Princes, Pirates, and Pigs: Criminalizing Wars of Conquest in Henry V

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10037

Janet M. Spencer, Wingate University

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"The figure who exceeds the law as its master and the one who exceeds it as transgressor," Christopher Pye explains of Henry V and the traitors Cambridge, Grey, and Scroop, "are indeed bound by an unspoken—perhaps unspeakable—knowledge about the origins of power."1 In Shakespeare's Henry V, Henry takes great pains to conceal his capacity to exceed the law by seeking religious legitimation of, or by displacing moral responsibility for, decisions based ultimately on royal prerogative. And for a great number of producers, theatergoers, and literary critics he succeeds admirably.2 Nevertheless, his decisions to exercise royal power mark him as a figure of legal excess, an identity given specific significance by the "figures and comparisons" drawn between England's warrior-king and the celebrated conqueror whom Fluellen calls "Alexander the Pig."3 The play provides numerous explicit allusions to Alexander the Great, supporting Fluellen's assertion that "there is figures in all things" (4.7.33). But the episode from Alexander's life that best voices the intuitive, unspoken knowledge about the origins of power, Alexander's encounter with the pirate Dionides, is partially suppressed by an ambiguous series of variations capable of unspeaking the dangerous knowledge it confesses. Even so, the anecdote hovers over the central acts of the play, trailing its associations with debates concerning the morality of wars of conquest and, more important, with what conquest's defiance of law reveals about the origins of power. The pirate anecdote was a commonplace used by Augustine, John of Salisbury, Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, Boccaccio, Erasmus, and other Continental authors; Shakespeare's familiarity with it shapes the exchange between Enobarbas and Menas in Antony and Cleopatra.4 In the story Alexander's men seize a pirate who, when brought to Alexander for judgment, defends himself by equating the thefts of pirates with those of conquerors, "barring the fact," as Erasmus tells the tale, "that [conquerors] have greater forces and a bigger fleet to harass a larger part of the world with their plunderings."5 Though the story's moral varies from one version to another, all contain its two key elements: Dionides's comparison of conquerors to pirates and Alexander's pardon of that indictment. These elements encode the polar limits at which a sovereign could exercise the royal prerogative to transcend the law: war's deployment of force to exceed the law of nations and the pardon's restraint of force to override civil law's right to execute convicted felons. Although Shakespeare avoids replicating the pirate anecdote too closely, he frames the conquest of France with Henry's pardons of free speech—that of the unnamed soldier in Act 2 and that of Michael Williams in Act 4. And despite Falstaff's absence from the play, he maintains the presence of Henry's former compatriots in crime. In an important sense the structure of the anecdote clarifies the structure of the play and, more interestingly, allows the play to voice otherwise unspeakable knowledge about the origins of power.

Despite the European pursuit of territory throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the morality of conquest could not simply be assumed; the primary justification for war was, in fact, recovery of territory lost through conquest. Theodor Meron explains that most of the rules of jus gentium concerned warfare. These laws supplemented the laws of chivalry which regulated the individual conduct of Christian knights—not Christian nations—at war. Although, as Meron observes, both the Hundred Years' War and Shakespeare's theatrical accounts of it precede the emergence of modern international law, the requirements of a just war were carefully articulated in multiple sources and formed important criteria for determining cases involving ransom and booty in European courts of chivalry. "A just war," Meron explains, "could legitimize criminal acts and create a legal title to goods whose taking in other circumstances would be considered robbery."6 Although in courts of chivalry the claim to a just cause might legitimize criminal acts, in humanist discussions of war the association between criminal acts and war criminalizes the latter as often as it exonerates the former. Erasmus asks, "What is war, indeed, but murder shared by many, and brigandage, all the more immoral from being wider spread?"7

Oddly enough, however, the immorality of wars of conquest could, in fact, be asserted either to defend or to critique the status quo of monarchical power. Whether a conflict was ultimately designated a just war of recovery or an unjust act of expansionism boiled down to the issue of legitimate title to the territory in question, an issue decided in practice more often by the outcome of the conflict than by any other criteria. Of basing just cause on just claim, Erasmus reasons:

Someone may say, 'Do you want princes not to assert their rights?' I know it is not for such as myself to argue boldly about the affairs of princes, and even if it were safe to do so, it would take longer than we have time for here. I will only say this: if a claim to possession is to be reckoned sufficient reason for going to war, then in such a disturbed state of human affairs, so full of change, there is no one who does not possess such a claim. What people has not, at one time or another, been driven out of its lands or driven others out? . . . How often has there been a transfer of sovereignty, either by chance or by treaty?8

Applications of Dionides's bold comparison probed beyond the problem of king as conqueror to touch the idea of kingship itself. This related issue of just title—not to a particular territory but to the idea of monarchical rule itself—simmered beneath discussions of forms of government.9 Although the pirate anecdote usually supported egalitarian arguments, it appears as a defense of monarchy in Charles I' s scaffold accusation that parliament was guilty of "a great robbery" in waging an unjust war of conquest against him:

Now, sirs, I must show you both how you are out of the way and [I] will put you in the way. First you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you ever have had yet—as I could find by anything—is in the way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way. For conquest, sirs, in my opinion is never just, except there be good just cause, either for matter of wrong or just title. And then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at first. But if it be only matter of conquest, then it is a great robbery; as a pirate said to Alexander the Great that he was the great robber, he [the pirate] was but a petty robber. And so, sirs, I do think the way that you are in is much out of the way.10

In contrast, the anecdote's most influential use to critique monarchy occurs in Augustine's De Civitate Dei. Augustine positions the anecdote in a context that exposes the dangerous knowledge of the roots of power which Dionides and Alexander share. An English translation printed in 1610 reads:

Set iustice aside then, and what are kingdomes but faire theeuish purchases? because what (a) are theeues purchases but little kingdomes? for in thefts, the hands of the vnderlings are directed by the commander, the confederacie of them is sworne together, and the pillage is shared by the law amongst them. And if those ragga-muffins grow but vp to be able enough to keepe forts, build habitations, possesse cities, and conquer adioyning nations, then their gouernment is no more called theeuish, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdome, giuen and gotten, not because they haue left their practises, but because that now they may vse them with-out danger of lawe: for elegant and excellent was (b) that Pirates answer to the Great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him: the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, hee replyed with a free spirit,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.11

Instead of having the pirate executed for his crimes and his effrontery, Alexander pardons him, offering him a command in his own navy—a move that rewards or, perhaps, appropriates the pirate's dangerous knowledge that his own daring use of force has much in common with power "graced" or legitimized by "the eminent name of a kingdome." The crucial difference between the two is, as Augustine explains, that a soveeign may exercise his power "with-out danger of lawe."

