In Shakespeare's play Henry V, what is Henry's attitude toward war?


Henry V

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Critics are divided about Henry V's attitudes, suggesting that Shakespeare may have intentionally left his character ambiguous and ill defined. One clue is Henry's conversation with Canterbury about the Salic law that decrees the passing of the Crown through the male line. Before the Ambassador from Fance enters with his tennis ball gift, Henry has already decided to "bend [France] to our awe, / Or break it all to pieces.” After the Ambassador presents the gift, Henry is even more resolute, saying, "Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on / To venge me as I may.”

Another clue is that Henry V was a knight as well as King and the code of knighthood was war. When his remarks stated above are coupled with his code of beliefs as epitomized by knightly code of conduct the balance seems to tilt toward the idea that Henry's attitude toward war is in accord with the attitude and milieu of the era, that being that war is an opportunity for service to God and the Crown and an opportunity for honor gained through valor. This would seem to be reinforced by his much later conversation with a soldier in the battlefield in which the soldier asserts that a sovereign has an irrevocable duty to fight only just wars or else to take the souls of the killed soldiers and peasants and children-soldiers on his head and soul. Henry's response is that duty to the King requires service in the King's causes and the soldiers' souls are to be on their own heads.

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