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.
A Harry Situation: Shakespeare’s Henry V and the Historical Drama
It is not necessary to have authored seven historical dramas, as Shakespeare had when he set to work on Henry V, to conclude that history is frequently not very dramatic. Chronicles of the past have the subjectivity and subtly of national anthems – they are about appropriating the truth, not approaching it. Noble causes and giant killing abound in these documents, often at the cost of fact and explanation. All this adds up to an account of the past in which the winners reign victorious before the battle even begins, while the losers’ natural iniquity contributes as much to their defeat as enemy swords and soldiers. Readers in the present may wonder that their ancestors ever felt twinges of suspense as the events wore on, for according to historians, the outcome of these clashes was, as King Henry would say, “as gross/ As black on white” (2.2.104). It is as predictable, the Elizabethans might have said, as a bad play.And yet there was suspense and anxiety in days gone by, as surely as political maneuvering in the present sows seeds of unrest. Shakespeare realized this and came to a startling conclusion – there is a gap between the events of the past and historical narrative. The proclivities of the historian become the very shape of history, cramming the past with mighty deeds and epic heroes. But this shape is warped, fashioned, as it is, in the likeness of famous men and dubious motives. Historians see the past as a straight and singular line; Shakespeare knew its course could neither have been quite so direct nor quite so simple. Henry V is his attempt to reinsert the complexities of the past into the straightforward narrative of history, to dramatize, so to speak, the historical drama. The Bard does this not because he thinks he will succeed but because he knows he will fail, for the sensibilities of history cannot accommodate those of drama (and visa-versa). Henry V demonstrates that, according to Shakespeare’s understanding of history, “historical drama” is an oxymoron.If the aim of Henry V is to fall ostensibly short of two targets (history and drama), the presence of the Chorus goes a long way towards achieving this end. He book-ends the whole play and each of the acts, nominally to apologize for the inadequacies of staging history and to remind the audience to use its imagination to provide what the acting company cannot. “But pardon, gentles all,” the chorus entreats in the epilogue, “The flat unraised spirits that hath dared / On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth/ So great an object” (1.0.8-11). If the audience had not considered the motley pairing of the “unworthy scaffold” of the theatre and the “great object” of history before this apology, they are certainly attentive to it now. The Chorus’s apologies only diminish the illusion of reality that spectators usually manage without instruction.This was precisely Shakespeare’s point, though. Through his ironic pleas for pardon, the Chorus offers a “historical” counterpoint to the “dramatic” action of the play. He is, like the historical drama itself, a paradox: a feature wholly belonging to the drama yet drolly representing the sensibilities of history. “We’ll force our play,” he promises at the beginning of the second act (2.0.32). And this is indeed what he does. His regular appearances before each act give this “history” a very “dramatic” shape, without providing any of the attendant tensions or interests. If the play followed the trajectory described by the Chorus, there would be no need to enact the intervening scenes at all, for he provides a rather verbose summation of everything that happens off stage. As a dramatic figure, the Chorus is wholly self-defeating, just as history is wholly self-defeating as dramatic material. Both are simply too one dimensional in perspective, both hint at the end too soon.Fortunately, Shakespeare uses the action of the play to subvert what otherwise would sound like a monolithic narration of history. In the first act, for instance, the Chorus promises “two mighty monarchs” (1.0.20). Shakespeare delivers two greedy clerics. There is a similar ruse in Act II, when talk of royalty at Southampton leads directly to a London Tavern. In the fourth act, the Chorus reports of a pep talk by the King with the whimsical comment: “behold, as may unworthiness define/ A little touch of Harry in the night” (4.0.46-47). What follows is a morally sophisticated discussion of kingship and its responsibilities. The presence of the Chorus is a constant reminder of how historical and dramatic techniques diverge, for Shakespeare, to the point of being ironically irreconcilable.It is not only the truths of the Chorus and dramatic action that are at odds in Henry V. Shakespeare further complicates things by dividing the dramatic action into two (sometimes intersecting) plot lines. The story of the King, his noblemen, and their military coup represents the “historical” plot line – morally impregnable, unswerving from its final aim of victory, and of course, well-known