What kind of king does Shakespeare create in Act 3 Scenes 1 and 2? King Henry V.

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Jenny Grindley 10.6

What kind of king does Shakespeare create in Act 3 Scenes 1 and 2?

        People have perceived King Henry V in many different ways. Undoubtedly, a historic and patriotic play, with Shakespeare singing the praises of a celebrated monarch in the shape of Elizabeth I, a descendent of Henry V. The play which is mainly concerned with war, allows us to see the best and worst in human behaviour brought out as a consequence of war.

        Shakespeare’s endeavour in writing the play was to illustrate a celebrated monarch, and in doing so pleasing another monarch; Elizabeth I who was on the throne at the time this play was staged.

“Then should the warlike Henry, like himself, assume the port of mars and at his heels should famine, sword and fire crouch for employment”, here Shakespeare is exploring contrasting attitudes towards war. The ambiguous image created contrast a picture of glory and triumph with destruction and suffering. The language Shakespeare uses in this opening quote is superficial but meaningful. He uses personification by referring to “Famine”, “Sword” and “Fire” as living beings, increasing the effect of the scene.

        The play, principally based on nobility, strength and monarchy works effectively to raise morale and to reflect on famous, strong England, consequently it is shown during tomes of hardship to encourage loyalty to a leader. Many times in the past, the play has been remade and released in times of war, arguably the most famous film in the play, directed by Laurence Olivier was released in 1944 when Britain and its allies were totally preoccupied with the invasion of Europe. Henry and his “band of brothers” were identified with the Battle of Britain pilots who had saved Britain against overwhelming odds. Additionally, the film was a deliberate exercise in patriotic propaganda to boost the morale of both civilians and soldiers.

         In Shakespeare’s day, historical fact had already combined with legend to create the picture of an almost perfect king in Henry. Written in 1548, Edward Hall describes Henry in glowing terms: “He was merciful to offenders, charitable to the needy, faithful to his friends and fierce to his enemies, towards God most devout, towards the world very moderate, and to his realm a very father, he was the mirror of Christendom and the glory of his country, the flower of kings past”.

Played to the public, Shakespeare reflected public opinion in the play by creating the image of a perfect king. The characters he added such as Nym, Bardolph and Pistol, contrast Henry in their conduct and demeanour and subsequently complement his character more in comparison with their own. Shakespeare also supplemented several scenes from pure imagination, scenes such as Katherine’s language lesson, the boasting of the French nobles and Henry’s tour of his camp in disguise among others, were all fictitious but very deliberate. Each of these additional scenes re-enforces the portrayal of Henry as being audacious, inspirational and chivalrous.

        In plays Henry IV part 1 and Henry IV part 2, Shakespeare depicts Henry, then known as Hal, as a pleasure – seeking teenage prince who wrestles with his role as heir to the throne: “…as for proof now, a purse of Gold most resolutely snatched on Monday night, and most dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with swearing ‘lay by!’, and spent with crying ‘bring in!’”, here Shakespeare illustrates Hal as a thieving, rebellious and undesirable youth. At the end of Henry IV part 1, Hal publicly rejects Falstaff: “I know thee not old man”, this initiates a change in Henry’s character which develops further in Henry V. This notion of Henry continues to change radically, and Shakespeare portrays Henry as a reformed character.

        At the beginning of Henry V in Act 1 Scene 1, Canterbury and Ely discuss the transformation in Henry’s character following the death of his father: “The courses of his youth promised it not. The breath no sooner left his father’s body but that his wildness mortified in him seemed to die too”.

Canterbury and Ely also describe Henry as the strawberry that grew beneath the nettles: “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle, and wholesome berries thrive and ripen best neighboured by fruit of baser quality”, here Canterbury is referring to Henry as being a strawberry growing up with all the bad things like nettles, which have consequently made him a better person.

The opinions held by Canterbury and Ely regarding Henry are highly complementary of his demeanour: “The air, a chartered libertine, is still, and the mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears to steel his sweet and honeyed sentence”, here Canterbury is illustrating Henry as having vast knowledge and being the ‘best king ever’.

Henry’s character continues to develop throughout the play, he portrays whit and humour in his reaction to the French gifts: “When we have matched our rackets to these balls we will in France, by God’s grace, play a set shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard”, the language Shakespeare uses here is effective, he uses a metaphor of tennis balls, which increases the portrayal of Henry as being witty and intelligent. Henry’s reaction to the traitors in the play, re-enforces the impression of Henry as being quick-witted and rational: “That’s mercy, but too much security”, here Henry tricks the traitors into admitting their faults, which reflects his sharpness and intelligence. In the same scene however, Shakespeare also displays Henry’s emotional side: “I will weep for thee”, this represents Henry as showing sadness and pardon for them, and it also reflects his fairness. There are many other instances such as Henry’s speech to the Governor of Harfleur, his tour of the English comp in disguise and his speech to messenger Montjoy, which accentuates Shakespeare’s portrayal of Henry as being the model king.

        In the prologue before Act 3 Scene 1, we learn of the English army’s embarkation, the channel crossing and the siege at Harfleur. The prologue, spoken in chorus and consequently reflects nobility, strength and monarchy. It describes the army as “fleet majestical”; this also praises Henry as being perfect. The prologue also reflects the image of the soldiers at sea: “Upon the hempen tackle ship – boys climbing”.

“Called and choice – drawn cavaliers”, here the prologue describes the soldiers as being specially picked gallant young men. Strength and power are also represented in the prologue: “pith/puissance”. By speaking of his men in this way, Shakespeare is portraying Henry as being self-assured and confident in himself as a king and his men.

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“Grapple your minds to sternage”, here the prologue is representing the quality of honouring your country, it is also calling the soldiers to follow with their minds in the wake of the ships. This demonstrates Henry as being rousing and excellent at interpreting situations. The prologue also disregards the French soldiers: “For who is he whose chin is but enriched with one appearing hair that will not follow these called and choice-drawn cavillers to France?” This also re-enforces the image of the gallant young English men and reflects on Henry as being able to boost the morale of his soldiers ...

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