Henry V (Vol. 89)
For further information regarding the critical or stage history of Henry V, see SC, Volumes 5, 14, 30, 49, 67, and 79.
The concluding drama of Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, Henry V was first performed in 1599 and likely written in the same year. The play recounts the reign of celebrated English monarch Henry V, centering on his successful military campaign against France in the early fifteenth century. Shakespeare based his play on numerous works, including Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577), Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1598), and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, an anonymous play of the 1580s. As one of Shakespeare's most popular history plays, Henry V has been the subject of voluminous and often divergent critical analysis. Although many modern critics have found fault with Henry V for his unrealistic conversion from irresponsible prince to hero-king, his coldhearted rejection of Falstaff, and his bloody war with France, Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar (1960) point out that for Elizabethans, Henry V was a perfect king. The critics maintain that Shakespeare's Henry V “reflects with striking immediacy the attitudes and concepts of his own period” and emphasize that the play was first produced at a time when the English populace was keenly patriotic and fascinated with heroes and history.
The majority of the character studies of Henry V naturally focus on the title figure. Critics remain divided as to whether Henry should be regarded as an ideal king whose war with France is justified, or as a brutal, Machiavellian leader. While most critics acknowledge that Shakespeare intended to present a patriotic valorization of a legendary national hero, contemporary scholarly studies and theatrical interpretations have tended to stress the ambiguous nature of Henry's character. In her study of Henry, Judith Mossman (1994) examines parallels between Henry in Shakespeare's Henry V and Alexander in Plutarch's Life of Alexander. Mossman contends that “by encouraging us to consider Henry in parallel with Alexander, Shakespeare seeks to explain certain features of his play's construction as well as to characterize Henry not as a cold-blooded monster but as a prince.” Similarly, John Mark Mattox (see Further Reading) argues that Shakespeare depicted Henry as a just warrior engaged in a just war. Mattox maintains that Henry is more than “a great conqueror of the Alexandrian variety,” concluding that in his portrayal Shakespeare elevated him “from the status of being merely England's greatest warrior to that of England's consummate just warrior.” Critics are also interested in the play's minor characters. Larry S. Champion (1965) examines Nell Quickly, detailing the transformation of her character in the Henry plays from a mere sketch to “a full-sized portrait.” Alice Lyle Scoufos (1967) considers Shakespeare's use of the legend of Sir John Oldcastle in his portrayal of Falstaff in the Henry plays. The critic also speculates on what made the playwright decide to have this extremely popular character die so undramatically and abruptly in Act II, scene iii of Henry V.
For the vast majority of its stage history, Henry V has been treated as a straightforward celebration of a king who would become England's foremost military hero. However, as Alexander Harrington (2003) points out, the moral ambiguity of Henry V lends itself to both pro-war and anti-war productions of the play. Many modern productions, such as Nicholas Hytner's 2003 National Theatre staging of Henry V, have tended to stress the anti-war aspects of the drama. Susannah Clapp (2003) credits Hytner's production for breaking from Laurence Olivier's highly influential 1944 film adaptation. Unlike Olivier's pro-war “heroic romance,” Clapp notes, Hytner's production was “much darker” and “more divided.” Mark Steyn (2003), however, rejects Hytner's anti-war production, contending that it panders to “the smug Guardian-reading Bush-despising NGO-adoring middle-class metropolitan theatergoer.” Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park received mostly negative reviews. An anonymous review published in the New York Post (2003) lauds Schreiber's “magical, subtle” portrayal of Henry V, but criticizes Wing-Davey's production as cynical and unbalanced. Similarly, Ben Brantley (2003) dismisses Wing-Davey's “flashy, flabby” production and contends that the director “devised a Henry V that shirks from seriousness on the unavoidable subjects of war and patriotism.” In his extremely negative review, Steyn calls Wing-Davey's production “quite the most stupid I've ever seen” and contends that the director “seems to have no idea that the play is about anything at all.” In his comparison of Hytner's and Wing-Davey's productions, Steyn maintains that “Nicholas Hytner may be anti-war, but Mark Wing-Davey is anti-Shakespeare.” Katharine Goodland (2003) reviews the 2003 Jean Cocteau Repertory staging of Henry V, directed by David Fuller. Goodland examines the production's focus on the moral issue of war crimes—particularly the scene in which Henry orders his soldiers to kill their prisoners—and notes that “Fuller admirably refuses to simplify this moment.”
