinary man, he argues that the lone reward of Ceremony cannot even cure him of sickness, thus stripping him of immunity to a danger common to all living beings. Henry’s reference to sickness places him on a level equal to his people, thereby underlining Ceremony’s fundamental uselessness. This rhetorical tactic proves effective because Ceremony is inanimate and therefore cannot object to Henry’s argument. As Henry refutes each supposed benefit of Ceremony, his argument accumulates with clear reasoning, which later aids in convincing the audience of his competence as king. Henry even goes so far as to argue that all the material possessions of Ceremony fail to provide him the peace of mind of a slave – who, after all, endures gruesome treatment day and night only to labor until he dies. A slave has the pleasure of being “a member of the country’s peace,” while Henry is burdened with the constant maintenance of that peace. (IV.i.273)These lamentations notwithstanding, however, Henry embraces his responsibilities as king and continues into battle. Rhetorically, Henry’s words are honest, for no other characters are present on stage. This allows for the audience to first sympathize with Henry, and then realize that he is indeed a competent ruler because he rejects the materialistic and superficial qualities of ceremony that serve as the only supposed benefit of being a king. Without the presence of other characters, the audience cannot help but view Henry’s lament as genuine because, if Henry rejects Ceremony, his motivation to rule must lie solely in a desire to preserve the safety of England.Assuming the throne of England provides Henry with an overwhelming task in itself, but his immature past as Prince Hal introduces an additional obstacle for him to surpass as king. Henry’s manipulative rhetoric in placing the consequence of war on the mockery of the Dauphin constructs Henry’s image as a competent ruler to the French because he employs initiative and responsibility in not only defending his character but in his willingness to take action. Henry’s rhetorical ability to manipulate his soldiers into following his orders and assuming responsibility for their deaths proves to the audience that he is capable of leading an army without the conviction produced by death. Henry’s humble rejection of “Ceremony” finalizes his attempt to prove his competence as a king to the audience. Not only is Henry disinterested in his only reward for being king, he accepts the responsibility of protecting England and marches forward into battle.
Comparing the power struggles in Shakespearean plays
Power struggles are a defining feature in many of William Shakespeare’s stories. Titus Andronicus, Richard III, and Julius Caesar are three prominent examples of such stories, each depicting a powerful protagonist and their conflicts with others intent on gaining influence. In each of these stories, the separation between good and evil is clear, but in Henry V, this distinction is less clear, which begs the question as to the purpose of the other stories’ characterization and the purpose of their clearer moralities.
The titular character in Titus Andronicus, though in possession of a great deal of influence, rarely makes use of his power. While others are engaged in a power-struggle between each other, Titus has no desire to become involved. Instead, he is shown to be a catalyst for much of the plot, as his lack of interest in maintaining his power causes others to seek to take it from him. However, one of the few motivations that trumps the power struggle is the need for revenge. This is the ultimate goal of Titus and Tamora. Though they both have different views on the power that they achieve, they each seek to use it in a similar manner, though Titus is shown to be justified, due to what Tamora’s sons do to Lavinia, and the murder of Tamora’s son by Titus is justified by the loss of most of his sons.
Richard III features a villainous protagonist and his obsession with power. Nearly every major character is shown to have some desire for the throne of England, whether to advance their own personal interests or to prevent someone else from obtaining it. Richard III represents the first group, while his antithesis and foil Richmond presents the latter. This distinction in motives also provides the audience with a clear distinction between good and evil, which becomes necessary as Richard is further developed during the play, giving the audience a greater chance to sympathize with him.
Julius Caesar distinguishes itself from most other stories of its kind by featuring a protagonist whose name is not given by the title. The irony here is that both Caesar and Brutus seemingly have little to no interest in the power that they obtain. Though it is left unclear as to the nature of Caesar attitude towards his position, Marc Antony’s speech provides evidence to support the theory that Caesar was an honorable man, fully aware of the responsibilities of his position. However, it is worth noting that Antony is hardly a reliable source, given his personal interest in depicting Caesar as a righteous leader, innocent of the crimes he was accused of, and Antony’s speech after the death of Caesar to the people of Rome demonstrates his skill at twisting the truth. Brutus is shown to have no interest in wielding great power, only in securing the future of Rome, but in the same speech which Antony used to honor Caesar, Antony also attacks Brutus’ character and repeats “Brutus is an honorable man” (123) even as he provides evidence to the contrary.
What is notable about Shakespeare’s depictions of his ambitious characters is that the notion of power, which often comes with negative connotations, especially in the current political climate. Titus and Richmond represent the use of political influence for good, and they are the heroes of their respective stories. Showing these leaders as heroes would greatly benefit Shakespeare, as he received a great deal of support from Queen Elizabeth I. It was especially important for him to depict Richmond in a favorable light, seeing as he was one of the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth I. Additionally, the number of similarities between the reigns of Elizabeth and Julius Caesar provides a great deal of comparison to be made between the two of this, such as the construction of their governments, attempts on their lives, and the importance of holidays in society, as well as the simple fact that both were leaders of vast empires. With all of these similarities, it would seem as though Shakespeare was advocating an anti-monarchist movement. This would not be a good position to be in during that time, which is likely why, in the end, the conspirators end up paying for their crime. Titus Andronicus also uses the theme of promoting the establishment with the character originally in power, Titus, as the voice of reason and having his violent actions all be justified by the plotline and the demonization of the foreign menaces. This can also be an allusion to the reign of Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, who was radically different from her father, who formed the Anglican Church, and the Protestant monarchs who followed her. During her reign, Mary persecuted Protestants and became heavily disliked because of this fact. In this way, there is a perceivable connection between Queen Mary and the villainous Tamora.
However, an exception to this idea that the hero is seeking power purely for the benefit of their people is contradicted in Henry V. While the motives of the heroes of the others stories are clear, this is not so for the titular King Henry V. Though there is some legal precedent for his invasion of France, it is mostly played for laughs, and this excuse was found after Henry decided that he wanted to invade France. Unlike Richmond from Richard III, Henry could be allowed to not be completely morally pure, as he had few ties to the reign of Elizabeth. Even so, this deviation from Shakespeare’s usual pattern of creating “good guy” heroes with few noticeable flaws. This aspect is strongly brought into focus when he threatens Harfleur, saying, “I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur till in her ashes lie buried” (97) as a punishment for the town refusing to surrender. Though Henry’s resolve is never called upon in this instance, the gravity of this speech in particular gives the entire conquest a less-than-innocent feeling.
Political power and the use of it was a sensitive subject in Elizabethan England, where there was no freedom of speech. Shakespeare understood that even as he wrote complex tales of intrigue and espionage, causing a certain trope of the hero leader and champion of the people to champion over the forces of evil, even while maintaining the status quo. While some works attempt to expand the mold somewhat, in the end, each of these stories is clearly an attempt to show the current regime in the most favorable lighting possible.