Monday, October 3, 2011

Shakespeare's Henry V

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Henry V in Shakespeare


1.- Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts One and Two.


To analyse the evolution of Shakespeare’s Henry V we have to pay attention to Henry V, Parts One and Two. In this previous play of Shakespeare Henry V, called Prince Hal, had a wild life with some colleagues like Falstaff and Barloph. These characters belong to a lower social class. His father, Henry IV, almost had lost his faith in his son. The death of the king Henry IV is a very important moment in the life of the young Prince Hal. Other influential event during the existence of Henry V is the way in which his father, Henry IV, reached the English throne Henry Bolingbroke wrested the kingship from Richard II.


But these plays also show an apparent reformation Prince Hal became a good and loyal soldier, he saved the life of his father and when he reached the throne he banished Falstaff, denying his previous wild life.


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.- Presentation of Henry V.


At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare does not put Henry V on stage. But other characters present him indirectly to the audience. This fact is very relevant for the opinion of the audience about Henry, because they could remember the reveler character from the previous plays Henry V, Parts One and Two. The characters who introduce King Henry are





a) The Chorus, who present the image of a warrior king in the prologue.


b) The archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely, who introduce the vision of a transformed character. Henry is now the ideal king


“And so the Prince obscured his contemplation


Under a veil of wildness, which, no doubt,


Grew like the summer grass fastest by night,


Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty”.


Act I, scene ii, 64-67.


These characters mention that the death of his father, Henry IV, is a point of inflexion in the behaviour of Prince Hal.


“The breath no sooner left his father’s body


But that wildness, mortified in him,


Seemed to die too. Yea, at that very moment


Consideration like an angel came


And whipped th’offending Adam out of him,


Leaving his body as a paradise


T’envelop and contain celestial spirits,


Never was such a sudden scholar made;


Never came reformation in a flood…”


Act I, scene ii, 6-4.


They also cite what Henry have become “a true lover of the holy Church” and his new positive features, for them Henry V is “full of grace and fair regard” and he speaks “sweet and honeyed sentences”; Henry is introduced as a virtuous orator.


With the introduction of these characters and their comments about Henry, Shakespeare gets that the audience see Henry as a reformed person, from a wild past to a virtuous present. There is a presentation of Henry V before his appearance.


.- First appearance of King Henry.


The first direct appearance of Henry V on stage is placed in a meeting with his Court. This way Shakespeare introduce Henry as a political figure, as a brilliant politician. The principal issue of this meeting is the possible war against France because of the right of Henry to claim the French throne.


During this scene, Henry is very cautious about the war and he asks his Court for advice. The main preoccupation is the consequences of a war to his people. For Henry the war has very negative aspects. The king must be responsible of these negative consequences.


“For never two such kingdoms did contend


Without much fall of blood, whose guiltless drops


Are every one a woe, a score complaint


‘Gainst him whose wrongs give edge unto the swords


That makes such waste in brief mortality”.


Act I, scene ii, 4-8.


King Henry also shows a great trust in the Church, which is represented by the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely.


“ For we will hear, note, and believe in heart


That what you speak is in your conscience washed


As pure as sin with baptism.”


Henry V to Archbishop of Canterbury. Act I, scene ii, -.


From the beginning of the play, Henry V shows a big sense of responsibility and justice; and when King Henry is sure about his right to accede to the throne of France, he speaks and acts with determination The King decides to claim France.


“Now are we well resolved, and by God’s help


And your, the noble sinews of our power,


France being ours we’ll bend it to our awe,


Or break it all to pieces. Or there we’ll sit”…


Act I, scene ii, -5.


With the economic and moral support of the Church, Henry is able to unified the different nations of his kingdom into a war against France.


In this scene we can also appreciate two kinds of values, that Henry will develop in the course of the play


The first group of values is the Elizabethan values Henry looks for the unity of his country. This preoccupation is shown by Henry when he is deciding about the war against France with a tense relation between England and Scotland.


The second kind of principles is the values of a Christian king, defended by philosophers like Erasmus and Machiavello. A Christian king is a charitable and righteous king but tough in his penalties, he should be a expert in war and his education have to be extensive in any field of knowledge (Literature, Theology,…). A Christian King have also to defend his religion. Henry usually make references to God as the higher power for in whose name Henry V carries out his project of the war against France.