By Christopher Pye's—and Augustine's—logic, excesses of law, whether by prince or pirate, become explorations of the relationship between justice and power. The prince's two chief means of setting the law aside lie paradoxically in these polar opposites: the ability to unleash violence in the prosecution of war or to tame it by pardoning the justly condemned felon. Even these poles of royal prerogative should perhaps be perceived more as important symbols of royal ability to exceed the law than as real measures of absolutist power; the prerogatives to war or to pardon were rarely exercised by sovereign will in isolation from aristocratic consent. Pardons typically followed aristocratic suits for clemency, and, without a standing army, early modern monarchs intent on war were still dependent upon late medieval means of raising, equipping, and fielding their armies.

Moreover, between these acknowledged poles of excess lay a range of prerogatives that existed in uneasy tension with legal restraints on the crown. Early modern England was a constitutional monarchy, but the relationships between sovereign and subject, crown and law were defined by a sense of subjects' traditional rights and an accumulation of common-law precedents, not a written constitution. As such, the "constitutional" prerogatives and limitations on the sovereign were open to negotiation, coercion, and even litigation—contests that the crown could, in fact, lose. In short, monarchs' ability to exceed the law was circumscribed first by what they dared, second by what their eminence allowed them. The difference between piracy and monarchy, Dionides suggests, rests more with the latter than the former. Any single royal offense might have to be tolerated by subjects; a pattern of abuses would upset the delicate balance between crown and parliament. And dependence on parliament for funds—an appropriation legitimized by the process of consent, however much it sometimes resembled piracy—curbed a monarch's tendency to flout the law too blatantly or too often. Nevertheless, carefully displayed excess of law performed a crucial role in maintaining the fiction of a socially useful and politically necessary distinction between sovereign and subject which legitimized the very existence of monarchy itself.

The anecdote about Alexander and Dionides offers dangerous, unspeakable knowledge because it threatens to collapse the apparent opposition between force and mercy; it reveals power's capacity to exceed law and to arrogate a fictional difference between subject and sovereign in order to legitimate that excess. Of Henry V's determination to follow his father's advice "to busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels" (2 Henry IV, 4.5.213-14), Erasmus might well observe:

There are those who go to war for no other reason than because it is a way of confirming their tyranny over their own subjects. For in times of peace the authority of the council, the dignity of the magistrates, and the force of the laws stand in the way, to a certain extent, of the prince's doing just what he likes. But once war has been declared, then all the affairs of the State are at the mercy of the appetites of a few. Up go the ones who are in the prince's favour, down go the ones with whom he is angry. Any amount of money is exacted. Why say more? It is only then that they feel they are really kings.12

This account of a prince's willfulness realized in war may accord most with Richard IPs expropriation of Gaunt's revenues, use of blank charters, and devotion to the "caterpillars" of the commonwealth; yet Henry's French campaign serves much the same function of affirming his power: "No king of England, if not king of France" (2.2.193).

By 1500 only wars levied by a prince, not by a feudal overlord, could be deemed legally just in suits argued before courts of chivalry, and English monarchs, like their French cousins, had acquired a monopoly to set the law aside by issuing a public pardon. Such displays of mercy, frequently contrasted with the use of force, were proclaimed as evidence of the prince's likeness to God. According to Portia, mercy

The throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. . . .

(Merchant of Venice, 4.1.188-97)

As a display of the Christian virtue of mercy, the royal pardon was one of the prince's safest means of exercising—and hence reasserting—the prerogative to exceed the strict bounds of law; pardons asserted the power to abrogate the sentence of justice without the risk of registering a judgment on the justice of the sentence itself.13 Pardons simply "set iustice aside."

Portia's speech contrasts the externalization of force with the hidden nature of mercy. Force is revealed in the external trappings of majesty, in the scepter and crown as "attribute[s] to awe and majesty"; mercy is driven "above this sceptred sway" and inward, "enthroned in the hearts of kings," where it becomes an invisible, inscrutable "attribute to God himself." From the secret recesses of the royal heart, mercy can be made manifest at will, allowing "earthly power" to "show likest God's." But, like the attributes of sorrow in Hamlet ("actions that a man might play" [1.2.84]), the display of mercy bears no necessary correlation to "that within which passes show" (1. 85).14 The externalization of internal states must always be distrusted. Mercy may be the act that shows most like God, but its underlying motivation and the use to which it is put may be an exercise in pure Realpolitik. The two interpretations of the Dionides anecdote which developed during the Middle Ages base conflicting representations of Alexander's internal state on the same incident. The secular moral, seeking to maintain Alexander's status as a positive exemplum of the successful ruler who first rules himself, praises his clemency and self-control as demonstrated in his pardoning of slander. Augustine's interpretation, however, emphasizes the similarities the pirate perceives between himself and the great conqueror: both seize what they want, disregarding established codes of justice or ethical concern for others; only the grander scale of the conqueror's theft effaces and reinscribes the legal code. From Augustine's perspective, Alexander's pardon seems a triumphant reveling in the power of conquest; his Alexander gloats over the comparison between himself and the pirate, countenancing the critique of conquest's justness in order to exult in the impunity that the power of his army grants him. The secular moral extols Alexander's restraint of power—an internal self-control that legitimates his authority—while the Augustinian interpretation condemns his exultation in his power by equating it with theft.

Augustine's association of robber-kingdoms and "the authority of a prince" resists the legitimation of royal power associated with the secular interpretation and instead criminalizes kingdoms based on conquest. But is the Augustinian tradition at work in Henry V? If so, how does it operate and to what effect? The familiarity of Dionides's analogy between pirates and emperors may help to explain the play's repeated emphasis on the comic crew's thievery and prior association with the king; for those who recognize in Hal's repeated willingness to pardon slanderers a covert reference to the Alexander materials—a recognition authorized by Fluellen's assertion that "there's figures in all things"—the presence of Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph in France raises questions about the legitimacy of Henry's campaign and perhaps his reign: they conjure up earlier visions of Hal when he was but a madcap "petty thief." But how extensive is the play's critique?

