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Henry V By William Shakespeare Essay

2724 words - 11 pages

Henry V by William Shakespeare

The play I will write about is Henry V by William Shakespeare was
written in the time of Elizabeth I but refers to the events of 1415
when King Henry V led a war against the French. The play is the fourth
in a series of history plays that Shakespeare wrote beginning with
Richard II and continuing with Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. The two Henry
IV plays chart the adventures of 'Prince Hal' who later becomes Henry
V. Prince Hal did not stay in court and prepare to be a King but spent
his time drinking in the Boar's Head Tavern with characters such as
Pistol, Nym and Bardolph, who are in this play and Sir John Falstaff.
On becoming King Henry had to renounce Falstaff, which broke
Falstaff's heart. It must be remembered that some people who would
have seen Henry V would also have seen Henry IV where Henry betrays
Falstaff and so Henry's character would have this fact hanging over
him from the previous play. The play was performed in the 1590s and
people still had strong memories of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Many
people saw that conflict as a religious and righteous war as it was
Protestant England against Catholic Spain. This made war a subject of
some debate and whether a war could ever be 'just' considering the
immense suffering that any conflict causes. The play deals with this
issue of war and while on the surface it puts England and Henry in a
very good light, a strongly sceptical subtext runs throughout the
play. I have chosen a limited section of the play to analyse for this
subtext, Act 1 scene 2 and Act 4 scene 1 as well as the chorus speech
for Act 2. I believe these parts of the play to be the most
interesting and relevant in relation to the area I have chosen to
analyse.

The play proper starts with a conversation between two powerful
English Bishops, the Bishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely. They
discuss a new tax that the King is planning to put on the churches and
how they would like to avoid it. They decide to do this by pushing the
King into a war with France. They take this idea to the King in Act 1
Scene 2 and tell him of an ancient law that theoretically gives him
some claim to France, although the long and ponderous way it is
presented on stage from lines 33 to 95 makes the claim seem like an
excuse to attack France (which of course it is) rather than a genuine
reason. Henry agrees to the idea of the two bishops in line 96 when he
asks 'may I with right and conscience make this claim?' This does not
portray Henry in such a bad light as he is concerned with the moral
right of the claim, but it is obvious to the audience that the claim
is so antiquated that Henry would be able to see it was not really a
good claim if he was really concerned with this issue. This is an
example of Shakespeare giving Henry a rather shallow concern...

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