4.- The tests of Henry V.


The dignity of Henry V as king is proved firstly by Dauphin, the eldest son of the French King Charles VI, who sends to Henry a chest with tennis balls. The French monarchy do not know the transformation of Henry into a capable king. Dauphin have send the tennis ball to make fun of the English king.


The response of Henry starts with a polite and dignified sense which hides a strong irony Henry invites Dauphin to a “tennis game” (a war) between them in France.


“We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us


His present and your pains we thank you for


When we have matched our rackets to these balls


We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set


Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard”


Henry V to the French Ambassador. Act I, scene ii.5-6.


As the French monarch ignores Henry’s new values, the English king explains his own reformation from his lower young life, when he was almost like a common man, to his new state of capable and responsible king.


“But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state,


Be like a king, and show my sail greatness


When do I rouse me in the throne of France.


For that have I laid by my majesty


And plodded like a man for working days,


But I will rise there with so full a glory


That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,”


Act I, scene ii, 7-7.


It is clear that Henry V solves perfectly this test the French Ambassador will carry the threatening message back to France, and his English Court seems to be satisfied with how Henry has conducted himself through this public test.


The second test of the English king is the episode of the traitors. Henry V discovers that three members of his Court were paid by France in order to attempt on his life. The three collaborators, the Earl of Cambridge, the Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey, try to ask for the mercy of the King, but the offence is too big. Henry V is disturbed by the political treachery of his collaborators, but he is very annoyed by the treason of his friendship. The English king speaks to Lord Scrope in a very familiar way, he is Henry’s cousin, he uses the pronoun “thou” (“What shall I say to thee, Lord Scrope, thou cruel,” .Act II, scene ii , 1). Henry compares the offence of Scrope with the offence of Adam to God. Finally they are executed by their high treason.


“...I will keep for thee,


For this revolt of thine methinks is like


Another fall of man.-Their faults are open


Arrest them to the answer of the law,


And God acquit them of their practices.”


Act II, scene ii, 17-141.


The result of this episode in the character of Henry V is a loss of his initial innocence. This event is another step in the formation of a virtuous king, a king who have to be tough in his penalties.


With the death of Falstaff and the execution of Barloph, scenes that will take place in the play later, Henry V losses the last connexions with his wild past. The loss of his past is a part of his kingship.


5.- The war and Henry V.


One of the most relevant aspects of Henry’s description concerns his behaviour and presentation as a leader in war. The historical Henry V has been remembered by his achievements in the field of war, so this is a very important presentation of King Henry.


Firstly the English king is underestimate by the Dauphin, the son and the initial inheritor of the French king Charles VI. We have to remember the insult of the tennis balls to Henry V. But Exeter explains to the French king the fierceness of Henry V in their meeting, comparing him with the forces of nature in order to threaten the French Court.


“Therefore in fierce tempest is he coming,


In thunder and earthquake, like a Jove,”…


Exeter to Charles VI. Act , scene iv, 7-100.


With this speech of Exeter, the messenger of Henry V, the French king start to recognize Henry as a dangerous enemy.


Another positive aspect of Henry is his skills to be a great orator. He uses his speeches to motivate of his army. A good example is his discourse before the French town of Harfleur. Henry speaks to his soldiers calling them “dear friends”, in a familiar way (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”… Act III, scene I, 1). He employs his skilful oratory in order to give the confidence and the fierceness required to start the battle, using a simile taken from nature between the warrior and a tiger.


“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man


As modest stillness and humility,


But when the blast of war blows in our ears,


Then imitate the action of the tiger”.


Act III, scene I , -6.


And in this speech he Henry refers the two social class of his army. He speaks to the noble men in order to defend their noble inheritance and the lower class of soldiers to fight for England, their king and for their personal pride.


“(...) On, on, you noblest English,


Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,”


Act III, scene i, 17-18.


“(...)And you good yeomen,


Whose limbs were made in England, show us here


The mettle of your pasture; (...)”


Act III, scene i, 5-7.


But later Henry V also orders his army to treat fairly and courteously to the French population.