We may begin to answer this question by recalling that metaphor and simile often derive as much power from the differences they yoke as from the likenesses they assert; Shakespeare's text generates significant differences between Henry and Alexander. Judicious attention to this balance of likeness and difference seems to be the chief burden of Judith Mossman's recent article exploring the connection between Henry V and Plutarch's Alexander.15 Her argument cites parallels between the lives of these two figures and also between the purposes and methods of their chroniclers. Her theoretical observations, however, seem to allow for greater complexity of artistic treatment than her interpretation of Henry V ultimately demonstrates or even allows. Acknowledging that "Plutarch's character of Alexander . . . has been considered one of the biographer's most straightforwardly heroic portraits," Mossman argues that "this, in fact, is an oversimplification. Plutarch certainly hymns Alexander's heroical, epical qualities, but he also takes the opportunity to portray the king's darker side."16 Mossman notes that

Plutarch himself encourages us to compare his subjects with a wide variety of historical and mythological models, thereby giving himself scope to develop different aspects of the subject's character. The great advantage of such comparisons is their potential complexity. A comparison with Achilles, for example, can suggest heroic bravery, stubborn intransigence, tragic selfdetermination, even homoerotic attraction. A series of comparisons with Alexander has the potential for equal polyvalency.17

Though Mossman emphasizes a theoretical complexity, in practice she nevertheless finds it "hard to imagine an ironic reading of the play that would satisfactorily explain why Shakespeare would have wanted to subvert Henry" and wonders "what sort of play one is left with if one assumes that Henry V sets out to denigrate its central character."18 Mossman's reading of the relationship between Shakespeare's play and Alexander's career cites many parallels that I acknowledge; however, her conclusion that these parallels inevitably work to demonstrate Henry's superiority to Alexander seems too willing an acceptance of the assessments of the Chorus, Fluellen, and Henry himself to the exclusion of other voices, disallowing Shakespeare the complexity she finds attractive in Plutarch. She accepts Henry's pronouncement at face value: "'We are no tyrant, but a Christian king,' Henry says (1.2.241), echoing the opinion of Erasmus and other writers that the Christian is almost inevitably superior even to the excellent and virtuous pagan."19 Yet in Dulce bellum inexpertis Erasmus offers a scathing critique of war which actually inverts the expected relationship between Christian and pagan, exclaiming "All go to war, the decrepit, the priest, the monk, and we mix up Christ with a thing so diabolical! . . . For where is the kingdom of the devil if not in war? Why do we drag Christ into it, when he would be less out of place in a house of ill fame than in a war?"20 Of the comparison between Christian and pagan, Erasmus explicitly states:

If you compare Christian monarchs with pagan ones, how weak our cause seems to be! They had no ambition but glory. They took pleasure in increasing the prosperity of the provinces they had subdued in war; where people were barbarous, without letters or laws, living like wild animals, they taught them the arts of civilisation; they populated the uncultivated regions by building towns; they improved unsafe places by constructing bridges, quays, embankments, and by a thousand other amenities they made man's life easier, so that it became a fortunate thing to be conquered. . . . The things which are done in wars between Christians are too obscene and appalling to be mentioned here. The fact is that we only copy the worst of the ancient world—or rather we outdo it.21

Near the conclusion of his essay, Erasmus adds, "a Christian, if he were truly Christian, would take every means to avoid, avert and stave off a thing so hellish, so foreign to the life and teaching of Christ."22 Anyone familiar with Erasmus's view of war must necessarily find Henry's claim to be "no tyrant, but a Christian king" ironic, or at least deeply and purposefully ambivalent. Given this alternative sixteenth-century view of war, that it "is sweet to those who have not tried it,"23 the audience may be invited to compare the Chorus's claim that Henry is the "mirror of all Christian kings" (2.Cho.6) against its subsequent command for attentive viewing: "Yet sit and see,/ Minding true things by what their mock'ries be" (4.Cho.52-53).

The interpretive complexity and potential ambivalence the Chorus invokes is fully present in Fluellen's analogies. The Welshman did, after all, assert the ubiquity of "figures" immediately before alluding to Alexander's drunken murder of his friend Cleitus—only to have his turn to emphasize difference preempted by Gower's counterassertion that "Our King is not like him in that" (4.7.42). Like Alexander, displaying both control of the law and of the injured self, Henry is merciful to underlings who question his use of power, both the unnamed slanderer in Act 2 and Michael Williams in Act 4. And, as in the Dionides anecdote, the context of Henry's pardons underlines the more explicitly forceful dimension of mastery of the law—the successful conquest of foreign territory. Unlike Alexander, however, Henry repeatedly denies association with thieves and thievery. In doing so, Henry denies his dependence upon the raw power in which Alexander gloated, although he, too, derived his title from it. The differences become clear once the analogy touches Henry closely. When Fluellen informs the king about Bardolph, Henry denies any relationship, coldly condemning his former companion in crime to execution, confirming the sentence of law which only he has power to overturn: "We would have all such offenders so cut off (3.6.107-8).24

Traditional readings interpret Henry's action as further evidence of his reformation. In Augustinian reading, however, Henry would not dare pardon Bardolph lest he risk acknowledging that the root of his own royal power is identical to the pirate's, that his French war is itself an affair of questionable legitimacy, designed to distract "giddy minds" from his own questionable legitimacy as king. After he has been confronted by the misgivings of Bates, Court, and Williams before the battle of Agincourt, Henry confesses his dangerous knowledge of his true source of power:

Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interred new,
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears,
Than from it issued forced drops of blood. . . .
More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon. . . .

(4.1.292-97, 302-5)

Just cause is predicated upon just title. Knowledge that his own source of power was derived from his father's willingness and ability to exceed the law haunts Henry throughout his career on stage. While Alexander fully embraces what he knows of the origins of power, the Lancastrian monarchs must pretend they do not know what they so clearly practice. To borrow Richard's wry concession to his cousin Bolingbroke, "they well deserve to have / That know the strong'st and surest way to get" (Richard II, 3.3.199-200).

