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Henry V Assignment Essay

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Henry V is an impressive piece of literature, which can be read in its entirety to oneself. However, if the full dramatic effectiveness is to be appreciated, it must be seen in its true context as a performance on stage.

At the time Henry V was written, theatre played an important part in people’s lives. It was a way of life, and people of all social levels went to see plays by their favourite playwright. Theatres in Elizabethan times took on a conventional style. They are described the Chorus in Henry V as a ‘wooden O’ as they were indeed wooden and ring shaped.

At a performance in an Elizabethan theatre the place where you stood depended on your social level. Lower-class people or ‘groundlings’ as they would be called, stood on the ground, surrounding the stage. Here you would not only find people standing to watch the performance, but you would also find family pets and entertainers like Jugglers and Fire Eaters and the richer patrons of the theatre sat in the outer ring.

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In Henry V there are many scenes, which cannot be acted out on stage effectively. These are mainly the battle scenes, which would involve large armies of men in real life. Shakespeare managed to overcome this problem and keep his audience entertained.

The chorus is the first person in the play to speak. He asks the audience “On your imaginary forces work.” He makes excuses that the stage they are acting on cannot be the same as the battlefields that these events actually took place on “Can this cock-pit hold the vasty fields of France?” The effectiveness of the play depended on the audience using their imagination to “into a thousand parts divide one man.”

Henry is “The Mirror of all Christian Kings,” how does Shakespeare build up his character to suggest this and why?

Throughout the play, Henry V, Shakespeare gradually builds up a character who is almost perfect in every way. Not only a Christian but a good king. One that future kings should try to mirror themselves on. In this essay, I am going to talk about, first of all how other people in the play help to build up this character and then how Henry’s own actions and words help us to create this image of a perfect king. I will then summarise on the character created and then I will make a conclusion as to whether Henry was actually a good king and whether being a good king makes him a good person.

Two of the first people we meet in the play are the Bishops, Canterbury and Ely. They give us the first pieces of information that we need, and that Shakespeare uses, to build up Henry’s character. In Shakespeare’s time, the audience will no doubt have seen Henry IV where Henry is portrayed as drunken and rowdy. Therefore Shakespeare immediately lets the audience of Henry V know that he has changed and is no longer like this.

“The king is full of grace and fair regard.” Canterbury, Act 1, Scene 1, Line 24.

“And a true lover of the holy church.” Ely, Act 1, Scene 1, Line 26.

The second of these lines show us that the king is now a Christian who visits church and likes it. Canterbury and Ely plan to use Henry’s Christian conviction to make him drop the tax on the church. So this is our first piece of evidence that Henry is a Christian king.

There is a comic subplot that runs throughout the play to detract from the seriousness of the story. If this was not placed in the play, the whole story would seem slightly boring, but there is another reason why this is here. They all give us good pictures of the king and how he has changed. The characters involved in this subplot are, Pistol, Nim, Bardolph and Hostess. Their respect for the king is great, although they feel that their friend John Folstaff died from a broken heart because he lost the friendship of Henry as he became king.

“The King has killed his heart.” Hostess, Act 2, Scene 1, Line 84.

It is this loyalty and respect for the king that lets us know that he must be a good king and a good person. He has been a loyal friend but has slipped away as his royal duties have taken over. This does not mean that he is not a good person anymore, or a good king.

Although you wouldn’t have thought so, Henry’s enemies, the French, also tell us a lot about him. They know that his power is great and that he is respected in his country. Because they are aware of this power, they feel cautious to feel too confident of victory at Agincourt. They talk amongst one another saying that they think the king is senseless.

“What a wretched and peevish fellow is this King of England.” Orl�ans, Act 3, Scene 7, Lines 127-128

We can take this into consideration but it didn’t affect my judgement as they are the enemy and so are bound to say things like that. So therefore we did not learn whether Henry is a good Christian king from the French but we did learn that he is powerful and not so weak as to be rejected as an easy victory.

There is another instance where the two countries meet. The Dauphin meets with him earlier in the play and then reports back to King Charles. He tells the king


that England is ruled by a “vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth.” and that because of this, they have no fear of going to war. King Charles then tells his princes and knights to beware of Henry, because he doesn’t want France to live its past history again.

