In Henry V is war seen as a just way of settling disputes or a demonstration of human violence?

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iambic5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the brilliant things about Shakespeare’s plays, and one of the reasons they still continue to be performed century after century, is the fact that Shakespeare is not a moralist. His plays portray people and events without passing judgment on them, and so each succeeding generation of playgoers and actors and directors find new and often contradictory things in them.

“Henry V” is a very stark example of this. The play has been interpreted and staged both as a jingoistic nationalist fantasy of a just war being carried out and leading to a noble victory (see Laurence Olivier’s film version of 1944), and it's also been portrayed as a story of an awful, brutal, unjust war full of horror and death, as in Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film. The fascinating thing is the play contains both possibilities at the same time: the play contains moments of tremendous heroism and justice and also horrible violence and cruelty and injustice. The play never articulates an opinion. Perhaps one of the primary explanations for Shakespeare’s endurance in our culture is that whatever he thought of war, or anything else, he kept those feelings to himself.