In England, the 16th century was a time renown for it’s art, culture, and above all, it’s kings. In that era, the king was the most influential figurehead in the country, closely followed by the church. Without a strong leader, the common people and nobles alike fell into disarray. Therefore, kings were expected to excel in certain qualities. A king was supposed to have confidence, in himself and in the way he rule, so he was able to assert his authority and keep his subjects loyal. A king also had to be intelligent to a certain extent.
He had to be empathetic and understanding towards his subjects, but at the same time being just and decisive, making sure that he showed no weakness in the process. Although these were important qualities, the value of a king was not all about how he ruled. A king was expected to be inspiring, to carry himself with majesty and to be courageous. Kings were expected to be physically strong and battle worthy while being quick of wit and sharp of tongue. It is a fair assessment that being a king was no mean feat.
In the play, Henry V, William Shakespeare attempts to portray the character of king Henry V with speeches, which range from awe-inspiring to terrifying and some of which that capture the very quintessence of a just and heroic king. The subjects of a king placed a lot of responsibility on the king’s shoulders. A prime example of this is in scene 4 Act 1 in Henry’s soliloquy. Henry believes that his subjects rest all their hopes on him. “Upon the king, let us rest our lives, our souls, our debts, our careful wives, our children, and our sins, we must bear all”.
In this, Henry implies that his subjects are dependant on him and that he is responsible for all of their burdens. Shakespeare uses a listing technique to exemplify the pressure that Henry is under. With “we must bear all” the rest of the line is blank. This gives the impression of a pause or a sigh. As the speech continues, Henry inquires as to what is different between a king and a normal person. “What have kings that privates have not too, save ceremony? What art thou, thou idol ceremony? “.
In this, Henry says that apart from special treatment, there is nothing different between him and a normal person. Shakespeare gives the impression that he is attempting to prove his point through the use of rhetorical questions. When in situations of extreme pressure, a king may wish to take the place of a normal person, someone with less responsibility. Henry states that someone in power cannot gain the inner peace of those without such responsibility. “Not ceremony, laid in bed majestical, can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave, who with a body filled and vacant mind gets him to rest.
With this, Shakespeare uses a metaphor to make the concept of ceremony over inner peace easier to understand. This speech is written as a soliloquy, meaning it is the innermost thoughts of the character. I believe Shakespeare used this to express the doubts and complaints of Henry V without letting his subjects witness their king in a state of weakness, keeping his face of courage and confidence. In a battle, the morale of the troops can mean the upper hand, with a properly executed rally; soldiers will fight more ruthlessly and with strong resolve.
Kings were expected to give such rallies to ensure victory. In Act 3 scene 1 at the battle of Harfleur, Henry uses such a rally to give his army to make the final push. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead”. Shakespeare has started this in an interesting way. Along with repetition for emphasis, “once more in to the breach, dear friends, once more” creates a link of familiarity and comradeship between him and his subjects. Patriotism was a commonly used tool in rallying speeches.
In Act 3 scene 1 Henry uses patriotism to goad the English soldiers. “And you good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England, show us here the mettle of your pasture, let us swear that you are worth your breeding. ” Shakespeare uses the language here to show Henry’s patriotism by implying that English blood should be better than any other kind and he challenges them to prove that they are worth coming from England. These are relatively aggressive ways in which to instil courage in the soldiers, and that was not always necessary.
Shakespeare also portrays Henry using more persuasive methods. In Act 4 Scene 3 Henry speaks of honour as if it is a prize, something that can be gained from battle that would spur the English to fight valiantly. “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. ” Through this, Shakespeare strives to prove that Henry is courageous and selfless. “We are enough to do our country loss” implies that if they were all going to die, he would rather have less of England lose their lives in battle.
He also mentions honour. The idea that dying for your country heralds rewards beyond the physical is an ancient belief that is still used to this day. According to this belief, the steeper the odds, the more honour you receive. Though this may be a method created to make soldiers fight, it is an extremely effective method. “If it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive”. Shakespeare uses this to give the idea that even a king, who is given almost anything he desires, has to fight for honour, and therefore may desire it more than wealth or land.
In a battle, few human characteristics are of use, so using bare instinct; like an animal, was a useful trait. Shakespeare takes this into account in Scene 3 Act 1. “When the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood and disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage. ” Shakespeare uses alliteration with “stiffen the sinews” and metaphors to emphasize this point.
In this speech, Shakespeare often uses bestial metaphors to convey an idea of how Henry is rallying his men. Now set the teeth, and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height”. As well as conveying the idea that the English should fight with their inner beast, “Bend up every spirit to his full height” implies that the soldiers should battle to their full potential without holding back. In conclusion, I believe that Shakespeare’s use of language in Henry’s speeches is paramount to the image of justice and heroism intended.
For rousing and invigorating speeches, Shakespeare uses strong metaphors and has Henry familiarise himself with those serving him to strike spirit into his men. In inspiring speeches, Shakespeare makes use of ways to make Henry seem selfless and courageous. Even in speeches that reveal the troubles and doubts of Henry, they are conveyed in a way hidden to his subjects, showing that he is a strong king and will hold his burdens while leading his country into victory.