The Hybrid Reformations of Shakespeare's Second Henriad

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12783

Maurice Hunt, Baylor University

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Granted the late-medieval, early fifteenth-century settings of Shakespeare's 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V, theater audiences are not surprised by the large number of references in these plays to Catholic practices and beliefs.1 What has proved problematic for commentators is the coexistence of Catholic elements with explicitly Protestant traits in Shakespeare's characterizations of Falstaff, Henry IV, and Prince Hal/Henry V. In what follows, I argue that different forms of this mixture either impede or undermine these characters' attempts during the Second Henriad to reform themselves ethically and spiritually, at least until a noteworthy blend of Catholic and Protestant traits enables King Henry V in the aftermath of Agincourt to achieve a relatively successful transformation of character. Many plays of Shakespeare are syncretic in matters of religion: Othello, for example, reflects a mixture of Protestant predestinarían and Catholic voluntaristic theologies.2 Having apparently committed himself in his portrait of Falstaff to satirizing the proto-Protestantism of his character's Lollard namesake Oldcastle, Shakespeare at the same time resolved to give the plays of the Second Henriad a late-medieval air, and hence perhaps found characterizations built upon a mixture of Catholic and Protestant components inevitable. What does not appear inevitable in the Second Henriad, however, is the sustained, thoughtful manner of the many critiques of Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Protestant Reformation entailed by the blend of anti-thetical religious traits within characters trying to reform themselves. Whether by accident or design, this dramatic phenomenon poses a question: how can individuals reform themselves in societies—like Shakespeare's—wherein Catholicism remained a strong threat to Protestantism by positing a contradictory route to reformation?3 An answer to this question emerges from Henry's third and most successful attempt at reformation. Getting to that end involves starting with Falstaff.

Falstaff's name in original performances of 1 Henry IV was Sir John Oldcastle, a conjuration of the Lollard martyr of the late fourteenth century. Shakespeare's apology concerning Falstaff in the Epilogue of 2 Henry IV—"for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man" (29-30)—clinches the earlier proto-Protestant allusion in Hal's calling Falstaff "my old lad of the castle" in 1 Henry IV (1.2.41).4 Elizabethan godly Protestants thought of the Lollard Oldcastle, executed for his purported attempts to purify English Catholicism and make the Word of God more meaningful to the masses, as a saint.5 Falstaff at one point tells Hal that the Prince is "indeed able to corrupt a saint" (1.2.90), ironically subverting the memory of the saint Oldcastle by reference to his namesake's tavern vices. Shakespeare's apology apparently grew out of objections that Oldcastle's Elizabethan heirs Sir William Brooke and his son Sir Henry Brooke raised over Falstaff's travesty of the Lollard's memory, including Falstaff's proto-Protestantism.6 A detail strengthening Falstaff/ Oldcastle's mock Protestantism involves his implication that men and women are to be saved by faith rather than merit (based on works): "O, if men were to be saved by merit," Falstaff comically says in an age when men were thought to be saved by merit, "what hole in hell were hot enough for [Gadshill]" (1.2.105-06). By Shakespeare's time, the dictum that Protestants primarily relied upon faith rather than merit acquired through spiritual good deeds had become a cliché;7 Falstaff, skeptical about being saved by merit, seems to rely upon his self-serving belief—a Lutheran tenet attributed by Elizabethan Protestants to the Lollards—that undemonstrated faith alone can save him near the end of a hedonistic life void of good deeds.

This reading suggests that Falstaff's Protestantism occasionally mocks central tenets or practices of Reformation Protestants. Falstaff's Reformation Protestantism is implied by his pronouncement that " 'Tis for a man to labor in his vocation" (1.2.102-03). However, the "vocation" in which Falstaff "labors" is thievery. Falstaff misapplies Matthew 12:33 when he says of himself, during his playlet with Hal, "If then the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, then peremptorily I speak it, there is virtue in that Falstaff (2.4.423-25). If Falstaff were known by his fruits, he would be known by his deeds of theft. Gadshill tells the Chamberlain that the thieves, including Falstaff, "pray continually to their saint, the commonwealth, or rather not pray to her but prey on her, for they ride up and down on her and make her their boots [booty]" (2.1.80-83). Latent in this punning judgment lies a criticism of Reformation Protestants' rape of a sainted Catholic commonwealth, their plunder of its material wealth. The critique of Protestantism deepens when mention is made of these thieves' plan to waylay "pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings" (1.2.123-24).

Finally, Falstaff could be any one of a number of Protestants walking the streets of Shakespeare's London when he says, "I would I were a weaver; I could sing psalms or anything" (2.4.130-31). (Concerning this utterance, David Bevington notes that "many psalm-singing Protestant immigrants from the Low Countries were weavers,"8 and Clifford Davidson notes that the practice had caught on among craftsmen such as weavers in England.9) Falstaff's "Elizabethan" Protestantism unequivocally surfaces in his hypocritical condemnation of "whoreson smoothy-pates [who] do now wear nothing but high shoes and bunches of keys at their girdles" (2 Henry IV 1.2.37-39)—in other words, of short-haired Puritan tradesmen of the later sixteenth century who have bartered their faith for commercial success (something that Falstaff would doubtless be willing to do). Shakespeare's playing fast and loose with Falstaff's stage Protestantism, his making it of several ages and thus no age, makes it vaguely generic.10 A combination of Oldcastle and the Elizabethan Puritan, Falstaff is both old-fashioned and progressive. On the one hand, the Falstaff constructed by Reformation allusions is too late to be a character actually involved in the events of Henry IV's late-medieval England. On the other, the Lollard Falstaff/ Oldcastle comes too early to profit spiritually (even if he sincerely wanted to) from the godly Reformation of religion occurring in later Tudor times.

The paradox is evident in the play's dialogue. The first dialogue involving Falstaff that auditors hear in 1 Henry IV stresses his out-of-dateness, his not knowing the time of day, his being out of sync with the natural sequence of day-night activities (1.2.1-12). He quotes the old-fashioned fustian tragedy, popular in the 1570s and 1580s but dated by the time of Henry IV's production. And he styles himself as one of "Diana's foresters," a minion "of the moon" (1.2.25-26): epithets that link him with Queen Elizabeth, and thus tie him to an era which, in 1596-97, when 1 Henry IV was first performed, was clearly drawing to a close. Told by Hal to hide behind the arras from the sheriff, Falstaff laments that he once had "a true face and good conscience . . . but their date is out" (2.4.496-98). All these lines emphasize Falstaff's belatedness, which will hinder his attempts to reform.11

Evidence exists that Falstaff's weak faith, usually deferred, at moments kindles a genuine desire to repent and reform himself. "Do I not bate? Do I not dwindle?" he asks Bardolph: "Why, my skin hangs about me like an old lady's loose gown. . . . Well, I'll repent, and that suddenly, while I am in some liking. I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent. An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer's horse" (3.3.2-9). These lines suggest that Falstaff's proto-Protestant faith is not nearly strong enough to overcome ignorance and vices that Elizabethan Protestants typically thought of as Catholic. Like any proto-Protestant before the advent of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which made the Bible available in national languages, Falstaff has imperfectly learned much of his religion from biblical tableaux woven into wall hangings hung in taverns and other buildings. Moreover, on the battlefield at Shrewsbury he misuses the Catechism to rationalize cowardice, a dramatic fact made easier by the inability of late-medieval men to read it in English in an accessible book of devotions. Falstaff is a thief because he is idle, afflicted by a slothful, hedonistic temperament. If he in some minds represents Catholic England of Elizabethan Protestant imagination. Its dissolution is evident when Falstaff tells Prince Hal that "An old lord of the council rated me the other day in the street about you, sir, but I marked him not; and yet he talked very wisely, but I regarded him not; and yet he talked wisely, and in the street too" (1.2.82-86). Commentators on I Henry IV have long recognized Shakespeare's ironic allusion here to Proverbs 1:20-24, to Wisdom which cries out in the streets but to deaf ears. If Falstaff is deaf to biblical wisdom, or if he misapplies it, the fault lies not wholly in his character but partly in his historical date. As a liar, thief, drunkard, and wencher, Falstaff stands in need of the personal spiritual reformation that Shakespeare's countrymen dated from the Protestant Reformation beginning in the first half of the sixteenth century. And yet, as noted above, Shakespeare problematically identifies Reformation Protestantism with thievery, with plundering the riches of a "sainted" commonwealth.12 So portrayed, this flawed Protestantism does not promise his successful reformation of stereotypical Catholic vices, simply because it seems to participate in them.

