Henry V coursework ~ War criminal or Hero? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 7 September 2017

Henry V coursework ~ War criminal or Hero?

Henry V is known as an ideal king and Shakespeare presents him as a great warrior. The writer shows this by making him have inspirational leadership qualities as well as being able to relate to ordinary people. Henry takes his responsibilities very seriously and is very fair and just. The king is deeply religious, however, he can be ruthless. Overall Henry is regarded as a national hero.

Firstly, Henry has a range of reasons why he declares war on France. I think the main reason is to follow his father’s advice and unite the country. An example of this is on his deathbed and he says “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels”, this shows the country needs uniting and to do this he should start a war with a foreign country.

The next reason is to live up to his ancestors and be glorified like them. This is shown by Canterbury when he states, “Invoke his warlike spirit, your great – uncles, Edward the black prince” and “Look back to your mighty ancestors”. This shows he has to live up to his ancestors and be as good as them.

Thirdly, Henry feels he has a strong claim for the throne. For instance, he feels he has a claim because of his great – grandmother and goes to Canterbury to find out. He asks Canterbury if he deserves it, when he says “Justly and retigiously unfold, why the salic law …. or should or should not bar us in our claim”/ Henry feels he has the right but must be absolutely sure not to make a false claim. He doesn’t want men’s lives on his conscience.

Then another reason is people expect him to. An illustration of this is when Exeter says, “your brothers kings and monarchs of the earth do all expect that you should rouse yourself”. As a king he is expected to take charge of his country and claim what could be a great venture.

Also, the church offers to pay. For example, when Canterbury states, “In aid where of we of the spirituality, will raise your highness such a mighty sum, as never did the clergy at one time”. The church feel they should help pay and offer, so Henry doesn’t have to pay and so going to war wouldn’t cost him anything.

Finally, the Dauphin insults him by sending him a chest of tennis balls. The king has already decided to go to war but this just makes him more determined. Henry’s voice is calm and sarcastic when he says, “we are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us”. As he says this, it gets louder and louder, working into a crescendo. He also makes a speech, where he is talking about war like a tennis match, using metaphors. He also uses a lot of repetition at this point to emphasise what he is saying. This just makes Henry even angrier persuading him to go to war.

So overall Henry has very strong reasons to go to war with France.

However, before going to war, Henry seeked advice for the Salic law. This indicates he takes his responsibilities very seriously. Henry seeks advice, as he doesn’t want to go to war without good reason. The king shows this when he is talking to Canterbury as he says, “for never two such kingdoms did contend with out much fall of blood, whose guiltless drops”. He tells Canterbury to be careful because he doesn’t want an illegal war. Henry takes this so seriously as he doesn’t want his soldiers to lose their lives unnecessarily and doesn’t want their lives on his conscience.

Prior to that, Henry also leaves part of his army in England to guard against an invasion from Scotland. This is illustrated when the king goes “we must not only arm t’invade the French …… against the Scots who will make road upon us with all advantages”. This shows that Henry is taking all precautions to protect his country from all aspects.

Another example of Henry taking his responsibilities seriously is when he executes his three friends Cambridge, Scroop, Gray and an old friend Bardolf. Henry executes Bardolf as an example to his men and to the French. It shows what type of king they can expect. Henry executes Cambridge, Scroop and Gray as they were not only plotting to kill Henry but tried to ruin everyone in England. This shows Henry isn’t afraid to take difficult decisions as they were his friends but executed them for his country. Henry takes his responsibilities seriously for his country.

Thirdly, in the scripts of Henry V it shows Henry as a religious man, which leads me to believe he isn’t a war criminal.

To show that Henry is religious, Shakespeare uses constant references to God in his speeches throughout the play. Also Henry says to the French ambassador, who was sent to England with an insulting gift of tennis balls, that “we are no tyrant but Christian king”. This shows he is religious in his own eyes.

In addition to this, Henry asks two priests, Canterbury and Ely to explain the salic law, which allows people to inherit the throne only through men and not women but Henry wants to inherit the French throne through his great – grandmother which the French claim cannot be done. Henry asks Canterbury and Ely for advice and asks them “justly and religiously”, whether he can claim the French throne or not.

More importantly he has to make sure he does not want his soldiers lives on his conscience.

Further more, the night before Agincourt, Henry prays to God. He feels he has to apologise for his father’s crime of murdering Richard II and thinks God may take blame on his soldiers and prays he doesn’t. He asks God to look after him and his men’s lives and not turn against them at battle.

Later on, after the battle of Agincourt, Henry thanks God by saying “praised it be God and not our strength for it”. This shows he feels that without God they wouldn’t have won the battle. That their strength couldn’t have done it without help. Henry dedicates the victory to God.

Next reason is that Henry is a inspirational leader. This is revealed by the country’s reaction to war. For instance when describing the scene, chorus states “now all the youth of England are on fire”. This illustrates the country is uniting which was the advice Henry was given by his father on his deathbed.

It is also shown in Henrys speeches. In the speech, Harfleur, Henry gives the men something to fight for as he talks to them as though they are all equal and making them remember there fathers to fight as good as them. The king tells them they will all become role models for people who haven’t got courage. Henry is expressing his confidence in them. Henry uses similes like greyhounds are hunting the enemies, which is what the soldiers are doing to the French. Henry right at the end shouts a battle cry, which inspires the men even more. Overall Henry was trying to make them feel good about themselves and not like bad war warriors.

