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Henry V

Henry V

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Henry V Art and Culture Quotes

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Quote #1

Chorus O for a Muse of fire, that would ascendThe brightest heaven of invention,A kingdom for a stage, princes to actAnd monarchs to behold the swelling scene! (Prologue)

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...

Quote #2

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,But pardon, and gentles all,The flat unraised spirits that have daredOn this unworthy scaffold to bring forthSo great an object: can this cockpit holdThe vasty fields of France? or may we cramWithin this wooden O the very casquesThat did affright the air at Agincourt?O, pardon! (Prologue)

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.)

Quote #3

And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,On your imaginary forces work.Suppose within the girdle of these wallsAre now confined two mighty monarchies,Whose high upreared and abutting frontsThe perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;Into a thousand parts divide on man,And make imaginary puissance;Think when we talk of horses, that you see themPrinting their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,Turning the accomplishment of many yearsInto an hour-glass: 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)

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.

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