Study Guide

Henry V

by William Shakespeare

Henry V Essay - Edward III in Henry V

Edward III in Henry V

E. Pearlman, University of Colorado at Denver

Shakespeare knew the play called The Raigne of King Edward the Third as well as he knew Holinshed's Chronicle or North's Plutarch or Ovid's Metamorphoses. He might have become intimate with Edward III in any of a number of ways, for it was "sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London,"1 during the early 1590s, and it is hard to imagine that Shakespeare, himself a practitioner of the art of chronicle history, would not have taken the trouble to look in at one of its various performances. Shakespeare might also have laid down his sixpence for a copy of Edward III, for the play was readily available, having been published by Cuthbert Burby in 1596 and once again in 1599. There is also the possibility that Shakespeare the actor might have undertaken a role or two as a member of the Earl of Pembroke's Men2—the company often thought to have the best claim to Edward III. And finally, if an emerging scholarly consensus is to be credited, Shakespeare may very well have written the play in part or even in its entirety3. It is not beyond possibility that he would have been familiar with Edward III in every conceivable way—as writer, actor, reader, and spectator. But by whatever means Shakespeare came to know the play, he knew it exceedingly well. It was a work that left as profound a mark on his work as any piece of contemporary writing, even including the productions of Kyd and Marlowe. And of all Shakespeare's works, the most surely touched was Henry V.

There are sundry points of contact between Edward III and Shakespeare, none more suggestive than the case of the "scarlet ornaments." King Edward III, replicating the light of a hundred heroes of romance, has fallen desperately in love with the chaste, married, and moral Countess of Salisbury. Edward's private secretary Lodowick has scrutinized king and countess and has observed that in their embarrassment they share an unusual complexional complementarity—a color morphing that causes the one to grow red as the other grows white. Lodowick confides to the audience that

& when shee blusht, euen then did he looke
As if her cheekes by some inchaunted power
Attracted had the cherie blood from his;
Anone with reuerent feare, when she grew
His cheeke put on their scarlet ornaments.&
                        (sig. B3v-B4; 341-345)

If Shakespeare did not compose Edward III, he must have been taken aback to hear these lines spoken by one of the actors. Would he not have remembered his own Sonnet 142 ("Loue is my sinne, and thy deare verrue hate")4 where "the speaker" complains that the lips of his faithless mistress have "prophan'd their scarlet ornaments" (6)? Did he know or guess that the author of Edward III was one of the private friends among whom his sugared sonnets had circulated? There is yet another possibility: that Shakespeare did not write Sonnet 142 until much later (in the first years of the following century, quite likely) and that Edward III precedes the sonnet. Did Shakespeare then take note of the striking phrase and store it away for future use? Or (to shift the ground and give credence to the surmise that Shakespeare was in fact the author of Edward III) was it then laziness or self-congratulation (or simply forgetfulness) that caused him to reuse the phrase "scarlet ornaments" in another and very different context?

If such inquiries as these can be triggered by a single repeated phrase, they are provoked all the more by a second encroachment a few scenes further on in Edward III. The lustful king is still in hot pursuit of his countess. Now the countess's father, the Earl of Warwick, encouraging his daughter (who in truth needs no encouragement) to slap the hand of the lascivious Edward, reminds her that "[a]n honorable graue is more esteemd / Then the polluted closet of a king" (sig. D2r; 767-68). Warwick goes on to launch a fusillade of proverbs and sentences that are intended to fortify his daughter's resolve. The sins of royalty are more heinous than those of commoners, he asserts, because

That poyson shewes worst in a golden cup;
Darke night seemes darker by the lightning
Lillies that fester, smel far worse than weeds;
And euery glory that inclynes to sin
The shame is treble by the opposite.
                             (sig D2r; 784-88)

To stumble upon the radiant line from Sonnet 94 in a dark corner of dramatic history is startling today and must have been even more electric—at least to those in the know—in its own time. Was the line stolen by a rival playwright or was it simply repeated by Shakespeare, and why was it so? Scholars since Steevens in 1780 5 have labored to establish whether the lilies migrated from sonnet to play or from play to sonnet, yet nothing more than the obvious can be confidently asserted: the author of Sonnet 94 knew or was known by, or plagiarized or was plagiarized by, or was identical to the author of the Edward III.

The scarlet ornaments and the festering lilies proclaim a suggestive but yet only anecdotal entwining of the play and the sonnet sequence. Far more essential is the bond between Edward III and The Life of Henry the Fift. For it is demonstrable that while in the roll call of the English kings, Edward is but the great-grandfather of Henry, in the arena of literature, Edward III can legitimately claim to have directly sired Henry V. There are so many intrinsic similarities between the careers of Edward and Henry, that, considering that Shakespeare knew Edward III so exceedingly well, he had to decide very early in the making of his new play whether he was going to ignore, or reproduce, or pillage the previous one.

