Henry V, the son of Henry IV, received the crown after his father’s death in 1413. Before Henry received the crown he had a very wild youth, he was outgoing and naturally strong, he liked drinking and parties and got himself quite a bad reputation. People began to criticise Henry when he became Prince of Wales in 1399, because of his gambling ways and the way he took advantage of being Prince and also people said he would never make a good king. But their opinions changed and so did Henry when he became King of England.
In the play, Henry V shows himself to be a king who is both fool hardy and domineering. He ignores problems within his own country in order to expand his empire and thus his wealth in France. He was a man who took extreme risks and was fortunate that these risks did not bring his downfall and disaster to England. He may be seen as a common man. Fool hardy and impetuous as a youth, he appears to have been unable to cast-off these dubious personality traits. It is more appropriate to describe Henry V as more suited to be a soldier than to be a king.
In battle he is valiant, his motivational skills to rallying his men to fight the French, against remarkable odds, are an inspiration to any military man. Henry must also be faulted for his lack of foresight; although the victory at Agincourt was outstanding, the British were soon to lose the French lands once again. In summary, although undoubtedly brave, Henry V appears to be almost immature in his irresponsible-risk-taking conduct. Shakespeare shows that if fate had not been kind to Henry rather than be hero-worshipped by the British he would be despised as a greedy, manipulative imperialist.
In act I, scene I, the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes that Henry, when in his youth, was not a suitable person to be king of England. In line 29, Henry is described as, “The offending Adam” a reference to the wickedness that is born into men. Henry was also described as “Hydra-headed” in his youth; this reference describes how his wilfulness was shown in a variety of ways. This wilfulness causes Henry to make decisions that could be described as reckless. In going to war with the French, he risks all of England. England was a country that had its own share of problems at the time.
When Henry calls upon the arch bishop of Canterbury for his opinion on the justice of his claim to the French throne, he does so in a way that is intimidating; warning the arch bishop of the dangers that might take place should he not be truthful, “And god forbid my dear and faithful lord, that you should fashion, wrest, or bow your reading” act I, scene II, ll. 13-14. These lines could clearly be interpreted as intimidation for the arch bishop, in other words if the arch bishop does not tell Henry what he wants to hear then there maybe problems.
In act II scene II, Henry, is surrounded by his enemies, traitors to the English cause. Cambridge, Scroop and Grey are to be in charge of the affairs of state while Henry is in France. When Henry hands documents to them they presume it is to give them authority, however the documents indicated that the King knows their guilt as traitors. In doing this, Henry exposes himself to tremendous danger. The whole matter could have easily been dealt by Exeter, but once again Henry is shown to be almost foolhardy in taking the matter into his own hands. Henry can also be seen as calculating and cold.
In act III, Henry shows his capabilities as a military commander. He is aware that war is cruel and that in battle it is necessary to, “imitate the action of the tiger. ” Henry warns the governor of, Harfleur, of the dangers that will follow if the town is seized by force. Henry fears that the soldiers will no longer be under his control. It is clear therefore that even as a general Henry has weaknesses and fears that his men are not truly as well disciplined as they should be. Henry also commits two acts that appear to be inconsistent with good judgment as King.
First he informs Exeter to, “Use mercy to them all. ” This is an extremely dangerous decision; by not punishing them Henry may leave himself open to attack by these very people. Henry also prevents his troops from robbing and attacking the French from his journey to Agincourt, in doing this he shows considerable compassion, in act III scene VI “… in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentle gamester is the soonest winner.
” It also allows the French to remain strong and able to rebel against the British at some later date. Shakespeare must have had in mind that, although Henry’s victory at Agincourt was remarkable, his son soon lost the French territories to the French again. Henry’s motivational speaking is unparalleled. His famous words to the troops in, act III scene I, were inspirational, “Once more into the breech, dear friends, once more” is one of the most moving moments of the play.
However, the whole campaign against France should be considered more objectively; it is true that the victory the French is one of the proudest moments in British history, but it must also be seen as one of the most dangerous, Henry V risked all. At the time, Britain had considerable political problems and infighting. A few short years after the death of Henry V, the country was plunged into civil war with the, “War of the Roses. ” Henry’s failure to adequately deal with the problems in his own country is a considerable factor for the civil strife that followed his reign. At Agincourt, the British were severely disadvantaged.
Henry describes in act II scene IV, “my army but a weak and sickly guard. ” The British were also outnumbered by some five to one, as Exeter remarks in act IV scene III, “There’s five to one; besides, they all are fresh. ” Clearly, although Henry may have had considerable powers in persuasion, it is unrealistic to believe that the war with France was neither well planned nor well conceived. The simple fact is, even if we can believe that Henry is an outstanding general, in the sense that he achieved such a remarkable victory against the French, it is hard to believe that these actions are those of a good leader.
The risks are far too extreme; Henry acquired a great deal of luck to have recorded such a victory. Furthermore, the victory is indeed a hollow one, for Henry’s victory at Agincourt was soon swept away, as the British were soon swept from France. Henry’s victory at Agincourt is almost comic. Henry announces on line 72, act IV scene VIII that, “This note doth tell me of ten thousand French; that in this field lie slain. ” British losses we are expected to believe four titled men and, “of all other men but five and twenty. ” It seems that Shakespeare was inferring that the battle was comic and its outcome even more comic.
Such a victory shows that either the French incompetent and unbelievably stupid or the British were nearly invincible. Finally in the epilogue, Shakespeare through the chorus reminds us that the succeeding king, “Lost France and made his England bleed… ” line 12, epilogue. This shows the futility of the acts of Henry V. Because he won in France, the British may see Henry V as a hero. This victory should also be viewed against the motivations in going to war. Henry’s naivety and inability to make decisions is shown when he approached Canterbury on the merits of his claim to the French throne.
A strong and decisive leader would not require the help of men who obviously would have a vested interest in the outcome. As a youth, Henry was hot-headed and strong willed. The decision to invade France in order to further his claim shows that he has changed little. The act of placing British into a battle, where they were outnumbered five to one, is an appalling fact. Henry’s poor judgment and his failure to settle problems within England are unforgettable. In short, the British should be appalled by such a king, there is little doubt his impetuosity could very well have caused even greater problems to Britain.