“For when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the winner.”


Act III, scene vi, 11-114.


There is a composite of humaneness and decision in the personality of the English king.


According to these aspects, war is a glorious enterprise and Henry V is a heroic leader who uses the oratory for the purposes of the battle against the French. But when Henry is before the gates of Harfleur, he uses skilfully his oratory to avoid a terrible war in this French town. In this discourse, which is directed to the population of Harfleur and specially for its governor, the English king describes the horrible consequences of a war on the people if his governor do not want to surrender.


“The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,


And the fleshed soldier, rough and hard of heart,


In liberty of the bloody hand shall range


With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass


Your fresh fair virgins and you flow’ring infants.”


Act III, scene iii, 0-4.


Finally the people of Harfleur surrender and Henry V gives them his mercy.


6.- Agincourt.


The battle of Agincourt against France has been remembered as one of the highest event in the History of England. In this battle, a reduced English army of 5,000 soldiers defeated the French army with 5,000 men.


Beyond the historical facts, Shakespeare expounds the inner personality of Henry V and his deepest preoccupations before the decisive battle in Agincourt.


The night before the war against the French army, Henry V disguises in order to can walk among his men because he is worried about their confidence. Henry uses prose so that his soldiers can understand him perfectly. In his plays Shakespeare employs the prose with the characters of lower social classes. At the beginning of this act IV, the chorus describes this action of the English king as “a little touch of Harry in the night” (Act IV, Chorus, 47).


It is very interesting the conversation of the King Henry with three members of his army, John Bates, Michael Williams and Alexander Court. The soldiers are conversing about the feelings of the king in these moments before the battle. The masked Henry enters in this discussion and he affirms that the king is just an individual


“I think the King is but a man, as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me. All his senses have but a human conditions”


Act IV, scene I, -10.


The king is a man, but he can not show his preoccupations and fears, as any common human does, because his soldiers could loss the faith in their king. He must to seem courageous and imperturbable. Success in politics requires the sacrifice or repression of the humanity of a king.


“Therefore, when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are. Yet, in reason, no man should possess him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing it, should dishearten his army”


Act IV, scene I, 105-10.


The conversation of King Henry with Williams is about the responsibility of a king, a leader in war, for the lives of his soldiers, the right of a monarch to sacrifice human lives in pursuit of a cause.


“But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and head chopped off in a battle shall join together at the latter day”


Williams to Henry V. Act IV, scene I, 1-1.


The response of Henry is clear each human being is the only responsible of his actions and of his ultimate fate.


“The king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers,(…), for they purpose not their deaths when they propose their services.”


Act IV, scene I, 148-15.


“Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own”


Act IV, scene I, 168-170.


When Henry is at least alone, he starts a significant soliloquy. The discussion with his soldiers have helped him understand his men. In this monologue, Henry analyse his own role as king. For the English monarch the thing which differ a king from a common man is the “ceremony”.


“And what have the kings that privates have not too,


Save ceremony, save general ceremony?


And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?”


Act IV, scene I, 6-8.


This word suggest a group of props associated with the role of king (“The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,/ The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,/ The farc├Ęd title running fore the king,…”. Act IV, scene I, 4-51.). But this ceremony can not answer Henry V to his feelings and fears. Many of these feeling must be surrender before the commitment to this ceremonial props. So, the ceremony is an element which dehumanises a king.


During his speech, Henry V never shows any kind of regret or doubt about any decision taken about the war against France. So we have to understand this speech as an expression of Henry’s anxiety before the battle. This monologue expresses the lowest moment of Henry during all the play.


After this soliloquy, Henry says a prayer in order to God helps him in the coming battle. Henry also expounds a list of actions that he have made to atone his father’s usurpation and execution of Richard II.


“(... ). And I have built


Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests


Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do,


Though all I can do is nothing worth, Since that my penitence comes after ill,


Imploring pardon.”


Act IV, scene i, 88-.


During the prayer , it seems like if Henry is treating God as one of his subjects, showing a external skin of self-confidence. In this oration, like in the previous monologue, there is no sentences about his conception of himself as a man or as a king, a leader. Shakespeare does not show any feature of the inner personality of Henry V. At this moment of the play a question arises Has a successful politic leader a inner personality, a private life?