Henry knows that the disrupted succession undermines theories of divine legitimation associated with the legal fiction of the king's two bodies, yet he cannot free himself from the need for such theological legitimation because it distinguishes between his own mode of exceeding the law and that of pirates, thieves, and usurpers.25 His first soliloquy in I Henry IV (1.2.195-217) reveals his strategy to restore legitimacy to the crown his father has usurped by staging his own transfiguration. Subsequently, this apparent reformation is recounted by Canterbury in language that initially implies belief in the medieval concept of the king's two bodies but then concedes the Reformation view that such "miracles are ceas'd; / And therefore we must needs admit the means / How things are perfected" (Henry V, 1.1.67-69). It is in this context of Canterbury's praise for Henry's reformed character that the play's earliest allusion to Alexander occurs. Shakespeare's development of the allusion sets a precedent for deliberately ambiguous uses of other Alexandrian anecdotes and allusions. As with Fluellen's comparison later in the play, the archbishop's intention is one of praise; but the existence of an alternative version of the anecdote creates a space for a less flattering interpretation. Canterbury, enumerating Henry's unanticipated range of accomplishments, says, "Turn him to any cause of policy, / The Gordian knot of it he will unloose, / Familiar as his garter" (1.1.45-47).

Plutarch records two versions of Alexander's encounter with the Gordian knot.26 In one, Alexander rises above the challenge through cunning by removing the shaft around which the knot is tied before tackling it; in the other, Alexander resorts to force, slicing through the intricacies of the knot with his sword. In Canterbury's handling of the legend, Alexander's violence is effaced. According to Plutarch, the Phrygians had elected the peasant Gordius as their king in response to an oracle that the first man to approach Jupiter's temple in a wagon could heal their misfortunes. The Gordian knot, which fastened the yoke to the shaft of the wagon, became the focal point of a new oracle which prophesied that whoever untied it would rule over all of Asia. After Alexander either removed the shaft or cut through the knot, he then declared himself the fulfillment of the oracle. But in so doing, Alexander appropriated a popular local legend to legitimate the violence of conquest. Canterbury, preferring the innocent, domestic image of unloosening a garter, suppresses the guile of the one version and the violence of the other.27 While it is clear from the context that Canterbury privileges the version in which Alexander's superior intelligence enables him to overcome the knot's challenge, the policy associated with the king he praises is a form of violence, specifically that urged by his father: "Be it thy course to busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels." Furthermore, Canterbury's praise of Henry is as tainted by self-interest in protecting Church revenue as Alexander's appropriation of the oracle, and both participate in attempts to lend religious legitimation to wars of conquest.

To display his royal clemency, the attribute whereby an "earthly power doth then shew likest God's," Henry uses pardons along with other appeals to religious sentiments to legitimate both his execution of justice against his English subjects and his prosecution of war against the French. However, parallels between the structure of Shakespeare's play and the bifold nature of Alexander's encounter with Dionides undermine this project of religious legitimation. The anecdote yields options of viewing Alexander as either the gracious dispenser of mercy or the sinner chiefly in need of it. Previous uses of the anecdote enable Shakespeare to encode limits on Henry's ability to identify with one half of the power structure to the exclusion of the other. The anecdote appears in sources such as Tertullian's Apology, Augustine's De Civitate Dei, and John of Salisbury's Policraticus; Cicero, Tertullian, Augustine, and Erasmus use it to examine the justice of warfare and kingship. All these sources are relevant to the structure of Henry V. Cicero's editors place the anecdote in the context of the orator's discussion of justice, reconstructing the passage from Tertullian's citation of it:

For unless I am mistaken, every kingdom or empire is acquired by war and extended by victory, and furthermore, the chief element in war and victory is the capture and overthrow of cities. Such acts are impossible without doing injury to the gods, for the destruction of the city's walls is likewise the destruction of its temples; the murder of its citizens involves likewise the murder of its priests; and the plundering of secular wealth includes also the plunder of sacred treasures. Hence, the irreligious acts of the Roman people equal the number of its trophies; every triumph over a people is a triumph over its gods; the collections of booty equal in number the surviving images of captive gods.28

Tertullian's purpose here is to disprove "the claim of the Romans to signal piety, and the contention that their empire was extended through the favor of the gods."29 Those sharing Shakespeare's "smalle latine" would likely have been familiar with Augustine and Erasmus, if not Cicero or Tertullian. Thus these comments on the essential impiety of conquest recast in heavy irony Henry's order to execute anyone guilty of plunder (3.6.107-13) and his command "be it death proclaimed through our host / To boast of this, or take that praise from God / Which is his only" (4.8.114-16).30 For Tertullian, Bardolph's theft, like the pirate's, would be a petty instance of impiety compared to Henry's conquest of France. The haunting applicability of Tertullian's critique of conquest increases the epic tone of the Chorus's presentation of Henry's humility and piety in refusing the outward trappings of a triumphal entry into London:

.. . So let him land,
And solemnly see him set on to London.
So swift a pace hath thought that even now
You may imagine him upon Blackheath;
Where that his lords desire him to have borne
His bruised helmet and his bended sword
Before him through the city. He forbids it,
Being free from vainness and self-glorious pride;
Giving full trophy, signal, and ostent
Quite from himself to God.


The transfer of glory—and therefore responsibility—from the king to God is a legitimating sleight-of-hand that Cicero, Tertullian, Augustine, and Erasmus will not allow. The play's alternating scenes balance aristocracy and underworld, merciful pardon and violent greed, coveting honor and ascribing it to God. This structure reproduces the dialogical strategy of a philosophical tradition that questions imperialistic claims to piety by equating conquest with piracy.

Henry's attempts to use religion or to displace responsibility to justify his French campaign strain against scenes that, especially when set against the background of Alexander and the pirate, work to criminalize it. In his first appearance, the council scene in Act 1, Henry practices both strategies. He displaces authority for his decision to invade France onto the archbishop, whose self-interest in the affair has already been dramatized in the prior scene, charging him to "take heed how you impawn our person, . . . For we will hear, note, and believe in heart, / That what you speak is in your conscience wash'd / As pure as sin with baptism" (1.2.21, 30-32). The Salic law barring claims through the female line—the Gordian knot of Canterbury's speech—is both unraveled and violently bisected by the archbishop's exposition. In this monologue Canterbury initially disclaims the law's relevance to the French throne, but then he cites three French monarchs who supported their claims despite it—each a usurper grasping for any source of legitimacy (11. 50-55, 64-65, 69, 77-78). Henry, perhaps discomfited by these precedents, repeats his charge, "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" and receives the blame-shifting clarity of response he requires, "The sin upon my head, dread sovereign!" (11. 96-97). The interchange does not deny the association between conquest and sin; it merely asserts that it is pardonable and displaceable, enabling the archbishop to endorse the campaign, which both legitimates it and exonerates Henry from responsibility for the deaths it will cause.

