The historical drama has long been used to portray English Kings and Queens as noble and heroic figures. Shakespeare is noted for writing the first true dramatic presentations of history’s rulers in his plays, particularly the works Julius Caesar, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V.In King Henry VI Parts I and II Shakespeare had already presented his audience with a younger Henry, Prince Hal, who preferred the company of Falstaff, Nym and Bardolph to the royal court of his father. In Henry V, King Henry is portrayed very much as a man changed by duty and age. Shakespeare represents the king’s qualities very effectively, notably his leadership, patriotic courage and commitment to God.
As early as the fifth line of the rousing opening chorus, Shakespeare connects Henry with the idea of war and power, likening him to Mars, the Roman God of war. The opening lines of the chorus leave the audience with no doubts as to his power – “at his heels leash’d in like hounds, should famine sword and fire crouch for employment”.The opening scene of the play relates how Henry matured to become a strong and good king. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely discuss the apparent miracle that was Henry’s transformation to a honourable king of England. As Canterbury says, “The course of his youth promis’d it not”. Henry was known to be a wild youth, and historical records indicate he did not enjoy being at his father’s court. It appears that when he became King, he was indeed transfigured, and that “an angel came and whipp’d th’ offending Adam out of him, leaving his body as a paradise” which refers to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, where Adam betrayed the orders of God by eating an apple from the tree of knowledge and was expelled.
“…and, to relief of lazars and weak age…a hundred almshouses right well supplied..
.”Since Henry’s becoming King, he made several strong moral and political moves, allocating monies to strengthen the English army, and to help the sick and infirm through the construction of almshouses. The idea to help the less fortunate was a new and novel one. Previous kings, such as Edward II and Richard II had spent on courtly pleasures that came with kingship, and no doubt the move was made by Henry to keep the commoners in support of him, and to attract those more sceptical to his cause. Henry also made an attempt to atone the sins of his father Henry Bolingbroke who seized the throne from Richard II in 1399. These moves to redeem his family name would have not only shown the young monarch in a glorious public light, but Henry would have gained great respect from both his nobles and followers.
Act I Scene 2 presents a clear demonstration of the young leaders’ restraint and maturity, as the French Dauphin offers him a gift of tennis balls. He suggests that Henry’s views of the continuing feud between England and France are that it is just a game. The Dauphin’s immature address seems to imply that the French leaders see the young king as a weak and foolish boy. Shakespeare’s representation of the young king’s reply displays a witty and masterful use of words, stating that the people of England “will in France by God’s grace, play a set”, referring to the game of tennis, but sending a chilling threat to the Dauphin and his French nobility. Henry does not see the act of war as a game, and “this all lies within the will of God”; if Henry is the true holder of the French throne, he will fight for it with the backing of the divine spirits, even if it does lead to the invasion of France.Shakespeare’s portrayal of the king is that of an incredibly mature and calm individual, with Henry making public warnings and announcements through displays of power and knowledge. The scene displays a personal emotional crisis for the king; as the backgrounds of the three traitors were all clean, throwing questions at Henry. Who can he trust? And who else amongst his ranks is showing him a false exterior of loyal duty?Henry shows no outwards signs of disturbance, and proceeds with formalities, adopting a sly tactic by asking the three men to advise on the case of an arrested drunken man.
Scroop, who had been Henry’s closest friend since childhood, advises, “Let him be punish’d, sovereign, lest example breed, by his sufferance, more of such a kind”. Henry responds asking a question that allows Scroop, Cambridge and Grey to practically execute themselves; “If little faults, proceeding on distemper, shall not be wink’d at, how shall we stretch our eye when capital crimes, chew’d swallow’d and digested, appear before us?”The “capital crimes” refer to the traitorous dealings of the three men. Henry makes a formal speech, revealing to the men through letters of his knowledge of their actions, and his tone of voice in the text appears to become more impersonal, as the crime is not just a simple private betrayal of Henry. Shakespeare follows with a more personal speech, with no formal language. The men are called “dogs” and “English monsters”, and Henry particularly picks out Scroop, calling him a “cruel, ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature”. In the scene it has been shown that Henry can make important decisions, even when the subject is personal, such as here, with the decision he makes to execute his friend for treason.Act III Scene I displays a rousing and pivotal speech made by Henry outside the gates of Harfleur, beginning “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more..
