What messages does Henry V convey in the play by Shakespeare about war - the nature of war, consequences of war, the justification of war, the benefits of war, the military, etc.?

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Shakespeare's Henry V sees war as an ugly means to a valuable end. On the surface, he's very concerned with justifying the war; he asks Canterbur, "may we with right and conscience make this claim?" Yet once he is in France, he has no problem using dire threats of rape...

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Shakespeare's Henry V sees war as an ugly means to a valuable end. On the surface, he's very concerned with justifying the war; he asks Canterbur, "may we with right and conscience make this claim?" Yet once he is in France, he has no problem using dire threats of rape and murder to take over the town of Harfleur, or even having his soldiers cut their prisoners' throats for reasons that are somewhat unclear. (In fact, productions often switch the murder of the boys to come before the killing of the prisoners, just to make Henry seem more reasonable, even though in the play the prisoners are actually killed first.) Henry has no illusions about the horrors of war, but he sees them as worthwhile if he can win the throne of France for himself and his descendants.

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Shakespeare’s approach to war in Henry V is multi-faceted. While the play does deal in some detail with the political motivations for the war, what sets it apart is its concern for the human costs of warfare, both in terms of lives lost and in terms of lives transformed. In this way, Agincourt is seen less as a military victory than as a personal rite of passage for Henry; through it, he emerges as a full-fledged Monarch.

Any evaluation of Henry in “Henry V” has to begin with consideration of Prince Hal in Henry IV. King Henry is shown to be a matured version of his carousing younger self; his embrace of war in France is in part a petulant reaction to his image as “playboy,” as reflected by the gift of tennis balls, and a testament to his emergence into adulthood and his assumption of the responsibilities of the monarch. Although Henry is, to a certain extent, manipulated into war in part by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wants to reclaim church lands in France, Henry’s execution of the war, his loyalty to his troops, and his valor on the field show that he has fully matured.

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At the beginning of the play, the reasons for going to war are simple: birthright. King Henry feels the time is right to stake his claim to France by way of being related to Edward III. King Henry feels it is his right to do so and that God is on his side. He also realizes the costs of war, which for one is the loss of human life. War always ends life and some of those lives are of the innocent. King Henry and the King of France, both realize this. There is also the lost of establishments. War is devastating to any region it is in. King Henry even sends a message by the Duke of Exeter to the king of France to hand over the title for the sake of these loses. The consequence of the war is on the military itself. King Henry visits his soldiers and learns the realization of just how the war is affecting them. He thinks the benefits of the war are to gain France for his own. The nature of war is usually always the same. King Henry, with the help of some of his aids, comes to believe that because of his birthright, France should be his. In war there is always someone wanting something that belongs to someone else. King Henry truly believes that France is his and that gives him the justification of going to war. He believes that the benefits far out way the consequences of war. France will be his and all costs. 

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