A Man Above Kings Essay, Research Paper
A Man Above Kings
In William Shakespeare s Henry V, King Henry is at the height of his reign as he defeats the French in one of the most significant battles in English history. As Henry fights the ongoing battle on French soil, he is subjected to many situations that define him as a man as well as a king. As the play progresses, these demanding situations test his military ability, intelligence, and endurance. In some people s view, such as the Dauphin, Henry is merely a childish and immature leader whose lack of experience as a king make him worthless to the English throne (Shakespeare II.iv.28). Remarks such as these are based upon the fact that Henry is still young, therefore making him an immature leader of England. Although these are strong comments, they are only assumptions made by those who neglect to recognize Henry s true potential as a man as well as a true king. King Henry s charm, military superiority, as well as his ability to be a kindhearted man makes his alleged juvenile behavior relatively insignificant.
As the play leads young Henry into war with the French, we see him mature into a charming hero, as well as a compassionate egalitarian. Henry is seen as a great hero for England, while avoiding common problems that can affect his success. Despite the opinions of those who dislike him, the fact remains that Henry was a hero, a King of England, and the conqueror of the King of France (Hazlitt 194). As a result of Henry s heroic characteristics, he has the benefit of being without certain dangerous tendencies which mark the tragic heroes, thus he is, perhaps, the most efficient character drawn by Shakespeare (Bradley 209). In general, Henry is seen as a genuinely charming, modest, and patient king. In spite of the difficult and doubtful circumstances in which he is placed, Henry s behavior is as patient and modest as it is spirited and lofty in his prosperous fortune (Hazlitt 195). Even officials in the church see Henry as a king who is full of grace and fair regard (Shakespeare I.i.24). Henry proves himself to be a true egalitarian, demonstrating his attention towards the worth of those below him, and even those against him. The respect towards those below the King is clearly expressed when he talks to the yeomen of England at Harfleur:
Let us swear
That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not nobler luster in your eyes. (Shakespeare III.ii.29-33)
Despite the fact that Henry is trying to conquer the French, the sacking of Harfleur is never actually ordered by the King. Instead the brutality of such a sacking is contained within Henry s imagined projection of it, (Hall 22) thus he uses mercy upon his enemies. Henry s heroic tendencies and charming attitude heighten his image to those who live amongst him, but his military superiority is what heightens his image to those around him.
Several times throughout the play, Henry makes the transition for a charming hero to an intimidating soldier, thus making his supposed immaturity become non-existent. In a single situation, the King can appear to be a strong and intimidating soldier, while at the same time withholding his modesty and kindness. When Henry appears before an adversary [h]e inspires a high degree of fear, enthusiasm, and affection; thanks to his beautiful modesty he has the charm which is lacking to another mighty warrior (Bradley 209). Despite what seems to be a coldly practical military strategy, Henry s order is made out by Shakespeare to have been, ultimately, a passionate reaction (Hall 23). In more extreme circumstances, Henry purely displays his intimidation as only a passionate soldier. Penetrating Harfleur, Henry s army attempts to infiltrate the wall surrounding the city. Hope seems to diminish until Henry shouts, Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once/ more,/ Or close the wall up with our English dead (Shakespeare III.i.1-3)! Henry also makes apparent the destruction in which he can incur upon the city, and that if he is forced to do so, he will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur/ Till in her ashes she lie buried (Shakespeare III.iii.5-9). The King s will to never give up, and even boldly shun away the possibility of defeat is the quality that sustains his military superiority. Even though he is undeniably outnumbered, Henry continues to pursue his goals, and warns if we be hindered,/ We shall your tawny ground with your red blood/ Discolor (Shakespeare III.vi.165-167). When the King is threatened that he will be held for ransom, he blatantly rejects the intimidation of the French:
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk
My army but a weak and sickly guard,
Yet, G-d before, tell him we will come on/
Through France himself and such another neighbor/
Stand in our way. (Shakespeare III.vi.159-163)
Henry s charming charisma coincides with his ruthlessness as a soldier to make him a competent, intelligent, passionate, and superior man to lead his people and his army.
If there is anything that Henry deserves from his portrayal in this play, it is respect. His charm, modesty, and egalitarian attitude enable him to form a strong and trustful connection with those who serve below him. His intimidating presence as a soldier enables him to implant fear into those whom he thinks should fear the English. On one hand, the reader finds Henry being a superior king by defending his England, and those who fight for it. But on the other hand, the reader also finds Henry having a delightful, modest, yet appealing attitude, therefore defining him as a superior man as well. Thus, by the end of the play, what remains for the reader to reflect upon is the presence of a great man as well as a great king. Henry undeniably deserves this recognition from this play. Yet this honorable acknowledgement does not necessarily make Henry the ideal man above all other men. He is undoubtedly a great man and a great king, and deserves respect from all those who have witnessed his actions, yet there is still closure needed upon analyzing his character in the play. Shakespeare seems to have teased the reader in this play. By reading Henry V one may think that the King is Shakespeare s most ideal character, whose nature and personality is near perfect. However, in this play, the character of Henry lacks the one emotion that is so apparent in all of Shakespeare s other plays. Love. Henry s infatuation with the success of England leaves love a dangling mystery to the reader. Nevertheless, Shakespeare has still created a successful and charismatic character whose superior image has ultimately left love in the hands of the reader to display towards the great King.