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Henry V and the Chivalric Revival

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Robin Headlam Wells, University of Hull

"O for a Muse of fire!" What more appropriate way to begin an epic celebration of England's greatest warrior-king than an invocation to Mars, the baleful god of war with 'famine, sword and fire' straining like leashed greyhounds at his heels (Prol. 1-8)?1 Praised by his contemporaries as the flower of knighthood,2 the historical Henry V was the epitome of English chivalry; and chivalry is essentially a martial ideal, a code of values that glorified military prowess as the supreme achievement of the virtuous knight.3 For the medieval chevalier like Shakespeare's Duke of Exeter (4.6.7-32) death on the battlefield in the arms of a brother soldier while in the service of his liege is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

It is this chivalric ideal that the "warlike Harry" epitomizes. Shakespeare's holy warrior has "an aspect of iron" (5.2.239); his god is a 'God of battles' (4.1.285); and when he invades France he comes "In thunder and in earthquake, like a Jove" (2.4.100). Even as a wooer, he loves "cruelly" (5.2.211). But despite the celebratory tone of the Prologue, Henry V is no simple endorsement of chivalric ideals. The history of chivalry in late medieval and early modern England is a complex one, and Shakespeare's play embodies the ambivalent attitudes towards war and military heroism which that history inevitably reflects.

Flower of chivalry

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Henry V is chiefly remembered for his extraordinary victory at Agincourt. But hardened at an early age to the rigours of border conflict, he showed a passion for war and a contempt for "the cursyd vice of slouthe and ydlenesse"4 even before he became king. Shortly before his accession he commissioned a translation of the greatest war story of the ancient world. The result was John Lydgate's Troy Book, a translation of Guido delle Colonne's Historia Destructionis Troiae. Like Shakespeare, Lydgate begins his story with an invocation to Mars, patron of chivalry and the "causer [ . . . ] Of werre and stryf":

O myghty Mars, that wyth thy sterne lyght
In armys hast the power & pe my3t,
And named art from est til occident
The myghty lorde, the god armypotent,
That, wyth schynyng of the stremes rede,
By influence dost the brydel led
Of cheualry, as souereyn and patrown . . .
Now help, o Mars, pat art of kny3thod lord,
And hast of manhod the magnificence!5

In his prologue to the Troy Book Lydgate explains that it was Henry's own enthusiasm for "verray kny3thod", "the prowesse of olde chiualrie" and "al that longeth to manhood" that was responsible for the prince's interest in the Troy story (I. 69ff.).

Though Henry's early death meant that his political vision, enshrined in the Treaty of Troyes (1420), of a joint kingdom united under English rule would never be realized, it did wonders for his heroic reputation. As Edward Hall writes in his Chronicle, Henry's "fame by his death as liuely florisheth as his actes in his life wer sene and remembred".6 Already by the middle of the fifteenth century he had become part of English national mythology. When William Worcester wrote a book supporting Edward IV s renewal of the war with France he recalled Henry's "gret manhode" and exhorted Edward to remember the "victorious conquestis of youre noble predecessour".7 And as Henry himself had hoped to inspire patriotic sentiments by making the Troy story available to English readers, so Worcester, in urging his countrymen to take up arms, adjures them to recall the siege of Troy as an example of true chivalry:

let be brought to mynde to folow the steppis in conceitis of noble courage of the mighty dedis in armes of the vaillaunt knight Hector of Troy, whiche bene enacted in the seige of Troy for a perpetuelle remembraunce of chevalrie.8

Contemporary opinion about Henry and his policies was divided.9 Thomas Hoccleve, while praising Henry as the "floure of Chivalrie",10 concludes his epideictic Regement of Princes with a philippic on the evils of war between Christian states.11 Even Lydgate, despite the militaristic tone of his invocation to the Troy Book, seems to have had reservations about his patron's military ideals. At the end of Book IV he interpolates a long complaint addressed to Mars, the "first meuer of anger and of hate", deploring the ruinous consequences of war (IV. 4440ff.), a theme that he repeats in the concluding lines of the Siege of Thebes,12 written, significantly, after the Treaty of Troyes when contemporaries had good reason for thinking that Henry's policies had been completely vindicated. Modern historians continue to disagree about Henry's character and achievements. M.H. Keen sees Henry's reign as a "record of tremendous English achievement."13

But G.L. Harriss argues that his "messianic streak" led to "unjustifiable aggrandizement which was beyond English resources to sustain and which would ultimately face England with the crisis of its failure".14 Desmond Seward, Henry's harshest modern critic, claims that "for all his brilliance, Henry V's ambition ended by bankrupting and discrediting his son, and by ruining his dynasty".15

Henry's reputation as the mirror of Christian chivalry owes much to his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who commissioned the Italian historian Tito Livio to write his life (Vita Henrici Quinti), to the anonymous Gesta Henrici Quinti and to William Worcester, author of the chauvinistic Boke of Noblesse. In the sixteenth century the myth of Henry as the "floure of kynges passed"16 was kept alive by the chroniclers Fabyan, Grafton, Hall and Holinshed. Their patriotic view of Henry found ready acceptance in militant Protestant circles, and is reflected in the crudely jingoistic Famous Victories of Henry V. When a new play about Henry appeared shortly after the Famous Victories was first printed, describing how the country's youth, gripped by war fever, abandons the "silken dalliance" of peace to follow the "mirror of all Christian kings" into battle (H5, 32.chorus.1ff.), it was clear that the Henry myth was in no danger of being allowed to die. At least that is what many twentieth-century critics of Shakespeare's play have assumed. For J.H. Walter Shakespeare's Henry combines the character and action of the epic hero with the moral qualities of Erasmus' Christian prince;17 for Norman Rabkin he is "the kind of exemplary monarch that neither Richard II nor Henry IV could be, combining the inwardness and the sense of occasion of the one and the strength of the other with a generous humanity available to neither";18 for Gary Taylor he is "a study of human greatness."19

It is true that Shakespeare's portrait of Henry is in many ways a notably sympathetic one. Henry's rhetoric is exhilarating; his courage in battle is exemplary; his piety seems indisputable and his honour bright. By the final scene of the play any lingering doubts about the legitimacy of his claims to France are easily forgotten in the superficially playful charm of the wooing of Katharine. When even the French king and queen seem delighted with "brother England" and the terms of his proposed alliance, what reason is there to doubt the integrity of this now plain-speaking soldier with a heart that "never changes, but keeps his course truly" (5.2.161-2)? But, as many critics have pointed out, this concluding scene of international and domestic harmony, almost like a comedy in its stylized conviviality,20 is profoundly ironic. Unlike the typical romantic comedy, which ends with an unfulfilled promise of future happiness, the final chorus of Henry V takes us back to a future that is already past. We know all too well that not one of Henry's hopes will be realized: Katharine will never be a "soldier-breeder"; the king himself will not live to see old age; the peace between England and France will hold only a few years. As the chorus reminds us of the English blood that will soon be shed, it is difficult to suppress memory of all the other disquieting events we have witnessed in the play: the scheming clergy so eager to support a war that is conveniently in their own interests; Henry's brutal threats to the citizens of Harfleur; the patently unsatisfactory argument with Williams; the cold-blooded killing of the prisoners. Was Shakespeare, as one modern historian has suggested, the "prisoner of his time",21 endorsing the militaristic views of the war party in Elizabethan politics? If so, then why did he apparently go out of his way to sow doubts in our minds concerning the integrity of his hero and the wisdom of Henry's policies?

