Henry V Essay, Research Paper
The role of the Chorus in the Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, is significant. Due to the subject matter that the play deals with, it is hard to present in the way that it deserves. The Chorus helps the audience follow the play by helping them to picture things as they were through the use of imagery. It uses descriptive language in describing events that take place in the play. The Chorus also helps in making the plot of the play flow together better by filling the time lapses that occur between acts due to the fact that the event being depicted in only a few hours actually occurred over several years, leaving some gaps between events. It also explains what happens in an act beforehand because the scenes switch around from place to place, and it can get confusing. The most important function of the Chorus is that it encourages the audience to be patient and reminds them to use their imagination to envision the events that occur in the play, to really imagine the royal courts of England and France, and to really imagine the battle scenes with all the horses and men.
The prologue to the beginning of this play calls upon the “Muse” to help present the play. The chorus explains to the audience of the difficulties faced in presenting this play. It is difficult to transform a small stage to represent the English or French Courts, or the battlefield in France. They apologize, telling the audience, “But pardon, gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that hath dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object” (li 8-11). It is difficult to depict the life of King Henry V with all the honor and glory that he deserves when presenting it on the stage. The chorus also apologizes for the “crooked figure” of the numbers involved in this incident. The audience is called upon to use their imaginations in helping to set the scene and to help them to ignore all the incongruencies of the play. The chorus asks the audience to picture the armed forces and their horses and the battle scenes that took place when watching the play. And, that the events that happened took place over several years, and for the sake of brevity, many parts will have to be left out leaving many gaps throughout the story, jumping from place to place, “turning the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass; for the which to supply, admit me Chorus to this history” (li 30-32). The Chorus will help to fill in the gaps and to explain what is going on so the audience will not get lost as the play jumps around. The Chorus ends by asking the audience to be patient as they view the play. In this instance, the Chorus’ function is setting the stage for the rest of the play. It doesn’t reveal the plot or make any character developments. Instead, it serves as a mediator. Its function is to prepare the audience for the play that they are about to watch.
In Act II, the function of the Chorus is to fill in the lapse of time that has occurred since the time when Henry made the decision to go to war against France. The audience is informed that the English have been preparing to go off to battle. All the young men of England are joining King Henry’s forces. The Chorus tells of these brave men, “Now thrive the armorers, and honor’s thought reigns solely in the breast of every man” (li 3-4). It is out of honor that these young men have been driven to join their King to fight, and they wait in expectation. The English are described out of greatness, “O England, model to thy inward greatness, like little body with a mighty heart, what mightest thou do, that honor would thee do, were all thy children kind and natural” (li16-19). The French, on the other hand, have found out about the English plans, and “shake in fear.” They are planning to “divert the English purposes.” In order to do so, they employ three corrupt English men, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Henry Lord Scroop of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey, knight of Northumberland, to help France to conspire against the king of England. They are to kill King Henry at Southampton before he is to set sail for France. However, as we find out in Act II, the King finds out about the conspiracy against him. He sets up to have a trial of a man who committed a petty crime and has him set free to happen before the three conspirators. He then reveals that he knows about their plans and arrests them for treason. At the end of the prologue to Act II, the Chorus informs the audience that the scene is about to shift from London to Southampton, and then later to France.
The Chorus in Act III explains for the lapse in time that has taken place. The audience is urged to use their imagination to create a mental picture of what is taking place. The Chorus uses very descriptive language as they tell of the English fleet preparing to set sail for France. Then the audience is told of the return of Exeter, the king’s ambassador, from France where he met with the King of France. In Act II, he was sent to France to ask the King to forfeit his crown or else the English would go to war with France. He declined, but said that he would consider a counteroffer. Act II ended there, and now the Chorus tells that the king’s counteroffer was his daughter, Katherine, and her dowry. However, Henry refused the offer, so the English set sail for France.
In the prologue to Act IV, the Chorus creates an image of the English and the French camps. It is nighttime, and the two camps are waiting for the onset of dawn, when the fighting is to commence. The French camp is described as “confident and over-lusty.” They are gathered around at their camp playing dice, waiting anxiously for dawn to come and for the fighting to begin. At the English camp, the troops are not as confident as their enemy is. They wait for the danger that the morning holds for them, sad and frightened. They are aware that the French are larger in numbers and stronger than they are. The Chorus then gives a character development of King Henry. He is walking around from tent to tent talking to his soldiers. The King remains strong and confident before his men, giving them encouragement and confidence as he speaks with them, trying to prepare them for battle. The Chorus gives the audience a description, “Upon his royal face there is no note how dread an army hath enrounded him; nor doth he dedicate one jot of color unto the weary and all-watched night; but freshly looks, and overbears attaint with cheerful semblance and sweet majesty; that every wretch, pining and pale before, beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks. A largess universal, like the sun, his liberal eye doth give to everyone, thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all behold, as may unworthiness define, a little touch of Harry in the night” (li 35-47). The Chorus then takes the audience to the battle scene, calling upon them to once again to use their imaginations to picture the battle between the two countries at the Battle of Agincourt.
In the prologue to Act V, the Chorus, once again, asks the audience to imagine certain events that have occurred since the ending of the last act. The King has left France to go back to London. Returning to London, King Henry’s lords wanted him “to have borne his bruised helmet and his bended sword before him through the city” (li 17-19). However, King Henry refused to do so, he wanted to be free of “vainness and self-glorious pride.” King Henry did not want to take away from any of the glory of God. He attributed all the victory to God. Once he arrived in London, all of the people ran out to cheer. The Holy Roman Emperor also came to London, from France, to greet Henry in attempt to arrange some sort of peace. However, the attempt was unsuccessful. The Chorus ends by saying that King Henry has returned to France. In Act V, The two courts meet and discuss King Henry’s demands, his first of which is to marry Katherine, which is granted.
The play closes with an epilogue by the Chorus. The Chorus tells how the actual event that took place was much grander then that which was presented on stage. They close the story about the life of King Henry V by telling the audience that he had a son, Henry VI, whom went on to succeed his father. During his son’s reign, he proceeded to lose France, which has been depicted in other plays.
The Chorus has multiple functions in the play. In act I, it set the scene and prepared the audience of what to expect. In act II, the Chorus sets the plot for the conspiracy planned against the King. It also brings out one of the major themes that occurs throughout the play, honor. In act III, help out with the plot using imagery to help the audience to picture events taking place. The prologue to act IV sets the scene up for the battle. The Chorus also gives the audience some insight into the character of Henry V as well. The prologue to the last act fills in the lapse in time that occurred since the battle was won up to the point where Henry returns to France. The Epilogue closes the play with the Chorus reminding the audience that the event depicted is hard to present on stage due to lofty subject matter dealing with such a great man as King Henry V.