to anyone with a remedial knowledge of English history. Underpinning the official perspective of history, though, is a comic plot, dramatically interesting but compelled by a rough-hewn group of historical nobodies. Their presence in the play is a constant reminder of history’s “forgetfulness” when it comes to the common man, its tendency to simplify the cast of characters in historical actions to those with wealth and power. Shakespeare uses the comic plot to restore these un-noblemen to the stage of history, for they demand things from it that their royal counterpoints happily gloss over.The first glimpse Shakespeare gives of this comic plot is at the beginning of the second act, when the scene suddenly shifts to a London tavern and a death bed. The setting is familiar because it is the former haunt of Prince Hal, now King Henry. But the mood could not be more different from the Henry IV plays. There is no revelry, no drunkenness, no witty banter. The pall of the dying Falstaff hangs over everything. “The King has killed his heart,” Mistress Quickly solemnly intones (2.1.87). Bardolph agrees and Nym adds: “The King hath run bad humours on the knight, that’s the even of it” (2.1.120-121). The fat knight was sufficient to the task of serving as Prince Hal’s carousing companion, but the historically dignified King Henry cannot abide by such a ridiculous figure. So he cuts him out of his life, just as history cuts such men of “base” quality out of its annals. While Falstaff has all the characteristics to make him the favorite dramatic figure of the HIV plays, history, like Harry, cannot accommodate the complications he brings with him. He is poor, intemperate, morally dubious, ridiculous. These are not qualities that get recorded in history, but they do make for interesting drama. By killing off Falstaff at the beginning of HV, Shakespeare seems to indict history for caching its more “common” participants and thus rendering itself insipid, un-dramatic, and unreliable.Henry’s denial of Falstaff later instigates a rather absurd but revelatory discussion of historical greatness between the captains Fluellen and Gower. Fluellen asks Gower what the birthplace of “Alexander the Pig” was in order that he might draw a comparison between the great conqueror of history and their own King Harry (4.7.13). The joke, of course, is that the lisping Fluellen cannot say the letter B. “The pig, or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings,” he retorts when Gower corrects his phrasing (4.7.15-17). The banter is funny, but like the whole of the comic plot, Shakespeare uses it to say something very serious. The “great” figures of history, he slyly implies here, often behave the most swinishly. As Fluellen develops his comparison, Shakespeare’s critique becomes more apparent. “As Alexander killed his friend Clytus, being in his ales and his cups,” the Welshman explains, “so also Henry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgments, turned away the fat knight with the great-belly doublet…I have forgot his name” (4.7.44-49). Can Falstaff be so soon forgotten? The answer is yes, for as Shakespeare unhappily observes in this little dialogue, the “pig” players in history have a way of crowding out all their little friends upon assuming power. Fluellen notes the parallel situations because he thinks the monarchs’ rejection of personal ties was what allowed them to become great. Shakespeare would probably have said that it allowed them to become “pig,” but not great. For in ascending to the throne, Henry gains a crown, but loses personality and humanity. He has become as official and morally simple as a historical document.If the death of Falstaff was an indication that the historical Harry is not the dramatic Hal, the comic plot thereafter shows that the aristocratic King is not the same as the “man-of-the-people” Prince. Henry is rich, powerful, and a figure belonging to history. He shows he has an aristocrat’s conscientious awareness of history when, speaking of all his troops, he hopes that the chronicles “shall with full mouth/ Speak freely of our acts, or else our grave/ Like Turkish mute shall have a tongueless mouth” (1.2.231-233). What the king doesn’t understand is that history remembers monarchs and not masses.His distance from the ethos of the everyman is further underscored by his disguised encounter with the soldiers Court, Bates, and Williams. Bates complains that the quarrel with France belongs only to the King, though his soldiers are paying the price for it. “I would he were here alone,” he says of Harry, “so should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men’s lives saved” (4.1. 