How Does Shakespeare Present Henry V English Literature Essay

In Shakespeare’s time, as a playwright it was always necessary for the monarchs to approve of your play, as if they didn’t they could shut you down. The monarch at the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V was Elizabeth I, who was at the time leading the country in the 9 years war with Ireland.

Henry V’s character was, in the previous plays Henry IV part I + II, depicted as a wild young prince that enjoyed drinking and socializing with commoners. However, in Henry V, he goes to war with France, and Shakespeare realized he needed to show him as a strong and great monarch in order to reflect well on the monarchy in general, especially when at war (because of the 9 years war).

Even before any of the characters have being introduced, Henry’s great deeds are being told to the audience by the chorus. The chorus asks “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?”. The chorus is saying this because in the theaters used at the time, hardly any props and scenery were used. He is asking the audience to use imagination to fill in for the lack of scenery, but he is also already, in the first lines of the play, telling of how great Henry’s achievements are. He does this with uses of words such as ‘vasty’ to describe France, showing already how big Henry’s achievements are. The chorus also says “Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars, and at his heels, leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire crouch for employment”. This tells us a lot about Henry, as famine, sword and fire are powerful things, yet Henry can control them, and use them to his advantage.

In act I, scene I, we still do not meet the king, but instead the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely, who tell us more about the king, Ely says “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle and wholesome berries thrive and ripen best neighbored by fruits of baser quality”, talking about the now king’s past troubles. The nettle was his bad behavior, but underneath that, a great king (the strawberry) was growing. The fruits of baser quality were those such as Falstaff and Bardolph that Henry used to be good friends with.

In the following scene, we meet the king for the first time as he seeks advice from the two churchmen about the principle of going to war with France. Shakespeare shows Henry is keen to know how God would view the war – “We are no tyrant, but a Christian king”, and he is told that God approves, showing another good virtue of Henry.

The next scene which shows important things about Henry’s character is act II, scene II. The scene starts off with Henry and his commanders about to plan their conquest of France. Henry asks Exeter to release a man who shouted abuse at Henry the previous day (“rail’d against our person”), saying “It was excess of wine that set him on”. This shows he is a merciful king. However, Scroop, a close friend of Henry’s, disagrees with his decision, saying that he is being too merciful, and he should make an example of the criminal so that it will not happen again. However Henry knows that Scroop and two others have accepted money from the French to take part in a plot to kill him. He decides to lull them into a false sense of security, by giving them pieces of paper which they think will contain their positions for the invasion. Henry tells them “I know your worthiness”, but as they don’t know that he knows about their plans, their reaction when they read the paper is best described by Henry himself – “What see you in those papers that you lose so much complexion?”. So far this scene has showed us Henry’s intelligence, but in the following speech to the traitors he shows them mercy, and also shows his compassion and decisiveness.

When he speaks to Cambridge and Grey about their treason he speaks in the formal royal we – “To kill us here in Hampton”, however when he turns to Lord Scroop, he changes to the informal ‘I’ – “But, O, what shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop?”. This shows he is truly upset about his betrayal, but he shows his resolve and decisiveness when, at the end of his speech, he gives them the same mercy that they would have given to the drunken abuser, and agrees for the 3 traitors to be executed.

Another important quality of Henry’s character is making sure his approach to war is honorable and not greedy. He shows this throughout the play. Our first sign of his honorable intent is when the Dauphin provokes him by giving him a gift of tennis balls, reminding him about his past and suggesting he should stay there.

He also shows his good intentions in the two speeches he makes during the Siege of Harfleur and before the Battle of Agincourt. He also shows his good leadership and faith in god in these key scenes. During the speech before the battle of Harfleur, he calls the soldiers his ‘dear friends’ – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”. This puts the soldiers on the same level as Henry, making them more willing to fight and risk their lives for him. Henry himself comes across as bold and warlike, and he urges his soldiers to be the same. He appeals to their patriotism, nobility and warlike spirit with lines such as “Imitate the action of a tiger”, and “On, on, you noblest English”. He also shows he is willing to fight to the bitter end by saying “or close the wall up with our English dead”. By doing this he gains the trust, and respect, of his troops.

He once again shows his mercy but decisiveness when he talks to the Governor of Harfleur, as he says that if he opens the gates he will spare the French, but if he does not, the n”The gates of mercy shall be all shut up”.

The night before the battle of Agincourt is an important scene in showing Henry’s human qualities. He shows that he can make light of a bad situation – “There is some soul of goodness in things evil”. When he walks around the camp in disguise he says to William and Bates, two men who don’t like the kings attitude, “I think the king is but a man, as I am”. The backs up this thought during a soliloquy later, where he shows that he feels the burden of his kingship. He says that a peasant working in a field will get a better nights sleep than he does because they don’t have so much worry. He also speaks about “pointless ceremony”, these weaknesses show the human side of Henry.

Henry then prays to God, once again showing his religiousness and that he believes God is with him. He prays for courage and forgiveness, showing that he know not even he is above God, which is important for a good Christian king.

Henry once again shows his good leadership skills in his rallying speech before the battle of Agincourt. He hears Westmoreland wish that they had more men with them, and tells him that the more men there are, the less honor and glory there would be to go around. He tells his men “If it be a sing to covet honor, then I am the most offending soul alive”. He speaks to his men about how proud they will be to of survived the battle, and how their deeds will be remembered for years to come. He also tells his men that he will give them free passage home if they don’t wish to fight (which is reverse psychology).

The last glimpses we get of Henry’s character come in his anger at the French killing of the baggage boys (something that is strictly against the rules of war), and his love scene with Katherine. In the former scene, Henry shows his passion when the French messenger comes to see him to ask whether they can count their dead, Henry shows his anger (another sign of his humanity) – “I was not angry since I came to France”, but as soon he knows of his good intentions he becomes calm and polite again, another sign of his good character

When he is flirting with the French princess Katherine, Henry presents himself as a plain and simple man who is not good with words. He tells her – “Though wouldst find me such a plain king” and “I know no ways to mince it in love, but to directly say, I love you”. Not only is he shown to be humble in this scene, but he is also honest, and important quality for showing his humanity and Christianity

Throughout the play, Shakespeare shows Henry as a good Christian, from how he addresses others to how he prays to god before battle and ascribes the victory to him. He is also shown as a good leader, through his speeches before and during the battle, to his decisiveness when having to punish old friends and colleagues for wrongdoings. However, most importantly, he is also shown to be human, so we, as an audience, can relate to him and his decisions throughout the entire play.

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