To what extent is Shakespeare's portrayal of the e
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To what extent is Shakespeare\'s portrayal of the eponymous hero of Henry V an idealised one?
Is your interpretation also true of Olivier’s and Branagh’s filmed versions of the play?
The over all view of Henry depends largely on the audience and the director’s interpretation, of course. An audience in Shakespeare’s time saw Henry as extremely favourable, whereas some modern critics view him as a bloodthirsty persecutor. We can look at the different ways in which Henry might be portrayed.
Firstly, Henry, ‘the mirror of all Christian kings.’ The night before Agincourt, Henry talks to his soldiers with a positive attitude about the following days events. He also sets an example to his people as he rides into battle with them, and remains positive despite overwhelming odds against him.
He could be seen as a ‘just King.’ Henry executed both his friends and enemies if they were wrong doers. This is exemplified, in Bardolph who was a friend from his past though, yet a thief.
Throughout the play, Henry often speaks of God so he may be seen as a religious King. In the Olivier version, Henry is shown as a father figure as he watches over his soldiers sleeping. The sun is shown rising, which could mean that Henry hasn’t slept due to worry. This image is reminiscent of mediaeval paintings of the Virgin Mary, which not only creates the impression that the king is touched with divinity, but also implies that he is the protector of his people.
The King also frequently requests God for help. When he sees his men praying he prays with them for his soldiers and asks God to take away their fear. The Branagh version shows Henry emphasising to God that he needs his help. This interprets to me that he is really desperate and scared. We see the King as a sincere and devout man with tears rolling down his face. The tears are dramatic and further emphasise his sincerity. Shakespeare is trying to make us feel sympathy for the king, as when he is praying, it is as if he is bargaining with God, he seems sincerely sorry and tries to make amends asking him to forget what his father did.
’Not today, O Lord,
O not today, think upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown’
Also, in my opinion, I believe that Shakespeare is creating patriotism at this point in order to increase the audience’s enjoyment of the play, as the productions of it would normally be shown in England, therefore, an English audience would be watching it and anticipating the good qualities of their nation to be displayed.
Henry insisted on having the agreement of the church before going into battle just so he knows God is on his side.
’May I with right and conscience make this claim’
Henry makes it clear that the church must agree before he will make a move, therefore leaving it in their hands should his cause be unjust. This is revisited in his conversation with Williams, where he refuses to accept the fact that, as king, all the deaths will lie in his hands. Henry does in fact present a very persuasive argument to the opposing army. The King made inspiring speeches, a trait of effective leadership. He frequently uses rhetoric in his speeches, which impress, persuade and enthuse his troops. His speech before the walls of Harfleur is extremely powerful and inspirational to his men. He knows his soldiers are tired but attempts to raise morale and asks them to put on a brave face and to act differently.
’But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger’
Whilst speaking to his soldiers, he includes every one, the nobles and the general army telling them that they will be an example to others.
In his oration directed at the governor - a bluff that worked well and avoided blood shed, Henry tried to persuade the people to end their siege by threatening them and their families, also talking about burning Harfleur down.
Henry tells the governor that he already owns half of Harfleur and wasn’t going to leave until he has all of it.
’I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in ashes she lie
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British films, English-language films, Shakespearean histories, Henry V of England, Films, Henry V, Bardolph, William Shakespeare, Harfleur, Henry VI, Part 1
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