119-120). The actions of the King have historical ramifications, but those most deeply affected are the ones history forgets – the impoverished soldier, the destitute widow, the abandoned orphan, and all the other “poor men’s lives” that go unrecorded. For Harry, though, these are not individuals, but “subjects” and “every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own” (4.1.174-175). On the battlefields of history, personal responsibility or moral reckoning does not exist. Harry passes his own responsibility off from his person to his office, and encourages his subjects to do the same since they serve the office of the King.Again, Shakespeare contrasts the historical sensibilities of Henry with the dramatic sensibilities of the comical commoners. While the King views the war as a morally avouched conquest, the soldiers raise more complicated questions about the sovereign’s moral authority and the relationship of the “common cause” to the common man. These concerns, though, like history and drama are mutually exclusive. In order for the historical events of the war to occur, the dramatic complications of personal responsibility must not interfere. Likewise, for the moral intricacies of drama to be fully investigated, the simple justifications of history must be abnegated. No true “historical” king can have the “dramatic” interests of the individual at heart.This is not a conclusion hastily drawn, for Henry spends a great deal of time meditating on the nature of kingship. Just as Shakespeare is concerned about the gap between historical and dramatic interpretations of truth, the King worries about the space between the sovereign as an individual and as the possessor of an office. King Henry is the historical figure in this pair, Harry the man the dramatic. As such, swift and simple decisions for the King are often complicated and agonizing decisions for the man. For an effective ruler, as Shakespeare shows, it is almost impossible to be a fully “dramatic” man, concerned with the personal and moral intricacies that accompany action. On the same note, such a man cannot be a true “historical” figure, for the coda of these chronicles of the past demands heroes who think and act with an unflinching sense of absolute righteousness.Henry V bears witness to Harry’s full assumption of his “historical” role, as well as his rejection of his “dramatic” role. That he struggles initially with the choice between the two is made clear in the second act, when the King exposes the treachery of Cambridge, Scroop and Grey. “Touching our person we seek no revenge,” he tells them, “But we our kingdom’s safety must so tender,/ Whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws/ We do deliver you” (2.2.175-178). He punishes their subterfuge, he explains, not out of personal anger at his would-be killers, but out of kingly concern for national welfare. And yet Harry is not fully King Henry at this point, for try as he might to banish personal feeling from his royal rhetoric, he cannot. He tells the traitors:…My lord of Cambridgehere,You know how apt our love was to accordTo furnish him with all appertinentsBelonging to his honour; and this manHath for a few light crowns lightly conspiredTo kill us here in Hampton. To the whichThis knight, no less for bounty bound to usThan Cambridge is, hath likewise sworn. – But oh,What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop, thou cruel,Ingrateful, savage, inhuman creature,Thou didst know the key of all my counselsThat knewst the very bottom of my soul (2.2.84-97)It is evident here that Harry’s person is indeed “touched” by this perfidy, despite claims to the contrary. He lapses from the royal “we” – his historical voice – to the self-referential “I” – his dramatic voice – despite strained efforts to maintain the dignity of his office. The pain caused by Scroop’s betrayal triggers some of the most emotional words uttered by Henry in the entire play. “Ingrateful, savage, inhuman creature” he calls the conspiring Lord. As Harry gradually gets a hold of his rhetoric, though, he comes to relinquish all these personal investments in state politics. He deserts the complicated credence of the man for the simple battle cry of the ruler. “No king of England, if not king of France!” he declares at the close of the scene. Shakespeare makes it clear in this scene that as long as he allows his dramatic sensibilities to flare up, Harry will never truly be a viable historical king. In suppressing the complex and embracing the absolute, though, a fully formed King Henry emerges, ready to pursue his myopic quest to the ends of the earth. As Henry comes to embrace history, though, Shakespeare eschews it by showing how it creates a sovereign who is, as William Hazlitt observes, “a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant.”After this scene, any personal attachment to his kingly actions vanishes, allowing Henry to move with the swift absolutism history demands. Shakespeare’s hero now belongs to history and not to drama. At the war ravaged gates of Harfleur, for instance, Henry coolly warns the governor that if the town doesn’t surrender, the English will have “their most reverent heads dashed to the walls, / [their] naked infants spitted upon pikes” (3.3.37-38). Following this atrocious threat, he offers the town two options possible only in the morally reductive pages of history: “What say you? Will you yield and this avoid?