On the subject of Shakespeare's knowledge of Edward III there is an interesting story to be retold: in the second scene of Shakespeare's Henry V, the English contemplate an invasion of France. There is a brief debate about the problem of fighting a two-front war: can Henry claim his birthright in France and at the same time protect his Scottish flank? Canterbury, the aggressive archbishop, argues that Scotland is a paper tiger, and as evidence he adduces a moment in the glorious past when England

& hath her selfe not onely well defended,
But taken and impounded as a Stray,
The King of Scots: whom shee did send to
To fill King Edwards fame with prisoner
                            (1.2.159-162; TLN 305-309)6

The capture of the Scottish king appears so unemphatically and is so hemmed in—on the one side by the vast excursus on Salic law and on the other by the elegant but distracting fable of the bees' commonwealth—that it slips by without fixing the attention of either audience or reader. Nevertheless, these few lines testify to the strong tie between the two history plays, for David II's abduction, recounted in chapter cxxxix of Froissart's Chronicles, is curiously transformed in Henry V. It is historically true that "a squyer called John Coplande" (87)7 captured David II, the king of the Scots, and that Edward's Queen Phillipa was repulsed when she demanded that the prisoner be surrendered to her; it is true also that an angry Edward summoned Copland to Calais. But in defiance of Canterbury's testimony, it is distinctly untrue that Copland obeyed his monarch and carried the captive king to France. Froissait plainly states that when ordered by Edward to his encampment at Calais, John Copland "dyd putte his prisoner in save kepynge in a stronge castell" (87) (a fact with which Holinshed, Shakespeare's source for Henry V, concurs).8 On what authority, then, does Canterbury make the claim that the King of Scots, on the evidence of the chroniclers languishing at Newcastle, was conveyed to France for the purpose of glorifying Edward's name? Solely, it appears, on the testimony of the play of Edward III. When Froissait was translated into chronicle history, the story of the hijacking came to be altered. The situation in Edward III was this: Crecy has been fought and won and the king has withdrawn to Calais. Derby heralds an important entrance: "Copland, my lord, and David, king of Scots" (sig. 14v; 2317). Copland then embroiders the historical record:

I tooke the king my self in single fight.&
And Copland straight vpon your highnes
Is come to Fraunce, and with a lowly minde
Doth vale the bonnet of his victory:
Receiue, dread Lorde, the custome of my
                    (sig. J4v; 2325; 2328-31)

The case is therefore clear: it was not the historical but the player king David who crossed the channel and came to Calais. It is not difficult to imagine what the author of Edward III had in mind when he changed the facts: in the early 1590s, there could be no more certain index of the pervasive influence of Marlowe's Tamburlaine than the gratuitous humbling of a captive king. When he composed Canterbury's version of events, Shakespeare did not return to the story of David of Scotland as it appeared in Froissait or in Holinshed but instead chose to remind his audience of a triumph of English nationalism as it had already been enacted in a number of theatrical venues about the city of London. Favoring theatrical fiction over historical fact, Shakespeare extracted the humiliation of David II from Edward III and slipped it easily and unceremoniously into the later play. The upshot: an historical event dating from the aftermath of Crecy was reported by Froissait, nurtured by Holinshed, altered under the sway of Marlovian drama for enactment on the public stage, and then gathered by Shakespeare to argue in support of an imaginary invasion of France that, dramatized, read, and filmed, would eventually become the centerpiece of a real and fervent English nationalism. Canterbury's tucked-in tale of the impounded Scottish king presents an unusually instructive pedigree. It also confirms, if confirmation is required, that Shakespeare had Edward III very much on his mind when he composed these first scenes of Henry V. The link between the two plays is at once so obscure and so exact that it must be presumed that Shakespeare had recently reviewed the earlier history—either by attending a performance, or by glancing at his copy of the quarto. It is difficult to imagine that Shakespeare's decision to repeat the account of David II in Edward III was taken thoughtlessly; in 1599, any reference, howsoever marginal, to the disgracing of a Scottish king would surely have been subjected to the most intense scrutiny for whatever it might imply about Scotland, or Scottish kings, or monarchical succession.9