.” attempting to unite his armed forces. The speech has a great impact, displaying Henry as a superb public figure and motivator. He publicly shows great determination to win the war not only for the people of England, but for his father and ancestors, people like the celebrated man of the period, Edward the Black Prince. Henry shows great faith in both country and army, and openly admits that England will triumph, as a way to boost the morale of his men, feeling low and in some cases very ill from days of walking through foreign countryside. During the speech, Shakespeare has shown that Henry is in touch with all parties within his army, addressing the soldiers, nobles and yeomen separately. Henry encourages his soldiers to “.
..imitate the action of the tiger…” encouraging his soldiers to mimic the animalistic behaviour of the tiger, giving them the ruthlessness, power, speed and agility of the creature as a collective. Henry tells his men that they should “disguise fair nature with hard favour’d rage”.
This is an attempt to focus the troops and almost dehumanise them, to convert them into a single vicious fighting machine, as they are severely outnumbered.The next section of the Harfleur speech is aimed at Henrys’ lords and earls, and reminds the nobility of their honour and family reputations, as he knows that they consider these things to be important. When Henry tells the nobility to “Dishonour not your mothers”, he pressurizes them, saying if they are not willing to fight so courageously as their fathers they are not a true descendant. Henry ends his speech by speaking to the yeomen, and speaks to them using simple language and domestic imagery. “There is none of you so mean and base that hath not noble lustre in your eyes” Henry explains that it may be this battle that brings the men distinction and fame, which surely raises the spirits and boosts morale amongst the yeomen. “I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips” is very persuading and gives powerful images.
It is a great example of the imagery Henry uses throughout his speeches to motivate his men.Shakespeare portrays Henry as a clever leader in Act III Scene III, where the King tries to terrify the French into surrender without the need for further fighting and bloodshed. The threats Henry makes to Harfleurs’ Governor are ferocious but without substance. Henry prophesises destruction and slaughter in the town, “mowing like grass”, using simple phrases that the townspeople would have been able to understand easily and relate to.
Shakespeare shows Henry attempting to shift any blame from his shoulders, saying “What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause” and showing a determination to deflect the blame for any actions he may take against the French. Shakespeare reveals the true intentions of the king, as Henry turns to Exeter and tells him to “Use mercy to them all” and keep his troops under control. Henry appears manipulative in the scene, making threats then revealing them as untruths, also showing that as a public figure he is a man of his word.Act V Scene I is one of the most revealing scenes about Henry. He asks one of his colleagues to “lend me thy cloak” and disguises himself to check on the morale of his men in the camp. Henry, keen to know what the nobility’s views of the troops’ chances are, replies to them using a vivid mental image that is a very pessimistic and ominous view of oblivion: “Even as men wracked upon a sand, that looks to be washed off the next tide”. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in the king’s conversation with Williams, Bates and Court, Henry stating “I think the king is but a man, as I am.
..” – the audience know he is the king disguised, but the three men involved in conversation with him do not.
Henry continues, and it becomes clear that he is describing the vulnerability and pressure he has as king of England. He would know that he always has to appear confident and in control, no matter how dire the situation. Williams appears unsure of whether or not the kings’ cause to battle France is justified, because if not, the men are set to die an awful death. It paints a vivid picture of the reality of war to the audience, and Williams quite understandably fears pain and suffering, and is concerned about the possibility of leaving his family in poverty. He believes that if the army dies, the blood will be left on Henrys’ hands and God will punish him justly.
This worries Henry greatly, and he proceeds to give a speech in defence of the king, using the examples of a boy and his father, and a servant and his master. In the speech he tries to show how the power of the King is absolute and his subjects have no choice over what they want to do, whereas the boy answering to his father and the servant answering to his master have a certain amount of freewill.When Henry continues, justifying the other side of the men’s argument, he seems to be uncertain, saying that the king cannot be blamed for the individual actions of his soldiers. When Williams argues with Henry, the king remains reasonable and calm and accepts what Williams says; giving a clear demonstration of his ability to keep restrained when under pressure.Henry speaks in a soliloquy at the end of the scene, and appears to privately fight with his emotions.
During his speech he discloses his beliefs that only private men can have private lives, and complains that there is a lack of consideration for him.As Henry is a young King, Shakespeare has in my opinion portrayed Henry brilliantly, as both a public figure that his countrymen can admire and serve proudly, and a private young man who seems to still be coming to terms with his royalty. I think that ultimately Shakespeare has represented Henry as an ordinary man who has had the greatness of Kingship thrust upon him.