It is difficult to overestimate Falstaff's need for spiritual reformation. The bankruptcy of Falstaff's saving faith symbolically reveals itself in I Henry IV in the gross disproportion of his notorious debt—only "one halfpennyworth of bread" to two gallons of sack in the itemized tavern bill (2.4.529-36), only a symbolized bit of the transubstantiated body of Christ in relation to an excess of his blood. This grotesquerie underscores the enormity of Falstaff's addiction to pleasure at the expense of life-sustaining nourishment (that scrap of bread), an obsession that apparently keeps him from the true nourishment of the redemptive bread and wine served in church. By several devices, Shakespeare underscores Falstaff's great need of reformation for salvation. Falstaff perjures himself by claiming his lies about the Gadshill robbery are true, "or I am a Jew else, an Hebrew Jew" (2.4.177). Falstaff says that Bardolph's red nose constitutes his unconventional memento mori: "I never see thy face but I think upon hellfire and Dives that lived in purple; for there he is in his robes, burning, burning" (3.3.31-33). Yet in fact the postulated light in Bardolph's face serves Falstaff's vices, as a beacon at night between taverns (3.3.40-48). "God reward me for it!" (3.3.48), Falstaff blasphemously exclaims regarding the sack that he has bought Bardolph, and that he fancies fuels the nasal torch lighting his drunken way. "But thou art altogether given over," Falstaff pronounces of his crony, "and wert indeed, but for the light in thy face, the son of utter darkness" (3.3.35-38). A godly Protestant auditor, however, might object that the flame in Bardolph's face signifies that Bardolph is a "son of utter darkness."

Throughout the Second Henriad, Shakespeare offers no evidence for Falstaff's conclusive repentance and reformation. In 2 Henry IV, Poins states that "the immortal part [of Falstaff] needs a physician, but that moves not him" (2.2.98-99). The Page touches on Falstaff's "Catholic" dissoluteness when with tongue-in-cheek he tells Hal that the company which Falstaff keeps in the tavern consists of members "of the old church" (2.2.142)—that is to say, "good fellows of the usual, disreputable fellowship."13 Playgoers might think that the process of Falstaff's authentic reformation begins with his inclusion of himself in his condemnation of old men's addiction to the vice of lying, made as a preface to his clear-sighted correction of Shallow's history of his youth (2 Henry IV 3.2.302-26, esp. 302-03); but this apparently honest basis for personal reformation dissolves with his declaration that he will bilk Shallow out of his "land and beefs" (3.2.326-31). "If the young dace be a bait for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him" (3.2.328-30), Falstaff concludes in proto-Darwinian fashion.14

The Hostess's memorable account of Falstaff's death confirms audiences' impression that this character never does get around to reforming himself until it is too late. On his deathbed, Falstaff may babble of green fields (Henry V 2.3.16-17), evidently his musings on Psalm 23; but the fact that he "babbles" suggests that his meditation is incoherent, directionless. He may cry out " 'God, God, God!' three or four times" (2.3.18-19), but the Hostess urges him not to think on God (as though he will live). Falstaff may cry out against sack and women in his last hours (2.3.26-35), and, feverish ("rheumatic"), he may talk of the "Whore of Babylon" (2.3.37-38) (as though he seeks to die a proto-Protestant condemning a personification of the Church of Rome);15 but all playgoers hear is evidence of his guilt, and nothing of his reformation. An upwardly progressive chill takes hold of Falstaff's body, and he dies before he can genuinely repent.16 Thus the Hostess's blackly comic malapropism in her uttered conviction that dead Falstaff lies in "Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom" (2.3.9-10) aptly suggests the lack of Christian salvation in Falstaff's end.17 Rather than to Abraham's salvific bosom, Falstaff in the Hostess's confused mind goes to that of a patron of secular chivalry.18

Shakespeare's characterizations of Prince Hal and later Henry V include and develop a critique of Protestant and Catholic traits working at cross purposes in the matter of personal reformation. As he formulates it, Hal's intended reformation appears mainly politico-ethical in nature. But Elizabethan playgoers would also have considered it spiritual, for Hal's misbehavior has consisted of those vices of the flesh that Reformers especially thought required amendment for the sinner's Christian salvation. This statement holds true even if a calculated Machiavellian program for personal political advancement wholly motivates Hal's performance of the sins of the tavern and brothel (a vexed question in the play), for the wages of sin are death, regardless of a person's reasons for sinning.19

Hal presents his calculated scheme for political advancement in 1 Henry IV in his notorious soliloquy in act 1. In this speech, playgoers hear a stereotypical Protestant distrust of sloth, valuing of work, and curtailment of holiday.20

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.

. . .

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come.

(1.2.189-90, 198-201)

Hal's employment in his soliloquy of the pointedly Protestant word "reformation" (1.2.207) for his planned conversion strengthens the identification in his case of Protestantism and the distrust of sloth, valuing of work, and curtailment of holiday.21 Hal intends his projected reformation of idleness and vice into a strict moral life to play its part in "Redeeming time" (1.2.211)—not simply the wasted time of the prince's life thus far but that of the exhausted, dissipated age of Henry IV's England as well.22 Redeeming lost or wasted time by hours and days strictly regulated by religious meditation but mainly by serious productive work for the benefit of one's material life and soul as well as for the commonwealth became a hallmark of Tudor Protestantism.23

But even as stereotypical vices of Catholicism mingled with Falstaff's proto-Protestantism and could be said to undermine it, so a similar medley taints Hal's expression of his intention to reform and calls the authenticity of his resolution into question. "And like bright metal on a sullen ground," Hal states,

My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.


With this language Hal conceives of his future reformation as mostly show with little substance, as something that, "glittering," superficially hides faults but dazzles beholders' eyes. Superficially, the metaphor makes Hal's purposed reformation a jewel glittering the better for the foil/fault set under it, enhancing it by contrast. But granted this primary meaning, playgoers can also hear the phrase "glittering o'er my fault," applied to Hal's intended reformation, as signifying that it will amount to golden, dazzling show deceptively covering his fault beneath it. Interpreted this way and considered within the matrix of the Second Henriad's Protestant critique of Catholicism, Hal's reformation conjures the image of those golden glittering icons of Catholicism, which by Elizabethan times had been smashed by reforming Protestants and condemned by their Elizabethan sons and daughters because their visual splendor once deceived gullible Christians.24 Thus Shakespeare implicitly criticizes the idol worship latent in Hal's conception of his reformation. The taint of stereotypical Catholicism emanates as much from the articulated details of Hal's planned reformation as it does from the characterization of the degenerate idle holiday life that he expects to amend.

Shakespeare further undermines the Protestantism of Hal's intended reformation by involving him in Falstaff's and his cronies' thievery. Their robbery concerns—to repeat and slightly revise Gadshill's words—"pray[ing] continually to their saint, the commonwealth, or rather not pray[ing] to her but prey[ing] on her, for they ride up and down on her and make her their boots [booty]" (2.1.80-83). Hal joins the flawed Protestant Falstaff to pillage a "sainted" commonwealth, which was the later activity of Henry VIII, Cromwell, and their confederates, who sacked the Catholic monasteries.25 The phrasing indicts Hal's projected reformation and its Protestant overtones.

As previously stated, Reformation Protestantism had by Elizabethan times made itself a religion of salvation by faith versus salvation by stereotypical Catholic deeds. Henry IV's planned medieval crusade against infidels in the Holy Land not only would divert armed aggression from himself to enemies outside England; leading troops there would also amount to a Catholic deed of penance for his part in Richard II's death. A different and more Protestant and modern kind of penitential deed constitutes Prince Hal's vehicle for his scripted reformation (at least in his account to his father of the projected process). Hal wishes that Hotspur's honors "were multitudes" (3.2.143), so that during calculated single combat with him he might

make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities.
Percy is but my factor, good my lord,
To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf;
And I will call him to so strict account
That he shall render every glory up,
Yea, even the slightest worship of his time,
Or I will tear the reckoning from his heart.
This in the name of God I promise here.



By means of these savage deeds, Prince Hal "will wear a garment all of blood / And stain [his] favors in a bloody mask, / Which, washed away, shall scour [his] shame with it" (3.2.135-37). Hal's words certainly ring with vindictive anger, traceable no doubt to his intense frustration over hearing his father and others praise Hotspur at his expense. But his notion that washing slain Hotspur's blood from his face shall scour shame from his countenance suggests that this deed of combat represents an act of personal penance.

But this method of redemption gets called into question by the negative overtones that it acquires in act 4 of 1 Henry IV. Hal's chosen war-like vehicle of reformation possesses overtones of Catholic iconolatry. Vernon tells Hotspur that armed Hal and his comrades appear

All plumed like estridges, that with the wind
Bated like eagles having lately bathed,
Glittering in golden coats, like images. . . .