The scene culminates with a second episode that couples the two strategies as Henry receives the French ambassador, who asks "leave / Freely to render" the Dauphin's message (11. 237-38). Henry's response couples an assertion of his religious devotion with a veiled threat reminding the ambassador of his power: "We are no tyrant, but a Christian king, / Unto whose grace our passion is as subject / As is our wretches fett'red in our prisons" (11. 241-43). This assertion of grace and self-control conflates the troublesome poles of power and mercy—the key attributes of legal excess (in the Dionides anecdote) and of divinity (in Portia's appeal). Henry uses the Dauphin's taunt as another opportunity to shift the burden of moral responsibility for this war away from himself, instructing the ambassador to "tell the pleasant prince this mock of his / Hath turn'd his balls to gunstones, and his soul / Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance / That shall fly with them" (11. 281-84). Despite Henry's attempts to displace responsibility for the French campaign, his taste for conquest rings throughout his final two speeches in this scene, rendering such conviction to his statement "we have now no thought in us but France" that his subsequent qualification, "Save those to God, that run before our business" (1. 303), seems something of an afterthought, if a strategic one.

The structure of the pirate anecdote underlies this scene, with its balanced attention to Henry's willingness to countenance the Dauphin's scornful message and his ultimate goal of attaining French territory; but the pirate anecdote becomes even more explicit in the pardon scenes of the play's middle acts. Henry's pardon of the unnamed soldier "That rail'd against our person" serves multiple functions in this scene. Shakespeare has transformed the structure of the Dionides anecdote by dividing the recreant into two characters, one to be pardoned and the other to be executed. In doing so, he moves the scene Henry has scripted much closer to the biblical parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35). By maneuvering the traitors Cambridge, Grey, and Scroop into speaking against the mercy offered to a common "railer," Henry entraps them into taking responsibility for their own executions: "The mercy that was quick in us but late, / By your own counsel is suppress'd and kill'd" (2.2.79-80). By distinguishing between treasonous speech and treasonous actions, he displays himself as merciful and magnanimous, not fearful but bold and trusting. By making the traitors responsible for their own condemnation, however, Henry manages to preempt the attention their betrayal could have drawn to his own questionable claim to France—and, for that matter, to England. He concludes the scene by turning the entire affair into another opportunity to proclaim religious legitimacy for his project of conquest: "We doubt not of a fair and lucky war, / Since God so graciously hath brought to light / This dangerous treason lurking in our way / To hinder our beginnings" (11. 184-87). Like John of Salisbury, who attached a positive moral to the incident between Alexander and the pirate, Henry has structured this encounter with the traitors to privilege his mercy; Augustine's disparaging moral, adopted by Chaucer and Gower in the alternative tradition of interpretation, seems repressed along with the other "dangerous treason lurking" in Henry's "beginnings."31 Henry would subsume such concerns under his providentialist rhetoric; the viewer familiar with his previous stage history or with the dual interpretations of Alexander's encounter with Dionides (especially in the context of Augustine's and Erasmus's views of wars of conquest) might draw other conclusions.

In Act 3 Henry has another opportunity to pardon. This time, however, the offense is not slanderous speech but theft. Shakespeare has again deftly separated the offenses conjoined in Alexander's pirate; he allots the intemperate speech to Williams in Act 4, thus enabling Henry to appear magnanimous in pardoning the one and justly rigorous—or hypocritical—in condemning the other. The only actual robbery reported and punished in Henry V is committed by one of the king's former companions; Pistol reports that Bardolph "hath stol'n a pax, and hanged must 'a be" (3.6.40). Pistol asks Fluellen to intercede for Bardolph's life, but Fluellen responds by saying "for if, look you, he were my brother, I would desire the Duke to use his good pleasure, and put him to execution; for discipline ought to be used" (11. 54-56). Fluellen nonetheless reports Bardolph's danger to the king, who responds:

We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge that in our marches through the country there be nothing compell'd from the villages; nothing taken but paid for; none of the French upbraided or abus'd in disdainful language; for where [lenity] and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.

(11. 107-13)

Henry, the "mirror of all Christian kings," may conquer an entire kingdom, but he will tolerate no petty piracies.32

Historically, the object taken from the church was not a pax but a pyx; J. H. Walter explains the difference:

The pyx is the box in which the consecrated wafers are kept; the pax is a small metal plate with a crucifix impressed on it. In the celebration of mass in the early Christian Church a kiss of peace was given to the communicants by the priest. In the thirteenth century a metal plate or tablet was kissed by the priest instead and then passed to the congregation to kiss in turn. Shakespeare, who surely must have known the difference, may have substituted "pax" for some reason not now clear.33

Of course, a compositor setting the type may have made the substitution, not appreciating the difference. However, a soldier facing a battle against desperate numerical odds might be motivated to steal a pyx—especially one of "little price"—not by greed but by desire to prepare for the possibility of death in battle. Desecration of the sacrament or theft of the pyx was explicitly forbidden in Henry V's Ordinances of War (1419), a prohibition repeated in Henry VIII's Statutes and Ordinances for the Warre (1544).34 Viewing the play, members of the audience might well hear pyx, the item most associated with church pillage in wartime, regardless of what the actor said. Nevertheless, if only as a matter of personal artistic satisfaction, the alteration reflects the slippery view of kingship recorded in the plays of the second tetralogy. The pyx, designed to contain the Reserved Host, invokes the incarnational theology of transubstantiation; the substitution of the pax, an object designed to represent the historical event of the crucifixion of Christ rather than to contain his body, may register a demystification not only of the sacrament but also of the theological underpinnings of the doctrine of the king's two bodies. The pyx contained the mystery, the body of Christ; the pax merely represented it.

