How would you describe the style of the prologue to Act 3 of William Shakespeare's play Henry V?
- Unifying, as in the opening word “Thus,” which links Act 3 with the immediately preceding act.
- Alliterative, as in the words “with imagin’d wing our swift scene flies” (1) or the words “Than that of thought” (3).
- Employing assonance, as in the words “motion of no” (2).
- Dialogical, as when the Chorus directly addresses the audience by referring to them as “you” (3).
- Smoothly flowing (notice how relatively few of the lines in this speech end with any kind of punctuation; this is known as enjambment).
- Richly adjectival, as in the following lines, asking us to notice the king’s
. . . brave fleet
With silken streamers the young Phoebus [fanning].” (5-6)
- Emphatic in its use of verbs, as in “Suppose” (3), “Play” (7), “behold” (7), “Hear” (9), etc. Such phrasing gives enormous energy to the speech.
- Often abrupt, as in such short phrases as “Play with your fancies” (7) and “Follow, follow!” (17). Yet these short phrases are typically used to punctuate and interrupt much longer sentences, thus giving the speech a great deal of rhythmic variety, so that it never seems monotonous.
- Innovating and inventive in some of its phrasing, as when the Chorus refers to ships “Breasting the lofty surge” (13).
- Vivid in its use of imagery, as when the Chorus describes how
. . . th’ invisible and creeping wind [can]
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea” . . . (12)
- Imaginative in some of its imagery and metaphors, as when the Chorus compares ships at sea to “A city on th’inconstant billows dancing” (15).
- Unconventional in some of its phrasing, as when the Chorus mentions a “fleet majestical” rather than the more predictable phrase “majestical fleet” (16).
- Skillful in using emphatic lists, as in the reference to “grandsires, babies, and old women” (20)
- Humorous and playful, as when he refers to a
. . . chin . . . enrich’d
With one appearing hair (22-23)
and also when he plays with very heavy and exaggerated alliteration in line 24.
- Courteous, as when the Chorus ends his speech by once more begging the audience’s indulgence.
All in all, this speech is lofty, soaring, eloquent, witty, and highly imaginative. It displays the very kind of heightened imagination it hopes to stir in the audience. It advances the plot of the play (as in lines 28-31), but it also contributes mightily to the epic, heroic tone of the work. It is patriotic, rousing, celebratory, and clever.
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