Resembling "gilded statues" (Bevington's gloss of "images"),27 Prince Hal and his followers appear like those Catholic icons hated by Reformers, gilt images of all show and no worth that encourage idolatry.28 Hal's pronouncement near the end of 1 Henry IV firmly clinches the association in the Second Henriad between a glittering exterior and falsehood. "For my part," he tells Falstaff, who claims single-handedly to have killed Hotspur, "if a lie may do thee grace, / I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have" (5.4.155-56). The Chorus of Henry V makes explicit a pun latent in Shakespeare's use of the word "gilt" throughout 1 and 2 Henry IV. Richard Earl of Cambridge, Henry Lord Scroop, and Sir Thomas Grey of Northumberland—all three traitors to Henry V—have, according to the Chorus, "for the gilt of France—O, guilt indeed!—/ Confirmed conspiracy with fearful France" (2.Chorus.26-27). Playgoers can read this identification of guilty falsehood and glittering gold back into most of the distinctive appearances of the Catholic-icon imagery of the Henry IV plays.29 Idol-worship, regarded from a Reformation Protestant viewpoint, convicted worshipers of guilt by misleading them into a false faith.30

In part 1, Hal's projected reformation of character becomes convincing for King Henry IV not through any evidence of his son's saving faith but through Hal's chivalric deed of rescuing the king from Douglas's assault (5.4.39-58), which becomes Hal's unlooked-for act of filial atonement. Furthermore, once Hal has killed Hotspur and captured Douglas, he sets his prisoner free, ransomless, rather than executing him because

His valors shown upon our crests today,
Have taught us how to cherish such high deeds
Even in the bosom of our adversaries.


Bloody deeds rather than evidence of inner faith or morality save an ethically questionable man's life in a case of double-standard justice (other traitors such as Worcester and Vernon are quickly put to death). Hal perhaps favors Douglas out of gratitude for the effect that his capture has had on the Prince's relationship with his father.

Granted the several ways by which Shakespeare invites auditors to question the nature of Hal's reformation in 1 Henry IV, theater audiences are not surprised by his lapsing in 2 Henry IV into his former, dissolute life of the street and tavern.31 Disguising himself as a tavern waiter, sneaking back to the Boar's Head (thus violating a promise made to his father) simply to observe Falstaff ridiculously in love, Hal is interrupted, once he discloses himself to argue with Falstaff, by Peto, who tells him that Henry IV needs the reputed slayer of Hotspur, Falstaff, to quell the remaining rebels. "By heavens, Poins, I feel me much to blame," Hal confesses,

So idly to profane the precious time
When tempest of commotion, like the south
Borne with black vapor, doth begin to melt
And drop upon our bare unarmèd heads.
Give me my sword and cloak. Falstaff, good night.


Prince Hal has fallen into his former prodigal way of living partly because Falstaff cleverly wrested from him the credit for killing Hotspur, the deed upon which Hal's scripted reformation depended for its longterm credibility.

If early fifteenth-century England, rent by rebellion and relatively hard economic times, is ever to become a nation reformed, then the reformation of its monarch would seem to be a necessary precondition or corollary of the event.32 This precondition initially concerns the character of Henry IV rather than that of his son. That Henry IV wants to be known as a reformer king becomes apparent in part 1 when Hotspur admits that this monarch "takes on him to reform / Some certain edicts and some strait decrees / That lie too heavy on the commonwealth" (4.3.80-82). The specter of a morally unreformed Henry VIII haunted Tudor Reformers in their efforts to purify their national religion.33 Henry VIII's lapses were particularly egregious, since in himself he had married the pope and monarch into a prototype of the Reformer king. King Henry IV foreshadows this prototype when he says of his calculated absences from the public eye, "Thus did I keep my person fresh and new, / My presence, like a robe pontifical, / Ne'er seen but wondered at" (3.2.55-57). When Prince Hal begs pardon of his father for his prodigal youth, Henry IV's weighty response, "God pardon thee!" (3.2.29), is simultaneously a totalitarian monarch's pronouncement and a priestly absolution from God the Father.

Nevertheless, in Henry IV's case the blend of spiritual and secular power in the monarch proves unstable. This king vacillates between playing the parts of God's ordained agent and God's victim, the latter a wretched man who suspects that God has bred his* scourge out of his own blood in the form of a prodigal son who indirectly punishes him for crimes against Richard II (3.2.4-11). The man who would be a priestly monarch yearns to atone for his sins by means of a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem, and yet he dies in the Jerusalem room of Westminster Abbey, as though a punster deity were mocking him.34 Certain episodes of 1 and 2 Henry IV predictively rehearse the Reformation scenario of the absolutist monarch and pontiff confronting each other. Act 4, scene 4, of 1 Henry IV shows Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York, busily planning to muster allies to defend himself from Henry IV should the other rebels fail at Shrewsbury. Like Popes Clement VII and Paul III as they faced Henry VIII, Shakespeare's Archbishop of York becomes an adversary of the English nation so that he might purge the realm of the moral diseases incurred by the ambitions of an absolutist monarch who would appropriate pontifical roles for himself (2 Henry IV 4Λ. 41-87).

Thus Shakespeare gives playgoers the impression that, if Prince Hal is to become in some sense a Reformation monarch, he ought not to follow his father's example. Hal's personal reformation seems to occur authentically when he becomes king and accepts the Lord Chief Justice as his father. "The tide of blood in me / Hath proudly flowed in vanity till now," newly crowned King Henry V announces:

Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.

(2 Henry IV 5.2.129-33)

When Henry V coolly rejects the bloated image of his own former vices, Falstaff, he does so in language that suggests a just-completed personal reformation. "Presume not that I am the thing I was," he tells Falstaff, "For God doth know, so shall the world perceive, / That I have turned away my former self (2 Henry IV 5.5.56-58). In this reforming vein, Henry V has banished his tavern companions from his presence "till their conversations [their behavior] / Appear more wise and modest to the world" (2 Henry IV 5.5.101-02). This personal reformation of Henry V appears to be the basis for claims that he is "a Christian king, / Unto whose grace, our passion is as subject / As is our wretches fettered in our prisons" (Henry V 1.2.241-43). He is a ruler who, in the Chorus's estimation, invites his subjects to imitate the actions of "the mirror of all Christian kings" (Henry V 2.Chorus. 6).35

A stereotyped Catholic foil accentuates the Protestant nature of Henry V's second reformation of character in an apparently conclusive way. Ely marvels that Henry V could have quickly developed integrity while living dissolutely, but he finds precedence for the possibility in Nature:

The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbored by fruit of baser quality;
And so the Prince obscured his contemplation
Under the veil of wildness, which, no doubt,
Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,
Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.

(Henry V 1.1.61-67)

"It must be so," Canterbury agrees, "for miracles are ceased. And therefore we must needs admit the means / How things are perfected" (1.1.68-70).36 It was a Reformation Protestant—not a late-medieval Catholic Archbishop—who believed that "no miracles occurred after the revelation of Christ."37 By the late sixteenth-century, belief in the continued occurrences of religious miracles had, in Protestant opinion, become a stigmal badge of Catholicism. With the Protestant subscription to the ceasing of miracles came a corresponding opportunity for self-fashioning, for the godly life of relative self-perfection. That this is Henry V's new life is the burden of the Archbishop's slightly earlier speech:

Consideration like an angel came
And whipped th' offending Adam out of him,
Leaving his body as a paradise
T'envelop and contain celestial spirits.


Archbishop Canterbury's memorable metaphor of the functioning beehive (1.2.183-206) is no metaphor if such self-fashioning is possible, but a likely reality, for this self-perfection, even if relative, among a large portion of the citizenry and their magistrates, including their "emperor," would realize obedience in a harmoniously working commonwealth.38 According to the Archbishop, honeybees

have a king, and officers of sorts,
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home;
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad;
Others, like soldiers, armèd in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds,
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent royal of their emperor,
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold,
The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
The poor mechanic porters crowding in
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,
The sad-eyed justice with his surly hum
Delivering o'er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone.


A Reformation Protestant commonwealth could identify with this society, mainly because it celebrates the individually and socially redemptive benefits of proper work. The soldiers' war-work finds its justification in the "singing masons' " and "civil citizens' " transformations of their plunder into the commonwealth's foodstuffs and architecture. And while auditors might feel sorry for the plight of the heavy-burdened porters, reconsideration suggests that even this painful work, necessary to society, saves the laborers, for those who do not work die. By framing his picture of a commonwealth with "magistrates, correct[ing] at home" and a sober judge ordering a drone's execution, Canterbury underscores the justice of this world of work, wherein the emperor especially is "busy" in his majesty. Elizabethan Protestants would thus have found understandable the efficiency of the Archbishop's ruler, Henry V, by means of the Archbishop's flattering implication.

