Henry V-William Shakespeare
An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Presentation of the King in ‘Henry V’.
The play ‘Henry V’ written by William Shakespeare depicts Henry to be a magnanimous but ruthless king. He is portrayed as a soldier, a romantic, a friend as well as a king.
In the first prologue of the play Henry is shown as having a mythical significance, which sets up an image of Henry before the audience actually encounter him. It is implied to the audience that Henry is an all-powerful being with ‘famine, sword and fire’ at his feet. This has a strong impact on the audience as a comparison between Henry and the Roman god of war suggests the magnitude of his power. ‘Assume the port of Mars’. It represents not only the power he has in physical terms, but also shows his authoritative position.
The Bishop develops the positive nature of Henry by referring to him as ‘full of grace and fair regard’, showing that he is not just an authoritative figure with immense power. In addition to this, in the conversation between Ely and Canterbury, the religious attachment of Henry is presented. For instance the quotation ‘and a true lover of the holy church’ shows that he is a person who loves and respects the church. Moreover, the fact that these positive comments are made by Ely and Canterbury who both have a prestigious status within the church, creates a significant effect on the audience as if such well respected persons are complimenting Henry then he must be an honorable person. On the other hand, this could be questioned, as the two bishops were in fact situated in an ante-chamber in the king’s palace, so they could in fact think that someone may be overhearing their conversation, so they feel it right to be complimenting the king.
Contrary to this perspective, in the same act Ely and Canterbury express their concerns over a ‘bill’ which when passed, could result in the church losing a great deal of wealth and land, ‘it pass against us, we lose the better half of our possessions’. As a consequence the conversation between them changes with the focus shifting on to methods that could be used to manipulate Henry, so that the church does not lose a great deal of its wealth. At this point, the impression of Henry is negative; a person who is depriving the ‘holy’ church of its wealth. For instance,
‘Which I have opened to his grace at large,
As touching France, to give a greater sum’
None the less, this ‘impression’ is challenged, when the ‘Bishop of Ely’ describes Henry as ‘A true lover of the holy church’, suggesting a contradiction, as the men who have the ‘religious’ status, are the characters who are greedy for status, money and power. As Henry is depicted to be of a positive nature, however this can be questioned by where Ely and Canterbury are actually situated (ante-chamber).Nonetheless, this could in actual fact suggest that they may use Henry’s love for the church against him. They hope that King Henry will side with them since he has shown himself to be fair-minded and true to the church. Also the Archbishop has opened up the issue of Henry’s claim to the throne of France that he hopes will distract him. Shakespeare up to this point leaves the audience contemplating about the real character of Henry, as Henry has not yet made any appearance.