But we in it shall be remembered -
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that shed his blood with me
Shall be my brother."
Written in the Second Period of Shakespeare's development, Henry V is the eighth of his dramas, and part of the Henriad, his historical tetralogy which also includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. The play is thought to be composed late in 1598, as it was produced between March 17 and September 28th of 1599.
The earliest known volume is the first Quarto printed in 1600, which was followed by Q2 and Q3, reprints of the first edition, published in 1602 and 1608 respectively. The first Folio edition differs extensively from the Quartos, as it is twice the length of the latter, which omits the first scenes of Acts I and III, the second scene of Act IV, the choruses and the epilogue, as well as some of the characters. Prose is also transformed into metrical form, it can only be supposed to effect an increased length of the play.
|King Henry V|
With very little constructive plot, the play ties in various episodes in Henry V's leadership role before and after the Battle of Agincourt. As it begins, Henry appeals to the Archbishop of Cantebury as to whether he is justified in his claim of the French crown. Supported by his conscience, he feels a duty towards his French subjects, but the French king has another view of the matter. When the French ambassador turns up in the English court with an insulting gift of tennis balls from the king's son, the Dauphin, Henry is incensed, but manages to keep control of his temper.
"We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us.
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chaces ......"
"........ dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea strike the Dauphin blind to look on us,
But all this lies within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal."
Yet soon after this honourable rhetoric is delivered, he learns that his friend, Lord Scroop and two lords, Cambridge and Grey, are plotting his demise and the king is forced to dispatch them in an execution. The injection of this betrayal is quickly presented and appears awkward and unconnected with the whole, but it does afford us some insight into Henry's character and the historical situation.
|Henry V Discovering the Conspirators|
The scenes move from England, to an English camp in Harfleur, to the French camp, contrasting English courage, fortitude and skill to the French forces and strength which threaten their much smaller contingent, but exemplify a bombastic and almost bumbling French confidence of an easy victory, that is obviously misplaced. The eve before the battle, Henry is represented as not only a capable king, but as a man of the people, as he walks among them in disguise, learning of their thoughts and opinions of the coming war. His responsibilities rest heavy on his shoulders and he asks God for strength in arms and His favour, in spite of the fault of his father's taking of Richard II's crown. With the French more than confident in their strength of arms, and the English somewhat dismayed by their lack of soldiers in comparison, the battle begins. With some of Shakespeare's trademark humour, the fighting continues until the English, against the odds, claim victory and peace is negotiated. Henry then woos Princess Katherine, daughter of the French king, bringing together the two countries with the bonds of love.
|Lewis Waller as Henry V|
As for characters in this drama, the principle one is certainly Henry V. Henry's motivations for ruling France do not lie in personal, monetary or territorial gain, but in a sacred trust for which he feels responsible. He shows a marked similarity to his father, Henry IV, both sewing their wild oats when young, but extirpating their follies and irresponsibilities in time of need of their country. Both become strong, forceful kings with a material sense of duty, to both God and their kingdom, and who successfully protect English identity and sovereignty. Even in presenting the English forces, there is a unity in their soldiers as we are introduced to Captain Jamy, a Scot, Captain Macmorris, an Irishman, and Fluellen, a Welshman.
My enjoyment of the play somewhat fluctuated throughout my reading. While it has a simple charm about it and Shakespeare's heroic rhetoric draws the reader in, it is obviously not as clever, or elaborately structured as many of his other plays. The reader can admire and rejoice in the honourable and admirable traits of the English king, the incarnation of England itself, but there is a definite lack of density and richness that imbues his other plays. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable in its own right and a fine ending to the Henriad.