Critics are interested in the significance of the play's final act, particularly the courtship between Katherine and Henry V. Henry David Steinsaltz (2002) focuses on the French scenes—those scenes spoken primarily in French—and contends that “[a]s the English nation is perpetually at war with the French, so must their languages be at war.” Steinsaltz concludes that in Henry V the English language is “intimately entwined with the life and honor of the English nation” and that the play is not merely “a representation of England's triumph over France, but … the humiliation and tumultuous trouncing of the French language, which had subjugated their native English for so long.” Donald Hedrick's 2003 study of the play's final act focuses on the wooing scene. Hedrick examines Katherine's resistance to Henry's wooing in light of the fact that Henry is the enemy of France and that Katherine's family has recently tried to have him assassinated. The critic notes that “the couple are no Romeo and Juliet, and romancing is more like negotiating with a mobster family.” In his 1969 essay, Charles Barber (see Further Reading) advances an ultimately negative evaluation of the play. Barber contends that in Henry V Shakespeare presented “an uncritical glorification of the Tudor monarchy and its ideals.” Barber further maintains that Shakespeare's dishonestly “suppresses aspects of the history of the period of which he was perfectly aware, and holds in abeyance his own powers of moral and political analysis.”
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Wright, Louis B., and Virginia A. LaMar, eds. “Mirror of Kingship.” In The Life of King Henry the Fifth, by William Shakespeare, pp. vii-xliii. New York: Washington Square Press, 1960.
[In the following excerpt, Wright and LaMar provide an overview of Henry V, including its historical background, sources, stage history, and text.]
When Shakespeare presented King Henry V to London audiences in the spring or summer of 1599 in a pageant-like play, he showed them a hero-king long established in the heroic tradition and one already popular on the stage. A shrewd appraiser of public taste, as always, Shakespeare took advantage of the swelling patriotism of the moment. When Henry V opened in London, England once more faced the prospect of war. The Irish had rebelled under Tyrone and had administered a stinging defeat to English troops. Now the Earl of Essex was ready to lead a punitive expedition against the troublesome Irish and conquer them once and for all. With a great concourse of people following and applauding him and his train, the noble Earl, a dashing character and the favorite of the Queen, marched out of London on March 27, 1599, bound for Ireland, and, as he and the populace believed, for victory and honor. That he would return defeated and disgraced in September was as yet a secret wrapped in the mists of Ireland.
No subject better than the deeds of King...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Champion, Larry S. “The Evolution of Mistress Quickly.” Papers on English Language and Literature 1, no. 2 (spring 1965): 99-108.
[In the following essay, Champion details the transformation of Nell Quickly in the Henry plays from a mere sketch to “a full-sized portrait.”]
One frequently encounters remarks extolling the fullness of Shakespeare's description of London low life in the comic scenes of 1, 2 Henry IV. Mark Van Doren writes, for instance, that nothing Shakespeare wrote “is more crowded with life or happier in its imitation of human talk. … History is enlarged to make room for taverns and trollops and potations of sack, and the heroic drama is modified by gigantic mockery, by the roared voice of truth.”1 Other commentators have noted a “growing mastery of realistic delineation”2 in the dramatist's “vivid transcripts of contemporary life”;3 the comic crew “move about in an English setting and provide an atmosphere of tavern life that has been as pervasive as Shakespeare's legacy of historical interpretation.”4
Yet, frequently, the critic has been unable to circumnavigate “that bolting hutch of beastliness,” that “huge bombard of sack.” And the result is an astounding library of Falstaffian literature.5 This discussion purports neither to challenge Falstaff's importance in...
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SOURCE: Scoufos, Alice Lyle. “The ‘Martyrdom’ of Falstaff.” Shakespeare Studies 2 (1967): 174-91.
[In the following essay, Scoufos examines Falstaff's “undramatic and overly hasty demise” in Henry V.]
The undramatic and overly hasty demise of Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry V has left readers and viewers of Renaissance drama dissatisfied for many years. It has also provided a touchstone for critical wit and ingenuity as any serious student of Elizabethan drama knows when he surveys the perennial crop of published commentary on Falstaff's death scene. From the modern point of view it seems unprovidential that Shakespeare should so suddenly rid himself of the most popular comic character he was ever to create.1 And when we turn to the history plays, we do find textual evidence to indicate that there was some indecision in the playwright's mind or at least some change of dramatic plans, for in the epilogue of 2 Henry IV Shakespeare promises the audience further entertainment with Sir John in it: “If you be not too much cloid with Fat Meate, our humble Author will continue the story (with Sir John in it) and make you merry, with faire Katherine of France.” But, as everyone knows, Falstaff does not appear on stage in Henry V; his death is described in classic fashion by Mistress Quickly who functions ironically as a tragic messenger. And even...