When Shakespeare took up his pen to compose Henry V, he had to make a decision about the challenge posed by a play with which he had such complex relations. Edward III would always be there, lurking on his shelf or in his memory or in the collective consciousness of his audiences. For the plain fact is that Edward III covers ground very similar to the territory Shakespeare would have to traverse in the new play that he had bound himself (in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV) to deliver to his company and to his audience. Shakespeare had to confront the intransigent fact that there were undeniable and unaviodable parallels between the careers of Edward III and Henry V and that he would either have to dodge or assimilate the old play when he constructed the new; there was no burying the likenesses. Edward III begins when the reigning king of England strides on stage to inquire whether he is morally and legally the heir to the French throne and whether he may invade France to regain his crown. He asks a counsellor if Salic law bars him from an inheritance that he claims through his mother. French history and law are ceremoniously reviewed:

When thus the lynage of Bew was out,
The French obscurd your mothers Priuiledge,
And though she were the next of blood,
John of the house of Valoys now their king:
The reason, was, they say the Realme of
Repleat with Princes of great parentage,
Ought not admit a gouernor to rule,
Except he be discended of the male.
And that's the speciall ground of their
Wherewith they study to exclude your grace.
                            (sig. A3r; 18-27)

Fortunately, Edward's legal consultant comes to exactly the conclusion that represents the king's deepest wishes: "But they shall finde that forged ground of theirs/ To be but dusty heapes of brittile sand" (28-29). Inspired by so favorable an analysis, the king decides to go to war:

Hot courage is engendred in my brest,
Which heretofore was rakt in ignorance,
But nowe doth mount with golden winges of
And will approue faire Issabells discent.&
                              (sig. A3v; 45-48)

The French monarch sends a messenger to demand that the English king pay him "lowly homage" (60) and "[r]epaire to France within these forty daies" (62).

The king responds that he will come to France not as a dependent, but "like a conquerer to make him bowe" (sig. A4r; 57), and that, as for the French king, "[w]here he sets his foote he ought to knele" (81).

It is obvious that the plays cover such similar ground that a summary of the beginning of Edward III serves as a summary of Henry V as well. But the congruence of the two histories does not lie in the opening scenes alone, but in their coincident design: an energetic English king with a history of irresponsible behavior lays claim to the monarchy of France; he raises an army of patriots, secures his Scottish frontier, fights a series of battles against absurdly overconfident French commanders who continually taunt him with cowardice, and at last, against titanic odds, succeeds in bringing the enemy to heel. At both Crecy in the one play and Agincourt in the other, divine intervention produces miraculous victories. And even at the climax of Henry V, when the victorious Harry announces his intention to "call & this the field of Agincourt, / Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus" (4.7.89-81; 2619-20), the Welshman Fluellen is there to remind the king (and the Globe audience) of Henry's great antecedent and model:

Your Grandfather of famous memory (an't please your Maiesty, and your great Vncle Edward the Placke Prince of Wales, as I haue read in the Chronicles, fought a most praue partie here in France.

(82-82; TLN 2622-25)

The two plays are so similarly grounded that there are occasions when passages echo each other eerily. A good example occurs at Crecy. In Edward III:

Prince. Heere is a note my gratious Lord of
 That in this conflict of our foes were slaine;
 Eleuen Princes of esteeme, Foure score
 A hundred and twenty knights, and thirty
 Common souldiers; and our men a thousand.
[King Edward]. Our God be praised.
                           (sig. G2r-G2v; 1606-10)

The comparable event at Agincourt is more familiar:

 King. This Note doth tell me of ten
 thousand French
That in the field lye slaine: of Princes in this
And Nobles bearing Banners, there lye dead
One hundred twentie six: added to these,
Of Knights, Esquires, and gallant Gentlemen,
Eight thousand and foure hundred. &
Where is the number of our English dead?

Edward the Duke of Yorke, the Earle of
Sir Richard Ketly, Dauy Gam Esquire;
None else of name: and of all other men,
But fiue and twentie.
O God, thy Arme was heere.
(4.8.78-83, 100-104; TLN 2799-2804, 2821-26)

If the account in Henry V did not virtually paraphrase Holinshed, it would be tempting to speculate that Shakespeare was leaning directly on Edward III—nor is it beyond credibility that even as he turned Holinshed's prose into verse, he had the precedent of Crecy in mind. There are, after all, many instances where the correspondence between an accepted source and one of Shakespeare's borrowings is far slighter than kinship between the note of the Crecy dead and the note of the Agincourt dead. And even though Shakespeare was fully engaged with Holinshed, how could he not have been conscious (especially given his keen and intimate knowledge of the predecessor play) of the spirit of Edward III flitting about his page?

