Henry V is the last play in the cycle in which William Shakespeare explores the nature of kingship and compares medieval and Renaissance ideal rulers. In Henry IV, Part I (pr. c. 1597-1598, pb. 1598), Hal (the nickname by which Henry was known in his youth) soliloquizes that his roguish behavior, which so disturbs his father and the court, is policy—a temporary ploy soon to be discarded, after which he will astonish and delight his critics. True to that promise, Hal becomes the perfect English king, a true representative of all of his people, one who understands his own vices and virtues and those of his citizens. His youthful escapades have taught him a deep understanding of the human nature of the citizens he must rule, making him wise beyond his years.
Henry V, Shakespeare’s summarizing portrait of what a good king should be, acts in the best Elizabethan tradition. The archbishop of Canterbury’s description in act 1, scene 1, confirms him as well rounded, a man of words and of action, a scholar, diplomat, poet, and soldier. He can “reason in divinity,” “debate of commonwealth affairs,” “discourse of war” or of music, and “unloose the Gordian knot of policy . . . in sweet and honeyed sentences.” Unlike his father, who was tortured by self-recrimination, Henry V is sure of his authority, power, and ability. Proud of his country and followers, he attributes his successes to God’s leadership.
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