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SOURCE: Mossman, Judith. “Henry V and Plutarch's Alexander.” Shakespeare Quarterly 45, no. 1 (spring 1994): 57-73.
[In the following essay, Mossman examines parallels between Henry in Shakespeare's Henry V and Alexander in Plutarch's Life of Alexander.]
When Alexander's sarcophagus was brought from its shrine, Augustus gazed at the body, then laid a crown of gold on its glass case and scattered some flowers to pay his respects. When they asked if he would like to see Ptolemy too, “I wished to see a king,” he replied, “I did not wish to see corpses.”
(Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 18.1)
Alexander is an evocative figure. as Suetonius's anecdote shows, he quickly became a potent symbol of kingship in the ancient world, and the passage of time only increased the fascination he held for the medieval world and for the Renaissance. Comparisons between Henry V and Alexander in Shakespeare's Henry V are a case in point. The Alexander alluded to in the play is usually thought of as a conglomerate mytho-historical figure, but it has occasionally been suggested that a more precise comparison is intended, namely one between Henry and the Alexander of Plutarch's Lives. I would like to argue that this more precise comparison is also a more subtle and telling one, and that an examination of the...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. “Hytner's Henry V Wins the Argument.” Financial Times (14 May 2003): 18.
[In the following review, Macaulay praises the 2003 National Theatre staging of Henry V directed by Nicholas Hytner, especially the production's “triumph of colourblind casting” and Penny Downie as a “modern, female conception” of the Chorus; however, the critic notes that the “nowness” of the production “tips over a few times into the too-gimmicky.”]
If Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre season continues as it has begun, we shall be calling him the great showman of our day. First with Jerry Springer—the Opera and now with his own staging of Henry V, he has presented the two new must-see shows in London theatre today. Not, I hasten to add, the two best, but the two buzziest: the shows that every serious theatregoer should soon have seen, the shows to which one should send people who aren't sure what theatre can be, the shows that should keep people keenly talking as long as they run.
They can afford to. This Henry V inaugurates a six-month (May-November) Travelex season in the National's largest Olivier auditorium, in which most seats will be Pounds 10; and I testify that I have paid more money to see far duller stagings of this and other plays. You can—should—argue with this Henry V: it's so “now” that it tips over...
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SOURCE: Clapp, Susannah. “Adrian Lester is an Eerie, Modern Henry in a State-of-the-Nation Epic.” Observer (18 May 2003): 11.
[In the following excerpted review of the 2003 National Theatre staging of Henry V directed by Nicholas Hytner, Clapp credits the production for breaking from Laurence Olivier's highly influential 1944 film adaptation. Unlike Olivier's pro-war “heroic romance,” Clapp notes, Hytner's production was “much darker” and “more divided.”]
In his tussle to reshape the idea of what the National Theatre can be, Nicholas Hytner has already wrestled one preconception to the ground, combating the razzmatazz musicals of his predecessor with the snarling, soaring Jerry Springer—The Opera. Now he's aiming at bigger targets.
In directing Henry V—amazingly, the first time the play has been produced at the National—Hytner is taking on not only the conception of Laurence Olivier as actor and director (and first guv'nor of the South Bank theatres), but also the idea of what it might mean to be a Brit. Specifically, a Brit at war in a conflict with dubious justification.
It's hard to overestimate the extent to which the 1944 Olivier movie has determined our ideas about Shakespeare's play. The film was a brilliant cartoon, with its talented arrows all shooting in the same direction. Richly brocaded, brightly coloured, but...
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SOURCE: Goodland, Katharine. “Henry V.” Shakespeare Bulletin 21, no. 2 (spring-summer 2003): 13-14.
[In the following review, Goodland praises the 2003 Jean Cocteau Repertory staging of Henry V, directed by David Fuller. Goodland examines the production's focus on the moral issue of war crimes—particularly the scene in which Henry orders his soldiers to kill their prisoners—and notes that “Fuller admirably refuses to simplify this moment.”]
