Henry V Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line)
O, for a Muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! (Prologue.1-4)
Here, the Chorus asks for a "muse of fire" to help the theater company portray "a kingdom for a stage," which tells us that Shakespeare wants us to take his play very, very seriously. (This classic move, by the way, is called an "Invocation to the Muse." Check out the openings of The Odyssey, Paradise Lost, and The Aeneid for some other famous examples.) We just have one question: Why does the best playwright of all time need help from a muse? Keep reading...
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraisèd spirits that hath dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O pardon, (Prologue.5-16)
Shakespeare usually saves his "sorry our play is so lousy" speech for the Epilogue, but here the Chorus apologizes in advance for the play's lack of realism. (The tiny stage cannot possibly "hold the vastly fields of France" or "cram" thousands of actors portraying soldiers into the theater.)
And let us, ciphers to this great account,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high uprearèd and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth,
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
Turning th’ accomplishment of many years
Into an hourglass; for the which supply,
Admit me chorus to this history,
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play. (Prologue.18-36)
Since Shakespeare's theater company's staging options are pretty limited, the Chorus urges us, the audience, to put our imaginations to work so that we can imagine that one single actor represents a "thousand" soldiers. We also notice that the Chorus uses vivid imagery to help us imagine horses "printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth." In other words, Shakespeare's going to do his best to bring historical events to life for us, but this play's success rests in the audience's hands.