Despite these positive portrayals of Henry V's second, more authoritative reformation, troubling undercurrents swirl through it. For one thing, it—as previously mentioned—is crafted partly on the rejection of his former Falstaffian self: the Prodigal within him (2 Henry IV 5.5.56-59). The father in the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) accepts the formerly profligate but now reformed younger son and blesses him. Since the prodigal Falstaff and Prince Hal's low-life companions have not reformed themselves, King Henry cannot be blamed for rejecting them until they give evidence of character reformation (5.5.66-71). But he can be blamed for the hypocrisy of terming Falstaff and his cronies the "misleaders" of his youth (5.5.64), for audiences of the Second Henriad know that, from the beginning, Hal cleverly allowed himself to be "misled" by Falstaff so that his purposed reformation would look better. Traces of an old, ethically troubling duplicity in Henry V's rejection of Falstaff beg the question of the complete honesty (or authenticity) of his second reformation.39 If as a "model" Christian king Henry V controls his passions, the effect produced occasionally suggests an unpleasantly cold man.

Moreover, Shakespeare evokes aspects of the Tudor Reformation at the beginning of Henry V in order ironically to show King Henry subverting one of the Reformation's principal benefits. Appreciating this claim involves initially grasping certain correspondences between the life and times of Henry VIII and those of Shakespeare's Henry V. Shakespeare's countrymen could consider these parallels stronger than those between Henry IV and the great Tudor monarch. Both Henry V and Henry VIII were fond of disguising themselves to trick others. In 1540, Henry VIII disguised himself, traveled to Rochester, met the newly arrived Anne of Cleves, embraced and kissed her, talked with her, and then later, undisguised, returned to her.40 Both kings warred against the French. "In 1513, as part of the propaganda campaign to justify his invasion of France, Henry VIII commissioned an English translation of Tito Livio's Vita Henrici Quinti.. . . Henry VIII took his model sufficiently to heart to ride about his rain-drenched camp in France, encouraging his soldiers on the night before they set out to engage the French."41 Both personally participated in the siege of a French city (Henry V at Harfleur, Henry VIII at Boulogne). Like Henry V, Henry VIII mercifully killed no one after the besieged city had surrendered (4,000 Boulognese departed unharmed). Like Henry V at Agincourt, Henry VIII at Boulogne achieved a miraculous victory. In the first French attempt to retake Boulogne, which pitted 14,000 Frenchmen against 5,000 Englishmen, many French troops died with little English loss of life. Like Shakespeare's Henry V, Henry VIII thanked God for this apparent martial miracle and ordered a Te Deum to be sung.42 Both kings were reformers of religion who executed men for corrupting it (Shakespeare's Henry V executes Bardolph for stealing a pax). Both kings had to contend with northern rebels, including the Percies (Henry VIII was confronted by the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536-37). Finally, both Henry VIII and Henry V shared the same name: "To his people [Henry VIII] remained to the end 'Bluff King Hal'."43

Dramatic similarities in Shakespeare's portraits of Henry V and Henry VIII suggest that the playwright intellectually linked these monarchs and their reigns. Even as Shakespeare shows Henry V disguising himself in false identities to his advantage, so in the playwright's later King Henry VIII he shows this monarch entering "habited" as a shepherd in a masque to dance with an unsuspecting Anne Bullen and with impunity savor her physical beauty (1.4.65-109 and s.d.). Like Shakespeare's King Henry VIII, Henry V enjoys the privilege of uncannily knowing his enemies' plots against him. Concerning the imminent treason of Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey, Bedford says that "The King hath note of all that they intend, / By interception which they dream not of (Henry V 2.2.6-7). This mysterious political foresight anticipates and resembles Shakespeare's Henry VIII's, when the later ruler with the assistance of Dr. Butts, from a superior hidden vantage point, sees Gardiner and members of the Privy Council mistreating the king's agent, Cranmer. Even as Henry VIII later providentially detects his favorite Wolsey's treachery, so Henry V's prescience discovers the homicidal plot of Scroop, "the man that was his bedfellow, / Whom he hath dulled and cloyed with gracious favors" (2.2.8-9). The association of the two Henrys in Shakespeare's mind accounts for the resemblance between Henry V's formulation of Scroop's Judas-like betrayal and Henry VIII's angry conception of Wolsey's sin. "What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop," Henry V begins,

thou cruel,
Ingrateful, savage, and inhuman creature?
Thou that didst bear the key of all my counsels,
That knew'st the very bottom of my soul,
That almost mightst have coined me into gold,
Wouldst thou have practiced on me for thy use.


Nowhere else in the Shakespeare canon but in King Henry VIII 3.2 does the betrayal of the most trusted, rewarded inner counselor of a king acquire these archetypal Luciferian connotations. Having read Wolsey's missent inventory of his wealth secretly acquired, often at the king's expense, and the Cardinal's letters to the Pope, wherein he promotes his own ambition, a disillusioned Henry rejects the man he had "kept . . . next [to his] heart" and leaves Wolsey to—in his own words—fall "like Lucifer" (3.2. 158, 372).

The relevance of events in the reign of Henry VIII for those in Henry V's memorably materializes after the Archbishop of Canterbury actually uses the historically charged word "reformation" to convey Henry V's revolution of character:

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


In the dialogue that follows this reconstruction, Shakespeare begs the question of the relationship between Henry V's acknowledged reformation and the fifteenth-century analogue of a defining event of the English Protestant Reformation: Henry VIII's appropriation of the Catholic Church's immense, mainly dormant wealth. In the play, Canterbury refers to the fact that Parliament currently considers passing a bill originally introduced during Henry VI's reign. Under it, Henry V would become the beneficiary of the largest part of more than one-half of the Church's English possessions. In Canterbury's words,

all the temporal lands which men devout
By testament have given to the Church
Would they strip from us, being valued thus:
As much as would maintain, to the King's honor,
Full fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights,
Six thousand and two hundred good esquires,
And, to relief of lazars and weak age
Of indigent faint souls past corporal toil,
A hundred almshouses right well supplied;
And to the coffers of the King besides
A thousand pounds by th' year. Thus runs the bill.


Henry V, like Henry VIII after him, would profit personally from the conversion of Catholic wealth into thousands of new aristocratic entitlements that he could bequeath to secure loyalty as well as into an additional one-thousand pounds annually for the royal coffers. More important, the proposed dispossession of the Church will be justly beneficial, for a hundred new almshouses will be built from the proceeds of the rechanneled wealth (as though the Church has hoarded riches uncharitably). By promoting passage of the bill, Henry V can genuinely be styled a Christian king.

But the Bishop of Ely expects that King Henry will block the legislation, simply because he is "a true lover of the holy Church" (1.1.24). Concerning "this bill / Urged by the Commons" (1.1.71-72), Canterbury asserts that the new king "seems indifferent, / Or rather swaying more upon our part / Than cherishing th' exhibiters against us" (1.1.73-75). Essentially Canterbury bribes Henry V by privately offering him a sum of money greater than the Church ever at one time gave an English monarch (but certainly less than the wealth diverted to the king by the provisions of the pending bill) if he will wage war in France to reestablish the English claim to that throne (which Canterbury attempts to justify through a murky explanation of the Salic law).44 (Actually, embedded in the Archbishop's earlier allegory of the beehive is the subtle argument that the emperor wages "foreign" war to plunder the enemy ["velvet buds"] for domestic foodstuffs and building materials. Were Henry V to hear this veiled rationale and respond to it by pillaging the French, the Church would need to give even less money to the monarch for domestic use.) Whatever the case, both Henry and Canterbury tacitly understand that the king's acceptance of the Archbishop's private offer effectively kills the Parliament bill. Thus Henry V neglects a great spiritual good—the hundred new almshouses that his championing the parliamentary reform might accomplish. In this respect, his behavior does not testify to the profound spiritual dimension of his personal reformation as reported by Canterbury and others. Like Henry VIII after him, Henry V opens himself to the criticism that Catholic wealth redirected to his own and other noble strongboxes mainly serves the ends of militant personal glory and material gain, acquired under the jingoistic aegis of public good.45

Nevertheless, in the latter acts of Henry V, identifiably Reformation Protestant traits surface in the king that more than compensate for (or supersede) earlier troubling behavior. King Henry abandons his questionable practice of Machiavellian policy to tell the Dauphin's herald Montjoy humbly that he has resigned himself and his cause to God, and he does so in words that eschew bragging for a repentant plain idiom:

For, to say the sooth,
Though 'tis no wisdom to confess so much
Unto an enemy of craft and vantage,
My people are with sickness much enfeebled,
My numbers lessened, and those few I have
Almost no better than so many French,
Who when they were in health, I tell thee, herald,
I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen. Yet, forgive me, God,
That I do brag thus! This your air of France
Hath blown that vice in me. I must repent.
Go, therefore, tell thy master here I am;
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,
My army but a weak and sickly guard.
Yet, God before, tell him we will come on,
Though France himself and such another neighbor
Stand in our way.