/ Or, guilty in defense, be thus destroyed?” (3.3.41-42). Henry refuses to admit the possibility of any action that is not either entirely right (i.e. English) or entirely wrong (i.e. French), despite the fact that he indicts the Harfleurians for the very crime from which he absolves his own soldiers – serving the wishes of their king. Furthermore, the King fails to see the parallel between the English attack on France and “the weasel Scot’s” invasion of England (1.2.170). If a dramatic hero would eventually realize his folly and compromise, the hero of history must be absolutely unyielding. Defender or offender, all Harry knows is that England is always in the right.He brings this attitude to the post-bellum bargaining table with France, where he tells his defeated colleagues “you must buy that peace/ With full accord to all our just demands” (5.2.70-71). Victory and peace always cue the curtain to fall on history, but for the dramatist this is a most unsatisfactory ending. For drama is not about winning or losing, but learning. The efficacy of the ending depends upon some knowledge gained and revealed in the course of the play. But history, as the cliché goes, repeats itself, and so does Harry. The King consistently fails to cope with the dramatic issues that present themselves – his right to the French throne, his threats to Harfleur, his underdog attack on Agincourt – and, in fact, Henry seems to un-learn some of the humanity he let peak out while chastising Scroop early in the play. In this way, Shakespeare suggests that the historical hero is the very antithesis of the dramatic hero. For while the dramatic hero comes to know himself and his world by the final act, the historical hero ends by becoming alienated from his true self, a chameleon whose color matches whatever duty he is carrying out.It may seem absurd to assert that someone who inhabits many roles is not dramatic, but Henry is an actor on history’s stage, and for Shakespeare this is obviously an important distinction. Actors in drama depict people; actors in history always play caricatures. A dramatic role demands a nuanced performance representing the multi-faceted nature of human existence; all of Henry’s roles refer back to the single-faceted needs of his kingship. Whether enacting Harry Le Roi, the brave captain, or the merciful conqueror, Henry dedicates his performance to his crown. There is nothing in his histrionics that suggests that he has anything but a Machiavel’s interest in creating a character of reasonable verisimilitude.Harry’s great coup as a historical actor coincides with the final scene of the play, in which he woos the French princess, Katharine. “She is our capital demand,” Henry announces to the King and Queen, and the room clears out so that he can make the appropriate overtures to his would-be bride (5.2.96). He tries briefly to entreat her with poetry, but switches over to a plain-spoken prose style when he realizes this approach better suits his needs. Playing the earnest amant, Henry wins the French princess with the same single-mindedness with which he won the French crown. Although marriage ought to be a union based on personal affection, Shakespeare implies that this one is yet another of Harry’s political maneuvers. As he kisses a prim, reluctant Kate, he points out to her that “nice customs curtsy to great kings” (5.2.266). This is hardly a declaration of love and devotion. The real object of Henry’s affection here, as in all the roles he plays, is his own sovereign power, and he plans to wed not Kate, but the political dowry she brings with her.The marriage of Henry and Kate is truly a historical marriage, bypassing love for the sake of politics. It simplifies what could be a complicated situation – ruling two countries at once – by providing a solution that is both politically savvy in nature and felicitous in appearance. And for this very reason, Shakespeare hints, the union will fail. Whereas drama spends five acts exploring complications in order to arrive at a resolution, history is so resolved from the outset that it never pauses to deal with complexities as they arrive. There is no “happily ever after” in history because these issues inevitably return to haunt the historical figures who ignored them in the first place. The solution to one problem ends up being the basis of the next. The Chorus confirms this fact when he reports that the son Kate bears Harry, whom he had hoped would “go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard,” ends up undoing all the gains of King Henry’s reign (5.2.205-206). The ultimate legacy of Harfleur, of Agincourt, of all the glorious deeds recorded in the chronicles about Henry V, ends up being no more than a son, Henry VI, “whose state so many had the managing/ That they lost France and made his England bleed” (Epilogue 11-12).This is no ending fit for drama, no ending fit for history. But, Shakespeare seems to say, Henry V’s combination of tenuous happiness and confirmed demise sounds the perfect final note for that mongrel, the historical drama. There can be no compromise between the dueling sensibilities present in this genre, so all must end in ambiguity and embattled tendencies, pulling the play (and the playwright) in two opposing directions, bearing down upon the English history play until it finally explodes.
