Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 954
The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the play as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.
Henry V is in most respects a model of the ideal king—wise, just, courageous, and kind. Yet there are a number of moments when less praiseworthy qualities seem apparent. It would be an overstatement to say he is a villain, but neither is he as perfect as his surface behavior would indicate. Write an essay showing how the positive qualities in him are to an extent counterbalanced by negative tendencies.
I. Thesis Statement: Although Henry V exhibits the virtues of an ideal English king throughout the play, certain details suggest that some aspects of his nature are less than admirable—indeed, that there are elements of the villain, as well as the hero, in him.
II. Examples of positive and negative behavior
A. Treatment of his friends
Positive: He shows mercy toward a drunken soldier who insulted him.
Negative: He broke Falstaff’s heart by disavowing their earlier friendship.
B. Unmasking of the conspirators Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge
Positive: He cleverly manipulates them into passing judgment on themselves.
Negative: He deviously entraps them rather than forthrightly charging them with treason.
C. Heroism in battle
Positive: He courageously leads the charge into Harfleur and at Agincourt.
Negative: He threatens monstrous punishments at Harfleur—babies spitted on pikes, etc.—and cruelly orders all French captives killed at Agincourt.
Positive: He weeps at the deaths of York and Suffolk.
Negative: He callously has Bardolph, a former friend, hanged for a minor theft.
E. Personal honesty
Positive: In wooing Katharine, he speaks from his heart as a “plain soldier.”
Negative: He knows she is his by right. The soldier act is false and manipulative.
III. Conclusion: Given the inconsistencies in Henry’s behavior, it is impossible to regard him simply as an ideal king.
In the language of the theater, a “foil” is a character who serves as a contrast to another, illuminating that character’s qualities by exemplifying their opposites. How might the Dauphin be considered a foil to Henry V? Consider three aspects in which this may be true, and tell how Shakespeare establishes this relationship between two figures who actually never meet face to face during the play.
I. Thesis Statement: In Henry V, Shakespeare uses the Dauphin as a foil to Henry. First he establishes their similarities, so the audience will compare the two, and then he shows their differences. In doing so, each character highlights the opposite qualities of the other in terms of manners, personality, and leadership.
A. Dauphin is the French prince and heir to the throne; Henry is the English king.
B. Both are young men.
C. Both are military commanders.
III. Differences: Manners and Lifestyle
A. Dauphin speaks in flowery, high-flown speeches; Henry is bluntly realistic.
B. Dauphin is pampered and coddled; Henry is rough and rugged.
C. Dauphin communicates by insinuation and insult; Henry communicates by overt, frank opposition.
IV. Differences: Personality
A. Dauphin is complacent and self-satisfied; Henry risks all for honor.
B. On the eve of battle, Dauphin thinks only of his pleasures; Henry thinks only of his troops.
C. Dauphin elicits scorn from his colleagues; Henry elicits respect and admiration.
V. Differences: Leadership
A. Dauphin forsakes Harfleur; Henry fights side-by-side with his fellow countrymen.
B. Dauphin remains aloof from his army; Henry mingles with the men in disguise.
C. In adversity, Dauphin commits suicide; Henry shows fortitude.
VI. Conclusion: By their similarities of situation and opposition in manners, personality, and leadership, the Dauphin and Henry complement each other in showing us the whole range of human qualities.
A number of times in Henry V, Shakespeare presents similar-looking scenes side-by-side. Because of this juxtaposition, such scenes imply a commentary on the play’s characters or issues. Identify three such pairings and explain their significance.
I. Thesis Statement: In Henry V, Shakespeare juxtaposes certain scenes so as to create pairs, or companion scenes, that by their relationship comment on the characters and themes. Three telling examples are Act 1, Scene 2 and Act 2, Scene 4; Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2; and Act 4, Scenes 3 and 4.
II. First example: Act 1, Scene 2, and Act 2, Scene 4
A. In Act 1, Scene 2, King Henry receives counsel from his trusted advisors, and then a messenger enters with a challenge from his enemy the Dauphin.
B. In Act 2, Scene 4, King Charles receives counsel from his trusted advisors, and then a messenger enters with a challenge from his enemy Henry.
1. Purpose: To contrast the personalities of the two kings and show the unity or disunity of the two royal councils.
III. Second example: Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2
A. In Act 3, Scene 1, Henry rallies his troops for a charge at Harfleur, giving a speech beginning “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”
B. In Act 3, Scene 2, Pistol gives a similar rallying cry to his comrades: “On, on, on, on, on! To the breach, to the breach!” But he is actually leading a retreat.
1. Purpose: To highlight the cowardice and ignominy of Pistol and his companions.
IV. Third example: Act 4, Scenes 3 and 4
A. At the end of Act 4, Scene 3, the French herald Montjoy demands a ransom from Henry in exchange for sparing the English army annihilation.
B. In Act 4, Scene 4, Pistol demands a ransom from a captive French soldier in exchange for sparing the man’s life.
1. Purpose: To contrast Henry’s noble qualities with Pistol’s baseness.
V. Conclusion: By playing one scene off another, Shakespeare uses the dramatic structure to enhance the characterizations in Henry V and illuminate some of the main themes.
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