Henry V Character Analysis

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Raluca Petre                                                                                                 28.02.07

                                                     King Henry V


                                      Character Sketch

As in a large part of his plays, Shakespeare portrays Henry V very realistically, sketching him along the way and making his character extremely believable; during his ranging speeches and monologues we feel as if we’re there, despite the Chorus’ apologies for having such modest conditions like the stage. The playwright reveals to us the kingly qualities of Henry, such as his firm leadership, realistic sense of judgement, loyalty to his kingdom and support for his people, all of these being conveyed by his great oratorical abilities which had a great impact on the post-medieval society. However, Shakespeare also provides his audience with food for thought as he makes us question ourselves whether Henry’s tendency to detach himself from responsibility and to instead use God’s will and support of the battle as a justification is morally reprehensible.

King Henry’s qualities are first revealed through indirect characterisation as the two bishops talk highly of him. They praise him for being “full of grace and fair regard”, qualities which shall be later revealed through the King’s actions. Moreover, they are right in commending his intelligence and skill of manipulating language as when we “Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,/…The air, a chartered libertine, is still,/ And the mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears.” However, this is a newly formed moral character as the characteristic of his youth was “wildness”. According to the bishops, “Consideration like an angel came” after the death of his father, persuading Henry to suddenly mature into a compelling figure upon the death of his father.

While Henry is preparing for the meeting with the French Ambassador in Act 1.2, we first notice about the king his precaution and lack of impulsiveness as he wishes to discuss through “some things of weight” before greeting the Ambassador. By asking Canterbury questions whether they actually do have a right to claim the Salic law, thus land, conveys that Henry is actively involved in decisions and makes thoroughly thought choices. Moreover, another piece of evidence supporting his cautiousness is the fact that after Canterbury’s lengthy explanation of why the King has a right to make territorial claims, he still inquires whether he can “with right and conscience make this claim?” This again highlights his well balanced decisions before he takes action and thus his lack of impulsivity, which we tend to think characterises superficial kings.

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Furthermore, while we and even the Shakespearian audience might question at times the futility of such a war caused simply by a new fact discovered by the bishops, in the post-medieval society of King Henry V to go to war for even the smallest of territorial gains which would offer the kingdom greater influence was a perfectly justified motive. Nonetheless, before going to war, even Henry acknowledges the consequences of waging war against the French “For never two such kingdoms did contend/ Without much fall of blood”. This idea of him understanding and contemplating upon the effects of war ...

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