A spirit of Protestant Calvinism informs King Henry's repentance of vain speech and his conception of his earthly being as a "frail and worthless trunk." Regarded in this context, the following utterance from his later St. Crispin's Day speech rings authentically:

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.


The adversity of suffering hardships in France has begun to refine Henry's character into figurative gold.

Moreover, Henry V's conviction that "Every subject's duty is the King's; but every subject's soul is his own" (4.1.176-77) squares with the historically later Protestant greater emphasis upon the Christian's individual responsibility for confirming his or her salvation by daily charities and godly behavior unmediated by either a priest or religious ritual. (Catholic doctrine admitted some penitential deeds unmediated by a priest or ritual, such as penitential combat, but their number was far fewer than the total possible under Protestantism.) In a Protestant spirit, Henry implies that no outside authority such as a monarch or an institutionalized Church can vouch for the purity or sin of a person's soul. Henry V's non-Catholic notion of individual responsibility for the health of one's soul derives from his recently matured sense of personal accountability for his soldiers' lives and the welfare of English citizens. Henry disguised as a common soldier has told Bates that the king's "ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man" (4.1.105-06). When Henry thus vigorously forswears worship of the idol Ceremony, his denunciation acquires the value of a Protestant vilification of a stereotypical Catholic trait:

And what have kings that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshipers?
What are thy rents? What are thy comings-in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!


Henry V goes on to say that the idol Ceremony is basically a hollow god, attractive only in its superficial trappings.

Still, Henry's proto-Protestant reformation of character does not satisfy his anxious belief that he stands in need of certain Catholic rituals of penance. The night before the Battle of Agincourt, a worried King Henry V prays,

Not today, O Lord,
O, not today, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interrèd new,
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears
Than from it issued forcèd drops of blood.
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay
Who twice a day their withered hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard's soul. More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.


Despite this and one other vestige of Catholicism (see below), a distinctly Protestant spirit animates Henry V's St. Crispin's Day oration/sermon, inspiring his outnumbered troops to perform Herculean feats of arms at Agincourt. The inspiration of Christians chiefly by means of a central sermon-like speech became identified with Reformation Protestantism. Understanding the proto-Protestantism of Henry V's "sermon" to his soldiers involves appreciating its non-Catholic message of a democratic leveling of hierarchical privilege delivered via Christian language and ritual. His speech can be considered a sermon partly because it is delivered on the feast day of St. Crispin and is focused on the two saints Crispin and Crispinian. It amounts to a sermon designed, through brilliant rhetorical means, figuratively to put the spirit of Christian martyrs into enervated, apprehensive English soldiers. (By contrast "Saint" Oldcastle's spirit never did inhabit and purify the mountain of flesh, Falstaff.) In keeping with this day of martyrdom, Henry urges English survivors of Agincourt to show later generations their scars (as though they were those of near-martyrs). Superficially, this behavior resembles Catholic relic-veneration. Nevertheless, the names of the "host"—the English soldiers (4.3.34)—shall then be "Familiar in [their] mouth[s]" (4.3.52), as though they formed a symbolic rather than transubstantiated salvific body that auditors will ingest (through the story of Agincourt retold).46 In this context, the Communion chalice is recalled by the "flowing cups" in which the "host"—"Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, / Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester" (4.3.53-55)—is "freshly remembered." Like the regularly repeated Last Supper-Communion story of salvation through Christ, the immortalizing narrative of English St. Crispin's Day shall, according to Henry, recur "From this day to the ending of the world" (4.3.58).47 And like the story of Christ's redemption commemorated by the Host and cup of wine, Henry's celebrated miracle of St. Crispin's Day gains its authority and transmits it through the original shedding of blood. "For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother" (4.3.61-62), Henry V asserts: "be he ne'er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition" (4.3.62-63). Henry's words vaguely evoke both the language of Christ to the thieves on either side of the cross and the details of the Last Supper. Imitating the life and death of Christ/Henry radically transforms and elevates a devotee's identity.48

Certainly Henry V's extravagant imitation of Christ puts him at risk for the charge of blasphemy.49 In fact, he could be accused of inviting his troops to idolize him. Nevertheless, the Protestant insistence that the process of salvation applies equally to the foot soldier as to the king, if each is elect, surfaces in Henry's willingness to shed his royalty to stoop and join soldiers who spiritually distinguish themselves through their martyr-like willingness to shed their own blood for England. A warmth has replaced within Henry V a certain coldness he displayed during earlier moments of extreme self-control, such as that of Falstaff's banishment. The St. Crispin's Day's "sermon's" leveling of aristocrats to make all men plain brothers becomes a Protestant feature of Henry V when Shakespeare artfully makes its opposite a Catholic practice: the Catholic French warriors' blood in the Constable's words may be "spirited with wine" (3.5.21), but that wine never gets figuratively transformed into an immortal brotherhood of blood because the French embody an aristocratic hauteur. This icy attitude informs the King of France's battle oration, the complementary antithesis of Henry V's St. Crispin's Day exhortation. His oration fails to invigorate because it is little more than a mechanical, snobbish catalogue of pedigrees:

Up, princes, and with spirit of honor edged
More sharper than your swords, hie to the field!
Charles Delabreth, High Constable of France,
You Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and of Berri,
Alençon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy,
Jaques Chatillion, Rambures, Vaudemont,
Beaumont, Grandpré, Roussi, and Faulconbridge,
Foix, Lestrelles, Boucicault, and Charolais,
High dukes, great princes, barons, lords, and knights,
For your great seats now quit you of great shames.
Bar Harry England, that sweeps through our land
With pennons painted in the blood of Harfleur.
Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon.
Go down upon him—you have power enough—
And in a captive chariot into Rouen
Bring him our prisoner.


One might object that King Henry, despite his rhetoric of brotherhood, reveals a trace of the French king's class-consciousness when he reads the Agincourt English casualty-list:

Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk,
Sir Richard Keighley, Davy Gam, esquire;
None else of name, and of all other men
But five-and-twenty.


But before we accuse him of hypocrisy, we need to realize that he is reading a list of English dead prepared formulaically by someone else. The fact that Henry just before he reads the English casualty-list recites a note of French dead (4.8.80-102)—a note which begins with princes and nobles and descends through "knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen" and that includes a catalogue of most of the aristocrats chanted by the French King—reinforces the impression that too much should not be made of his manner of naming English dead.

Henry V's possession of two qualities the French king lacks further suggests his more generous attitude toward slain English troops. The French king's image of his aristocrat warriors hurtling down upon Henry's army like alpine snow, burying valleys beneath, betrays two characteristics of the speaker fatal to his cause—his lack of empathy with his common mercenaries and French gentry (much of that "melted snow") and an extreme disdain for simple folk (the French aristocratic avalanche will "spit and void [its] rheum upon" a "low vassal seat"). Never uniting with the rank and file of his army, the late-medieval, feudalistic Catholic King of France goes down to defeat.

Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech thus becomes more Protestant through comparison with its Catholic complement. Furthermore, Henry's address to his troops gets associated with Protestant labor in the implicit contrast of Protestant work with Catholic idleness when Westmorland prefaces the speech by exclaiming, "O, that we now had here / But one ten thousand of those men in England / That do no work today!" (4.3.16-18). For the English, Agincourt's "feats" of war (4.3.51) will amount to work of a kind far different from the Catholic saying of beads or lighting of candles. Henry V echoes Westmorland's word "work" in a proto-Protestant spirit when he says, "We are but warriors for the working day. / Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched / With rainy marching in the painful field" (4.3.109-11). Once again Shakespeare evokes the stage Catholic imagery of a glittering ("gilt") outside only to deny it; Henry's troops are muddied, appropriate for a Protestant "working day." Beginning with his act 1 soliloquy in 1 Henry IV (1.2.198-201), Henry has from time to time characterized fighting as a holiday game; but on the eve of Agincourt the odds against the English, their weakened, unreinforced state, and the monumental significance of the impending battle make work rather than game combat's appropriate referent. Finally, unlike the precious bones in an often-sold Catholic reliquary, Henry's bones, if he is killed in battle, shall in his estimation yield the French little if they try to sell them (4.3.123-25); for since he clearly intends to die fighting rather than risk capture (4.3.124), they will be shattered by warfare and unsuitable for enshrinement.