To deal with the challenge posed by Edward III, Shakespeare seems to have adopted a infold strategy. Sometimes he tried to overwhelm and obliterate the memory of Edward III with far fuller treatments of matters that appear in both plays, but he also incorporated the earlier play on those occasions when it was advantageous to do so. An instance of the first strategy: in the case of Salic law, Shakespeare must have realized that the particulars would be known to at least some members of his audience by virtue of their familiarity with Edward III. He might have elected to give Salic law short shrift, but did not, and instead, took the exact opposite tack. While the author of Edward III allots fifty lines to the question of legitimate succession, in Henry V, Shakespeare considers Salic law so fastidiously and in such keen genealogical detail that some critics and some performers, ill at ease with the stress on lineage in traditional societies, have only been able to conceive of the extended survey as a giant joke. Shakespeare employed this same strategy of obliteration elsewhere. He treated Agincourt, for example, so comprehensively that Edward Ill's Crecy (and its Poitiers as well) seem in comparison impossibly thin and dilute.

But to overwhelm the earlier play with detail was not the only strategy that Shakespeare employed. There were also parts of Edward III that were too valuable to ignore and that required assimilation and accommodation. In Henry V, when Canterbury sets out to persuade King Henry to reclaim his French possessions, he does so by reminding him of the previous century's successes on the fields of France. Canterbury's strategy is to figure Edward HI as Henry's "father" and Edward's oldest son Edward the Black Prince as the type of conqueror whom Henry must aspire to emulate. "Looke back into your mightie Ancestors" (1.2.102; TLN 249), says the Archbishop, working up to one of the play's most resonant and evocative pieces of poetry:

Goe my dread Lord, to your great Grandsires
From whom you clayme; inuoke his Warlike
And your Great Vnckles, Edward the Black
Who on the French ground play'd a Tragedie,
Making defeat on the full Power of France,
Whiles his most mightie Father on a Hill
Stood smiling, to behold his Lyons Whelpe
Forrage in blood of French Nobilitie.
O Noble English, that could entertaine
With halfe their Forces, the full pride of
And let another halfe stand laughing by,
All out of worke, and cold for action.
                      (103-110; TLN 250-61)

As a contemporary neotype of the Black Prince, Henry was not only the great-grandson of Edward III but also in metaphorical terms the surrogate son and heir of the great conqueror himself. Henry is, or should be, and will eventually "become" the Black Prince when he replicates at Agincourt the events of Crecy. It is a wonderful figure that Canterbury creates, and it is also wonderfully theatrical. Canterbury reminds Henry that King Edward and his son "on the French ground play'd a Tragedie." The words "play'd," "Tragedie," and "ground"10—as well as the subsequent "entertaine"—conjoin to construct a vision not of the real geographical Crecy (a plain in France), but of Crecy the stage setting in Edward III where fictional battles had been recently and "sundry times" enacted.

Henry Vs evocation of the "most mightie Father on a Hill," like the abduction of King David of Scotland, is drawn from the theater and not from the chronicles. Canterbury's description of the scene brings together three distinct elements: the first is that Edward withdrew to an elevated spot while the battle was fought by his son; the second is that he took half his army with him; and the third is that even as the king himself stood "smiling," others in his army were all "laughing" as they tarried to await news of the Black Prince. It is a vivid picture. How was it constructed?

Of its three components, just one, the hill, appears in Shakespeare's source and even then only in a subdued form. In Holinshed, which Shakespeare certainly used for Henry V (although there is no reason to believe that he backtracked to search the chronicle account of Edward III for Canterbury's reminiscence), Edward "stood aloft on a windmill hill" while the battle was in progress, and later, at its conclusion," came downe from the hill (on the which he stood all that day with his helmet still on his head)" (Holinshed, ii, 639).11 The hill is a far more prominent feature in the play of Edward III. At Crecy, Edward announces to his compatriots that "whiles our sonne is in the chase, / With draw our powers vnto this little hill, / And heere a season let us breath our selues" (sig. Glr; 1513-15). While the clash of metal is heard and the prince labors for his knighthood, three successive messengers climb the hill to report that the prince is in desperate straits; they beg the king to descend in his own person or at least to dispatch a rescue. King Edward rejects the call for help, replying with enormous sangfroid:

Let Edward be deliuered by our hands,
And still in danger hele expect the like,
But if himselfe, himselfe redeeme from thence,
He will have vanquisht cheerefull death and
                          (sig. Glv; 1559-62)

