It is easy to see how Henry V can be seen as an inspirational play, to its original audience. When Shakespeare was writing this play, he obviously used a variety of different methods to inspire his English audience. In this presentation I plan to point out what methods were used, and explain why they are effective. These methods are Shakespeare’s use of characterization (specifically with Henry and the French), the use of dialogue, and also, the use of imagery. While this play may not have been one of Shakespeare’s greats, it certainly was one of his better-written plays.
If one were to only read Henry V, they would not understand why Shakespeare is considered such an amazing playwright. This particular play does not have the same appeal to it when compared to his other works. It lacks the betrayal of Julius Caesar, the passion of Romeo and Juliet, of the intrigue of Macbeth. This play is simply, a retelling of past events. The one, and only, character from this play that is somewhat developed in the main character, Henry. Henry is a static character, far from the other main characters of Shakespeare’s greats.
There is next to no delving into his psyche, he simply starts as a “monarch better feared than loved” (Shakespeare, 28). This way of thinking about him remains constant. Shakespeare would have done this for a specific reason. He starts the play by basically comparing Henry against two high-ranking religious officials, making Henry seem like a normal person. This would have allowed the various social classes that were in the audience to feel some sort of connection with Henry. They would be able to see him as one of them. That way, when Henry accomplished something, they all accomplished something.
When Henry overcame adversity, they all overcame adversity. When Henry defeated the French, they all defeated the French. As was previously stated, Henry does not change during the play. He is an extremely static character. He is characterized as a young, devoted, and competent leader. He is simply trying to regain something that he felt should be his. According to Salic law, the French crown could not be passed down through a woman. Henry saw this as an opportunity to get a wife, and ultimately, a new country for England. These were all wants of the common English person.
So, how could an audience not be attached to someone who wanted what they wanted? Shakespeare also uses characterization of another group to inspire people in this play. Shakespeare characterizes the French in a way that the typical Englishman would have seen the French. They appear to be over-confident, brash, and not aware of the English strength. A prime example of this is in Act 1 scene 2 where the Dauphin has sent the tennis balls to Henry to mock him. Henry responds to this by saying that this gesture will be the reason that France is beaten.
Henry goes on to state that the Dauphin “Mock[ed] mothers from their sons”. This would go to show that the English were not about to back down to the French, and that they would stand up for themselves. What you have to imagine is a crowd full of English people. Shakespeare has already introduced Henry as a kind of respectable Englishman, who did foolish things when he was younger but has now straightened up his act. With this in mind, now think about how the audience would have reacted to this French enemy sending an English king tennis balls to mock him. The audience would has presumably felt angry.
They would have felt as though this French prince was a terrible person. This was precisely what Shakespeare was trying to create. Shakespeare was trying to get the English people to bring out their pre-existing hatred for the French and bring about the mentality that they were all defeating the French not just the people on stage. There is further proof that this may have been the state of mind that Shakespeare was trying to create. In act 4 scene 3, Henry is reminding his army that “For he who sheds his blood with me today, shall be my brother” This would have been seen as the ultimate sign of patriotism.
The King was telling his followers that he considers them his equals. If we believe that Shakespeare was trying to create an experience for his audience, then we can believe that Shakespeare included lines like that to inspire his audience. While I very briefly covered some of the lines that Shakespeare added to this play to create pride in his audience, there are many more. What I am going to do is take a section of lines that Shakespeare wrote and dissect it with the sole purpose of finding the times where Shakespeare uses a line that may spark some sort of pride, or where he uses a line to inspire his audience.
The section of dialogue that I am going to analyze is in Act 3 Scene 1. “Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit To his full height. On, on, you noblest English, Whose blood is fed from fathers of war-proof, Fathers that like so many Alexanders Have in these parts from morn till eve, fought, And sheathed their swords for lack of argument. Dishonour not your mothers; now attest That those whom you called fathers did beget you. Be copy now to men of grosser blood, And teach them how to war. And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here The mettle of your pasture” Let me give some context to this section. This is from one of Henry’s famous speeches in the play. Shakespeare does some interesting things in this passage. At first he seems to be trying to inject an incredible amount of nationalism into this passage. This passage starts with a physical image “set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide”. This would have been done by Shakespeare to set the image for the audience of what we would call a “game face” otherwise known as a look of determination.
The next few lines involve Henry telling his soldiers that this was the time to prove that they were real Englishmen. It was the time to prove that they could live up to the expectation of their forefathers. Henry says that this was the ground that their fathers fought on “from morn to eve”. Henry goes on to tell his soldiers to not “dishonor their mothers”. This, for me, was the most interesting part of this passage. That is because it is something that everybody in the audience would have been able to relate to.
Not everybody would have understood what it was like to be in war, but everyone would have understood what it was like to have a mom. They would have all understood what it felt like to try and honour their parents. Another part that stood out for me as an obvious tactic that Shakespeare used was when Henry said to “teach them how to war”. This stood out for me because it is so obvious that Shakespeare is putting down the French, but unless you are specifically looking for that, it can come and go without being noticed.
Shakespeare ends this speech by having Henry re-iterate that they were English men, and that they should prove their worth. After hearing this speech the audience would have felt extremely inspired. They would have felt as though Henry was talking directly to them. The way this passage is ended really brings about the end of my point. Henry says “good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England… ” Give that a second to sink in. A yeoman is someone who is a small prosperous farmer, a minor landowner, or a bodyguard of the British monarch. Now think about the people who would have been in the audience.
You would have had small farmers, minor landowners, and the wealthy. Knowing this, it can be argued that Shakespeare wrote this small line as if it were to be directly said to the audience. He also talks about them being made in England. This would have been done solely to once again drive home the point that Henry was English, and the audience was English, therefore they were not all that different. The last method that Shakespeare uses is imagery; however, I will be speaking about animal imagery specifically. I used a quotation previously from Henry’s famous speech.
There is a part that precedes that in which Henry talks about Tigers. Specifically he says “Then imitate the action of the tiger” You may be asking yourself why Shakespeare would have included this in this speech. Animal imagery has the ability to play on a human’s primal instinct. If we were pretending the Henry was real in this instance, then this would have been used to create the desire to kill in his soldiers. He would have been trying to make them want to kill somebody. But in actuality, this was done by Shakespeare to create feelings of hatred towards the French.
Shakespeare was not trying to make people hate the French! He was just trying to create feelings of animosity. He was stirring the pot. This is just one of the examples of when Shakespeare uses animal imagery to inspire his audience, however I believe that it is the most effective example. All-in-all this play is a great example of certain aspects of Shakespeare’s writing style, his ability to tell a story, and his ability to influence a culture. Through his use of characterization, dialogue, and animal imagery, I believe that Shakespeare is able to effectively influence his audience, Thank you.