The chivalric revival

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To suggest that Shakespeare was the intellectual prisoner of his time is to imply that Elizabethans were united in their endorsement of the militaristic values that Henry V stood for in the popular imagination. This is not true. A brief review of changing attitudes towards the chivalric ideal in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England may go at least some way towards explaining the anomalies in Shakespeare's play.

Henry V was written at a time when chivalric values, after a period of self-conscious anti-militarism, were once more in fashion.22 Originating in the Middle Ages as the code of values of a military aristocracy, chivalry placed paramount emphasis on physical courage and military prowess as the guarantors of justice and honour. Where this involved dynastic rights of the kind that were at issue in the Hundred Years War, chivalry provided justification for aggressive international action. In exhorting Edward to defend his territorial rights, William Worcester appeals to "ye noble Englisshe cheualrie [ . . . ] to take armes and enterprinses, seeing so many good examples before yow of so many victorius dedis in armes done by youre noble progenitoures".23 One of chivalry's most enduring legacies to the future was the honour code, a system of values characterized above all by a stress on competitive assertiveness. As Mervyn James explains, the honour code both legitimized and provided moral reinforcement for "a politics of violence".24 It was this medieval code of values that the Essex circle hoped to revive. To his admirers the Earl of Essex was a symbol of national pride, the "Faire branch of Honor" and "flower of Cheualrie".25 The earl was the centre of a dissident aristocratic movement that wanted to reform the commonwealth and restore military values to a society grown generally "unwarlicke, in love with the name, and bewitched with the delight of peace".26 Drawing on the aristocratic charisma of its leader, it called for a return to the heroic values of the past. In doing so it was self-consciously rejecting a generation of anti-chivalric thinking.

With changing methods of warfare and the gradual disintegration of the feudal system of land tenure in which chivalry was rooted, the old martial values were in decline at end of the fifteenth century. "O ye knyghtes of Englond", complains Caxton in his Book of the Order of Chyvalry (an expanded translation of Ramón Lulls' Libre del Orde del Cauayleria) "where is the custome and usage of noble chyvalry that was used in those days".27 What Arthur B. Ferguson calls "The Indian Summer of English Chivalry" is the literary rearguard action of men like Malory and Hawes, who wanted to revive an antiquated system of values that bore increasingly little relationship to contemporary social and military reality. By the second decade of the sixteenth century, that system was effectively dead. What had killed it was humanism.28

Fundamental to Renaissance humanism is a new sense of historical change. For the generation of More and Erasmus, a medieval culture of violence had no place in the new world of enlightened civic humanism. The sword and shield of Erasmus' Christian knight are those, not of the medieval warrior, but of St Paul's metaphoric "armour of God" (Eph. 6:13).29 Erasmus is the most uncompromising of the sixteenth-century pacifists.30 He concedes that war may be justified under exceptional circumstances, for example a Turkish attack against a Christian state. But wars between Christian states are inexcusable. In a barely concealed attack on the expansionist policies of the young Henry VIII, Erasmus denounces such wars as unmitigated folly:

Almost all wars between Christians have arisen from either stupidity or wickedness. Some young men, with no experience of life, inflamed by the bad examples of our forbears told in the histories that fools have compiled from foolish documents, and then encouraged by flatterers and stimulated by lawyers and theologians, with the consent and connivance of bishops, and even at their desire—these young men, I say, go into war out of rashness rather than badness; and then they learn, to the suffering of the whole world, that war is a thing to be avoided by every possible means.31

Erasmus' friend More, though equivocal as always, was clearly satirizing chivalric attitudes when he described how the Utopians despise the notion of honour in battle, counting "nothynge so much against glorie, as glory gotten in war".32 As C. S. Lewis disapprov ingly puts it, "the military methods of More's Utopians are mischievously devised to flout the chivalric code at every turn".33 The powerful influence of Erasmus' thinking can also be seen in Sir Thomas Elyot's The Governour. Though not a pacificist, Elyot upholds the humanist emphasis on the primacy of learning. Comparing social values in the modern world with the "doctryne of auncient noble men", he claims that the reason for the decay of learning in the modern world is contempt for education among the aristocracy. Elyot's model of princely virtue is Henry I, known as Henry Beau Clerke for his learning. Contrasting him with his brother Robert, "a man of moche prowesse, and right expert in martial affayres", Elyot praises Henry as the superior leader because his wisdom and learning enabled him to add "polycie to vertue and courage".34 In drawing up a scheme of education for a newly emerging governing class Elyot omitted from his list of physical exercises suitable for noblemen any discussion of the tournaments that for Castiglione's courtier are a way of acquiring martial prowess.35 For Elyot honour is to be won, not through battle, but through public service. The purpose of studying "morali philosophie" is to create a just society based on "vertues, maners, and ciuile policie".36 Later in the century Elizabeth's tutor Ascham showed a similar scorn for the militaristic element in medieval chivalry when he complained that Malory's Morte D'Arthur was nothing but "open mans slaughter and bold bawdrye".37

It was the pacifist element in English civic humanism with its contempt for chivalric values that Sidney, and later Essex, wanted to reform. Though it cannot be said that the sixteenth century saw very significant advances in the social position of women, humanist education did at least provide the foundation for sexual equality: as Elizabeth's own example showed, women could also be scholars. By contrast, the honour code is unequivocally masculine; its appeal is, as William Worcester puts it, to "corage, feersnes, manlinesse and strength",38 sentiments that are echoed by the Elizabethan armorist Gerard Legh when he defines honour as "glory gotten by courage of manhood".39 In his Apologie of 1598 Essex compares the unheroic present with the "those former gallant ages" when England did not hesitate "to atchieve great conquests in France".40 When Essex wrote his Apologie the simmering rivalry between the two main factions in the Privy Council was rapidly approaching crisis point.41 On one side were the Cecils, astute and scheming politicians, but concerned above all to preserve peace, both at home and abroad. On the other was Essex, arrogant, mercurial, paranoid and desperate for military glory. Where the Cecils instinctively favoured civilian rule, Essex would have liked to have done away with civil magistracy altogether and to have replaced it with martial law. His dream was a military society ruled by an aristocratic élite. Matters came to a head with the Treaty of Vervins (May 1598): the Cecils urged acceptance of Spain's proposals; Essex, hoping no doubt that history would repeat itself and that a war faction would once again triumph as it had done in 1513, insisted on an all-out offensive against the dominant power on the continent: "now, now is the fittest time to make warre upon the Spaniard," he wrote in the Apologie.42

If the glamorous and bellicose young Henry VIII was a source of practical inspiration for the Elizabethan war faction, the great Lancastrian ancestor on whom he conspicuously modelled himself43 enjoyed an almost mythical reputation in the popular mind. For the Essex faction Henry V was the perfect symbol of national pride. Here was not only an an inspirational type of what Lydgate calls "the prowesse of olde chiualrie", but also an embodiment of just the kind of aggressive military action that Essex himself so passionately advocated. Samuel Daniel, who praises Essex in the Civil Wars as a rare example "Of ancient honor neere worne out of date",44 imagines the ghost of Henry V returning (like Hamlet's father) to reprove the present age for its neglect of the "wondrous Actions" of the heroic past. In defending Henry's campaigns, he puts the emphasis, not on the reassertion of hereditary rights, but on "ioyes of gotten spoyles", "thoughts of glorie" and "conquests, riches, Land, and Kingdome gain'd" (V, stanzas 1, 3, 40). For Essex's admirers the "dreadful and yet lovely" Henry was the supreme example of chivalric heroism, inspiring both "terror and delight" (V, stanza 2).