Perfectly paced and punctuated throughout by Bob Dylan songs, David Fuller's production of Henry V begets a layered dialogue between Shakespeare's study of kingship and carnage and America's most troubling military intervention. As the play opens, we feel abruptly immersed in the chaos of combat. The theatre goes black as the distinctive popping sound of M16 rifles grows deafening in the intimate 140-seat space. Boots thud down the center aisle to the stage. The lights come up on a skirmish between actors clad like NVA (North Vietnamese communist regulars in khakis and pith helmets), Viet Cong (in black pajamas and conical straw hats), and U.S. soldiers (in army fatigues and steel pots). The prologue's entrance after this potent opening vignette offers a pause rather than a prelude. For when the Chorus bids us to “let [these], ciphers to this great account, / On [our] imaginary forces work” (18-19), we realize, from the pounding of...
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SOURCE: Kane-Lavin, Anne. “Henry V.” Shakespeare Bulletin 21, no. 2 (spring-summer 2003): 19-20.
[In the following review, Kane-Lavin praises the 2003 Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival staging of Henry V, directed by Terrence O'Brien. Kane-Lavin notes that the production demanded that the audience reconsider “war, its consequences, and its relatively short-lived benefits.”]
When the Chorus—dressed officiously in long black coat, pants tucked into laced boots—crosses the stretch of field into the tent of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to bid the audience our “imaginary forces work,” we take her request to heart. No meaner stage could hold so splendid an array of characters and locales. Those seated on the semicircle of risers rimming the tent look past the straw-covered round of stage and out upon a meadow treed with hundred-year-old oaks and maples, the lawn disappearing over the embankments of the Hudson, the rugged highland escarpment rising in silhouette as the sky darkens. Within the tent, a movable bench serves as the only physical prop, the throne for Henry V and Charles VI. Costumes are minimalist renderings of medieval garb, drab corduroy tunics for the British and vibrant slubbed silk caftan-like robes for the French. In this spare setting, imaginations are indeed free to construct the opulence of the Kings' palaces, the chaos outside the gates of Harfleur,...
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SOURCE: Lemon, Brendan. “Henry V.” Financial Times (16 July 2003): 10.
[In the following review, Lemon offers a mixed evaluation of Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park. Although Lemon praises Liev Schreiber's “passionate” and “balanced” portrayal of Henry V, he notes that the production avoided risks.]
Glossy magazines love to place Liev Schreiber in the trio of great thirtysomething New York stage actors, but unlike his oft-mentioned counterparts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright, only Schreiber has the vocal mettle to scale the most heroic parts.
In the title role of Henry V, the Public Theatre's sole Delacorte production this summer, he must also mount the set. Leaping atop designer Mark Wendland's burlap-bagged barricades, to urge his soldiers forward, Schreiber cuts a marvelous figure: at the heart of a Manhattan summer ritual—free theatre in Central Park—he symbolises the city's Sinatra-associated theme song: he's top of the heap.
With his not-quite-handsome face and expressive voice, which is particularly stirring during Henry's late-night rounds to eavesdrop on the soldiers before the play's climactic battle of Agincourt, Schreiber makes a very creditable monarch. He plants himself neither in the line of Olivier, whose filmed Henry V caught the triumphantly...
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SOURCE: “Long Liev the King.” New York Post (16 July 2003): 47.
[In the following review of Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park, the critic praises Liev Schreiber's “magical, subtle” portrayal of Henry V, but criticizes Wing-Davey's production as cynical and unbalanced.]
In Shakespeare's Henry V, in Central Park, Liev Schreiber shows us a young English king heading into war against France who's making all the right moves.
He's listened patiently while the long-winded clergy line up behind the war, and arrested traitors who thought they had him fooled.
Over in France, he gives the troops an encouraging word and (in one of this production's frantic nods to modernism) has a camera record it.
But despite the cool and the smarts, he's lacking something.
For all of his mastery of rhetoric, he wants heart—he needs the messy, sweaty smell of involvement. He wanders about the camp disguised among the common men and winds up defending himself and his war.
By the time he addresses his army in the St. Crispin's Day speech—dirty and in tears—we can feel his whole heart is in the affair. These common men are his brothers.
Before our eyes, Schreiber's king has become not less intelligent but more human. Later, as he moves around,...
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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “An Evening in the Park with a Playboy Prince.” New York Times (16 July 2003): E1.
[In the following review of Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park, Brantley dismisses Wing-Davey's “flashy, flabby” production and contends that the director “devised a Henry V that shirks from seriousness on the unavoidable subjects of war and patriotism.”]
