In Shakespeare's play Henry V, how does the title character maintain balance between the different areas of his life?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry V, as depicted in the play of the same name by William Shakespeare, is a complex man who must balance his authority and responsibilities as King with his personal demons, worries, and fears. Henry V is seen as a ruler struggling with the weight of the crown but also determined to win both his legacy as a dutiful King and his personal birthright, the crown of France. While acting as King, Henry V allows trusted friends to give both advice and counsel; while Henry V is convinced that his goals are worthy and justified, he fears that if he is wrong, his legacy will be tainted and his people betrayed in their trust. Beyond these fears, Henry stands alone as the King of his people, an almost deified figure who must be infallible against his enemies. Henry sees, through events such as the plot against his life, that he is not universally loved and that others might see his goals as unjustified. These events cause him to question his role as King, and wonder if his goals are truly justified. Henry V can be understood as both the dictatorial ruler of his people, responsible for their well-being, but also as a man not necessarily prepared for the full weight of the crown. 

HENRY V: The slave, a member of the country's peace,
Enjoys it, but in gross brain little wots
What watch the King keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.
I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no.
(Shakespeare, Henry V, eNotes eText)

Here, Henry V examines his own responsibility as King not just to keep his people safe, but to be seen as an ever-watchful guardian of their rights and safety. The "peasant" is unaware of his struggle with leadership, and yet assumes that the King is looking out for all his interests; the "cost of leadership" is not just assumed to go with the job, but altogether ignored. By examining his own roles and allowing himself fallibility while still pursuing his righteous goals, Henry V balances his humanity with his monarchy. This is seen in more detail later as he assumes the disguise of a commoner; through his conversations, Henry V understands that his people trust him to lead them in the correct direction, and this encourages him to dismiss his fears as groundless. Thus, Henry V's balance comes from his personal experiences and his ability to trust and understand the views of both the common folk and the nobility.