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In these scenes, the Chorus adds something significant to the play.
The Chorus encourages us to use our "imaginary forces" and create the "might monarchies./Whose high upreared and abutting fronts/the perilous narrow oceans parts asunder" (Prologue.21-3). In addition, the Chorus tells us to "Think when we talk horses that you see them/Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;/for 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings" (Prologue. 27-9). Here, the Chorus has an extended role in many ways because it is telling the audience how to use their imaginations where the stage is limited. The Chorus also apologizes for the crowded constriction of time we find in the last act. Members of the audience told:
humbly pray them to admit the excuse
Of time, of numbers, and due course of things,
Which cannot in their huge and proper life
Be here presented. (V.0.4-7)
The Chorus serves an additional purpose in the play that causes us to ponder the character and actions of King Henry. We see a clear contrast in the Henry that the Chorus describes and the Henry in the fourth act when we read that Henry's "liberal eye doth give to every one,/Thawing cold fear" (V.0.45-6). It is interesting that Henry takes some time to himself to think the battle over. These two impressions of the king are certainly in contrast to one another. The purpose of the Chorus in all of this confusion is to make the audience think about Henry and form their own opinions. Things may not always be as they appear and Shakespeare uses the king and the Chorus in this play to prove that point.
The Chorus does this in other parts of the play as well. For instance, the Chorus tells the audience that the French "shake in their fear,/and with pale policy/seek to divert the English purposes" (II.0.16). The audience is also told that the French are "treacherous crowns" and "corrupted men" (II.0.23). However, what is interesting about these statements is that the audience does not necessarily see the French in the same way that the Chorus describes them. Moreover, later in the play, the Chorus tells the audience that King Henry is "the mirror of all Christian kings" (II.0.6). But King Henry has a difficult time living up to this statement. Through these examples, Shakespeare uses irony to deliver some comedy to the drama.
The Chorus in King Henry V is serving two purposes and without it, the play would seem to be nothing more than a series of events. Along with providing necessary information about the play, the Chorus also encourages us to think about the character of the king.
The Chorus does not always have such an active role in plays, if any at all. In Romeo and Juliet, the Chorus speaks at the beginning of the play to tell the audience about the history of the family feuds and the ultimate fate of the lovers. In this instance, the Chorus is much less active in the play, making only a small appearance.
In Elizabethan drama, the epilogue generally operated as a tool to give the play a nice, finished ending. Characters from the play would often speak directly to audience members, providing a sense of closure to the action they have just witnessed. In a Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck tells the audience that if they have been offended, they should think that have only dreamed everything that they have seen. By having Puck close out the play, Shakespeare is able to continue to dreamy nature of the play until the very last lines. In as You Like it, Rosalind also asks for forgiveness from anyone who might have been offended by her action in the play. These remarks left the audience feeling as though the play has come to a nice conclusion.
In many ways, the Elizabethan theater changed drama. The emergence of Shakespeare and other playwrights turned out to be perfect timing for the new way in which plays were acted out. The structure of the theater during this time changed the relationship between the audience and the actors by bringing them closer together as well as encouraging the audience to use their imagination. The intimate structure of the theater and the fascinating material changed how theater would be perceived and defined forever.
Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. "The Sixteenth Century." New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1986.
Barnet, Sylvan, et al. "A Note on the Elizabethan Theater." An Introduction to Literature. 8th Ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1985.
Harrison, G.B. Introducing Shakespeare. New York: Penguin Books. 1983.
Shakespeare, William. King Henry V. Bartleby Online. Site…[continue]
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