Henry V Coursework

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Melanie Parkes

Henry V Coursework

From “nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales” to the “mirror of all Christian kings”:

Select what you consider to be some important episodes in the play and discuss Shakespeare’s dramatic presentation of Henry’s career. How does Henry come across to an audience as a man and a king?

As a young man and heir to the throne, Henry is shown by Shakespeare to be ambitious, calculating and in some respects cold-hearted. At the end of Act One, Scene Two, comes one of the most important speeches in “Henry IV”. Hal speaks his soliloquy in verse, which is a contrast to the light conversation earlier in the scene. The verse makes him seem more of a nobleman and is more fitting to the Prince of Wales. He knows that his friends are unsuitable for a prince and that his behaviour has attracted serious criticism. However:

                                      “…Herein will I imitate the sun,

                                      Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

                                       To smother up his beauty from the world.”

This is not the most endearing of speeches. We have just met Hal’s friends and seen how he acts with them, yet here he is planning how he will “throw off” “this loose behaviour”. He makes no reference to how he feels this would affect the people he is close to, and he appears only to aspire to his “reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault”. This seems particularly callous behaviour, as we are aware of the anguish Hal causes his father. The words of the verse are deeply revealing about his character. He has an eye on the future and is also apparently prepared to use his friends to advance his career.

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Nevertheless this speech can be seen in another light. Hal is going to become King one day and this seems to be something he has no worries about, and something he has accepted. He has not let anyone have any expectations of him and so when he does perform this ‘reformation’ it will actually seem more special. Furthermore, he believes that if he manages to make a miraculous recovery from the life of sin, more people will be impressed by him than if he had led a quiet life:


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