Before the battle of Agincourt, Henry is faced with a potentially military catastrophe. The main intention of his discourse is to rouse his soldiers. He tries to unite all his men in a brotherhood in order to reach a common purpose, the English glory.


“If we are marked to die, we are enough


to do our country loss; and if to live,


The fewer men, the greater share of honour.”


Act IV, scene iii, 0-.


In Henry’s speech, there are many Christian references; Henry pray to God for guidance in the battle. The English king addresses to his men to remembrance this date, Saint Crispin day, in the future; they will be part of the glorious history of England.


“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by


From these day to the ending of the world


But we in it shall be remembered,


We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”


Act IV, scene iii, 57-60.


Montjoy, the French messenger, arrive at Henry’s position to ask if Henry will surrender before France, but he refuses to abandon the war. The reply of the English monarch is very similar to his previous speech because his reply is planned to impress on Montjoy and also on his men.


“And those that leave their valiant bones in France,


Dying like men, though buried in your dunghills


They shall be famed.”


Act IV, scene iii, -101.


The victory of the battle is due to the actions of the English archers, but Shakespeare stresses the speech of Henry as the reason of the fierceness of the English army. But, perhaps, Shakespeare did not put this historical fact because the theatrical techniques were not enough to carry out this scene of the archers.


After the English victory, Montjoy ask the English king, in the name of The French king Charles VI, for recover and identified the French dead soldiers. Henry V accede before this petition. Henry v wins the war against France.


We can say that this is the glorious part of the Henry v as a war leader But this character has also another not so positive and glorious aspects, which underlie the Shakespeare’ plays.


7.- Henry V and Catherine.


The relation between Henry and Catherine, the daughter of the French king, is marked by the victory of England in the battle of Agincourt. We have to remember that the marriage Catherine was a Henry’s objective of the war. In the negotiation with the French king, Henry requires some things


“Which you have cited, you must buy that peace


With full accord to all our just demands,”


Act V, scene ii, 68-71.


One of these demands is Catherine, she is a capital demand of Henry V. The French kind accedes to this requirement.


With the wooing of Henry to Catherine, the comedy starts in this Shakespeare’s play. Henry has no need to woo her. Perhaps Shakespeare wanted to a more human ending than the simple acquisition of a wife by win a battle. In this scene with Catherine in the French court, Henry uses the prose in order to be understood clearly by Catherine and to stresses his past as a common man. He says that he is just a “plain soldier” (Act V, scene ii, 148), and this the way in which he speaks.


Much of the speech of Henry makes reference to Catherine as a inseparable part of the peace treaty


“I will have it all mine; and Kate, when France is mine, and I am yours, then yours is France, and you are mine”.


Act V, scene ii, 170-17.


But Henry does not find any obstacle to get married with the French princess, she was already decided to accept the decision of his father.


The play ends with the marriage of Henry and Catherine, very usual in Shakespeare’s comedies, and with the union of France and England. But the epilogue tells to the audience that all these achievements of Henry V will be lost by his only son, Henry VI.


8.- Glorious Shakespeare’s Henry V?


There is a great polemic about the Shakespearian character of Henry the Fifth. There are many discussions about the purposes of Shakespeare. Does Shakespeare want to offer a glorious or negative vision of Henry V?


The most polemical episode of Henry V is the episode of the killing of the French prisoners. It is very important the order in which Shakespeare placed the different events.


Shakespeare firstly placed the announce to Henry V of the death of the Duke of York. Then Henry realizes that the French army have regrouped and they are preparing to attack the English positions. Henry tells his soldiers to kill their French prisoners in order to back to the battlefield.


“The French have reinforced their scattered men.


Then every soldier kill his prisoner”


Act IV, scene vi, 6-7.


In the next scene, the captains Fuellen and Gower discover the dead bodies of the boys who were protecting some English goods. French soldiers killed them and stole English possessions.


If Shakespeare want to show a glorious vision of Henry V Why does Shakespeare place before the killing of the prisoners (ordered by Henry)? Maybe Shakespeare wants to offer a more complex character who is not so glorious.





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