In the speech, Agincourt, Henry uses the same techniques in the Harfleur speech. Henry uses a public display of confidence to boost their courage. Henry tells his soldiers that they will get a lot of glory and that they will be remembered. He tells them they are all equal and that they will all bond together. Henry in his speech is not forcing them to do anything they don’t want. Henry tells them they are very special. Henry works the speech into a crescendo, getting louder and louder, making the men get more positive as it goes on. This does the same effect as the Harfleur speeches making the men want to fight.

Also, Henry leads by example. This shown in the Agincourt speech and the night before, as when the king was in disguise he said, ‘I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed’. Also the king tells the Herald just before the battle to leave them alone as he would not be ransomed.

As well as that, Henry shares hardships of his men as he makes them feel all equal. Henry feels and acts just like them, common humanity. This is shown in the speeches and the night before Agincourt, where he says ‘ I think the king is but a man as I am’. Henry fights with his men and doesn’t sit back and watch. He feels he should go to battle aswel, making him and his men more equal.

Also Henry is very fair and just, this is shown as the king is responsible for the order and peace of his kingdom and Henry deals with this correctly, as he gives the country a stable and fair government. There are two examples of Henry upholding the law.

The first is shown in the execution of Bardolph as Henry is operating martial law, no trial. He executes Bardolph as he robbed a French church and he wants to set an example to his soldiers and to the French. This is to show what kind of king he can be to the French citizens.

The second example is the execution of Cambridge, Scroop and Gray. This is where three friends of Henry try to endanger him and the whole country, They get executed because they could ruin the whole country, so the act is not of vengeance and he is not using the law as his private means of revenge. The three traitors beg for mercy but the king ignores this, as he cannot forgive someone for doing a crime as everyone may start doing it.

Both of these decisions are very difficult for Henry to make as they are his friends but he takes his responsibilities and the law very seriously. This shows he is fair in giving equal treatment to everyone.

All that I have mentioned above are showing Henry in a positive light and are good characteristics for an ideal king who takes his responsibilities seriously. However, the other side to Henry, the ruthlessness, doesn’t show him as an inspirational king. Henry does certain things in the play, which would be thought of as controversial today.

Henry is very ruthless. For example, when Henry sets the trap for the three traitors; Cambridge, Scroop and Gray. He plays with them making them think they are getting their commissions for the army but instead they are being given death warrants. This shows dramatic irony as the only three people it mainly concerns doesn’t know what’s going on. Henry uses ironic words throughout the scene like ‘kind and gentle knight’. The scene is very ambiguous as he is making them believe that he doesn’t suspect them as they are close friends but really Henry is saying he is going to sort out the traitors, basically they think they are safe but they are not.

There are a lot of veiled threats given by the king but are missed by Cambridge, Scroop and Gray. The three traitors use a lot of hypocrisy as they declare their loyalty which is known by us, doesn’t exist. Cambridge, Scroop and Gray make it worse for themselves as they say that Henry should punish a man for a little crime, as everyone will do it otherwise. So this shows for a big crime like treason he cannot be merciful. They are condemning themselves. In the end of the scene they ask for mercy, which the king ignores. Henry describes them as ‘English monsters’. Although this isn’t an act of private vengeance, as they put the whole country at danger and Henry is looking out for the country.

Also Henry threatens the people of Harfleur. This is psychological warfare, as he doesn’t carry out the threats. Henry is very cunning in this scene as he puts the destruction of Harfleur on its people. This is done by Henry describing what he will do if they don’t surrender, first of all he threatens to set the town on fire, this is shown when he says ‘Till in her ashes she lie buried’. Henry also says he’ll rape all the girls, illustrating this is ‘Defile the locks of your shrill – shrieking daughters’ and he says he will smash in the old men’s heads, shown when he says ‘Your fathers heads dashed to the walls’.

The last thing Henry said he will do is kill the children with spikes, ‘Your naked infants spitted upon pikes’. If the threats that Henry has described really did take place he would be known as a war criminal but Harfleur surrendered before anything could happen so Henry is known as a hero to France and his men not as a war criminal. Henry does this to make France see what kind of king he is as he was told by the Duke of Exeter ‘Use mercy to them all’, so the French don’t think he is a bad king. All Henry is basically doing is working on their imagination. This is not controversial to Henrys’ contemporaries as his first responsibilities are to his own soldiers.

Another controversial thing Henry has done is the killing of all the French prisoners, which would have been classed as a war crime today but not in Henrys time. Henry loses his temper and does this out of revenge but I feel this is justified because the French went against the law and killed all the young boys who would of only been armed with a pen knife.

This was wrong and the French deserved what they got. It was also a very responsible thing to do as there are not enough soldiers to guard the prisoners and to go into battle as the English are still out numbered five to one, so really it is an important decision to make. There is no criticism from Henrys own soldiers as this is shown when Gower says ‘This king most worthily hath ……. Oh, ’tis a gallant king!’ They think Henry has not really committed a crime as the French started it and he was only retaliating. Although I considered the facts about Henry, I don’t feel he committed a crime.

Hence I think Henry is not a war criminal but hero as he only does controversial things to help his country and he takes his responsibilities seriously.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

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  • Date: 7 September 2017

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