Offstage effects interrupt the conversation between the king and his nobility: "But soft me thinkes I heare,/ The dismall charge of Trumpets loud retreat" (sig. Glv; 1568-69). It is reported to Edward that his son—the "Lyons Whelpe," as Canterbury will call him—is "Lion like / Intangled in the net of [French] assaults" (sig. Glv; 1540-41). The king is still aloft, or imagined to be so, when Artois tells the king that all is lost "[E]xcept your highnes presently descend" (sig. Glr; 527). Just when it is conceded that the prince has been slain, the "hope of chivalry" (sig. Glv; 1566) enters below brandishing his "shiuered Launce" (1572). He is accompanied by soldiers who bear the corpse of the Bohemian king whose troops had just recently "intrencht [the prince] round about" (sig. G2r; 1586). King Edward then apparently descends to knight his son with the sword "yet reaking warme" (sig. G2r; 1601) with Bohemian blood. "This day," he tells the prince, "thou hast confounded me with ioy" (1604). The pageantry, the rhetorical flourishes, the formal handling of properties, the not very subtle tension-inducing devices and the repeated trips up and down from an elevated space all unite to create what must have been an extraordinarily memorable moment, and one that certainly seems to have caught Shakespeare's attention. Surely the hill from which the most mighty father watches and listens for his foraging son is a conspicuous feature in the landscape of Edward III; it is no wonder that Shakespeare recalled it in Canterbury's stirring address.

Canterbury also claims that the English fought the battle of Crecy with only half of their army while "another halfe stand laughing by, / All out of worke, and cold for action." This assertion also seems to derive from theatrical performance. There is no mention of idle forces in the chronicles, but in Edward III, when the king looks out from where he stands "aloft," he is accompanied by three noblemen—Artois, Audley, and Derby—and also by "his powers," who must include at least two supernumeraries. There are therefore four named and some, perhaps two, unnamed characters on the "hill." If Agincourt was indeed represented, as the Chorus in Henry V concedes, "With foure or fiue most vile and ragged foyles, / (Right ill dispos'd, in brawle ridiculous)" (Chorus 4, 50-51; TLN 1839-40), then the group of actors assembled on the hill might certainly be allowed to signify the half of the English army that stand idle while the battle of Crecy is audible offstage.

Shakespeare's sources are equally silent on the curious matter of Edward's smiling. Did King Edward smile theatrically while his son was imagined in "the field attempting to vanquish "cheerefull death" (sig. Glv; 1562)? Evidence is lacking but Shakespeare elsewhere describes not only the smile of amusement but the smile of disdain. There is a parallel in King John, where at the French enemy's "unhaired sauciness and boyish troops," it is reported, "[t]he king doth smile" (5.3.134). Amusement, condescension, and disdain are the emotions that King Edward projects in this scene; perhaps he smiled, but perhaps Shakespeare only imagined his amusement retrospectively. Or was it rather that the entire stage echoed with relieved laughter when the prince finally made his long awaited entrance, and when, according to the direction, the watchers "runne and embrace him" (sig. Glv; 1571 s.d.)? Despite the gaps in the record, taken all together, it is a very creditable inference that Edward and his fellows not only smiled memorably and disdainfully, but, more importantly, that the whole of Canterbury's address was quite consciously designed to recall the events of Crecy as they had recently appeared on one or another London stage.

In the world of fine gardening, there is a traditional technique known as "captured scenery." If there is a mountain or other striking feature somewhere in the distant prospect, the skillful gardener deploys his berms and shrubs and trees in a design that incorporates or "captures" the mountain thereby draws it into the pattern of his own landscape. When he does so, he borrows but also in effect "owns" a beauty or a majesty that he does not have to construct himself. Shakespeare seems to have aimed for something of this sort in Henry V. When Shakespeare contrived that Canterbury would allude so explicitly to Edward III, he borrowed and therefore "captured" the magnificence of King Edward's triumph at Crecy as well as the grandeur of the black prince. By alluding so artistically to the "Tragedie" played "on the French ground," to the "most mightie Father on a Hill," and to the amused and idle English forces, Shakespeare incorporated a memorable scene from a predecessor play into his own landscape. He refreshed the memory of his stage-literate audience by reprising thrilling triumphs of chivalry and nationalism; at the same time, he prepared the ground for the far more wonderfully imagined victory at Agincourt still in the offing.

Shakespeare's "capture" of Crecy is one of the ways in which the memory of Edward III suffuses Henry V. It is an important element of the redefinition of the character of King Henry—a refinement very much influenced by Edward III's presence in the regal landscape. In 1 and 2 Henry IV, Prince Hal constantly struggles to come to terms with the shame that he is the son of the usurper Bolingbroke. But in Henry V, the prince sloughs off his prior identity as the son of his sullied father and is reconstructed as the beneficiary of the great-grandfather's legacy. Shrewsbury and Gaultree Forest are replaced by Crecy and Poitiers. In Henry V, Shakespeare metaphorically revises the genealogy of the king in order to create the illusion that Henry is not the heir of internecine squabble and regicide but the great-grandson of glory. So it is notable that the heroic great-grandfather Edward III finds his way into Henry V eight separate times, poor tattered Henry Boling-broke appears only twice. One of these mentions is modest and comic: wooing Katherine of France, Henry bemoans his rough features: "Now beshrew my Fathers Ambition, hee was thinking of Ciuill Warres when hee got me" (5.2.216-218; TLN 3212-14). The one substantial appearance of Bolingbroke takes the form of a lengthy apology. It comes upon Agincourt eve, when the king, wandering among his famished troops, pauses for a moment to pray to the "God of Battailes" (4.1.277; TLN 2141).