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.
“A Little Touch of Harry”: Intimacy and “Twin-Born” Kings
Though in the beginning of Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation of Henry V Derek Jacobi implores that we try to “think” when the players speak of Agincourt that we “see” the commotion (Prologue. 27), we soon realize that pretending is not necessary. Surrounded on all sides by sleeping soldiers, a cloaked figure squats near the warmth of a dying fire, as moonbeams illuminate a half-covered yet familiar face in quiet darkness. This figure is Henry V, and this moment in the film most certainly does justice to its written counterpart—we hear the “creeping murmur fill the wide vessel of the universe” (4.1.2) through the haunting hum of violins, and feel “the poring dark” (4.1.2) envelop us as the fire wanes on the eve of the Battle at Agincourt. Indeed, that which Shakespeare wrote unfolds before us, clearer and more authentic perhaps than the playwright himself could have ever envisioned. The film’s magic lies in its ability to make real Shakespeare’s words and to fill them with a story of tears, breath, and blood. The film exposes the private secrets of a story that at first blush appears to be what Stephen Greenblatt calls “the celebration of Charismatic leadership and martial heroism” (223). Branagh’s picture fascinates by showcasing with ease a power to transcend the obvious, examining delicate, intimate moments with the King and other monarchs, elucidating quiet truths about Henry that may otherwise evade casual readers. There are, for careful readers, powerful moments in the text that illuminate a realm of negative space, revealing a fundamental paradox in Henry’s character, and delineating the dichotomy of spirit inherent to kingship. Branagh’s interpretation proves its commitment to those moments as it seeks to unmask Henry, to get at his innermost content and the essential landscape of his existence as both man and monarch.In Act IV, Henry mingles with his troops on the eve of battle and, in a fiery debate with one soldier in particular, discovers the near absurdity of his role as King of England. In Shakespeare’s version, Michael Williams tells him that “if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it” (IV.i.148-150). Henry replies by insisting that a king “is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers” (IV.i.159-60) with a quickness and resentment that hints at frustration. The film, though, fosters in us an appreciation of the painful anxiety he experiences in taking responsibility for his subject’s lives, as well as his sore acceptance of the fact that he is as powerful and influential as a god, yet still only a man. Upon the king! Let us our lives, our souls, our debts, our careful wives, our children, and our sins, lay on the King! We must bear all. O hard condition, Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breathOf every fool whose sense no more can feel But his own wringing. What infinite heart’s easeMust kings neglect that private men enjoy?…O be sick, great greatness. ( IV. i. 238-245)Branagh captures Henry’s anxiety brilliantly: tears glisten in his eyes, and we hear the aggravation and unease with which he proclaims, “Every subject’s soul is his own” (IV.i.183). By dressing in disguise, he is at once a king and a commoner, and with subjects sleeping on either side of him, he is both in company, yet alone enough to speak as if no one might hear him. This scene is the first clear articulation of an irony that Shakespeare intended, but that Branagh’s film makes real. As Henry searches within himself to reconcile the dual nature of his being, we realize the extent to which the play comments on the disquieting coalescence of mind and matter in human beings in general, and the confrontation between surface and substrata that is intrinsic to kings in particular. Though “in his nakedness he appears but a man,” (IV.i.107) the King comes to learn that he is “twin born”; he bears the obligations of a king, yet is “subject to” the same “breath” as those who enjoy his protection. Indeed, what a “hard condition” to be at once royal and mortal. In scene two of Act V, after England has defeated France, the plot very suddenly, if not arbitrarily, reveals that he is in love with Princess Katherine of France. Henry’s romantic determinations are an even more articulate example of this paradox. If “witchcraft” dwelled in the kiss of Katherine’s lips, then the same can be said of Henry’s courting techniques (V.ii.287), a fact made evident in his declaring “in true English” that he loves her, calling her voice by the name of “music”. The tenacity with which he woos her exposes his intention to conquer her just as he did her country. Where in Act IV he struggled to conduct both parts of himself (man and king) harmoniously, in Act V he struggles to detach them, to know the boundaries of his duties as a conqueror and a lover:But in loving me, you should love the friend of France, for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it. I will have it all mine. And, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine. (V.ii.179-85, emphasis added)The irony is further unearthed when he admits to loving her “cruelly” (V.ii.211). His use of the word cruel (one that conjures images of indifference, hardness, and lack of compassion), his unsuitably transactional language, and his claim that he loves her “truly-falsely” (V.i.234) show that he is unable to separate the feelings he has about conquering France from those he has for its princess. Even under circumstances of tender intimacy, Henry wrestles with himself in order to relinquish kingly instincts. Katherine’s facial expressions on film show her discontent with Henry’s attitude. Her voice is void of the smiles and lightness one might expect after a proposal. Even her kiss is that of someone conquered, subordinated. He will “have it all”. Henry’s romantic and erotic yearnings are not untouched by the enduring difficulty of belonging to a “twin-born” king. Moreover, when Katherine tells Henry that their marriage “shall please de roi”, her father, we begin to appreciate that she too must reckon with conflicting existences. Woman and princess, she too must negotiate a space between personal needs and familial expectation. When at the very end she and Henry raise their hands in celebration of a newly unified nation, we see in her eyes the same deadness and dissatisfaction we saw earlier in the scene; one part of her is far less than thrilled to be marrying the man responsible for the deaths of her countrymen, but her other self knows what she must do. This scene exhibits the tragedy of two figures lost within themselves; Katherine and Henry are of two minds, yet one body. The drama of both Shakespeare’s Henry V and Branagh’s Henry V lie in their tendency to vacillate. Now plain, now unseen, at once manifest and elusive, they function like sculptures etched in bas relief; carefully carved and three-dimensional descriptions of humanity, Henry V suggests that we look to the shadowy areas, beyond the action depicted on the raised stone, and to the often overlooked, sunken regions, for an authentic human narrative. It is possible that Henry’s struggles with duality expose Shakespeare’s fascination with the inevitable union of the spectacular and the everyday (a preoccupation that Branagh chose to recognize in his interpretation) in his characters. Many of Shakespeare’s plays show the extent to which ordinary and extraordinary inform one another, to which the existence of one gives form and definition to the other. As Stephen Greenblatt suggests in Will in the World: Shakespeare’s theatre is the equivocal space where conventional explanations fall away…where the fantastic and the bodily touch…He who had imagined the lives of kings and rebels, Roman emperors and black warriors, he who had fashioned a place for himself in the wild world of the London stage, would embrace ordinariness…fascinated by exotic locations, archaic cultures, and larger-than-life figures…his imagination was closely bound to the familiar and the intimate. (386-388)To borrow from Hamlet, Henry “was a man”, and in his play Shakespeare encourages us to “take him for all in all”, to know him in ways both public and private. Even Hamlet, veiled by the classic vengeance tale, is the confrontation between human nature itself and certain transcendental facts that shape reality; to Hamlet humanity is a wonder, yet nothing but dust; on the surface even he was a royal prince committed to revenge, yet beneath a lonely philosopher incapable of action. Perhaps Shakespeare’s fascination with paradox leads us to important parallel in our scholarship of his own life: to be sure, a young boy from Stratford with a peculiar gift for making his what he saw around him became a man whose legacy has evolved over the centuries into an institution that maintains unflinching influence. Shakespeare’s life was indeed “larger than” most others, but our search for flesh in fable can be satisfied by coming to realize what Greenblatt calls the “nature of his whole magnificent achievement” (388): through close examination of his work, we find a “little touch” of Shakespeare in plays like Henry V, and in souls like our Harry’s. Works CitedGreenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Stephen Orgel ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Shakespeare, William. Mowat, Barbara A. and Werstine, Paul eds. Henry V. Washington, D.C.: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 2005.
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.