The Life And Growth Of King Henry V And England

Henry V is a masterful tale of power, greed, maturity, good and evil. Shakespeare draws an excellent comparison between the budding Christian king, Harry, to the whole of England rising up for the pursuit of “glory“ and “crowns“. Through some brief dialogue between the bishop of Canterbury and his court; we learn Harry has confirmed his claim to both the crowns(used throughout the play) of England and France. The stage is now set for the awakening England to challenge the pompous and pretentious France. “ Now all the youth of England are on fire”(2.2.1). This signifies the anticipation of war and excitement but also the question of whether Harry can shed the supposed ignorance and dormancy of his youth . Now all of England revels in the excitement of anticipating war but there is worry as to whether Harry can command the forces he has inherited.

Harry was thought to be incompetent in his youth where he maintained a social veneer but was also waiting(possibly planning)for his opportunity to take his charge as king, rise up and claim glory as stated by the Bishop of Ely: “wholesome berries thrive/by fruit of lesser quality/prince obscured his contemplation/unseen, yet crescive in his faculty“(1.1.60-66). Thus Shakespeare uses multiple characters to compare the rise of Harry directly to his subjects as the whole of England is rising with their king to claim crowns and glory as well. The Archbishop of Canterbury first tells us of Harry’s change in lines(1.1.24-37). Harry, in response to the dauphin’s jest, points out how the dauphin has underestimated his kingdom “How he comes o’er us with our wilder days/I will keep my state/I will dazzle all the eyes of France”(1.2.268-280). Harry also repeatedly refers to his troops as “brothers” and having “noble blood” in his rousing war speeches. Comparing himself to his own troops gains their trust and assures there will be no dissention about his rise to power. The Dauphin makes the last mention comparing the inseparable pair when he once again underestimates their strength with a brash comment likening the English war machine to a simple folk dance(2.4.24-29). This implies English forces may not be prepared to encounter the French but it turns out to be a rather small hindrance.

Protagonists must always encounter hindrances of various difficulties which can be transformed into stages of learning by the competent. “Three corrupted men” will force England and Harry to rise over the obstacles and challenges that are present within themselves(2.2.22). Shakespeare uses the chorus to illustrate how England must hold itself to a greater ideal: “O England! Model to thy inward greatness/ little body with a mighty heart/that honor would thee do”(2.2.16-19). This indicates (in England’s case) the possibility of such great things if only they could “model to thy inward greatness” and discard those treacherous subjects that corrupt the great spirit of England(2.2.16). Shakespeare is showing that Harry still has much to learn and improve upon himself and his character before he can accomplish the great things ahead of him. The chorus cries out for great England to stand fast against all opposition and rise to the honor and glory it has been promised! The three traitors: Richard Earl, Lord Scroop, and Sir Thomas Grey are obstacles to both Harry and England but represent flaws of character to the former and corrupt subjects to the latter. Harry himself states how their betrayal is: “like Another fall of man”(2.2.126-144). I love this passage because it incorporates the idea of being born with great potential but their fault is their fall and while their punishment be judged by law; their acquittal must come from the creator of man. England also had many faults at the start of the play such as a recent civil war and a weak, ineffective king. Through Harry’s reign England attains a new sense of growth and nationalism to achieve “the world’s best garden” thus solidifying England’s seat in the world(Epi.7). This identifies the obstacles they must overcome and rouses in the audience a sense of loyalty to our Heroes .

There is a recurring theme of crowns throughout the play and the different meanings contained therein. Shakespeare makes excellent use of descriptive language with “Expectation in the air/ hilts unto the point/ crowns imperial, crowns/ promised to Harry and his followers”(2.2.8-11). This once again compares England and Harry but offers an ideal of glory/attainment for England but namely the crown of France for its Christian king. I believe Shakespeare is trying to liken crowns/treasure to dreams/desire which can be noble/righteous or evil/selfish. This brings two more points: “treacherous crowns” and the “gilt of France” used in deceit to soil and sully the greatness of England(2.2.22,26) and the idea of using Christianity as a cloak to mask desire for worldly possession. The last use of crowns is in a conversation where Pistol demands a French soldier to give him “crowns, brave crowns” in exchange for the soldier‘s life. I believe the use of the adjective brave with the travesty committed is sheer brilliance on Shakespeare‘s part. In context of the situation and unscrupulous characters; any moral decency the word or characters might have had is lost in the dastardly exchange poised to take place.

Throughout Shakespeare’s works lie many words which have multiple meanings for the audience to interpret. These words may contain humorous context, a hidden agenda, or subtly hint at themes carried in the play. The word bosom translates into being a receptacle for money. However, bosom also represents the guilt of the three treacherous nobles Shakespeare compounds on this meaning in the next line with: ”fills with treacherous crowns”(2.2.21-22). The bosom is being filled with treacherous crowns meaning money and these men’s hearts(who are hypocrites for pretending to be allies of Harry) with treachery and deceit. The use of gilt(money)/guilt(emotion) describes the bribe the three men have taken to betray their king and the remorse they will no doubt feel when they must face their misdeeds. The chorus cries out for England to model itself to greater ideals of both size(armed forces) and to its inner greatness(moral force). The chorus closes the passage by once again enlisting the aid of the audience to help dream and use their imagination for a stage. “There is the playhouse now/shall we convey you safe/charming the narrow seas to give you gentle pass/We’ll not offend one stomach with our play”(2.2.40). I found this to be rather humorous because the chorus asks the audience to envision the setting; then promises to calm the imaginary seas so the audience won’t get sick in their dream world. The humor lies in the assumption that the audience members might get seasick while imagining troubled waters. The double meaning it carries is the chorus attempting not to offend anyone with the events the actors will be portraying.
Also prevalent in this play is Shakespeare’s idea of a Christian king which I mentioned previously: “Following the mirror of all Christian kings With winged heels, as English Mercuries”(2.2.6-7). I believe this to be a kind of mockery of the theme of a Christian king which is repetitive throughout the play. First there is mention of swelling honor preceding an invasion and selling one’s livelihood to attain a beast of war. He then likens England to a Pagan messenger of the gods and then goes on to state how the whole of England is craving the treasure they will run upon their sword much like the enemy soldier who will have to be run through to win said treasure. So I think Shakespeare is either showcasing our Heroes to be less “Christian” than they claim or possibly poking fun at that fact. Thus some who call themselves Christian then pursue many desires that aren’t Christian at all and have much more dire consequences.

I believe Shakespeare’s use of the chorus in this play is excellent because it gives the feel of a storyteller sharing his own version of a hero faced with doubt and confusion who eventually overcomes his faults to attain his crown or prize. The use of crowns as a prize to be won shows how weaknesses of character can lead to deceit and a warped view of morality/Christianity. Harry(character faults and traitors) and England(civil war and a poor ruler) both had their faults but persevere to become triumphant in their goals. Shakespeare’s choice of words begs us to ask whether Katherine and the “crown” of France or “glory” was so great a prize. As Harry/England matured, did they turn out to be so great and noble of a Christian King/State? As the epilogue states: “Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen, Our bending author hath pursued the story/ Mangling by starts the full course of their glory“ Shakespeare has used his great skill to show us different perspectives of his time(Epi.1-4).

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