Where is that old muse of fire when you need her? That goddess of inspiration, beseechingly evoked in the prologue of Henry V, appears to be on vacation this summer. Maybe she's been co-opted as a houseguest by some movie producer in the Hamptons. In any case she is definitely keeping her distance from the flashy, flabby production of Shakespeare's gung-ho military history play that opened last night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
Though the title role of the playboy prince turned commanding king is portrayed by no less an actor than Liev Schreiber, the American theater's finest young interpreter of Shakespeare, even he doesn't stand much chance against the battalions of adversaries assembled by the director, Mark Wing-Davey.
The French are the least of this Henry's worries. Mr. Wing-Davey's interpretation, the Public Theater's sole offering in the park this season, seems to operate on the principle that an army travels...
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SOURCE: Sommers, Michael. “Oh! Henry! Liev Schreiber Leads Valiant Charge in Iraqi Twist on Shakespeare's Hero.” Star-Ledger (16 July 2003): 39.
[In the following review of Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park, Sommers lauds Liev Schreiber's portrayal of Henry V as a “ceaseless pleasure to observe” but finds the production overall to be overly elaborate.]
Director Mark Wing-Davey's outdoor staging of Henry V suggests a classic car in perfect running condition that's been marred by a hideous paint job.
Fortunately, that splendid actor Liev Schreiber is firmly at the wheel as Henry. Thanks to his true and exciting performance, the over-elaborate production, which opened last night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, sticks to the course that Shakespeare mapped out. As a reminder: Henry V is the continuation of the Prince Hal saga from the Henry IV play series. Formerly a playboy, Henry improbably shapes up when he inherits the throne. To solidify his power base, Henry makes war on France and with a small army miraculously achieves victory.
A British director who has done well by challenging works like The Lights and The Skriker, Wing-Davey tries a contemporary spin on Shakespeare.
Schreiber's Henry makes his initial entrance wearing a George W. Bush...
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SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Henry Goes to Baghdad.” New Criterion 22, no. 1 (September 2003): 40-4.
[In the following review, Steyn discusses both the 2003 National Theatre staging of Henry V directed by Nicholas Hytner and Mark Wing-Davey's 2003 Delacorte Theater staging of Henry V in New York's Central Park. Steyn criticizes both productions, noting that “Nicholas Hytner may be anti-war, but Mark Wing-Davey is anti-Shakespeare.”]
Two recent productions of Henry V neatly illustrate the difference between British and American theater. The first, at the Royal National Theatre, has been a hot ticket in London all summer. Staged by the National's new director, Nicholas Hytner, it's played on the company's Olivier stage, named for the most famous Henry of all, whose gallant screen version rallied the home front during the Second World War. Henry V is a play that never drops out of sight but real war always gives it an extra kick. Forty years after Olivier stirred the blood, Michael Bogdanov co-opted Shakespeare for a savage indictment of Thatcher's Falklands War. Savage indictments of Thatcher's Falklands War were ten a penny in the mid-Eighties, but at least hijacking Shakespeare ensured you got some classier lines.
Two decades on, this latest production also has a real war as its warm-up act, and, just in case it never occurred to you to link art and life,...
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SOURCE: Harrington, Alexander. “War and William Shakespeare.” Dissent 50, no. 4 (fall 2003): 89-91.
[In the following essay, Harrington contends that the moral ambiguity of Henry V lends itself to both pro-war and anti-war productions of the play.]
This past winter, as the debate over invading Iraq intensified, I received an e-mail announcement for an “antiwar” production of Shakespeare's Henry V being staged in Los Angeles. For people who know the play only from Laurence Olivier's Anglo-patriotic, World-War-II-era movie, this may be puzzling. However, it will come as no surprise to those familiar with the play's production and critical history. That Henry V can support both patriotic prowar and critical antiwar interpretations has been discussed to a fare-thee-well among Shakespeare critics, scholars, and directors.
Shakespeare's two-sided position can be seen even in a very quick examination of the play. In its first scene, the archbishops of Canterbury and Ely are fretting over a bill about to be passed by Parliament that would strip the church of much of its property. In order to get King Henry to kill the bill, Canterbury plans to offer a big contribution to the king's war chest for an invasion of France. Henry is descended from a French princess and claims that the crown should have passed to his great-grandfather when the last of the French...
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SOURCE: Griffin, C. W. “Henry V's Decision: Interrogative Texts.” Literature/Film Quarterly 25, no. 2 (1997): 99-103.
