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Henry IV Part 1 Warfare Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #1

So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenced in strands afar remote. (1.1.1-4)

King Henry's speech to his council in the play's opening lines tells us that England is in the middle of a grueling civil war, which has left the weary king "shaken" and "wan." (Note: Monarchs often use the plural "we" instead of the singular pronoun "I.") A masterful orator, Henry conveys the sense of sheer exhaustion that accompanies the physical and emotional exertions of warfare when he suggests "frighted peace" is taking time to "pant," much like a soldier catching his breath after battle. This, at first, seems promising, as the allusion to peace suggests the ugly war is over and done with.

But, by the time we read or hear the third line, we learn that "frighted peace" (which now seems to be code for King Henry) pauses for breath in order to speak ("breath short-winded accents) of new wars ("broils") abroad. Hmm. Why didn't the king just come out and say he wants to start a new war "abroad"? Keep reading…

Quote #2

[…] Therefore, friends,
As far as to the sepulcher of Christ—
Whose soldier now, under whose blessèd cross
We are impressèd and engaged to fight—
Forthwith a power of English shall we levy,
Whose arms were molded in their mothers' womb
To chase these pagans in those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessèd feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed
For our advantage on the bitter cross. (1.1.18-27)

In the previous excerpt from Henry's opening speech, we learned that Henry wants to speak with his council about a new war in "strands afar remote." Here, we learn of Henry's plans to wage a holy war in Jerusalem. If he's as worn out as he says he is, why would Henry want to do such a thing? It turns out Henry believes that, by uniting English soldiers and waging a holy war against the "pagans" (a derogatory reference to Muslims), he'll redeem himself and his past sins (the usurpation of the throne and the murder of the deposed King Richard II).

Note: We know this because, at the end of Richard II, the play that precedes Henry IV Part 1 in the tetralogy, Henry promises to lead a crusade to Jerusalem. He says "I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land / To wash this blood off from my guilty hand" (Richard II, 5.6.6).

There's a lot to be said about the passage from Henry IV Part 1, but what strikes us the most is the way Henry's speech draws our attention away from thoughts about the bloodshed and human carnage of warfare by redirecting our attention to the violence of the crucifixion instead (Christ's "blessed feet" being "nail'd" to save the souls of Christians). That's not to suggest that King Henry isn't earnest in his desire to a lead a crusade, but we can't help but note that Henry is a very skilled orator and we should remember that his speech is a well-crafted attempt to "sell" the idea of a holy war at a time when the entire kingdom is hurting and "shaken" from a civil war Henry helped create.

Quote #3

It seems then that the tidings of this broil
Brake off our business for the Holy Land. (1.1.47-48)

Despite Henry's lengthy discussion (in his opening speech) of taking the violence of war abroad to the Holy Land, it turns out that the king has known all along that there will be more bloodshed on English soil first. Henry has recently learned of the trouble brewing with the Welsh and the Scots on England's borders.

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