‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’, one of the most celebrated openings to, arguably, the most famous passage within the entire Henry V Shakespeare play. Through this opening we can tell that Henry is a character of perseverance and fortitude as he drives his troops into war. Shakespeare’s presentation of Henry is without doubt one of a hero and protagonist as he is presented as a man with a degree of intelligence and allure with motives that are not focused on a lust for power, like most kings, but to his obligations and responsibilities as an exalted rank. It is also apparent from Henry’s unquestionably rousing speeches that Shakespeare intends for us to view Henry as a hero, or, at the very least, as an estimable king.
Siegfried Sassoon on the other hand in his poem ‘hero’ seeks to reveal the facade and sad irony of the traditional image of the ‘war-hero’. Sassoon joined the army himself motivated by patriotism, but after his first-hand experiences he expressed his views on the ‘gritty realism’ of war through his writing. One of his most applauded pieces of work is his poem ‘the hero’ in which he touches upon a matter close to his heart; the wide gap between the public perception of the soldier fighting for his country and the stark reality of life in the trenches.
Shakespeare’s Henry’s most remarkable and heroic quality is his resolve; once Henry has his mind set on accomplishing something he uses every tool at his disposal to see that it is achieved. ‘If we may pass, we will; if we be hinder’d we shall your tawny ground with your red blood discolour’ Henry meticulously presents himself as an unstoppable force to which his enemies must choose to react; although his methods are morally questionable they are an extremely powerful psychological weapon which Henry uses to pressure his enemies into bowing to his will. Henry repeatedly acts in a manner that would be repugnant for a normal citizen but makes him both a commendable king and hero. This quality of Shakespeare’s Henry is stressed time and again but the most powerfully in which it is conferred is during Henry’s speech with the governor at Harfleur. Henry says to the governor, ‘Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves; or like to men proud of destruction defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier’. Henry is bluntly telling the governor that if he does not surrender to Henry then he will be to blame for the carnage that will be wreaked at Harfleur.
Sassoon’s hero Jack is a fictional hero conjured up by the colonel and the Brother Officer to satisfy the heart of a grieving mother. We can only guess at the contents of the ‘letter that she’d read’ but the brother Officer claims that the ‘gallant lies’ will ‘nourish all her days, no doubt’ so from this we get the feel of an epic propaganda filled letter about a martyred son to his proud mother. The hero in this poem exists only in the mind of his mother ‘he’d been so brave, her glorious boy’. The strength of...