Henry V "Every Subject's Duty Is The King's, But Every Subject's Soul Is His Own"

William Shakespeare

"Every Subject's Duty Is The King's, But Every Subject's Soul Is His Own"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: King Henry and his soldiers are at Agincourt, encircled by superior French forces. In the dark, quiet hours before the battle begins, Henry walks through his camp and among the soldiers, debating with himself. He is challenged by Pistol and other soldiers, and all begin to talk of who is responsible for war. One soldier says that if the cause is unjust, "the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs, and arms, and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together . . . and cry all. . . ." Henry replies that a king is not responsible for all aspects of a soldier's life. His private acts are his own, but his duty is to his king:


HENRY
. . . Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience; and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained. And in him that escapes, it were not sin to think, that making God so free an offer, he let him outlive that day, to see his greatness, and to teach others how they should prepare.