Shakespeare wrote Henry V in 1599, at the time of Queen Elizabeth”s reign. Shakespeare tried to portray the monarchy as important and noble people. He did this so that the queen would think well of him as at that time the actors and the use of the theatres would have been financed by important people. At that time there was no one more important that the monarch.
The play portrays the war between England and France and Henry”s campaign to gain control of France, which was believed to be rightfully his.
The play starts by showing Henry in his youthful state. He had no morals and didn”t take kingship seriously. Then as a reformed man who, after being mocked by the dauphin, sought the blessing of the archbishop over his plans to declare war on France. When he received that blessing he embarked upon planning his attack on France to claim the throne which he believed he was the heir to. This is the idea, which the whole play is centred upon.
Henry is shown as the true English man, patriotic, honourable and one who leads by example. He is shown to have all the good qualities a king should have. He encourages his men into what most people would see as an impossible task but by his words and actions persuades his men to defend England”s honour. This is shown in his speech act 4, scene 3 beginning line 18.
“If to live, the fewer men, the greater the share of honour.”
Act 4, scene 3, line 22
In the play several metaphors are used but the one used most frequently is comparing war to a game. For example the gift from the dauphin of a tennis ball and the king”s speech which follows.
“When we have matched our rackets to these balls
We will in France, by God”s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father”s crown, into the hazard.”
Act 1, Scene 2, lines 261-263
Such metaphors continue throughout and not only is war compared with tennis but also dice.
“The confident and over lusty French
Do the low rated English play at dice”
Act 4, Chorus, lines 17-18
The play shows the different aspects of war. It shows it as a very noble and dignified event, but in other scenes as a devastating unstoppable force. In the first chorus Henry is portrayed as a war-like god figure.
“Then should he the warlike Harry Henry appears like himself.
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels
Leashed in, like hounds should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment.”
Prologue, chorus, lines 5-8
Later on however Henry shows the realities of war the less attractive and enticing part when he reads the long and extensive list of casualties.
“This note doth tell me of ten thousand dead
That in this field lie slainâ€¦
Here was a royal fellowship of death!”
Act 4, scene 8, lines 77-99
Another metaphor occasionally used throughout the play is comparing war to the extremes of weather conditions. For example war is said to be “arriving like thunder, shaking the earth like an earthquake.”
The not so noble aspects of battle are never far from the play”s main story or from any of the character”s thoughts. The horror of war is one of the main portrayals of war. Shakespeare does show many of the different aspects but the main two in my opinion are the nobility and the complete opposite, the destructiveness and suffering.
The English throughout usually are shown as faultless, but as with most rules there”s an exception. There is the time when the three traitors are found and handed what is presumed to be their death warrants.
“Why, what read you there
That have so cowarded and chas”d your blood
Out of appearance?”
Act 2, scene 2, lines 74-76
The second such exception is in Harfleur when Bardolph broke the rules set act 3, scene 4, lines 51-58 by Henry stating that no man should take advantage of his situation.
“Fortune is Bardolph”s foe, and frowns on him;
For he hath stol”n a pax, and hanged must “a be a damned death!
Let gallows gape for dog.”
Despite these circumstances Henry still manages to overcome the French in an incredible battle and the French are disgraced and defeated.
“Reproach and everlasting shame
Sit mocking in our plumesâ€¦”
Act 4, Scene 5, lines 9-10
Despite this victory, Henry has no prisoners. As the French slaughtered all of the English luggage boys, Henry ordered all of the prisoners to be put to death.
“The French have reinforced their scatter men.
Then every soldier kill his prisoners.
Give the word through”
Act 4, scene 6,lines 36-38
After the battle has drawn to a close, the Duke of Burgundy tells us of the effects of the war on France. Ruined crops and lives, ways of peace lost and lost countryside. Because of these effects on France he pleads for a lasting peace treaty. The treaty is formed when both sides meet at the palace at Troyes.
In my opinion Shakespeare very accurately describes and portrays war. He shows us both the good and the bad sides of war and what each of these can do to a person. On the one hand are those whose character is not strong enough to survive, the people for whom the pressure was too much and who turned to war crimes. On the other hand there are those who withstood the mental torment of battle. It portrays war as a fight for the country”s honour and a demonstration of its power, it also shows the nobility and the other, more devastating effects on the soldiers. At the closing of the
- Previous play there is a glimpse of hope that the peace will last but in the final chorus it states that the peace wasn’t as long lived as people hoped. The French regained France in Henry”s son”s reign.