“And he is bred out of that bloody strain that haunted us in our familiar paths. Witness our too-much memorable shame when Cr�cy battle fatally struck,”

King Charles, Act 2, Scene 4, Lines 51-54.

The person who I felt told us the most about Henry’s character was Henry himself. One of the first serious actions we see him take is against the three traitors, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham and Thomas Grey, Knight of Northumberland. Their plan was to kill Henry at Southampton before he departed for France. Henry caught wind of this but didn’t straight away order them to be executed for high treason. We see Henry tell the three traitors that a man had been arrested for shouting abuse at him whilst drunk, he then asks them what they think the punishment should be.

“That’s mercy but too much security.” Scrope, Act 2, Scene 2, Line 44.

Scrope tells Henry that he should be punished and used as an example.

Henry replies, “O let us yet be merciful.” Act 2, Scene 2, Line 47.

Cambridge thinks that Henry should spare his life but punish him never the less.

“So may your highness, and yet punish too.” Cambridge, Act 2, Scene2, Line 48.

Thomas Grey thinks that he should be executed.

“Sir, you show great mercy if you give him life, after the taste of much correction.” Grey, Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 49-50.

After all this, we still do not see Henry approach the traitors with what they are planning to do. Instead he hands them each a piece of paper, which reveals what he has learned. He then says, almost sarcastically,

“Why, how now, gentlemen? What see you in those papers, that you lose so much complexion? – Look ye how they change: Their cheeks are paper. – Why, what read you there that have so cowarded and chased your blood out of appearance?

King Henry, Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 68-73.

This told me that Henry wanted to basically make the traitors convict themselves.

Henry then makes a speech about how he cannot give mercy to three people who were so quick to decide upon execution for a man who had only spoken out of tone whilst drunk. This made me think that Henry is firm but fair. He did not convict them straight away and send them to be executed. Instead he let them convict themselves and decide their own punishment, which was death. Henry says that he does not seek revenge for himself but for his country. This tells me that he is a good king who thinks for his country and not just for himself.

Many more of Henry actions during the play tell us that he is cool under pressure, thinks for his country. When the Dauphin brings the casket of tennis balls to England, Henry does not lash out and explode into a frenzy of anger, the same as when the baggage boys are killed at Agincourt. He combines his aggression with careful thinking and uses his anger in other places where it is needed.


Henry’s words also tell us a lot about him. At the end of the play when he woos his bride to be Catherine, he is very romantic and tries to take her mind off the fact that he is a king and make her realise that he is just an ordinary person. This fact is very important to build up this character of Henry, we have to realise that he is just a normal person and I think that Henry’s words throughout the play often suggest this.

At the beginning of the battle of Agincourt, Henry makes a speech, which is now probably one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, the St Crispins Day speech. It is used to motivate team spirit in all kinds of sports. Henry uses it to motivate his soldiers, ready for the battle of Agincourt.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” King Henry, Act 4, Scene 3 Line 60.

This line shows us that he has brought himself down from his royal post and is now a brother of all the soldiers who will be fighting with him. Not as their leader, but as a friend, a brother. His speech is enough to make any reader feel patriotic, as it did me and shows that he is a good king, who does not always think of himself as a king.

So Shakespeare creates an almost perfect character in this play. Henry is, calm under pressure and doesn’t always regard himself as above all the rest. He can be aggressive when needed but always thinks before he is. He is also certain that he is just a human being, not a God like person who is greater than everyone else, and this shows when he is going in to battle with his soldiers. It is then when his true character comes out, a patriotic person with spirit for his friends. Although Shakespeare has made an almost perfect character, he couldn’t have made Henry so perfect that he wasn’t realistic. Therefore Shakespeare makes Henry have a few weaknesses, one of these weaknesses is when Bardolph, an old friend of Henry steals a pax from a church. Henry has to stand up to his power as a King and hangs Bardolph for his crime.

Henry is the “The Mirror of all Christian kings”; I would find this a true statement. He is a King who should be looked up to and respected for his good qualities. He should also be respected even for his bad qualities, because everyone has a flaw but it doesn’t mean that they are a bad person.

Whilst he is a good Christian King, he is also a good Christian person. He is kind, forgiving and calm under pressure and when needed.

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