How, do you believe, did Shakespeare want his audience to respond to the eponymous hero in Henry Vth? Your essay should include references to the differing critical responses the play has engendered.
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How, do you believe, did Shakespeare want his audience to respond to the eponymous hero in Henry Vth? Your essay should include references to the differing critical responses the play has engendered. When writing "Henry Vth," Shakespeare was trying to achieve a number of responses to the character of Henry. He portrayed Henry as an eponymous hero, but this hero had faults, what needs to be discussed is whether these faults effect the audiences response to Henry and whether they are either inexcusable or unavoidable. One view of an 'eponymous hero' would require Henry to fill a number of criteria. He would have to be the basic epitome of hero, somebody that is automatically thought of when the word hero is mentioned. He must be the ideal leader and gentleman that people can look up to and be inspired by. Another approach would be that of Machiavelli. He put forward the idea that a good leader and hero may still be so even with flaws and faults. To have control and stability the leader must be capable of using cruelty and deceit as well as honesty and generosity1, it is true to say we see all of these in Henry. Taking the first approach to defining a hero, the ambiguities in Henry's character would show him to be less of an eponymous hero and more of a war criminal, but as many critics suggest, his faults are impossible to get away from.
The second major point to look at in Henrys character is his use of God as justification. Throughout the play Henry gives the impression of being extremely pious and forever explaining that the battle is in God's will. 'But this lies all within the will of God' (1.2.290). Here Henry is reacting to the 'tennis balls' joke played on him by the Dauphin. At this same point Henry shows some quick wit, which amuses the audience, 'We will in France, by Gods grace, play a set' (1.2.263). This line serves two purposes, both the tennis pun to mock the Dauphin, and more importantly we see Henry referring to God for both motivation and justification for the battle ahead. Henry does though seem to prove his faith when he prays before the battle. This prayer though does suggest Henry has more faith in God than his own leadership. 'Steel my soldiers hearts; possess them not with fear' (4.1.283) Because of Henrys solitude when praying we are shown he is truly of strong faith and looks to God for strength and fortune rather than an excuse. The audience would have seen being pious as a strong attribute especially in a time of strong religious belief. Later in the play we see other characters try to persuade us to side with Henry, even when he commits a blatant war crime. The French kings order to 'kill all the poys (boys)
Henry is also seen at the beginning of the play to be a nationalist, his description of the Scots as 'weasels, sneaking and petty thieves' (1.2. --) may also be welcomed by the audience. Nationalism though for some critics is seen as a downfall because it can lead to racism and brutality but the fact is its what the audience want to hear. In conclusion Henry is fundamentally admired by the audience for his motivational and inspirational capabilities, also his warmness and mercy as a leader and his focus. His ambiguities of character may in some eyes dampen this effect but Machiavelli was very true in saying that any heroic leader must have faults or bad patches in their personality to make them a well-rounded leader. Henry's transition from boyhood hooligan to eponymous hero is made more believable also by the inclusion of these talking points as to whether he has matured perfectly or not. In my personal opinion I would go along with the idea that Shakespeare did admire Henry and wanted to show this with his depiction on stage, the fact that critics have only started to find ambiguities 300 years after the plays first performance tells us that Shakespeare included them to make us think about Henry not doubt him. 1 Machiavelli (1469-1527) - The Prince (unknown publication and date) 2 Gary Taylor - Oxford Edition Introduction, 1998 p1 ?? ?? ?? ??
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