Such blatantly militarist sentiments inevitably attracted criticism. There is, of course, always a danger of reading modern assumptions into the debates of the past. But if our own century has particular reason to be wary of charismatic military leaders, the sixteenth century was both fascinated and repelled by the cult of the megalopsyche. As Paul Siegel argues, humanists were fully aware of the opposition between their own ideal of honour through public service and commitment to civic ideals, and what they regarded as a false cult of neo-chivalric honour.45 Sidney's friend Hubert Languet is typical of those humanists who had profound reservations about the culture of violence fostered by militant Protestantism. Warning him of the temptations of seeking honour through military achievement, Languet wrote to Sidney: "It is the misfortune, or rather the folly of our age that most men of high rank think it more honorable to do the work of a soldier than of a leader, and would rather earn a name for boldness than for judgment".46 Essex received similar, though less friendly, advice from the Privy Council when it debated the Spanish peace proposals in 1598. Warning the Earl of the dangers of his obsession with war, the treasurer reminded him of the psalmist's prophecy: "Men of blood shall not live out half their days". 47

When Shakespeare wrote Henry V the revival of chivalric military values had not yet reached its farcical anticlimax in the Essex rebellion. But as the final chorus allusions to the Earl's anticipated return from Ireland indicate, Essex and the values for which he stood were the subject of angry political argument.48 By beginning the play with an invocation, not to one of the nine liberal arts, but instead to the patron god of chivalry, attended by "famine, sword and fire", Shakespeare was giving a sure signal that he meant to engage with the topical matter of martial versus eirenic values. Cultural Materialism suggests that the question that criticism should ask about Shakespeare's plays is whether they are for or against authority; as Jonathan Dollimore puts it, do they "reinforce the dominant order, or do they interrogate it to the point of subversion?"49 But topical though it was in the late 1590s, neo-chivalric militarism is not an issue that will divide along simple authoritarian versus populist lines. Essex was certainly the centre of a dissident party that threatened Elizabeth's authority. But the rebellion of 1601 was an aristocratic, not a populist movement. As in 1513, the main beneficiaries of a land war in Europe would have been a nobility eager for offices and appointments as well as the usual financial spoils; for the common soldier the reward of victory would no doubt have been much like that of Pistol: no honours and titles, but a life of begging and stealing (5.1.74-83). In his recent Arden edition of Henry V T.W. Craik refers to Essex as a popular hero.50 Though it is true that the earl was lionized by his followers, it is clear from the self-defensive tone of his Apologie that his love of war aroused deep suspicion among his opponents; indeed his sanity was seriously doubted.51 When he made his ill-fated march on the City in February 1601 the people of London, instead of rallying to his cause, stood by in silent amazement as he led his little cavalcade up Fenchurch street crying "for the Queen, for the Queen".52 Rather than asking whether Shakespeare is "for" or "against" Henry as a representative figure of authority, it would probably make more sense to consider what this exceptionally ambivalent play has to say about the factional issue so clearly announced in its opening lines. 53

War and chivalry

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Modern criticism is divided on the question of whether the play wants us to see Henry V as Christian hero or deceitful Machiavel. Because Henry is a natural autocrat, post-structuralist historicism sees him, perhaps predictably, as the latter. In one of his most influential essays54 Stephen Greenblatt argues that throughout the three plays in which he appears Henry is a Machiavellian "juggler" and "conniving hypocrite". The final play of the series, says Greenblatt, "deftly registers every nuance of royal hypocrisy, ruthlessness, and bad faith".55 Ruthless Henry undoubtedly is, but to accuse him of bad faith is to deny him his most outstanding and most dangerous characteristic, namely his frank and single-minded fidelity to his cause.

For Greenblatt Henry V is a classic instance of the way authority produces and contains subversion. Insofar as it is concerned to illustrate a transhistorical paradigm of power politics, Greenblatt's essay is, strictly speaking, a-historicist. For all its rhetorical persuasiveness, it suffers from the inevitable limitations of its analogical methodology. When flexible use is made of the text,56 and when external appeal is made, not to proven source material or contemporaneous political debate, but to unconnected "reiterations" of an a priori principle, it becomes difficult either to prove or disprove his thesis. A more truly historicist case for seeing Henry as a dissimulating Machiavel has recently been made by Steven Marx.57 The idea of the benign Machiavel using deception for the good of the state is not a new one in Shakespeare criticism.58 But Marx goes, not just to Machiavelli, but to one of Machiavelli's own sources for his political analogues. Noting the presumably intentional parallel between the miracle of Agincourt and God's deliverance of Israel (the "Non nobis" that Henry orders to be sung after the battle is the Latin title of Psalm 115 celebrating the defeat of the Egyptian armies at the Red Sea), he argues that the Old Testament provided Renaissance humanists with a political history as rich and revealing as those of the classical world. Citing a number of biblical figures who use trickery to defeat their enemies, Marx suggests that Shakespeare shows Henry deliberately and cynically using holy war as a political device to inspire faith in his followers and credulity in his enemies.

Based as it is on proven sources rather than on tendentious readings of entirely unconnected texts, Marx's argument is a much more powerful one than Greenblatt's. But again the play itself does not provide convincing support for the claim that Henry is unscrupulously manipulating religion for political ends. Modern historians speak of the historical Henry's "messianic streak"59 and his religious bigotry.60 Even Allmand, his most admiring biographer, describes him as "a man with an obsession".61 Shakespeare's Henry also has that obsessive, single-minded zeal that is characteristic of many religious converts.