Henry V's St. Crispin's Day "sermon," charged with Protestant overtones, works a miracle, the English victory at Agincourt with only twenty-nine English dead (three of whom are noblemen) to ten-thousand French dead (of whom sixteen hundred are mercenaries and the rest French nobility, knights, and "gentlemen of blood and quality" [4.8.80-106]). This miraculous preservation of English lives prompts Henry to exclaim, "O God, thy arm was here! / And not to us, but to thy arm alone, / Ascribe we all" (4.8.106-08). "Take it, God," he concludes, "For it is none but thine" (4.8.111-12).50 "For miracles are ceased," the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed at the beginning of the play, "And therefore we must needs admit the means / How things are perfected" (1.1.68-70). As noted earlier, the belief that miracles ceased after the revelation of Christ was a major tenet of Reformation Protestantism. The miniscule loss of English life at Agincourt, incredible to reason, suggests that the age of miracles extends to encompass the fifteenth century. The paradoxical implication in the play Henry V is that leading a proto-Protestant life of faith and service can result in a "Catholic" miracle. In typically syncretic fashion, Shakespeare melds aspects of two religious systems held to be antithetical during the later sixteenth century. In All's Well That Ends Well, Lafew, commenting on Helena's wondrous cure of the King of France's fistula, states, "They say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear" (2.3.1-6). If we are to judge by this passage, Shakespeare, around the turn of the sixteenth century, became interested in a doctrine of miracle in which the hand of heaven could be seen, a doctrine that—by Lafew's logic—deserved admiration rather than intellectual inquiry into its causation.

Henry V's awareness that he has been the recipient of a divine miracle completes an arguably authentic personal reformation. The unprecedented difference between the English and French loss of life at Agincourt, rationally incomprehensible, by itself resolves Henry's long-harbored doubts about God's blessing upon him and his monarchy and completes the character revolution attempted previously but unsuccessfully. Concerning the English victory with so little loss of life, Henry commands,

And be it death proclaimèd through our host
To boast of this or take that praise from God
Which is his only.


Henry's accomplished reformation can be detected in his humble response to his lords' desire "to have borne / His bruisèd helmet and his bended sword / Before him through" London:

He forbids it,
Being free from vainness and self-glorious pride,
Giving full trophy, signal, and ostent
Quite from himself to God.

(5.Chorus. 17-22)

Nevertheless, playgoers must reconcile certain ungodly behaviors of Henry's during the Battle of Agincourt with his definitive reformation. Henry indicated then that at moments of group violence he could still become passion's slave. In the heat of conflict, he cruelly orders every English soldier to kill his prisoners because "the French have reinforced their scattered men" (4.6.36-38). Gower believes that Henry gives this savage order in retaliation for the French killing of the English boys guarding the luggage (4.7.1-10). But Henry in the text of the play gives his bloody order before he learns of this fact (thus making it appear prior), and he does so simply because French reinforcements suddenly threaten the English position. After Henry becomes aware of the slaughter of the helpless English boys, he snarls, "I was not angry since I came to France / Until this instant" (4.7.54-55). "Besides, we'll cut the throats of those we have," he ominously pronounces regarding the French prisoners in his entourage, "And not a man of them that we shall take / Shall taste our mercy" (4.7.62-64).51 But in Shakespeare's staging these prisoners never are killed, for the French capitulate before the deed can be done.

Significantly, the above-described vestiges of the Old Adam surface in Henry before his learning of the miracle of Agincourt refines the remaining dross of sadism and pride into golden humility. King Henry V manifests this ultimately refined humility in his fifth-act wooing of Princess Katharine. An attractive directness and modest plainness of speech color his courtship.52 "Thou wouldst find me such a plain king," he tells Katharine, "that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my crown. I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly to say, `I love you' " (5.2.126-29). Henry forswears bragging (5.2.140); he at last admits to having a "saving faith" within him (5.2.204). Henry V's reformation is as complete as it could ever get in the short time remaining to this "star of England" (Epilogue, 6). One senses that Henry V will rarely—if ever—again be Machiavellian in quite the same cold way that he was, but rather will be a sincere, plain-speaking man who constitutes the implicit ideal of Elizabethan Shakespeare comedies such as Love's Labor's Lost.53 Admittedly, a trace of the calculating Henry appears in his having made Katharine his "capital demand, comprised / Within the fore-rank of [the peace] articles" (5.2.96-97). Certainly the word "capital" carries economic overtones, the notion being that Henry has commodified his future queen. A political expediency, however, does not preclude, on the level of the heart, his sincere love-suit. The "good heart" (5.2.163) that Henry has purified within himself might be a model for Protestants sitting or standing in the Globe Theater. The Catholic "miracle" that at a decisive moment helps to cleanse this heart is Shakespeare's subtle argument for Protestant tolerance of Catholics and their dogma in a darkening world of religious division.54


1 Shakespeare takes considerable pains to imbue the late medieval setting of 1 Henry IV with the spirit of Catholicism. King Henry's reference to the Crucifixion "fourteen hundred years ago" (1.1.26) and his desire to be Christ's soldier in a crusade to wrest the Jerusalem sepulcher from pagan hands date the events of the play in the Catholic early fifteenth century. In this context, the speech's thirty-three verses evoke Christ's apocryphal age at his martyrdom, a fitting allusion in light of Henry's latent wish to atone for his guilt for Richard II's murder. The Catholic atmosphere of 1 Henry IV thickens with Westmorland's mention of "Holy Rood Day" (1.1.52), references to pilgrims going to Canterbury, repeated oaths such as Prince Hal's "By'r Lady" (2.4.295), and Falstaff's phrase "ecce signum!" ("behold the proof!")—familiar words from the Mass—spoken with reference to the miracle of his claim of escape from a dozen enemies (2.4.162-67). The Catholic elements of Henry V are strongly emphasized by Stephen M. Buhler, " 'By the Mass, our hearts are in the trim': Catholicism and British Identity in Olivier's Henry V" Cahiers Élisabéthains 47 (April 1995): 55-70.

All quotations of Shakespeare's plays in the present article are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington, 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 1997).

2 See Maurice Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit in Othello," Comparative Drama30 (1996): 346-76, esp. 367-69.

3 Huston Diehl, in Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage: Protestantism and Popular Theater in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), demonstrates through a fine analysis of selected Shakespeare and early modern English plays (she omits the plays of the Second Henriad) that Elizabethan and Stuart playwrights subtly used "the theater to dramatize the divisive conflicts and explore the central religious controversies of the Reformation" (64).

4 For an exhaustive study of the Henry IV plays as an exploration of the Oldcastle issue, see Alice-Lyle Scoufos, Shakespeare's Typological Satire (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979). Also see Gary Taylor, "The Fortunes of Oldcastle," Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985): 85-100; E. A. J. Honigmann, "Sir John Oldcastle: Shakespeare's Martyr," "Fanned and Winnowed Opinions ": Shakespearean Essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, ed. John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton (London: Methuen, 1987), 118-32; and Kristen Poole, "Saints Alive! Falstaff, Martin Marprelate, and the Staging of Puritanism," Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995): 47-75, esp. 48-53. Taylor's argument that editors ought to substitute Oldcastle's name for Falstaff's in the texts of the Second Henriad has been effectively rebutted by Jonathan Goldberg, "The Commodity of Names: 'Falstaff and Oldcastle' in I Henry IV" in Reconfiguring the Renaissance: Essays in Critical Materialism, ed. Jonathan Crewe (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1992), 76-88.

5 For the story of Sir John Oldcastle as it was told and retold throughout the sixteenth century, "with different ideological emphases," see Annabel Patterson, Reading Holinshed's "Chronicles" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 130-53.

6 Summaries of Falstaff's "Puritanical" traits of character and speech appear in J. Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943), 15-35; Poole, "Saints Alive! Falstaff, Martin Marprelate, and the Staging of Puritanism," 65-69; and especially in Grace Tiffany, "Puritanism in Comic History: Exposing Royalty in the Henry Plays," forthcoming in Shakespeare Studies 26 (1998). Generally critics such as Poole who notice these traits endorse the opinion that "the person of Falstaff is in and of himself a parody of the sixteenth-century puritan" (54). See, for example, Harold Bloom, Ruin the Scared Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 84. Usually critics regard this purported parody of Puritanism in Falstaff as Shakespeare's jibe at the Protestantism of the Lollard Oldcastle's tete Elizabethan heirs William and Henry Brooke; See, for example, Robert J. Fehrenbach, "When Lord Cobham and Tilney 'were at odds': Oldcastle, Falstaff, and the Date of 7 Henry IV" Shakespeare Studies 18 (1986): 87-101. Poole, however, regards the supposed Puritan satire generated by Falstaff's character as "perfectly in keeping with the tenor of the anti-Puritan literature of the late sixteenth century, especially the anti-Marprelate tracts and the burlesque stage performances of the Marprelate controversy, which frequently depicted Puritans as grotesque individuals living in carnivalesque communities" (54). Tiffany's article offers a stimulating alternative interpretation of the relevance of the Marprelate controversy to Falstaff's characterization.

