Henry V By Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper
King Henry, as portrayed in Shakespeare’s Henry V, may not always seem to forge the best actions or resolve problems in an endearing way, but in the eyes of Shakespeare this man was an optimal king. Throughout the play Shakespeare leads Henry through different conscious placements. Henry, however, always proves to be the perfect king by making the superior choice. These test of character are actually Shakespeare’s criteria for what he believes a perfect king must have or be and they bring about many king-like traits in Henry. First, the test of character proves that he is religious and loyal to the Catholic Church. The next gauge of Henry’s character shows that he is motivational and can keep patriotism running in the veins of England’s citizens. Finally these measures show that King Henry is able to carry out the law as well as the rightful reign of England. In all, the play Henry V unmistakably portrays Henry as the model for all Christian kings.
King Henry meets the first criterion that states a king must be religious and loyal to the Catholic Church. To begin, Henry accepts advice from two Catholic Church officials, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely, concerning his heir to the French Crown. The information that the Church passes on to him will certainly start a war and Henry readily excepts it, mainly because it is what he wants to hear but also because of his loyalty and respect for the Church itself. For he would not take such important advise from a group that Henry merely tolerates. Henry shows his religious side when he continuously prays to God for help. For example Henry says “O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts; Posses them not with fear” (IV, i, 287-288). Henry gives forth these words in hopes that God will help the English defeat the French in an upcoming battle. To continue, the King also displays a religious side when he dedicates his much earned victory over the French to God. Henry states “Take it, God, for it is none but thine!” (IV, iiiiiiii, 111-112). This proves that King Henry is indeed religious for, he had given his greatest accomplishment to God, as any good Christian would do. It can be said, without any doubt, that King Henry was religious and loyal to the Catholic Church, therefore meeting the first criterion of Shakespeare.
It was proven several times throughout Henry V that the king was a magnificent motivational speaker and he could surely get patriotism on the minds of the peasants as well as his fellow royalty. One illustration of this is when King Henry motivates non-enthusiastic troops into fighting their hearts out and taking over the town of Harfleur. In this memorable speech Henry uses such phrases such as “But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage” in efforts to rally the patriotism inside each man and inspire him to go out and destroy the French enemy (III, i, 5-8). This is only the first example of how Henry motivates his citizens. The next comes after the hanging of his good friend Bardolph. It seems that the hanging of Bardolph represents a climax in the unhappiness of Henry’s troops. They are discouraged because it is the dead of winter, they have little supplies and personal reward seems to be nonexistent, as Bardolph clearly demonstrates. Despite this glum attitude among the men the king gives a short speech that inspires the detachment to push on and to fight for a greater cause. As if these acts were not enough to show that King Henry was a great motivator, Shakespeare has Henry give what is probably the most inspiring and memorable speech of the play, the Saint. Crispian’s Day speech. In this speech the king responds to Westmoreland, who represents the entire troop’s thoughts by saying that they fear their lives because the French have so many more men then they. The king then tells the troops that “If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss; And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honor” (IV, iii, 20-22). He promises that they will be remembered for eternity as the men who saved the world. The king also proclaims that “He today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother” and that “We would not diein that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us” (IV, iii, 61-62) (IV, iii, 38-39). After this oration has been delivered Westmoreland and the other company are so moved that they charged encouragingly into the battle with the French. The Saint Crispian’s Day speech is a prime example of what a good motivator the king was. He encouraged all his men with one speech to go courageously into battle even though they were fearful and pessimistic about the battle just minutes before. King Henry was a prominent promoter of patriotism and courage by way of speech.
The last skill a king needed to be great in Shakespeare’s eyes was that of carrying out the law in a just way and keeping England in power over its rightful span of rule. Henry did do just this, and he showed it numerous times through out the play. Foremost, the king becomes aware of three conspirators among the royal party, Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey, who he is very close friends with. Henry, in a deceivingly clever way, tells Scroop, Cambridge and Grey that he is aware that they are planning to kill him for some of France’s gold. They confess to their sins and instead of the king being lenient on them because of their friendship he gives them a harsh death penalty sentence and does not grant the forgiveness that each one asks of him. Henry stays strong and tells them “Get you therefore hence, Poor miserable wretches, to your death, the taste whereof God of his mercy give you patience to endure, and true repentance of all your dear offenses” (II, iii, 177-181). This action shows that King Henry is able to overcome the bonds of friendship and enforce the law in an objective manner. Later, Henry finds that his best drinking buddy from his younger years, Bardolph, has been caught robbing a church while fighting for the French crown. Although Henry had made a promise before he was king never to convict Bardolph, he gave him the death penalty and hung him immediately. This action was yet another display of how Henry could overcome his emotional bonds and carry out the law fairly. Next, Henry shows that he can protect England’s power by reclaiming the French crown since England clearly had rightful heir to it. This is a very important skill, for if a king could not defend what was his, he would not be considered a competent king at all. Since Henry could protect the heir to the French throne he was a truly benevolent king. Moving on, after Henry and the English army take the town of Harfleur, he tells the troops to take mercy on the town as well as the people in it. Henry tells Exeter, who is now in charge of the men, ” Use mercy to them all. For us, dear uncle, the winter coming on and sickness growing upon our soldiers, we will retire to Calais”, which means that the men can stay in the town for night but be kind to its people and the next day they shall march on (III, iii, 54-57). This most certainly shows that King Henry can do his job and fight for England but he can also be just and fair while he is on a quest.
King Henry, as portrayed in Henry V, is definitely the perfect king as defined by Shakespeare. He meets all the right criteria, for Henry is religious and faithful to the church, motivational and inspirational, and most of all he is able to carry out the law of England in a dispassionate manor. In summation, King Henry is the king to be measured by, in Shakespeare’s opinion, and his glory and righteousness will never be forgotten.