Shakespeare's Henry V Term Paper

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Henry the Fifth and the Ideal of a Monarch

Shakespeare's history plays are based mostly in fact yet have the insertion of beliefs and systems that where truly his own. In Shakespeare's Henry V can be seen a culmination of his goals of monarchical character development. Though the character King Henry does not always closely resemble his slightly more carefree youth, Prince Hal as seen through the story of his father, Henry V has aged into what Shakespeare thought to be the ideal king. (Losey 539) Shakespeare, through Henry V paints a vivid picture of a conscience driven monarch with a heart for life, god and country. Though some criticize the nationalistic romanticism of Henry's depiction the message of literature is meant to both entertain the viewer and make him or her think and Shakespeare clearly has this goal in both history and humor.

Throughout the drama Henry is depicted as very human, capable of mistakes and successes even capable of being entertained by the hollow duties of public ceremony. He possess all the attributes that make a man a good man and above all a monarch a good leader. King Henry is depicted as honorable, pious, dutiful and self-controlled. King Henry was markedly conscionable, "In Shakespeare's history plays, conscience is the nexus where internal self-awareness and external political action, the obligations of obedience and the authority of personal judgment converge. "


Of coarse Henry's ultimate mistake is being tricked through the treachery of the Archbishop of Canterbury into engaging in a bloody war with France. As the editor of a 1926 collection of Shakespeare's works states it, "An Archbishop, with almost divine eloquence, but with covert and selfish purpose, urging a conscientious, humane, and Christian King to war; and at the same "mirror of all Christian kings" once resolved on war, setting over against the offence involved in the gift of a few tennis-balls to the lives of thousands of husbands and sons..." (540) Though Shakespeare is clear that the mistake of such a decision is clearly poorly made he gives Henry no real chiding for it. (540) noble English, that could entertain / With half their forces the full pride of France

And let another half stand laughing by,/

All out of work and cold for action!/

Ely. Awake remembrance of these valiant dead,/

And with your puissant arm renew their feats.

You are their heir, you sit upon their throne./

The blood and courage that renowned them/

Runs in your veins.

Dorius 11)

The impassioned pleas of the Archbishop to call Henry to action engulf the extent to which the man went to recruit the King into a scheme to hold up a vote on a bill that would revoke rights and property from the church. Shakespeare's well developed argument that the true villain was not Henry but his advisor does much to redeem his character.

Though the mistake is apparent the honor invoked by the ideas the Archbishop attempt to monopolize on are rooted in the traditional ideal of honor, duty to family and ancestry are a basis for the standard of honor set for Henry.

This internalization of conscience is expressed in a developing sense of nationhood. Henry's ambitions in France, which in the opening scenes are discussed in terms of family lineage and inherited right, by the battle at Agincourt have become a matter of national honor, transcending linguistic and class differences and uniting "a band of brothers" (4.3.60) in a common cause.


Though here Slights expresses the idea that these "new" ideals are based on a developing sense of nationhood it is also apparent that the ideals are the basis for character, as seen through Shakespeare.

On the issue of the Kings humanity the depiction of him as noble enough to recognize the falseness of the pomp and circumstance that so guides the life of a monarch is present throughout the work.

The most significant cut is Henry's long soliloquy "Upon the king!" (235-89), where he meditates on "thrice-gorgeous ceremony" as nothing more than a "proud dream." Some readers and audience members find that Henry's questioning of his public role, his recognition of its hollowness and its cost in personal contentment, humanizes him.

Hall 8)

Though Henry is still consistently dutiful his humanity is bridged once again when it becomes clear repeatedly that he feels his greatest duty lies in the duty to his country and when he says country he means those both with wealth, title and property and those without wealth, title and property. Henry finds comfort in discussing the issue of the morality of war with his soldiers but he does so disguised as a simple man so he might hear and feel their true ideas on the subject. He wants full knowledge of his deed without the coloring of the depiction of his honor as king.

King: Even as men wrack'd upon a sand, that look / to be wash'd off the next tide.

Bates: He hath not told his thought to the king?

King: No, nor it is not meet he should. For though / speak it to you, 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 human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, / in his nakedness he appears but a man. And though / his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet / when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing./

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.

(Dorius 81)

In this one passage the king, in disguise describes himself to his men and in so doing he tells those present that even though he is king he sees all they see and feels all they feel as a man. The king knows that the morrow brings the death of many and yet he expresses constancy and hopes that his soldiers will do the same for the sake of the moral of all the others.

Bates: He may show what outward courage he will, / but I believe, as cold a night as 'tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck. And so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here./

King: By my troth, I will speak my conscience of / the king. I think he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is./

Bates: Then I would he were here alone. So should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men's lives saved.

King: I dare say you love him not so ill to wish him / here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other / men's minds. Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the king's company, his cause being / just and his quarrel honorable.

Dorius 81-82)

Though it is clear that these men are afraid the rally of the anonymous king was heartfelt. The soldiers went on to face unknown ends the next day on the battlefield and loyalty to the crown was proved with the lives of many men.

Within the time of Shakespeare there has been a noted change in ideals associated with honor. On researcher points out that this shift is apparent throughout most of his historical works but particularly evident within Henry V.

Shakespeare's King Henry the Fifth seems to speak for his whole age in answer to the medieval Christian attitude toward honor when he says to his men before the battle of Agincourt:

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive."

IV. iii. 24, 28-29)

(Watson 208)

Though this may clearly be a representation of the warrior values and not the whole of society Watson goes on to discuss the idea that attitudes toward the fundamental concepts like honor were melding with a new attention on classic ideals.

In the Renaissance merging of Christian and classical values, Christian values have not maintained the dominant position they held in the Middle Ages. In this speech, honor is being viewed in the Roman manner as the most precious of man's possessions; the medieval Christian attitude is being ignored. This does not mean that King Henry the Fifth ceases to be a Christian monarch; it simply means that he is adhering to a dual system of values.

Watson 208)

It is difficult even with perfect hindsight to completely understand Shakespeare's motive yet it is also clear that even up to this time the warrior mentality had to make certain adjustments to be able to exist within the realm of…[continue]

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