7 See Christopher Hill, "Protestantism and the Rise of Capitalism," Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 81-102, esp. 82-83.

8 Bevington, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 779.

9 Davidson made this comment in response to an earlier version of my present essay.

10 Phyllis Rackin, in Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), points out that "[t]he recognition of anachronism, in fact, was a basic premise of Reformation thought. No longer seen as an institution unchanged from its beginnings, the contemporary church was contrasted with the church as it had been before centuries of Roman Catholic corruption had polluted it" (10). Playgoers' recognition of anachronisms in Falstaff's stage Protestantism, by this logic, would betray the fact that they lived in the sixteenth century.

11 This specific linkage of Falstaff and Queen Elizabeth has been noted by Barbara Hodgdon, The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare's History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 156.

12 Despite Gadshill's claim that "There's money of the King's coming down the hill; 'tis going to the King's Exchequer" (7 Henry IV 2.2.53-54), Shakespeare nevertheless suggests that Falstaff and his cronies rob not the agents or officers of Henry IV's treasury but certain members of a commonwealth (one "sainted" because "preyed/prayed" upon). The persons plundered are termed "Travelers" (2.2.78 s.d.), apparently the Canterbury pilgrims and "traders riding to London with fat purses" (1.2.122-25) whom Poins first specified as the subjects of the robbery.

13 Bevington, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 819.

14 This is essentially the interpretation of Edward I. Berry, "The Rejection Scene in 2 Henry IV," Studies in English Literature 17 (1977): 201-18, esp. 202.

15 This is the reading of both Roy Battenhouse, "Falstaff as Parodist and Perhaps Holy Fool," PMLA 90 (1975): 32-52, esp. 46-47; and Paul M. Cubeta, "Falstaff and the Art of Dying," Studies in English Literature 27 (1987): 197-211, esp. 206.

16 By the logic of his symbolic role, Falstaff cannot reform himself. "I know thee not, old man," King Henry V says near the end of 2 Henry IV, "Fall to thy prayers" (5.5.47). As the Old Man, the Old Adam, Falstaff's typology precludes his reformation. See D. J. Palmer, "Casting off the Old Man: History and St. Paul in Henry V," Critical Quarterly 12 (1970): 267-83, esp. 268-69.

17 Falstaff's successful death-bed reformation is argued—unconvincingly, I believe—by J. Dover Wilson in his edition of Henry V (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947), 142; and by Christopher Baker, "The Christian Context of Falstaff's 'Finer End'," Explorations in Renaissance Culture 12 (1986): 68-86, esp. 81-83. Also see Michael Platt, "Falstaff in the Valley of the Shadow of Death," Interpretations: Journal of Political Philosophy 8, no. 1 (1979): 5-24.

18 Concerning the Hostess's "Arthurian" judgment (2.3.9-10), Baker claims that Falstaff's "final end, resting in 'Arthur's bosom,' is the return of a comic prodigal to the father he sought to escape" ("The Christian Context of Falstaff's 'Finer End'," 70-71).

19 For decades, a critical debate has focused upon the question of whether Prince Hal is truly debauched and thus genuinely in need of reformation or whether he play-acts the debauchee and so needs not actual reformation. An overview of the debate is provided by Kristian Smidt, Unconformities in Shakespeare's History Plays (Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press, 1982), 107-10, who joins those critics who think Hal is debauched and needs reformation (108). The critic to focus most recently the question of Hal's reformation, Jonathan Crewe ("Reforming Prince Hal: The Sovereign Inheritor in 2 Henry IV," Renaissance Drama 21 [1990]: 225-42), concludes: "The most influential current arguments deny that there is any substantive reform of Prince Hal's character. These are the arguments, associated mainly with Stephen Greenblatt, which insist on Hal's role-playing, and hence on the theatricality of his madcap character and of the metamorphosis he effects in 1 Henry IV". (225). (The reference to Greenblatt concerns "Invisible Bullets," Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988], 21-65, esp. 40-65.) My claim that accomplished vice taints the actor of it even when the sin is play-acted nevertheless entails some kind of true reformation of the subject. More important, my demonstration that Hal/Henry V possesses several faults that are not play-acted more conclusively argues for the refinement of his character and represents an alternative to Crewe's thesis concerning Hal's reformation of parricidal (oedipal) feelings.

20 An excellent analysis of this soliloquy different from mine appears in Harold Toliver, "Workable Fictions in the Henry IV Plays," University of Toronto Quarterly 53 (1983): 53-71, esp. 59.

21 Unquestionably Shakespeare's contemporaries used the modern term "reformation" for not only the Protestant revolution of purified manners but also for the cultural upheaval identified with King Henry VIII, his ministers, and the Church of England's displacement of Roman Catholicism. Subsection 3b under the noun 'Reformation' in the OED includes this illustrative usage taken from Fregeville's Reformed Politicke: "To the end to ship the Clergy in the League, they wer perswaded, that within six moneths the Reformation should be vtterly extinguished." In 1544, John Bale concluded that Sir John Oldcastle "dyed at the importune sute of the clergye, for callynge vpon a Christen reformacyon in that Romyshe church of theyrs . . ." (Brefe Chronycle concernynge the Examinacyon and death of the blessed martyr of Christ syr Johan Oldecastell the lorde Cobham [Antwerp, 1544], fol. 53r, as quoted in Poole, "Saints Alive! Falstaff, Martin Marprelate, and the Staging of Puritanism," 48).

22 See J. A. Bryant, Jr., "Prince Hal and the Ephesians," Sewanee Review 67 (1959): 204-19; and Paul A. Jorgensen, " 'Redeeming Time' in Shakespeare's Henry IV" Tennessee Studies in Literature 5 (1960): 101-09.

23 See Maurice Hunt, Shakespeare's Labored Art (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), 6.

24 For excellent histories of the Protestant iconoclastic impulse during the English sixteenth century, see John Phillips, The Reformation of Images: Destruction of Art in England, 1535-1660 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973), 1-156; Margaret Aston, England's Iconoclasts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), vol. 1; Iconoclasm vs. Art and Drama, ed. Clifford Davidson and Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, 11 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1989); James R. Siemon, Shakespearean Iconoclasm (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 30-75; and Diehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage, 9-39. Also see John N. King, English Reformation Literature: The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 144-60.

25 See, for example, John Stow, The Annales of England (London: Ralph Newbery, 1592), 965-66. Stow, after composing the grim list of priests and citizens executed by Henry VIII in 1535 for resisting edicts of the Reformation, and after remarking that the king seized 376 religious houses, £32,000 worth of Church land, and more than £100,000 of church moveables in 1536 alone, indicts Henry VIII by writing: "It was (saith mine author) a pitifull thing to heare the lamentation that the people in the countrie made for [the expelled priests, monks, and nuns]: for there was great hospitalitie kept among them, and as it was thought more than ten thousand persons, masters and seruants had lost their liuings by the putting downe of those houses at that time" (966). For a commentary that applies to Henry VIII's and Edward VI's theft of moveable church property, see Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 379-503.

26 Alexander Leggatt, in Shakespeare's Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays (London: Routledge, 1988), remarks that Prince Hal's language of commerce in this speech undercuts the honor he would win by killing Hotspur (94). It thus serves to suggest that this deed will ultimately fail as a vehicle for Hal's reformation.

27 The idea of images "Glittering in golden coats" could possibly involve auditors' recollections of painted figures on tombs or even silhouettes in memorial brasses, which when polished look golden. Nevertheless, the next verse of the passage—"As full of spirit as the month of May" (4.1.101)—would discourage funereal evocations, a likelihood that would allow the play's late-medieval setting and its accumulating Catholic allusions to suggest to Elizabethans the notion of Catholic icons.

28 Siemon demonstrates that "certain features of Shakespearean drama can be profitably understood as refracting the struggles over imagery and likeness that vexed post-Reformation England and found their most obvious expression in the various phenomena of iconoclasm" (Shakespearean Iconoclasm, 30). This critic posits in Shakespeare's Henry V "an iconic counterforce to the 'iconic tableaux' that the play repeatedly forms" (101).