                 Not to day, O Lord,
O not to day, thinke not vpon the fault
My Father made, in compassing the Crowne.
I Richards body haue interred new
And on it haue bestowed more contrite
Then from it issued forced drops of blood.
Fiue hundred poore I haue in yeerely pay,
Who twice a day their wither'd hands hold vp
Toward Heauen, to pardon blood:
And I haue built two Chauntries,
Where sad and solemn Priests sing still
For Richards Soule.
                 (4.1.280-290; TLN 2144-55)

This solicitation is the climactic moment in the long redemptive process by which the English king as well as his armies are cleansed of guilt and sin and made worthy of the divine intervention that is to occur at Agincourt. King Harry becomes, even if only for the instant, reverent, pious, contrite, tearful, and sincere—a critic of ceremony who paradoxically finds himself employing a traditional Roman ceremonial to expiate inherited guilt. In Henry V, the king's father Boling-broke is an unwelcome guest allowed entrance only so he may be repudiated and only so that his repentant son may purge his "fault" (the word "fault" euphemizes usurpation, murder, regicide).

The father's sin and the apologetic manner in which it is introduced in Henry V contrast in every particular with the virtual deification of the great-grandshire. Even the king of France knows that he must fear Henry V, not because of the young English king's merits, but because

& he is bred out of that bloodie straine,
That haunted vs in our familiar Pathes:
Witnesse our too much memorable shame,
When Cressy Battell fatally was strucke,
And all our Princes captiu'd by the hand
Of that black Name, Edward, black Prince of
Whiles that his Mountaine Sire, on Mountaine
Vp in the Ayre, crown'd with the Golden
Saw his Heriocall Seed, and smil'd to see
                   (2.4.51-59; TLN 941-949)

While the tarnished memory of father Bolingbroke can only be redeemed by monkish chanting, the majesty of King Edward is revealed in an extravagant theophanic figure. The "Golden Sunne" with which the father is crowned must be envisioned as a halo of gold leaf,12 while th phrase "Heroicall Seed" blasphemously conflates Edward's son the Black Prince (and therefore his neotype Henry) and the offspring of divinity itself. Yet even in the very midst of this resplendent imagery, the scene recalls the staging of Crecy in Edward III. The little windmill hill has resurfaced as a veritable Alp and Edward's so memorable smiling has expanded into a figure of divine beneficence. While in Henry V, the neglected father is a subject of shame, the amused great-grandfather has become celestial, sublime, glowing, numinous. The substitution of Edward III for Henry IV argues for Harry's moral and military pedigree, while the consignment of the usurping father to oblivion carves out a generous space in which the potent myth of King Henry V may flourish. How convenient to overleap troublesome epochs in the history of monarchy and assert a direct line of succession from Edward III to Henry V! The beneficiary: not only Henry V, but English monarchy as an institution—and therefore, it follows, even the monarch at the time of the play's composition, the "gracious empress" Elizabeth herself. The glow of King Edward III as it was reflected in Henry V glorifies English kings and queens and serves to counterbalance the daring and (to some eyes) potentially subversive nod toward Essex that appears in Chorus 5 of the folio text. (In fact, reminiscences of the glory of Edward III appear only in those portions of Henry V in which the young king is heroized; they disappear whenever he is brutal, machiavellian or opportunistic.)

There is, then, a repeated and fertile interchange between Edward III and Henry V. Shakespeare recalled specific moments of the earlier play in the later, he "captured" and exploited potent events, and he made use of the play to supply King Harry with an ancestry appropriate to his new mythic stature. Edward III is the ground on which Henry V is built.