In the opening scene of Henry V, Canterbury tries to account for Henry's sudden transformation in terms associated with the mystery of the king's two bodies:

The breath no sooner left his father's body,
But that his wildness, mortified in him,
Seem'd to die too; yea, at that very moment,
Consideration like an angel came
And whipt th' offending Adam out of him.


By the scene's end, however, Canterbury finally accedes to Ely's more pragmatic explanation of Henry's transformation, an explanation attributing the change instead to Henry's ability to "obscure" his "contemplation / Under the veil of wildness" (11. 63-64); Canterbury agrees, "It must be so; for miracles are ceas'd" (1. 67). Henry is indeed the mirror of all Christian kings: pure reflection, royal representation. The stolen pax, like the pirate's identification with Alexander the Great, reveals dangerous knowledge of the source of power.

The issues involved in the more complex encounter between Henry and Williams in Act 4 should also be framed by this debate concerning the nature of the prince, a debate that might itself be elucidated by reference to an episode in the Alexander materials. For the theologians and moralists, the most controversial aspect of Alexander's career related to his claims to divinity, but the Alexander materials also contain a significant number of disclaimers.35 According to some reports, Alexander (or, in others, his mother) claimed that he was descended from Jupiter; Plutarch deals lightly with the problem by quoting Alexander's mother, Olympias, as saying "will Alexander neuer leaue to make me suspected of Iuno?" Plutarch's explanation for the contradictions presents a picture of Alexander not as a megalomaniac but as a consummate politician:

To conclude, he shewed him selfe more arrogant vnto the barbarous people, and made as though he certainly beleued that he had bene begotten of some god: but vnto the Grecians he spake more modestly of diuine generation. .. . we maie thinke that Alexander had no vaine nor presumptuous opinion of him selfe, to thinke that he was otherwise begotten of a god, but that he did it in policie to kepe other men vnder obedience, by the opinion conceiued of his godhead.36

Only in his account of the events following Alexander's murder of Cleitus does Plutarch become genuinely censorious of his subject's claims to divine origin. Even here, however, Plutarch partially displaces blame on an advisor's attempt to goad Alexander to overcome his guilt and grief over Cleitus's death. Plutarch reports that Anaxarchus, entering the room, cried out:

See, yonder is Alexander the great whom all the world lookes apon, and is affraid of. See where he lies, weeping like a slaue on the ground, that is affraid of the law, and of the reproche of men: as if he him selfe should not geue them law, and stablish the boundes of iustice or iniustice, sithence he hath ouercome to be Lord and master, and not to be subiect and slaue to a vaine opinion. Knowest thou not that the poets saie, that Iupiter hath Themis, to wit, right and iustice placed of either hand on him? what signifieth that, but all that the prince doth, is wholy right, and iust?37

Anaxarchus appeals to Alexander's identification with Jupiter in order to persuade him that the rights of conquest have placed him above censure, above law and justice.38 A conqueror, he exists to exceed the law.

The tension that develops from these diverse accounts of Alexander's claims to divinity is recapitulated in Tudor and Stuart discourses concerning the nature of the relationship between subjects and their sovereign and between the sovereign and the nation's laws. Are all the actions of the prince "lawful and just" by virtue of divine right, or is the prince's superiority primarily a ruse, a representation, designed "in policie to kepe other men vnder obedience, by the opinion conceiued of his godhead"? Using the doctrine of the king's two bodies was a means of subsuming the all-too-apparent reality of mere human mortality under the rhetoric of divine right. As the Reformation in England opted for the representational view of the sacraments, however, the mythic, incarnational features of the doctrine of the king's two bodies began losing much of their legitimating power before the divine-right-minded Stuarts came to power. Within the common-law tradition, divine legitimation was based on lineal descent and applied to issues of inheritance and succession; it did not license rule without law.

The legitimation of monarchy, especially once natural succession has been interrupted, requires a means of differentiating between subject and sovereign—and between pirates and princes. In Henry V the king conceals his sovereign identity under a subject's cloak, passing among his men unrecognized in order to justify the cause for which they are prepared to fight.39 Ironically, it is the king who, in this scene, is guilty of royal Arianism and would deny the difference between himself and his subjects, claiming, "though I speak it to you, I think the King is but a man, as I am. . . . all his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man" (4.1.101-5).40 This representational view of kingship is not accepted by Williams, who argues that the king's reckoning will be heavy if his cause is unjust and later provokes Henry again by insisting upon the difference between common foot soldiers and the king:

KING HENRY I myself heard the King say he would not be ransom'd.
WILLIAMS Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully; but when our throats are cut, he may be ransom'd, and we ne'er the wiser.
KING HENRY If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.
WILLIAMS You pay him then. That's a perilous shot out of an elder-gun, that a poor and a private displeasure can do against a monarch! You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock's feather. You'll never trust his word after! come, 'tis a foolish saying.
KING HENRY Your reproof is something too round, I should be angry with you, if the time were convenient.

(11. 190-204)

William's image for the monarch recalls the image Henry himself used in warning to the French ambassador, saying "I will rise there with so full a glory / That I will dazzle all the eyes of France, / Yea, strike the Dolphin blind to look on us" (1.2.278-80). And yet Williams's insistence on the absolute gulf that exists between the "poor and private displeasure" of a subject and a monarch angers Henry, who makes it a quarrel of honor between them.

Having set Fluellen up to take his place in the promised fight with Williams, Henry forces Williams to mouth his own representational view of majesty in order to escape martial law for offering violence to the king:

KING HENRY How canst thou make me satisfaction?
WILLIAMS All offenses, my lord, come from the heart. Never came any from mine that might offend your Majesty.
KING HENRY It was ourself thou didst abuse.
WILLIAMS Your Majesty came not like yourself. . . . witness the night, your garments, your lowliness; and what your Highness suffer'd under that shape, I beseech you take it for your own fault and not mine; for had you been as I took you for, I made no offense; therefore I beseech your Highness pardon me.


Williams ignores the facts that he has, at the least, offended the king's majesty verbally by doubting the justness of his cause and trustworthiness of his word (4.1.134, 199-201); Henry also ignores these facts, in keeping with his tolerance of slander. The wording of Williams's excuse allows Henry to save his majesty and merely wear it, too—the very thing (as Plutarch noted approvingly of Alexander) Henry is inclined to do in making much of his majesty before the class-obsessed French but pretending to belong to the "happy few, we band of brothers," among his own men. But this anamorphic portrait of majesty privileges one of its versions; in order for Henry to affirm Williams's submission to his sovereignty, he must also accept the blame for Williams's offense: "what your Highness suffered under that shape, I beseech you take it for your own fault and not mine." Henry may appear the victor, but the debate has returned to the issue of a prince's responsibility for his men's actions and, by extension, for his own.

