Shakespeare's 'Henry V': portrait of a King or template for Kingship?

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Shakespeare's 'Henry V': portrait of a King or template for Kingship?

The play proposes that the qualities that define a good ruler are not necessarily the same qualities that define a good person. Henry is an extraordinarily good leader: he is intelligent, focused, and inspiring to his men. He uses any and all resources at his disposal to ensure that he achieves his goals. Shakespeare presents Henry's charismatic ability to connect with his subjects and motivate them to embrace and achieve his goals as the essential standard of good leadership, making Henry seem the summary of a good leader. By inspiring his men to win the Battle of Agincourt despite overwhelming odds, Henry achieves heroic status.

But in becoming a great king, Henry is forced to act in a way that, were he a common man, might seem immoral and even unforgivable. In order to strengthen the stability of his throne, Henry betrays friends such as Falstaff, and he puts other friends to death in order to uphold the law. While it is difficult to fault Henry for having Scrope killed, since Scrope was plotting to assassinate him, Henry's cruel punishment of Bardolph is less understandable, as is his willingness to threaten the gruesome murder of the children of Harfleur in order to persuade the governor to surrender. Henry talks of favouring peace, but once his mind is settled on a course of action, he is willing to ignore and even create massive and unprovoked violence in order to achieve his goal.
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Shakespeare's portrayal of the king shows that power complicates the traditional distinctions between heroism and villainy, so that to call Henry one or the other causes an oversimplification of the issue. As Henry himself comments, the massive responsibilities laid on the shoulders of a king render him distinct from all other people, and the standards that can be brought to bear in judging a king must take that distinction into account. A king, in Shakespeare's portrayal, is responsible for the well-being and stability of his entire nation; he must lower his personal feelings, desires, dislikes, and even conscience ...

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