Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of the ways in which Henry is a great king.

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Charlotte Edwards


Discuss Shakespeare’s presentation of the ways in which Henry is a great king.

Shakespeare presents Henry V as a good king, and more importantly, a good leader and   gives Henry many positive characteristics in order to create this image.

Henry is a good orator. He has the ability to change his style of rhetoric to suit the mood and atmosphere that he is trying to create. At times in the play Henry has to persuade his people that he is one of them and that there is a bond or unity between them, almost as if he and they are brothers, all the sons of the same God and the same Country – England. This is the case particularly outside Harfleur when Henry is rousing his men to fight bravely. He creates a unity between them by using words like ‘yours’ and ‘our’:

Dear friends … you noble English … made in England … you are worth your breeding”.

On the other hand, when they are outside Harfleur, and Henry speaks to the governor of the town (in Act 3 Scene 4), he displays the ability to put fear into his enemy. With harsh language he puts across dreadful images of his enemy’s “naked infants spitted upon pikes”. This instantly conveys a huge amount of terror into the men of Harfleur, who consequently surrender. This demonstrates just how powerful Henry’s rhetoric is. These two situations show Henry’s ability to adapt to the situation. They also demonstrate how Henry can change his temperament according to what is required in any given situation.

On the one hand, he needs to be an inspirational hero for his army. Whilst on the other hand, he has to carry out his duty and be cruel and harsh. He is sometimes required to be merciless, and at other times needed to be merciful. These apparent contradicting states of mind, merely display the differences between when he needs to be a leader, and when he needs to be a human. As the Italian writer Machiavelli once famously wrote “It is better for the prince to rule by fear than love.” The ease with which Henry seems to create both of these emotions makes him both a kind acquaintance of his subjects, and an effective leader.

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One thing Henry’s subjects would look at him and expect is that he should be a religious person who both fears God and also has God on his side.  He is a true believer in God and he conveys this very well by being sincere and devout throughout the play. He always turns to God when in need of help, and thanks God when he achieves something. An example of this is shown both before and after the battle of Agincourt. The night before the battle Henry prays

 “O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts.”

This shows Henry feels ...

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