29 In a similar vein, David Scott Kastan makes this comment on Richard II 2.1.294 ("Wipe off the dust that hides our scepter's gilt"): "The homonymic pun on 'gilt' signals that the symbols of rule in Bolingbroke's usurping hand have been 'derogated,' we might say, tainted and diminished by the process of their attainment. 'Gilt' has been tarnished by Henry's guilt" ("Proud Majesty Made a Subject: Shakespeare and the Spectacle of Rule," Shakespeare Quarterly 37 [1986]: 471).

30 The overtones of idol-worship inherent in Vernon's portrait of Hal and his comrades "Glittering in golden coats, like images" reappear more strongly when Falstaff at the end of 2 Henry IV falls to his knees before recently crowned Henry V and exclaims, "My King! My Jove! I speak to thee, my heart" (5.5.46). Nevertheless, Falstaff's motives of flattering Hal at this moment to gain preferment render these overtones doubtful.

31 A different explanation of Hal's backsliding, one that involves his progressively "wise" unlearning of certain of his own and other characters' ideas, is given by F. Nick Clary, "Reformation and Its Counterfeit: The Recovery of Meaning in Henry IV, Part One," Ambiguities in Literature and Film, ed. Hans P. Braendlin (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1988), 76-94, esp. 80-84.

32 The relatively hard economic times depicted at times in the Second Henriad (e.g., 1 Henry IV 2.1.1-32) may have been a misleading fabrication of Shakespeare's. Fifteenth-century England appears to have been more prosperous than the preceding century and, in many ways, more so than the following one. See Charles Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City: Coventry and the Urban Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

33 Stories of Henry VIII's repeated fornication and adultery, for example, accentuated the harshness of the 1539 Parliamentary enactment that priests were to have no wives and that priests with wives were to divorce them, or else they were to forfeit their goods and benefices and after a second warning suffer death (Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, 2 vols. [Westminster: J. B. Nichols, 1875], 1:102-03). Cf., however, Stephen Gardiner's treatise On True Obedience and Richard Rex's commentary on its portrait of a reformed Henry VIII in Henry VIII and the English Reformation (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), 24-25. Nevertheless, Henry VIII forfeited forever among European kings and princes his reputation of being a humane prince when he beheaded Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. His savagery during the spoilage of Thomas Becket's shrine—he had the saint's bones burnt, the ashes mingled with earth, and the composite shot from a cannon—shocked Europeans even more than his notorious beheadings (H. Maynard Smith, Henry VIII and the Reformation [London: Macmillan, 1962], 101-02).

34 See Robert J. Fehrenbach, "The Characterization of the King in 1 Henry IV," Shakespeare Quarterly 30 (1979): 43-50, esp. 44.

35 Harold Jenkins, in The Structural Problem in Shakespeare's "Henry the Fourth" (London: Methuen, 1955), 24-25, set a precedent by maintaining that "in the two parts of Henry IV. . . there are not two princely reformations but two versions of a single reformation. And they are mutually exclusive." Jenkins resolved this contradiction by claiming that it is typical of folkloric narrative and that Shakespeare's method in this instance is theological allegory (and thus folkloric). Nevertheless, Edward I. Berry, in Patterns of Decay: Shakespeare's Early Histories (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975), articulates "the inconsistencies in Hal's double reformation" (109). By positing three main attempts at personal reformation on Hal's part, I necessarily subscribe to Berry's qualifier.

36 Moody E. Prior, in The Drama of Power: Studies in Shakespeare's History Plays (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 321-24, understands King Henry V's apparent reformation as described by Ely and Canterbury as a doffing of the Old Man and a putting on of the New Man according to descriptions in Ephesians 4:22-24, John 3:6-7, and certain passages in the Book of Common Prayer.

37 The quotation represents Bevington's gloss. For documentation of the idea, see Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), 80, 107-8, 124-25, 128, 203, 256, 479, 485, 490, 577-78, 643. Samuel Harsnett's A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), a text informing Edgar's bogus miracle in act 4, scene 4, of Shakespeare's King Lear, amounts to a contemporary endorsement of the Protestant position concerning ceased miracles.

38 Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, however, argue for the metaphorical status of the notorious beehive of Henry V by asserting that it is the construct of a part of society claiming to be the whole ("History and Ideology: The Instance of Henry V," in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis [London: Methuen, 1985], 212-13).

39 Jonas A. Barish, in "The Turning Away of Prince Hal," Shakespeare Studies 1 (1965): 9-17, argues that Henry V's rejection of Falstaff amounts to a self-rejection, a turning away a more honest compassionate self. In the king's casting off Falstaff, "we find the exigencies of the history play leading to a 'reformation' that we can only feel as a dehumanization" (14).

40 Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England, 1:109-10.

41 Peter C. Herman, "Ό 'tis a gallant king': Shakespeare's Henry Fand the Crisis of the 1590s," in Tudor Political Culture, ed. Dale Hoak (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 204-25, esp. 220.

42 Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England, 1:149-52.

43 Smith, Henry VIII and the Reformation, 16.

44 Dollimore and Sinfield note that during the latter part of Queen Elizabeth's reign, "[t]he Church resented the fact that it was expected to help finance foreign wars, but in 1588 Archbishop Whitgift encouraged his colleagues to contribute generously towards resistance to the Armada on the grounds—just as in Henry V—that it would head off criticism of the Church's wealth" ("History and Ideology: The Instance of Henry V," 216). For the text of the Archbishop's opinion, see his May 1588 circular letter to England's Bishops quoted by John Strype, The Life and Acts of John Whitgift, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1822), 1:525.

45 Jeffrey Knapp, in "Preachers and Players in Shakespeare's England," Representations 44 (Fall 1993): 29-59, places the conniving of the Bishop of Ely and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the beginning of Henry V within the context of Shakespeare's career-long negative depiction of episcopal militarism and claims that in this episode King Henry V disturbingly absorbs "both the bishops' money and their piety" (39).

46 See Joel B. Altman, in " 'Vile Participation': The Amplification of Violence in the Theater of Henry V," Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 16, for the observation that "Shakespeare enables the audience of Henry V to participate Harry the King just as the drawers, companions, and—more distantly—the people of England participated the Prince in the two parts of Henry IV. Which is to say that now they share him in both a sacramental and a poetic—and most needfully, a political—way. In partaking him—to conflate Hooker and Jonson—in digesting him, turning him to nourishment, and growing 'very Hee'," Shakespeare's audience assimilates Henry's aggression, bravado, and savagery.

47 Remarking that Henry V "has strong affinities with mainstream English Protestant conceptions of the eucharist" (33), Knapp investigates the broad symbolic function of the eucharistic pax in the play ("Preachers and Players in Shakespeare's England," 41).

48 For other analyses of the St. Crispin's Day speech, see Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 45-46; and Lawrence Danson, "Henry V: King, Chorus, and Critics," Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (1983): 34-35, 42.

49 Knapp comments that "Harry's gift to his soldiers .. . is to liberate a holy-seeming communion from the confines of the church to the open battlefield" ("Preachers and Players in Shakespeare's England," 41). There, physical violence and secular chivalry, rather than a godly ritual, become King Henry V's vehicle for his communion of brotherhood.

50 Hodgdon states that "through Henry's pious insistence that God won the battle [of Agincourt], he reconnects himself to the mystifying force of divine right that was Richard II's special province" (The End Crowns All, 188).

51 The dramatic problem of King Henry V's double, apparently inconsistent order to cut French prisoners' throats has been well focused and analyzed by Joanne Altieri, "Romance in Henry V," Studies in English Literature 21 (1981): 223-40, esp. 223-24, 236; by Berry, Patterns of Decay, 109; and by John W. Blanpied, Time and the Artist in Shakespeare's English Histories (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983), 267.

52 Cf., however, Paola Pugliatti, "The Strange Tongues of Henry V" The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 235-53, esp. 243.

53 Maintaining that all the aspects of Henry V's character form an integrated whole, Carol M. Sicherman, on the other hand, in " 'King Hal': The Integrity of Shakespeare's Portrait," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 21 (1979): 503-21, argues that Hal's maturation in the use of formal language, from prose to progressively more controlled and formal verse, charts his reformation (508).

54 Knapp concludes that "the anticlericalism of the history plays may suggest Shakespeare's longing for a religion that would be inclusive and pacifist rather than elitist and bellicose; but the last of these plays [Henry V] seems to leave us with the image of a communion broadened from clergy to congregation, from paxes to peace, only when first sanctified by violence" ("Preachers and Players in Shakespeare's England," 41-42).

Source: "The Hybrid Reformations of Shakespeare's Second Henriad," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 176-206.

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