It is true that in Henry IV the prince uses deception to enhance his reputation, announcing at the beginning of Part 1 that he will "falsify men's hopes" by "redeeming time" when people least expect it (1H4, 1.2.204-10). Whether or not his reformation at the end of Part 2 is authentic, he appears, when we see him at the beginning of Henry V, to have all the characteristics of the reborn Christian. From the conversation between Canterbury and Ely in the first scene we learn that Henry does indeed seem to be the "new man" described by the sixteenth-century chroniclers:62

Never was such a sudden scholar made;
Never came reformation in a flood,
With such a heady currance, scouring faults;
Nor never Hydra-headed wilfulness
So soon did lose his seat, and all at once,
As in this king


As well as showing an impressive grasp of theological and political matters, the reborn king is a compelling orator, especially on the subject of war. "List his discourse of war," says Canterbury, "and you shall hear / A fearful battle rend'red you in music" (1.1.43-4). It is Henry's passion for war that particularly interests the bishops. Seeing in this a way out of the church's own problems, Canterbury makes the king an offer: if he will guarantee the security of church lands, the clergy will support a re-opening of the war against France. But before Henry will agree to this proposal he insists on satisfying himself that he does have a legitimate claim to the French crown. The ground is thus prepared for the notorious debate on Salic Law.

If it was Shakespeare's intention to portray Henry as the mirror of Christian kings and to justify his aggressive military policies, Canterbury's exposition of Salic Law seems an odd way of going about it. To establish the legality of Henry's claim to France Shakespeare could easily have had a group of courtiers discussing the Plantagenet dynasty. One of them might begin by reminding the court that English kings had ruled the Angevin empire since time immemorial (that is to say, since the 11th century); another might say that Edward III had a better claim to the French throne than anyone else, better certainly than Philip VI; a third might rejoin that Philip's confiscation of the Duchy of Aquitaine in 1337 was quite illegal; a fourth might point out that when Henry's father met the Dukes of Berry, Bourbon and Orléans in Bourges in 1412 all had agreed that Aquitaine was rightfully English. All this could have been done quickly and emphatically. Alternatively, Shakespeare could have followed the example of the Famous Victories of Henry V where the question of Henry's legal claims to France is dealt with in two sentences. In response to the king's request for advice Canterbury simply says "Your right to the French crown of France came by your great-grand-mother, Isabel, wife to King Edward the third, and sister to Charles, the French King. Now, if the French King deny it, as likely enough he will, then must you take your sword in hand and conquer the right".63 What could be simpler? The king has a clear legal right and he must defend it.

By contrast, Shakespeare reproduces more or less word for word from Holinshed a forensic argument of such tortuous casuistry that no theatre audience could possibly follow it. Holinshed's own view of Canterbury's tactics comes across fairly clearly. Winding up what Holinshed calls "his prepared tale", the Archbishop shifts to a different register as he exhorts Henry to "advance forth his banner to fight for his right" and "spare neither bloud, sword, nor fire" in defence of his inheritance. Parliament responds to this emotive rhetoric with cries of "Warre, warre; France, France". Carried away by its own jingoism, the House forgets the more mundane question of church lands and votes enthusiastically for war. Holinshed comments dryly: "Hereby the bill for dissoluing of religious houses was cleerelie set aside, and nothing thought on but onelie the recovering of France, according as the archbishop had mooved".64

With his keen interest in the unscrupulous use of political oratory—Julius Caesar was probably written in the same year as Henry V—Shakespeare clearly saw the dramatic potential of such material. But if Canterbury's motives are dishonourable, this does not mean that Henry is necessarily a conniver. Indeed he is insistent that the archbishop explain the crown's legal position "justly and religiously" (1.2.10). Warning him not to "fashion, wrest, or bow" the facts to suit convenience (14), Henry soberly reminds the court of the consequences of going to war. In contrast to Canterbury's casuistical exposition of Salic law, the king's response is a simple question: "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" (96). As in Holinshed, Canterbury's reply is an emotive appeal to national pride:

Gracious lord,
Stand for your own; unwind your bloody flag,
Look back into your mighty ancestors.
Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire's tomb,
From whom you claim; invoke his war-like spirit . . .


Taking up the archbishop's theme, Ely urges Henry to think of "exploits and mighty enterprises" (121). Unlike Hamlet, whose reaction to an appeal to dynastic honour is an impassioned declaration of vengeance, Henry remains cool, quietly reminding the court of the need to prepare, not only for a foreign campaign, but also for the possibility of an attack from Scotland. The debate concludes with the Archbishop's emollient parable of the bee hive. Obedience to the rule of nature, says Canterbury, is the key to social harmony: just as members of a bee hive work together under the direction of a king, so national success depends on each member of society working for the common good.

Canterbury's parable is meant as an illustration of the general principle that Exeter has just stated in the preceding speech. "Government," says Exeter,

though high, and low, and lower,
Put into parts, doth keep in one consent,
Congreeing in a full and natural close,
Like music


Musical harmony is a key metaphor in political debate in this period.65 In formulating their constitutional arguments both apologists for and critics of the crown appeal to the laws of a nature whose characteristic feature is "harmonicall agreement" and "due proportion". As the encyclopaedist Pierre de La Primaudaye explains,

A citie or ciuill company is nothing else but a multitude of men vnlike in estates or conditions, which communicate togither in one place their artes, occupations, workes, and exercises, that they may live the better, & are obedient to the same lawes and magistrates . . . Of such a dissimilitude an harmonicall agreement ariseth by due proportion of one towards another in their diverse orders & estates, even as the harmonie in musicke consisteth of unequal voyces or sounds agreeing equally togither.66

That Exeter's appeal to these familiar Pythagorean principles should make Canterbury think of bees is not in itself surprising. The association is conventional. The inscriptio of an early 17th-century emblem illustrating the principles of social harmony explains that

As busie Bees unto their Hive doe swarme,
So do's th' attractive power of Musicke charme [ . . . ]
This Harmony in t'humane Fabricke steales
And is the sinewes of all Common-weales. 67

The significant thing about the archbishop's little clerical homily is not its content—which is conventional enough—but the context in which it is made and the lesson that Canterbury draws from it. The mythological figure who embodies Exeter's harmonist principle is Orpheus. As Puttenham explains, Orpheus' legendary ability to tame wild beasts with his music is a figure for the civilizing influence of the arts and their ability to restrain the brutal passions of our fallen nature.68 His antithesis in Renaissance mythography is Hercules. Orpheus is a symbolic representative of the arts of peace, Hercules those of war.69 Both figures are claimed by mythographers as founders of civilization and represent opposing ideals of community. 70 The irony of Canterbury's speech is that he should appeal to harmonist principles, not in order to defend the Orphic arts of peace, but to argue for war. In what seems no less of a non sequitur than Hector's abrupt volte face at the end of his eloquent exposition of natural law in Troilus and Cressida (2.2.163-93), the archbishop concludes his parable of social harmony with a call to arms: "Therefore to France, my liege" (1.2.213).

Behind Canterbury's speech lies a long debate on the arts of war and peace.71 At the end of the play there is another reminder of that debate. In an extended natural image, ironically of great beauty, the Duke of Burgundy reflects sadly on the way peace, the "nurse of arts", has been "mangled" by war. As nature reverts to wildness, so humanity seems to return to its primal savagery:

as our vineyards, fallows, meads, and hedges,
Defective in their natures, grow to wildness;
Even so our houses and ourselves and children
Have lost, or do not learn for want of time,
The sciences that should become our country;
But grow, like savages—as soldiers will,
That nothing do but meditate on blood . . .