In composing Henry V, Shakespeare did not necessarily conceive that his new play brought to a close a "second tetralogy" that began with Richard II and followed the careers of Hal and Falstaff. On the contrary, in Henry V Shakespeare leapt backward over three preceding plays to respond, both specifically and allusively, to Edward III. While there is no doubt that there are important senses in which Henry V is the latest of a series of plays that begins with Richard II, it is just as true that Henry V derives its meaning from a more capacious theatrical environment than from the tetralogy with which it is traditionally associated. It has been proposed that the idea of a tetralogy "is seriously misleading if understood as implying that Shakespeare actually planned in advance to produce sequences of four plays as organic units." However, if Edward III is Shakespeare's, and if "we must speak in terms of tetralogies & , [then] the second of them [is] formed by Edward III& Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V." 13 This is an idea worth thinking about, but perhaps it would even more useful to discard the idea of "tetralogy" altogether. The neat and seductive symmetry of first and second tetralogies was never more than an aesthetically satisfying fictional construction, one that has led to a rigid separation of the early and later histories and to the neglect of King John. It is clear that in Henry V, Shakespeare responded both defensively and creatively to the fact that Edward III lay in his landscape (and it does not matter, in this case, whether he was the author of the play or merely a competing playwright trying to find a place for his own work). It is therefore the case that questions that have customarily been framed in terms of tetralogies can usefully be refrained more broadly. The cost of not doing so is to obscure the filiations that Edward III puts forward. Henry V responds not only to Henry IV but also to Edward III (and to The Famous Victories of King Henry V as well) just as Richard II responds to Woodstock, as King John responds to The Troublesome Reign, and, more specifically and less subtly, as Sir John Oldcastle responds to Henry IV.

To specify exactly how surely Henry V finds itself in the orbit of Edward III, it would be convenient to discover that one or another playgoer attended an early performance of Henry V and had returned home to write in his diary: "To the Glob to see the new Pistoll plaie with Burbidge as kinge Harey—Shakespeare very much in the debt of the apocryphal Edward III, as will someday be noticed." In the absence of such confirmatory testimony, an alternative is to look to the single relevant record that has come down to us. Writing a few years after the heyday of the English history play, Thomas Heywood paid tribute to the power of the theater to inspire patriotism. His examples, Edward III and Henry V:

To turne to our domesticke hystories, what English blood seeing the person of any bold English man presented and doth not hugge his fame, and hunnye at his valor, pursuing him in his enterprise with his best wishes, and as beeing wrapt in contemplation, offers to him in his hart all prosperous performance, as if the Personater were the man Personated, so bewitching a thing is liuely and well spirited action, that it hath power to new mold the harts of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable attempt. What coward to see his contryman valiant would not bee ashamed of his owne cowardise? What English Prince should hee behold the true portrature of that [f]amous King Edward the third, foraging France, taking so great a King captiue in his owne country, quartering the English Lyons with the French Flower-delyce, and would not bee suddenly Inflam'd with so royall a spectacle, being made apt and fit for the like atchieuement. So of Henry the fift: but not to be tedious in any thing.14

How remarkable that Heywood juxtaposes Edward III and Henry Fand then, surprisingly, gives pride of place to the work that was for an age and remands to an afterthought the work that was for all time! Moreover, it is also the case that Heywood's memory of Edward III was extraordinarily accurate, for elsewhere in the same brief pamphlet he was able to remember that among "[w]omen likewise that are chaste, are by vs extolled, and encouraged in their vertues, being instanced by Diana, Belphebe, Matilda, Lucrece, and the Countesse of Salisbury" (sig. Glv)—the very Countess, that is, whose scarlet cheeks so captivated King Edward. Heywood's recall of Edward III seems to be faithful in the details. Does Edward actually add, as Heywood says, the English lion to the French coat of arms and is he to be found "foraging France?" In Edward III, an unnamed "mariner" tells the story of an English naval assault. He reports that

& on the top gallant of the Admirall
And likewise all the handmaides of his trayne
The armes of England and of Fraunce vnite,
Are quartered equally by Heralds art.
                          (sig. E2v; 1078-81)

As to the "foraging," the French confess that "[s]laughter and mischiefe walke within [our] streets / And vnrestrained make havock as they passe" (sig. Flr; 1245-46). There is a report that "[f]or so far off as I directed mine eies, / I might perceaue fiue Cities all on fire, / Corn fields and vineyards burning like an ouen" (1249-51). This destruction fulfills the prophecy that "a Lyon rowsed in the west / Shall carie hence the fluerdeluce of France" (1236-37). Heywood is wrong about one detail, for it is not King Edward but his son, the Black Prince, who captures the French king. A stage direction hints at a colorful scene that gave prominence to captured royal insignia:

Enter prince Edward, king John, Charles, and all
         with Ensignes spred.
          Retreat sounded.
Prince. Now John in France, & lately John of
Thy bloudie Ensignes are my captiue colours,
And you high vanting Charles of Normandie,
That once to daie sent me a horse to flie
Are now the subiects of my clemencie.