The most important action Henry undertakes in this play is to wage a war of conquest against the French. He may seek religious legitimation for his actions, and he may seek to displace responsibility for them onto others; in the final analysis, however, "if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make" (11. 134-35). In pursuing a foreign war, Henry exceeds the law by pressing his prerogative into issues of debatable moral legitimacy, issues that threaten to expose the origins of power. Knowledge of those origins can be dangerous for both pirates like Bardolph and playwrights like his creator; such danger necessitates artistic strategies of suppression, revision, division, but not wholesale evasion. The anticlimactic final act juxtaposes scenes featuring Pistol being beaten by Fluellen for having flouted Welsh customs and Henry flouting French customs while bartering his martial advantage for a marital one that will seal his claim to the French throne—under the very terms denied by Act 1's exposition of the Salic law. Henry's ceremonial entrance immediately follows the exit of Pistol, confessing this intention: "To England will I steal, and there I'll steal" (5.1.87)—a sequence that underscores the king's associations with thieves and cutpurses, the underworld that lives in excess of the law. Henry himself endorses this mode of being when he claims a kiss, contrary to custom, from Katherine: "Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confin'd within the weak list of a country's fashion. We are the makers of manners, Kate" (5.2.269-71). Both Henry and Pistol, like Alexander and Dionides, live in excess of the law; Henry, unlike Alexander, conceals that common bond, claiming to be the "maker," not the breaker, of manners.

In the event, Henry's stolen kiss proves prophetic of another foreign king who would trace a title through a great-grandmother, another king whose son would lose what the father had won. Like Henry, James VI of Scotland did not believe a king could "be confín'd within the weak list of a country's fashion." In his treatise The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, James traced civilization in Scotland to the arrival of King Fergus, who, "comming in among barbares, first established the estate and forme of gouernement, and thereafter made lawes by himselfe," claiming, therefore, that in Scotland "kings were the authors and makers of the Lawes, and not the Lawes of the kings." With an eye turned southward, he extends his claim that kings precede (and therefore exceed) law by telling a tale of conquest:

For when the Bastard of Normandie came into England, and made himselfe king, was it not by force, and with a mighty army? Where he gaue the Law, and tooke none, changed the Lawes, inuerted the order of gouernement, set downe the strangers his followers in many of the old possessours roomes, as at this day well appeareth a great part of the Gentlemen of England, beeing come of the Norman blood, and their old Lawes, which to this day they are ruled by, are written in his language, and not in theirs: And yet his successours haue with great happinesse enioyed the Crowne to this day; Where of the like was also done by all them that conquested them before.41

James concludes that the king is the "ouer-Lord of the whole land: so is he Master ouer euery person that inhabiteth the same, hauing power ouer the life and death of euery one of them." To James the origin of royal authority lies in force, be it the conqueror's mighty army or the king's "power ouer the life and death" of his subjects. In brief, James concludes that "the King is aboue the law."42

Shortly before Elizabeth's death, Sir John Harington, the ailing queen's favored godson, sent a lantern to the Scottish king, cryptically inscribed "Remember me, lord, when thou comest into thy kingdom." The crucifixion allusion legitimates the king's yet unacknowledged authority by identifying him with Christ but, simultaneously, reinscribes the association between the king and thieves. Years later on the scaffold, in attempting to turn the pirate anecdote against a conquering parliament, the best Charles I could manage was a construction that diminished his own role to that of the lesser thief. The association of pirates and conquerors, thieves and kings, served this age sometimes as a means of questioning the morality of warfare, sometimes as a way of considering the legitimacy of royal titles. At rare moments it served to speak a dangerous knowledge about the origins of power.


1 Christopher Pye, The Regal Phantasm: Shakespeare and the Politics of Spectacle (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 133.

2 It seems especially difficult to stage a production critical of Henry, but see Chris Fitter, "A Tale of Two Branaghs: Henry V, Ideology, and the Mekong Agincourt" in Shakespeare Left and Right (Ivo Kamps, ed. [New York: Routledge, 1991], 259-76), for an assessment of Kenneth Branagh's two interpretations of Henry, first in Adrian Noble's sober examination of war in his 1984 RSC production and later in Branagh's 1989 film. Fitter likens Branagh the director to a "literary Oliver North," who "has deliberately shredded vital documentation, provided by the text and the RSC production, and his Henry therefore emerges as a familiar figure: the handsome military hero and godly patriot at the heart of an establishment coverup" (260).

Richard Dutton surveys critical responses to Henry V, most of which manage to redeem Hal on some level even if they acknowledge his flaws or soften harsher judgments by positing an inherent ambivalence in the play's structure; see "The Second Tetralogy" in Shakespeare: A Bibliographical Guide, Stanley Wells, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 337-80.

3 Quotations in this essay of Henry V and all other Shakespeare plays follow The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

Philip Edwards's Threshold of a Nation: A study in English and Irish drama (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979) also deals with the play's relation to contemporary issues of conquest and imperialism.

4Antony and Cleopatra, 2.6.86-96. I am indebted to an anonymous referee for both the reminder of the relevance of this passage to my argument and for subsequent references to the adages of Erasmus. I am also heavily indebted to George Cary's discussion of medieval interpretations of Alexander the Great in The Medieval Alexander (Cambridge: University Press, 1956). Cary details a series of contradictory morals drawn during the medieval period from the life of Alexander the Great, noting in general a trend toward positive interpretations (except in Germany) as secular moralists established independence from theologians.

5 Erasmus, The 'Adages' of Erasmus: A Study with Translations, trans. Margaret Mann Phillips (Cambridge: University Press, 1964), 240.

The anecdote has been traced back to Cicero's De republica; it appears in a unique but severely damaged manuscript copy of that work held by the Vatican Library. Editors have partially reconstructed the passage through analyses of citations to it in the work of later authors.