But Henry, unlike the effeminate Richard II, is no "nurse of arts". Above all he is a holy warrior. Having satisfied himself that he has good legal and religious grounds for going to war, he announces his decision. With calm deliberation he declares that once France is his he will either bend it to his will or "break it all to pieces" (224-5). When the French ambassadors arrive he informs them that he is "no tyrant, but a Christian king". J.H. Walter has shown that Shakespeare knew Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince well and was probably working closely with it when he wrote Henry V.72 But Henry's notion of what it means to be a Christian king could not be more different from Erasmus'. For Erasmus clemency is one of the prince's cardinal virtues.73 So too is it for Shakespeare's Portia. If mercy "becomes / The throned monarch better than his crown" it is because "It is an attribute of God himself (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.184-90). By contrast, Henry sees himself as the scourge of a vindictive God. In retaliation for the Dauphin's insult, Henry tells the ambassadors to warn their prince that

his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly at them; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn.
But this lies all within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal; and in whose name,
Tell you the Dauphin, I am coming on,
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallow'd cause


It would be difficult to think of a more aptly ironic comment on such cold savagery than Exeter's "This was a merry message" (298).

Dramatically the whole scene is of crucial importance in establishing one of the play's central thematic concerns, that is, the dangers of single-minded idealism. Many critics and historians—including, I suspect, Holinshed—are suspicious of Canterbury's motives. Legally his arguments may be sound,74 but the effect of his speech is not to clarify matters but to confuse them. That Henry himself seems to be satisfied with the archbishop's exposition of Salic Law does not mean that he is a "conniving hypocrite." What we see in this scene is a king first confirming that he has a "well-hallow'd cause", and then coolly and openly informing his enemies what they can expect if they dare to oppose his will. The truly frightening thing about him is the sense he has of the absolute Tightness of his cause. Having "whipp'd th' offending Adam out of him" (1.1.29), he is now a man driven by a powerful sense of missionary zeal. Though he claims to be a Christian king, it is really Mars who is his true god, and Henry is his scourge.

By contrast, the clergy with whom he deals are not idealists inspired by a divine mission, but cynical politicians who are prepared to see England go to war rather than lose their lands. Defending Canterbury's speech against the usual charges of tedium and incomprehensibility, Gary Taylor argues that the archbishop's performance is "both comprehensible and dramatically necessary": comprehensible because Elizabethans were apparently interested in Salic Law and were used to listening to long speeches, and dramatically necessary because if you want to build up to a thrilling climax (Henry's riposte to the Dauphin) you have to begin at a low pitch.75 Taylor needs to defend the archbishop's speech because he believes that Shakespeare approved of Henry's policies and wanted to justify them. Dramatically, however, what comes over most strongly in these crucial opening scenes is not the transparent justice of Henry's cause, but the inherent danger of unholy alliances between unscrupulous cynicism and single-minded idealism, a motif that Shakespeare was later to develop to devastating effect in another tale about an idealistic soldier and a Machiavellian cynic.

But Henry is no Othello; a steely self-control is one of his most impressive characteristics. It is not just that he is good at mastering his feelings; as he admits when he learns of the killing of the luggage boys, normally he is simply not prone to strong emotions. But in this case anger is an entirely appropriate response. The other occasion when he allows his anger to show is in the argument with Williams.

The disguised king who shows his true humanity by mingling with his people in a brief interlude of benevolent deception is a common motif in Elizabethan fiction.76 It is just such a stereotype that the chorus evokes as he asks us to imagine Henry passing among his "ruin'd band" of soldiers and raising their spirits with his "cheerful semblance and sweet majesty" (4. Chorus, 40). But the reality is rather different. Instead of cheering his men, Henry quarrels with them, provoking Bates to call him and Williams a pair of "English fools" (4.1.220). It is Bates who triggers the argument by innocently suggesting that at a moment like the present the king is probably wishing he were anywhere but at Agincourt. Henry tells him that, "his cause being just and his quarrel honourable" (127), it is unlikely that the king would want to be anywhere else. Bates is not interested in challenging the point, but Williams immediately picks it up: "But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make" (133-4).

We thus return to the play's central politico-religious problem. In an apocalyptic image of dismembered bodies joining together at the day of judgment, Williams speculates on the horror of dying unattended on the battlefield in the knowledge that wives and children are left unprotected and debts unpaid. If the cause for which these men are about to die is not a good one, he says, "it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it" (133-45). Unknowingly Williams has touched on something that is dear to Henry's heart. Little wonder that he becomes angry, for who is Williams, a common soldier, to question the scourge of God? Henry's response is a long speech absolving the king of any responsibility for the souls of men who die with "irreconciled iniquities" (156); such men, he tells Williams, cannot expect to escape the wrath of God, for "war is his beadle, war is his vengeance" (174-5). Williams and the king are clearly talking at cross purposes: one is thinking about soldiers dying with unprotected dependents; the other is concerned to obey the will of a vindictive "God of battles". Henry's theology is harsh and, so far as Williams is concerned, irrelevant. But it is not pronounced in bad faith. If Henry fails to answer Williams' worries it is because he is apparently incapable of understanding the concerns of a common soldier. As he admitted when he threatened the citizens of Harfleur with "heady murder, spoil, and villainy" (3.3.32), "What is it then to me" if the innocent suffer? "What is't to me?" (15; 19). Henry's mind is on loftier things than the sufferings of common people. As we hear him pray to his God of battles at the end of the scene there is no question of his sincerity. Henry's fault is not "juggling" hypocrisy, but a missionary idealism that is incapable of doubting its own validity. If there is a moral in this play it must be "beware of men with visions".

The debate with Williams does not show Henry to good advantage. But the following morning he is in his true element. His rallying cry to his troops in the Crispin's day speech is not a piece of cynical bravado, but an expression of unaffected joy in doing the one thing that, for the chevalier, gives meaning and purpose to life:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother


For the medieval knight war provides the ultimate test of his virtue; it is something for which his whole training in the chivalric arts has been a preparation. This is why Henry tells Westmoreland that he would not wish for any additional men, since that would diminish the glory of the hour:

I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks. would share from me
For the best hope I have. O do not wish one more!


War does not just provide a test of a knight's prowess; to die well is his supreme reward. Johan Huizinga quotes a passage from Jean de Bueil's Le Jouvencel (c. 1466) that captures wonderfully the idealized sentiments that war is capable of inspiring:

It is a joyous thing, is war [ . . . ] You love your comrade so in war. When you see that your quarrel is just and your blood is fighting well, tears rise to your eye. A great sweet feeling of loyalty and of pity fills your heart on seeing your friend so valiantly exposing his body to execute and accomplish the command of our Creator. And then you prepare to go and die or live with him, and for love not to abandon him. And out of that there arises such a delectation, that he who has not tasted it is not fit to say what a delight it is. Do you think that a man who does that fears death? Not at all; for he feels so strengthened, he is so elated, that he does not know where he is. Truly he is afraid of nothing.77

Idealization of battle is the very core of medieval chivalry. It is the knight's moment of true glory. Exactly the same sentiments as those described by Jean de Bueil are expressed in Exeter's account of the deaths of Suffolk and York in Act 4, Scene 6. This speech is a moving piece of theatre. In dramatic contrast to the disorder and confusion among the demoralized French (scene 5), we are now given a picture of heroic self-sacrifice and sublime emotion as two noble warriors, brothers in chivalry, are united in death. Exeter reports how, tenderly kissing the torn and bleeding face of his companion in arms, York cries

Tarry my cousin Suffolk.
My soul shall thine keep company to heaven;
Tarry, sweet soul, for mine, then fly abreast;

As in this glorious and well-foughten field
We kept together in our chivalry'

(4.6. 15-19).