King [John of France]. Thy fortune, not thy
  force hath
conquerd vs.
                 (sig. 12v; 2188 s.d-2193; 2198)

Yet at the same time that Heywood recalls Edward III in such particular detail, his account is very obviously filtered through his memory of Henry V. His praise of the history play (that it inspires the uninspired, or as Heywood says, "What coward to see his contryman valiant would not bee ashamed of his owne cowardise?") reproduces a sentiment borrowed from Shakespeare's play:

& who is he, whose Chin is but enricht
With one appearing Hayre, that will not
These cull'd and choyse-drawne Caualiers to
                       (Chorus 3, 23-24; TLN 1066-68)

In essence, Heywood echoes the position that no matter the limits of the theater, art can be so persuasively presented that it can momentarily move a willing audience to patriotic fervor. Just as Canterbury sees Edward III in Henry V, so Heywood finds the two plays so closely allied that the rhetorical power of the later history spills over to encompass and dignify the earlier. The record therefore reveals that the two plays were linked in the mind of at least one of Shakespeare's most discerning colleagues as well as in the fertile imagination of the playwright himself.


1 These words appear on the title page of The Raigne of King Edward the third (London: Cuthbert Burby, 1596). I have used the facsimile in the Tudor Facsimile Text series published by J. S. Farmer (Edinburgh and London, 1910). Citations of Edward III are identified by the facsimile signatures as well as by the line numbers in Fred Lapides's critical, old-spelling edition (New York and London: Garland, 1980). The punctuation of the 1596 quarto is whimsical and has been silently normalized.

2 Richard Proudfoot summarizes the argument that Edward III was a property of Pembroke's Men on pp. 181-82 of "The Reign of King Edward the Third (1596) and Shakespeare," Proceedings of the British Academy 71 (1985): 159-85. Proudfoot follows G. M. Pinciss, "Shakespeare, her Majesty's Players and Pembroke's Men," Shakespeare Survey 27 (1974); 129-36; Scott McMillin, "Casting for Pembroke's Men," Shakespeare Quarterly 23 (1972): 141-59; and MacDonald Jackson, "Edward III, Shakespeare, and Pembroke's Men," Notes and Queries 210 (1965): 329-31. Proudfoot toys with the "romantic hypothesis" that Shakespeare "may for a time have belonged to the company, long enough to acquire an actor's familarity with their repertoire" (182). It has recently been suggested that the author of Edward III read and studied an annotated copy of Froissart in the hand and possession of Henry Carey, Lord Hundson, and that the play was written for Hunsdon's players (Roger Prior, "Was The Raigne of King Edward III a Compliment to Lord Hundson, Connotations 3 (1993/94): 243-64.

3 For the authorship of Edward III, see Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor with John Jowett and William Montgomery, William Shakespeare a Textual Companion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 136-37 and the accompanying bibliography: "of all the non-canonical plays [Edward III] has the strongest claim to inclusion in the Complete Works" (136). On the basis of the evidence, Proudfoot does not understand why "single-volume complete works should continue to exclude what has become & the sole remaining 'doubtful play' which continues, on substantial grounds, to win the support of serious investigators as arguably the work of Shakespeare" ("Raigne," 185).

4A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, The Sonnets, e d. H. E. Rollins, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1944), 1:363.

5 See Rollins, Variorum, 1:234. Lapides discusses these and other parallels, 9-15.

6 Quotations from Henry V are drawn from The First Folio of Shakespeare ed. Charlton Hinman (New York: Norton, 1968) and are identified by Hinman's through line numbering as well as by the lineation in Andrew Gurr's New Cambridge edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

7 Froissart's Chronicle is cited from G. Harold Metz, Sources of Four Plays Ascribed to Shakespeare (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1989), 43-107.

8 See Holinshed's Chronicles (London, 1807), ii, 645.

9 See Annabel Patterson, "Back by Popular Demand: The Two Versions of Henry V," Renaissance Drama 19 (1988): 29-61. The relation between the drama and things Scottish has been most recently surveyed by James Shapiro, "The Scot's Tragedy and the Politics of Popular Drama," English Literary Renaissance 23 (1993): 428-49.

10 Cf. Ben Jonson: "the vnderstanding Gentlemen o' the ground here," Bartholomew Fair, "Induction," 49-50, Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and P. and E. Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927-52), 6:14.

11 Holinshed slightly embroiders Froissart: in Froissait's Chronicle, the King waits out the battle "on a lytell wyndmyll hyll" (cxxx, 80).

12 See Henry V, ed. Andrew Gurr, 2.4.58-59 n.

13 Giorgio Melchiori, "The Corridors of History: Shakespeare the Re-Maker," Proceedings of the British Academy 72 (1986): 167-85. The discussion of tetralogies is on p. 176.

14 Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (1612), ed. R. H. Perkinson (New York: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941), sig. B4r.

Source: "Edward III in Henry V" in Criticism, Vol. 37, No. 4, Fall, 1995, pp. 519-36.