[In the following essay, Griffin analyzes three different film versions of Henry V and attempts to prove that “films can be just as plural, just as interrogative, as theatrical performances.”]
In her book Critical Practice (1980), Catherine Belsey speaks of the “interrogative text,” that text which contradicts, even disrupts, itself. “The position of the ‘author’ inscribed in the text, if it can be located at all,” she says, “is seen as questioning or as literally contradictory” (91). Among other examples of interrogative texts, Belsey cites a number of Shakespeare's plays, including the Henry IV plays, Julius Caesar, The Winter's Tale, and Coriolanus. Coriolanus is interrogative, for example, because it dramatizes the “contradictory truth that heroic individualism is both necessary to and destructive of a militaristic society”; offering no single figure with a full grasp of the truth, the play situates the spectator in “an actively critical” position.
The Elizabethan theatre, Belsey feels, was particularly congenial to the creation of interrogative texts, since it existed in “a state of transition between the patently non-illusionist and emblematic medieval stage and the proscenium theatres of the...
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SOURCE: Steinsaltz, David. “The Politics of French Language in Shakespeare's History Plays.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42, no. 2 (2002): 317-34.
[In the following essay, Steinsaltz contends that in Henry V the English language is “intimately entwined with the life and honor of the English nation” and that the play is not merely “a representation of England's triumph over France, but … the humiliation and tumultuous trouncing of the French language, which had subjugated their native English for so long.”]
Amid his arduous and apparently superfluous wooing of Princess Katherine of France, Shakespeare's King Henry V exclaims, “It is as easy for me, Kate, to conquer the kingdom as to speak so much more French.”1 Since he has just conquered the kingdom this is no idle boast, but why does he speak so much French? And why is an entire scene of the same play conducted in French, save for a few words of comically mispronounced English? Why are French words and phrases sprinkled liberally through the speeches of French and English alike? While it is not quite true, as George Watson has suggested, that Shakespeare is “the only Elizabethan dramatist to write at length in a foreign language”—Thomas Kyd's “language of Babel” in The Spanish Tragedy is a well-known counterexample—these French passages are too prominent and unconventional, even...
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SOURCE: Hedrick, Donald. “Advantage, Affect, History, Henry V.” PMLA 118, no. 3 (May 2003): 470-87.
[In the following essay, Hedrick studies how Shakespeare masterfully joined history, politics, and love in Henry V, focusing in particular on the courtship between Henry V and Katherine in the play's final act.]
ADVANTAGE + HISTORY
The violence to genre in Henry V's concluding scene, a romantic minicomedy intruding on the main action of military history, has received its share of aesthetic condemnation and interpretive apologetics, from Samuel Johnson's lament that Shakespeare ran out of material to A. C. Bradley's conviction that Shakespeare could not have intended such a disagreeable ending.1 Despite various explanations, the scene leaves many readers and some spectators markedly uneasy. What typically outweighs any intellectual resolution is the scene's narrative premise, namely that the king's quickie persuasion of Princess Catherine of France to accept, to like, to love, and to marry him takes place under duress: the English have just defeated the French bloodily and overwhelmingly at the Battle of Agincourt, and Catherine has become what Henry terms his “capital demand” (5.2.96).2 Given this wider, historical framing, the charisma of this “mirror of all Christian kings” (2 Chorus 6)—the stock-in-trade of the actors...
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Ayers, P. K. “‘Fellows of infinite tongue’: Henry V and the King's English.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 34, no. 2 (spring 1994): 253ff.
Discusses the duplicitous nature of Henry's “plain speech.”
Bach, Rebecca Ann. “Tennis Balls: Henry V and Testicular Masculinity, or According to the OED, Shakespeare Doesn't Have Any Balls.” Renaissance Drama n.s. 30 (2001): 3-23.
Examines Henry's claim that English soldiers are more masculine than the French.
Baldo, Jonathan. “Wars of Memory in Henry V.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no. 2 (summer 1996): 132-59.
Explores the importance of the collective memory of a nation, particularly in battle, to its national identity in Henry V.
Barber, Charles. “Prince Hal, Henry V, and the Tudor Monarchy.” In The Morality of Art: Essays Presented to G. Wilson Knight by his Colleagues and Friends, edited by D. W. Jefferson, pp. 67-75. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.
Advances an ultimately negative evaluation of the Henry V, contending that in this play Shakespeare presented “an uncritical glorification of the Tudor monarchy and its ideals.”
Berman, Ronald S. “Shakespeare's Alexander: Henry V.” College English...
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