Holding Exeter's hand, the dying York asks him to commend him to the king. Then he kisses the lips of his dead companion once more;

And so espous'd to death, with blood he seal'd
A testament of noble-ending love


No conventional love scene in Shakespeare is so affecting. Indeed so powerful is Exeter's story that even Henry is almost moved to tears—almost, but not quite (4.6.33-4). If this battle scene had been written in the fifteenth century it might just have been possible to take it seriously. A century later it is the purest kitsch.

As if to signal the fact that Exeter's romantic chivalry is no more than theatrical sentimentality, this mood of maudlin heroism is abruptly broken by an alarum signalling that the French have regrouped. With brutal efficiency Henry immediately orders the prisoners to be killed. Since the prisoners are actually on stage at the time the order is given, Gary Taylor is probably right in suggesting that the killing would have taken place in front of the audience.78 Whether or not circumstances on the battlefield at Agincourt meant that it was tactically necessary to kill the prisoners is something that no theatre audience would have time to consider. Dramatically, though, its impact is stark. This time it is Gower who provides the commentary. Supposing, wrongly, that Henry had ordered the killing of the prisoners in retaliation for the slaughter of the luggage boys, he says, "O, 'tis a gallant King!" (4.7.10).

The dangers of idealism

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One effect of the meeting between Henry and his bishops at the beginning of the play is to make us warm to Henry's integrity. Confronted with such blatant cynicism, it is not difficult to admire the man of honour. As Robert Ashley writes in a treatise entitled Of Honour (c. 1600):

By honour are vertues kindled and incouraged, by honour are vices eschewed, by honour ignoraunce, error and folly, sloth and sluggishness, hatred and fear, shame and ignoraunce, and all evill affeccions are alayed.79

Henry is a man inspired by a heroic ideal. At Agincourt his integrity and his valour are set off to even greater advantage by the foolish boasting of the Dauphin (3.7). When the man of honour is as gifted an orator as Henry, the combination of missionary zeal and impassioned eloquence is almost irresistible. Against our better judgment we respond to his inspiring words, forgetting for the moment the cruel reality behind the noble rhetoric. Yet repeatedly the play brings us back to that reality. Even as the Act 2 Chorus describes how England's youth are fired with thoughts of war, and "honour's thought/Reigns solely in the breast of every man", he tells us that they follow Henry to battle like "English Mercuries" (2, chorus 3-4; 7).

Mercury is, of course, the messenger of the gods, noted both for his celerity and for his eloquence (not a quality normally associated with soldiers). But like so many of his Olympian clients he has a double nature. He is both peacemaker—the caduceus is a symbol of peace, order and government—and thief.80 Is Henry a peacemaker or a thief? It depends on one's point of view. Lydgate described the historical Henry as a "prince of pes" resolving an ancient dynastic dispute (Troy Book, V. 3416); Shakespeare's Henry also sees himself as a peacemaker. Ironically it is on the eve of a battle in which some ten thousand men are about to lose their lives that Henry reflects on his peacemaking role. As he ponders the cares of office he thinks ruefully how the peasant little knows "what watch the king keeps to maintain the peace" (4.1.279). But Erasmus saw Henry's campaigns as a classic example of the folly of attempting to extend territory. To him the chivalric ideals that endorsed them were simply a means of promoting war under a veneer of glory.

What Shakespeare thought about Henry we can only guess. However, it is interesting that, having given us a heroic image of chivalrous English warriors setting off to do battle for their country's honour, he immediately produces some English Mercuries of a rather different kind. The subplot of Henry V looks very much like a parody of the play's heroic main plot.81 Its characters are pilferers, fools and braggarts motivated by self-interest and an absurd sense of 'manly' pride. The ironic parallel between Henry's exploits and those of his soldiers is underlined by Fluellen's comparison of him to Alexander the Great: "If you mark Alexander's life well, Harry of Monmouth's life is come after it indifferent well" (4.7.33-4). There are several allusions to Alexander in the play (1.1.46; 3.1.19; 4.7.13ff.). But the anecdote from Alexander's life that is most damaging to Henry is the general's meeting with a pirate he has taken prisoner. In St Augustine's version of the story Alexander asks Dionides how he dare "molest the seas". Dionides replies: "How darest thou molest the whole world? But because I doe it with a little ship onely, I am called a theefe: thou doing it with a great Nauie, art called an Emperour".82 In the light of Erasmus' deprecation of war between neighbouring rulers when disagreements could easily be settled by arbitration,83 Bardolph's complaint at the pointless brawling of his companions sounds very much like an oblique comment on his betters. As Nym and Pistol quarrel over a meaningless point of honour, he asks: "why the devil should we keep knives to cut one another's throats?" (2.1.88-9).

If, as Fluellen says, "there is figures in all things" (4.7.35), we have to ask what the function of these sub-plot scenes is with their foolish squabbling, petty thieving and preposterous heroics. Is it to show Henry's "gret manhode"84 to advantage, revealing "true things by what their mock'ries be" (4, Chorus, 53)? or is it to suggest that for all Henry's noble rhetoric his foreign policy is merely thievery on an international scale? Paradoxically it is both. In his study of medieval chivalry Huizinga suggests that "the quest for glory and honour goes hand in hand with [ . . . ] hero worship".85 Only by evoking a sense of the extraordinary glamour of the chivalric ideal in such a way as to make us experience for ourselves the irresistible appeal of its rhetoric is it possible to show the true danger of charismatic heroism.86 Gary Taylor is right to describe Henry V as a study of human greatness. His contemporary biographers were unanimous in seeing him as the flower of English chivalry. But the question that the play forces audiences—both sixteenth-century and modern—to ask is whether the world can afford heroes of this mould.

Compared with Richard II, Henry is a model of kingly authority. But though his own sense of the indisputable Tightness of his cause is beyond question, historians have not been unanimous in endorsing that view. One scholar describes his legacy as "a false ideal of foreign conquest and aggression, a reckless contempt for the rights and feelings of other nations, and a restless incapacity for peace".87 Whatever we may think of the ethics of Henry's policies, their practical result was national impoverishment, both economic and artistic. (In contrast to the literary glories of Richard's reign Henry's is an artistic waste land.) In a study of military leadership John Keegan writes of the sterility of the heroic society. A society that is preoccupied with "the repetitive and ultimately narcissistic activity of combat" is incapable of developing to the full its creative and artistic potential. Keegan's conclusion is that humankind "needs an end to the ethic of [military] heroism in its leadership for good and all".88

There are, of course, other kinds of heroism. Having anatomized the warlike Herculean hero in a series of tragedies,89 Shakespeare turns, at the end of his career, to an entirely different kind of leader. Like the idealized James, for whom he is an epideictic model of both praise and warning, Prospero is a reluctant pacifist who learns that "the rarer action is / Is in virtue than in vengeance" (5.1.27-8). Above all Prospero is a type of the creative artist. By contrast, the heroes of the martial and political tragedies are destructive figures. They are charismatic leaders who are either responsible for the collapse of the state whose safety they are supposed to be guarding, or else place it in extreme jeopardy. Like them, Henry V is a profoundly paradoxical figure, a national hero who is indirectly responsible for a national disaster.


