King Henry V: Noble Hero or Devious Brute?

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King Henry V: Noble Hero or Devious Brute?

Arguably, William Shakespeare created the historical play, King Henry V for propaganda purposes. Requested by King Henry’s distant relative Queen Elizabeth, the play portrays the main character, King Henry, in different aspects and facets. As a playwright of the time, Shakespeare felt he had to turn what was seen as a simple war hero into a complex character to make the play more interesting and to his liking. In this play Henry, upon his father’s death, rapidly changed from a wild, boisterous youth, to a responsible, powerful king, faced with the decision of invading France. He won the battle with a small army against a large opposition and from his victory claimed a wife, Princess Katherine, from the French side. This essays intention is to explore Henry’s character, whether he has the qualities of a noble hero or a devious brute. We must keep in mind how Shakespeare wanted the audience, perhaps the ruling monarchy at that time, to digest this play and their interpretations of Henry’s character. The audience’s first impression of Henry is influenced by their first taste of the play, the chorus.

        Read by the narrator, the chorus sets the scene for each act and summarizes part of the plot, introducing dramatic irony and different themes into the play. The chorus at the beginning Henry V gives you an idea that Henry is a very powerful and impressive king, as is the theme of the play. So great that

 ‘O For a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act.’

 (Chorus, line 1-3)

In other words, the chorus is telling the audience that it is difficult for all the greatness and size of the battles to be presented on stage and if only there was another way to do that. It portrays Henry as ‘warlike’ and refers to him in terms of mythological gods, ‘assume the port of Mars’. The chorus also talks of Henry’s brutish feats on the ‘vasty fields of France’. It shows Henry and the actual play as very ‘mighty’ and this can be interpreted as a brutish image, for example, he ‘did affright the air at Agincourt. This phrase taken from the chorus is alliterated by Shakespeare to draw the audience’s attention to it as is an important part of the play and portrays Henry as someone that can easily scare. The whole point of this chorus is to set a very powerful and controlling theme as the main purpose of this play

        However, this image of a powerful and war-loving brute is contradicted in the beginning of the first act. Two of Henry’s church officials, Canterbury and Ely, confer about, in private, a situation that includes the king. In doing that they also discuss Henry’s character and his past, before he became king. According to these to bishops, he was a wild young man known as the madcap prince. However, when ‘the breath no sooner left his father’s body’, his character took on the transition from wild behavior with illiterate drunks and rioting to a model king. Perhaps, as Ely suggests using imagery`,  

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‘The strawberry grows beneath the nettle, and wholesome berries thrive and ripen best nieghboured by fruit of baser quality.’

(Ely, Act 1,Scene1, line 60-63)


Ely is trying to say that Henry has always been responsible, sensible and had great potential; it just took the right influences and circumstances to bring it out in his character. Though all the two bishops say about the young king shows signs of nobility, the key hero quality they reveal about Henry is that he is deeply religious, ‘a true lover of the holy church’. This implies that he disapproves of sinning and ...

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