In this essay I will show you how successfully Shakespeare presents to an audience Henry as the ‘ideal king’. In this essay I will first examine the historical context of the play (what actually happened), then I will discuss how Shakespeare portrayed Henry in the play compared to the real Henry and how successfully did Shakespeare present to an audience Henry as the ‘ideal king’. Third I will demonstrate how Shakespeare is able to show these events on a stage. Finally I will end the essay with my own conclusion of how successfully Shakespeare presents to an audience Henry as the ‘ideal king’.
In reality the king at the time Henry did not have a right to the throne of France- after all he had no right to that of England’s either- but it was an ineluctably traditional claim: a real king in England was obliged to pretend to the throne of France. When countries went to war it brought the country together and Henry partly wanted to do this and of course partly wanted to be the ruler of France. According to the legend, the war displayed Henry’s military genius. Really it was a story of gambler’s luck.
Henry V, aged 28, set sail from Southampton, UK on 11 August, 1415, with a fleet of about 300 ships to claim his birthright of the Duchy of Normandy. They landed at Harfleur, Northern France, taking two days to disembark. Looting and molesting of the civilian population was forbidden and every member of his force had to wear the cross of St. George as a badge of identification. He reminded then that they were not on a campaign of conquest, but rather to reclaim the land that ‘rightfully’ belonged to him. The siege of Harfleur lasted five weeks, much longer than they had expected, and Henry lost many men and more than 2000 from dysentery.
He then took the decision to leave a garrison at Harfleur and take a remainder of his men – 900 men at arms and 5000 archers – back home via Calais, France. Calais was 100 miles away and they could only muster enough rations for one week, but this was thought to be more than enough. There were two obstacles in their way- a large French army trying to force a battle and the River Somme, which was only passable in a few places. Outnumbered, sick and short of supplies they struggled to cross the Somme with the French blocking every attempt.
With supplies running low, Henry was eventually able to get ahead of his pursuers where the river snaked into a U-bend, crossed it and joined the road to Calais. Now on the same side of the river as the French army, Henry pushed his troops north to Calais. It was on this road near the village of Agincourt, that the French were finally able to stop Henry’s army across the road, some 25 000 men against Henry’s 6000. Then to add to their woes, the rain started to pour and with only an orchard for cover they made camp for the night.
The noise from the French camp must have added to their sense of impending doom, as the French Knights played games of chance to among the first to attack and have the glory of killing the king. Against all this the English confessed their sins, received the sacrament and made peace with God, expecting nothing but death the next day. The next day was 25th of October, St. Crispin’s day and the French vastly outnumbering the English were expecting a humiliating negotiated settlement. Negotiations ended at an early stage and both sides prepared for battle. The French though weren’t to be rushed and at 8:00 am had breakfast, laughing and joking.
The English ate whatever they had left of their meagre rations. A further 2 hours passed. The French could not wait- they had time on their side, blocking the road- but the English were getting weaker all the time. Henry then decided he had nothing to lose and forced the French into battle and advanced. Henry raised his horse, with no spurs, indicating he would dismount and fight on foot, along the English line. He even donned his royal surcoat of three leopards of England and three gold fleurdelis of France, which would mark him out to the French as the king.
He gave a rousing speech exhorting them to act well and reminded the archers of the French boast to cut of three fingers of every right hand of every man captured. The English then moved to within 300 yards of the enemy and began to fire. This sparked the French into action, their crossbow men loosing a volley but falling under pressure from the English archers. The first wave of French cavalry then charged- a low charge over the ploughed, rain-soaked ground, giving no impetus. Only three cavalry men died in the attack, but one of them was their commander.
This caused the French to become unnerved and retreated into the now advancing main army. With forces moving in opposite directions and getting in each other’s way, the French were soon in total disarray, but still they marched on. Nearing exhaustion with the field turning into quagmire, churned up by thousands of heavily-armoured men, the English created an arrow storm for the men, ten ranks deep, who were now even afraid to look up in case an arrow pierced their visors. After 300 yards the army came into contact with the English but found that due to their numbers they had no space to aim a blow and what followed was a bloodbath.