1 Quotations from Shakespeare are from The Complete Works, ed. Peter Alexander, London: Collins, 1951.

2 In the Envoy to his Troy Book John Lydgate praises Henry as the "sours & welle" of knighthood, see Lydgate's Troy Book, edited by Henry Bergen, 4 vols (London: Early English Text Society, 1906-35), V.1. Thomas Hoccleve describes him as the 'welle of honur' and 'flour of Chivalrie', Hoccleve's Works, 3 vols, edited by Frederick J. Furnival, (London: Early English Text Society, 1892-7), 1.41.

3 See Maurice Keen, Chivalry, New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1984; J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, (1924; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), chapter 4; Malcolm Vale, War and Chivalry: Warfare and Aristocratic Culture in England, France and Burgundy at the End of the Middle Ages, London: Duckworth, 1981.

4Lydgate's Troy Book, Prol. 83.

5 Ibid., 1.11.1-7; 36-7.

6Hall's Chronicle, (1548; repr. London, 1809), p. 113.

7 William Worcester, The Boke of Noblesse, with an introduction by John Gough Nichols, (London: J.B. Nichols, 1860), p. 20.

8 Ibid. p.20.

9 J.R. Lander, Conflict and Stability in Fifteenth-Century England, (London: Hutchinson, 1969), p.61.

10 See above, note 2.

11Hoccleve's Works, 3.192-3.

12Lydgate's Siege of Thebes III.4645ff., 2 vols, ed. by Axel Erdmann and Eilert Ekwall (London: Early English Text Society, 1911-1930) II, 191.

13 M.H. Keen, England in the Later Middle Ages: a Political History (London: Methuen, 1973), p. 377.

14 G.L. Harriss, ed., Henry V: the Practice of Kingship (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985), pp. 24; 209. See also Harold F. Hutchison, Henry V: a Biography (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967), pp. 222-4.

15 Desmond Seward, Henry V as Warlord (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987), p. 218.

16Hall's Chronicle, p. 113.

17 J.H. Walter, ed., Introduction to Arden edition of Henry V (London: Methuen; Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP, 1954), p. xvi.

18 Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding, (1967; repr. Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1984), p. 98. However, Rabkin later revised this view: see Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1981), pp. 33-62.

19 Gary Taylor, ed., Introduction to Henry V, (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1982), p. 72.

20 In Shakespeare and the Common Understanding, pp. 99-100, Rabkin compares the play to a comedy.

21 Christopher Allmand, Henry V (London: Methuen, 1992), p. 434.

22 See Arthur B. Ferguson, The Chivalric Tradition in Renaissance England, Washington, London and Toronto: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1986. See also Sydney Anglo, ed., introduction to Chivalry in the Renaissance (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1990), pp. xi-xvi; Ferguson, The Indian Summer of English Chivalry: Studies in the Decline and Transformation of Chivalric Idealism, Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1960; Richard C. McCoy, The Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: California UP, 1989); Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, London: Thames & Hudson, 1977; Frances Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 88-111.

23 Worcester, The Boke of Noblesse, p. 29.

24 Mervyn James, Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England, (1978; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986), p. 309.

25 Edmund Spenser, Prothalamion, 146, The Poetical Works, edited by J.C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford UP, 1912), p. 602.

26 Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, An Apologie of the Earl of Essex (London, 1598), Sig.D2v.

27 Ramón Lull, The Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, transl. William Caxton (c. 1483-5), (London: Early English Text Society, 1926), p. 122.

28 The following paragraph is largely based on Ferguson, The Chivalric Tradition in Renaissance England (see above, note 22).

29 Desiderius Erasmus, Enchiridion Militis Christiani: An English Version, ed. Anne M. O'Donnell, SND (Oxford: Early English Text Society, 1981), ch. 2, "The wepons of a chrysten man", pp. 41-55.

30 See Philip C. Dust, Three Renaissance Pacifists: Essays on the Theories of Erasmus, More, and Vives (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 13-61.

31The 'Adages' of Erasmus, edited with a translation by Margaret Mann Phillips, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1964), p. 348.

32 Thomas More, Utopia, with an introduction by John O'Hagan (London and Toronto: Dent, 1910), p. 91.

33 C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1954), p. 29.

34 Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke Named the Governour, ed. Foster Watson, (London: Dent, 1907), p. 49.

35 Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, transl. Sir Thomas Hoby, ed. W.H.D. Rouse (London: Dent, 1928), p. 41.

36The Governour, p. 69.

37 Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster in English Works, ed. W.A. Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1904), p. 231.

38 Worcester, The Boke of Noblesse, p. 9.

39 Gerard Legh, The Accedens of Armory (1562; repr. London, 1597), fol. 13.

40An Apologie, Sig. D3V

41 See Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Elizabeth I: War and Politics 1588-1603 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992), pp. 453ff.; see also R.B. Wernham, The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy, 1558-1603 (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: California UP, 1980), passim.; John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1988), pp. 439ff.

42An Apologie, Sig. D4.

43 See Dominic Baker-Smith, 'Inglorious glory': 1513 and the Humanist Attack on Chivalry" in Chivalry in the Renaissance, ed. Anglo (see above, note 22), p. 135.

44 Samuel Daniel, The Civil Wars, II. stanza 130, ed. Lawrence Michel (New Haven: Yale UP, 1958), p. 312.

45 Paul N. Siegel, "Shakespeare and the Neo-Chivalric Cult of Honor", The Centennial Review, 8 (1964), p. 43.

46 Hubert Languet, The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet, edited by S.A. Pears (London, 1845), p. 138.

47 Quoted by MacCaffrey, Elizabeth I: War and Politics, p. 516.

48 What Shakespeare intended by the allusion to Essex is an unresolved puzzle. Was it a provocative reminder of Essex's popularity? or a warning of his ambitions? or was it, as Annabel Patterson suggests (Shakespeare and the Popular Voice [Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1989], p. 87) a 'well meant' attempt at mediation between the queen and her general? Since the play was presumably written before Essex had disgraced himself in Ireland, the latter suggestion does not seem plausible. Given the unreliability of the Chorus as a commentator (see Andrew Gurr, ed., Introduction to King Henry V [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992], pp. 6-16) it would seem more likely that Shakespeare was making a discreetly ironic comment on militaristic values by comparing one well known model of chivalric honour with another.