6 Theodor Meron, Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws: Perspectives on the Law of War in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 41. For a balance of pacifist and realist arguments about the ethics of war, see J. R. Hale, Renaissance War Studies (London: Hambledon Press, 1983); Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450-1620 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985); and Philip C. Dust, Three Renaissance Pacifists: Essays in the Theories of Erasmus, More, and Vives (New York: Peter Lang, 1987). Consult Meron for a more precise treatment of the relationships between Henry V, the historical events, and contemporary legal interpretations of war ethics. Meron concludes that "Shakespeare's attention to historical detail and rules of law in international relations and diplomacy is truly impressive" (214).

7 Erasmus, 320. According to R. J. Schoeck, this adage first appeared in the 1515 edition of the Adagiorum Chiliades, was printed separately over a dozen times during the sixteenth century, and was translated into English in 1533; see Erasmus of Europe: The Making of a Humanist 1467-1500 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1990), 238.

8 Erasmus, 340-41.

9 Shortly following the passage quoted above, Erasmus, despite his disclaimer that "it is not for such as myself to argue boldly about the affairs of princes," qualifies the notion of sovereignty by insisting that "we call rule what is really administration. No one can have the same rights over men, free by nature, as over herds of cattle. This very right which you hold, was given you by popular consent. Unless I am mistaken, the hand which gave can take it away" (341). The view of sovereignty here is clearly a contractual/consensual one, not one based on divine or natural right.

10King Charls his Tryal at the High Court of Justice, 2d ed. (London, 1650), quoted here from The Trial of Charles I: A Documentary History, David Lagomarsino and Charles T. Wood, eds. (Hanover, NH, and London: UP of New England, 1989), 141-42. How much the anticonquest sentiments in Charles I's speech and in the 1610 reprinting of Augustine (cited below) may owe to the pacifist nature of Stuart rule is at present a matter of conjecture.

11St. Avgvstine, of the Citie of God (London, 1610), 159. At least fifteen Latin editions of De Civitate Dei were published between 1468 and 1580, some including commentary. This number does not include translations or collections in which De Civitate does not appear in the title.

12 Erasmus, 349.

13 For historical background on the use of pardon to assert prerogative power, see Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1987). I have explored her argument in relation to the comic framing of royal pardons in Richard II and Measure for Measure in "Staging Pardon Scenes: Variations of Tragicomedy," Renaissance Drama n.s. 21 (1990): 55-89.

14 Jonathan Goldberg's study of the strategies of discourse shared by monarchs and authors repeatedly makes the point that such representations always lie at one remove, are always coincidences that do not quite coincide yet occupy "the heart of the relationship of literature to royal power" (James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and Their Contemporaries [Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983], 39).

15 Judith Mossman, "Henry V and Plutarch's Alexander, " Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994): 57-73.

16 Mossman, 58.

17 Mossman, 63.

18 Mossman, 58.

19 Mossman, 61.

20 Erasmus, 321-22.

21 Erasmus, 335.

22 Erasmus, 351.

23 Erasmus, 308.

24 Hal's betrayal of Bardolph may seem callous, but it also holds implications for a prince's responsibilities for the actions of his subjects, and so should be examined in conjunction with Hal's later scenes with Williams. See Meron's chapter "Responsibility of Princes" (64-74) and his assessment of Bardolph's sentence (114-15 and 122).

25 On the king's two bodies, see Marie Axton, The Queen's Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession (London: Royal Historical Society, 1977); and Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1957).

26 Ambivalent cultural materials such as this, readily available to audiences, were subject to conflicting interpretations regardless of an author's intention. While David Quint argues that Curtius was the more popular source for Alexander's life during the Renaissance, Curtius records only the use of the sword, not the alternative version the archbishop refers to in this scene ('"Alexander the Pig': Shakespeare on History and Poetry," Boundary 2 10 [1982]: 49-68).

27 Canterbury does not specify the garter to be the ceremonial symbol of the Order of the Garter, worn below the left knee; however, given that the Order's founder, Edward III, is both Henry's great-grandfather and the source, through both conquest and maternal descent, of his claim to France, Canterbury may be attempting to associate policy and honor. Rather than resolving the ambiguity of the allusion to Alexander's career, the recognition of this possible association may heighten it by raising questions central both to this particular play and to the tetralogy, questions involving the legitimacy of the Salic law, on the one hand, and, on the other, the nature of honor and the legitimacy of Lancastrian claims to Edward Ill's throne.

28 Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth, ed. George Holland Sabine and Stanley Barney Smith (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1929), 207-8.

29 Quoted in Cicero, 208, n. 47.

30 Of this command, Phyllis Rackin comments that "the stridency of the threat exposes the anxiety that produced it, the keen sense of the absence of divine right that Henry attempts to fill by the exercise and mystification of earthly power" (Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles [Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1990], 79-80).

31 On Chaucer's and Gower's interpretations of the Dionides encounter, see Gary, 95-98.

32 Meron assigns the severity of the thief's punishment to "the specially sacrilegious nature of the offence—laying hands on the box where the Holy Sacrament was kept," noting that it was "no less holy by one whit if it [were] consecrated by a French priest" (122).

33Henry V, ed. J. H. Walter (London: Methuen, 1954), 3.6.41n.

34 See Meron, 144 and 150.

35 In general the theologians emphasized Alexander's blasphemous pride in assuming titles suggesting divinity, but the moralists discredited or de-emphasized the accounts; see Cary, 110-16, 125-35, 152-54, and 181-89.

36 Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, trans. Thomas North (London, 1579), 723 and 737-38.

37 Plutarch, 751.

38 Anaxarchus's evil advice to Alexander forms a sober reprise of the Dionides moral concerning the criminal's and the monarch's ability to exceed the law.

39 On the disguised-king motif, see Anne Barton, "The King Disguised: Shakespeare's Henry V and the Comical History" in The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance, Joseph G. Price, ed. (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1975), 92-117; and Annabel Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 89-92.

40 Henry's royal sleight-of-hand is apparent in stage productions. The cloak conceals his true identity only from the soldiers onstage; the audience is free to note the difference between a disguised king claiming "the King is but a man, as I am" and a disclosed prince confessing "I am but a man, as you are."

41 James I, The Political Works of James I, ed. Charles H. McIlwain (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1918), 62-63.

42 James I, 63.

Source: "Princes, Pirates, and Pigs: Criminalizing Wars of Conquest in Henry V," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 160-77.

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