49 Jonathan Dollimore, "Critical Development: Cultural Materialism, Feminism and Gender Critique, and New Historicism", in Shakespeare: a Bibliographical Guide, ed. Stanley Wells (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 414.

50 T.W. Craik, ed., Introduction to King Henry V (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 3.

51 P.M. Handover, The Second Cecil: The Rise to Power 1563-1604 of Sir Robert Cecil, later first Earl of Salisbury, (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1959), p. 187.

52 Handover, p. 222; Robert Lacey, Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1971), p. 290.

53 The standard work on Shakespeare and war is Paul Jorgensen, Shakespeare's Military World, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: California UP, 1956). For an important recent discussion of Shakespeare's treatment of militarism see Steven Marx, "Shakespeare's Pacifism", Renaissance Quarterly, 45 (1992), pp. 49-95.

54 Arthur F. Kinney describes "Invisible Bullets" as "perhaps the most important and surely the most influential essay of the past decade in English Renaissance cultural history" (Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature, ed. Kinney (Amherst, MA: Massachesetts UP, 1990), p. 1.

55 Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 41; 56.

56 On Greenblatt's rhetorical strategies, analogical method and flexible treatment of texts see Tom McAlindon, "Testing the New Historicism", Studies in Philology, 92 (1995), Fall issue.

57 Steven Marx, "Holy War in Henry V" unpublished paper read at the annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America, Albuquerque, 1994.

58 John F. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature: A Study of 'King Lear' (London: Faber & Faber, 1961), pp. 81-101.

59 Harriss, Henry V, (note 14 above), p. 24.

60 Lander, Conflict and Stability in Fifteenth-Century England. Lander describes Henry as "a bigot of nearheroic mould whose intense religiosity equalled only his intense legalism over feudal property rights" (p. 58).

61 C.T. Allmand, "Henry V the Soldier, and the War in France" in Henry V, ed. Harriss, p. 129. Cf. Lander, who writes of 'the obsessive character of his kingship' (Conflict and Stability, p. 208).

62 For discussion of Pauline allusions in Henry IV see J.A. Bryant, "Prince Hal and the Ephesians", Sewanee Review, 67 (1959), pp. 204-19; D.J. Palmer, "Casting off the Old Man: History and St Paul in Henry IV", Critical Quarterly, 12 (1970), pp. 267-83. See also Robin Headlam Wells, Elizabethan Mythologies: Studies in Poetry, Drama and Music (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), pp. 44-62.

63The Oldcastle Controversy: Sir John Oldcastle, Part I and the Famous Victories of Henry V, Revels Plays edn., ed. Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge (Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 1991), p. 175.

64Holinshed's Chronicles, 3.66.

65 See Headlam Wells, Elizabethan Mythologies, pp. 6-7 and passim.

66 Pierre de La Primaudaye, The French Academie (London: 1586), p. 743.

67The Mirrour of Maiestie: or, The Badges of Honovr (1618), facsimile copy ed. Henry Green and James Croston (London:, 1870), Sig. F2. The beehive analogy is a commonplace in classical, medieval and Renaissance political writing (see J.H. Walter's notes on 1.2. in his Arden edition of Henry V, p. 22). As Andrew Gurr has shown in the Education of a Christian Prince, which Shakespeare is known to have used when he was writing Henry V, Erasmus uses the beẹhive analogy to caution the prince against the temptation to enlarge his territories—see "Henry V and the Bees' Commonwealth", Shakespeare Survey, 30 (1977), pp. 61-72.

68 George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. by Gladys Dodge Willcock and Alice Walker, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1936), p. 6.

69 In the Boke of Noblesse William Worcester says that the labours of Hercules "were written in a figure of a poesy for to courage and comfort alle noble men of birthe to be victorious in entreprinses of armes" (p. 21).

70 Puttenham follows Horace (Ars poetica, 391-401) in representing Orpheus, together with Amphion, as the founder of civilisation, see The Arte of English Poesie, p. 6). But in The Arte of Rhetorique (ed. G.H. Mair (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909) Thomas Wilson ascribes this role to Hercules (Sig. Avii). In the famous pacifist essay "Dulce bellum inexpertis" Erasmus refers to Hercules as the founder of war. See The 'Adages' of Erasmus, (see above, note 31),. p. 317.

71 See Dust, Three Renaissance Pacifists.

72 Introduction to Henry V, (note 17 above), pp. xvii xviii.

73The Education of a Christian Prince, (note 67 above), p. 209.

74 See Theodor Meron, Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws: Perspectives on the Law of War in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 27ff.

75 Introduction to Henry V, (note 19 above), pp. 34-8.

76 Anne Barton, The King Disguised: Shakespeare's Henry V and the Comical History' in The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance, ed. Joseph G. Price (University Park and London: Pennsylvania State UP, 1975), pp. 92-117.

77The Waning of the Middle Ages, p. 73.

78 Introduction to Henry V, (note 19 above), p. 32.

79 Robert Ashley, Of Honour, ed. Virgil B. Heltzel (San Marino, Ca.: The Huntington Library, 1947), p. 30.

80 On Mercury as a symbolic representative of peace, government and control see Douglas Brooks-Davies, The Mercurian Monarch: Magical Politics from Spenser to Pope (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1983), p. 2; see also Edgar Wind Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (London: Faber, 1958), p. 91n2. On his thieving habits see the Homeric Hymn to Hermes; see also Ovid, Metamorphoses, II.685ff.; II.815ff.

81 Graham Bradshaw writes brilliantly on what he calls 'dramatic rhyming' in Henry V in Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1993), pp. 63-80.

82 St Augustine of Hippo, Of the Citie of God, trans. J. Healey (London, 1610). For this point I am indebted to Janet M. Spencer, 'The Execution of Justice and the Justice of Execution: Criminalizing Wars of Conquest in Henry V, unpublished paper read at the annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America, Albuquerque, 1994.

83The Education of a Christian Prince (above, note 67),. pp. 252-3.

84 See above note 7.

85The Waning of the Middle Ages, p. 68.

86 One of the most persuasive analyses of charismatic heroism and its dangerous power is Joseph Conrad's: see Robin Headlam Wells, "The question of these wars': Hamlet in the New Europe" in Shakespeare in the New Europe, ed. Michael Hattaway, Derek Roper and Boika Sokolova (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), p. 105. Emrys Jones discusses charismatic heroism in Scenic Form in Shakespeare, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. A theatre audience, says Jones, is a "charmed crowd": just as a crowd can turn lawabiding citizens into credulous barbarians, so intelligent, civilized people become susceptible in the theatre to feelings which in other circumstances they would probably disown (pp. 6; 132).

87 Charles Plummer, ed., Introduction to Sir John Fortescue, The Governance of England (London: Oxford UP, 1885), p. 8.

88 John Keegan, The Mask of Command (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987), pp. 312-3; 350.

89 See Eugene M. Waith, The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare and Dryden, London: Chatto & Windus, 1962.

Source: "Henry V and the Chivalric Revival," in Shakespeare and History, edited by Holger Klein and Rowland Wymer, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996, pp. 119-49.

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Henry V (Vol. 89)


Holy War in Henry V

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