Study Guide

Henry V Family

By William Shakespeare

Advertisement - Guide continues below


The breath no sooner left his father’s body
But that his wildness, mortified in him,
Seemed to die too. Yea, at that very moment
Consideration like an angel came
And whipped th’ offending Adam out of him,
Leaving his body as a paradise
T’ envelop and contain celestial spirits. (1.1.27-33)

There's a whole lot of talk in this play about King Henry V's relationship to his dead father, King Henry IV. Why? In a world where crowns are supposed to be passed from fathers to sons, it's nearly impossible to separate politics from family. Here, Canterbury suggests that, when Henry IV died, his son not only inherited the English crown but also experienced a sudden and miraculous transformation.

Howbeit they would hold up this Salic law
To bar your Highness claiming from the female,
And rather choose to hide them in a net
Than amply to imbar their crooked titles
Usurped from you and your progenitors.
May I with right and conscience make this claim? (1.2.96-101)

We talk about Salic Law in "Symbolism," but it's worth mentioning here because it's a rule that says women can't inherit the French throne and their sons (and grandsons, etc.) can't inherit it either. The great-great-grandson of a French princess, Henry V contests the Salic Law and makes a claim to the French throne. In other words, when it's convenient, Henry uses family as an excuse to take the crown, regardless of whether or not it's right or justifiable.

Gracious lord,
Stand for your own, unwind your bloody flag,
Look back into your mighty ancestors.
Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire’s tomb,
From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit
And your great-uncle’s, Edward the Black Prince,
Who on the French ground played a tragedy,
Making defeat on the full power of France
Whiles his most mighty father on a hill
Stood smiling to behold his lion’s whelp
Forage in blood of French nobility. (1.2.105-115)

In this play, relationships between fathers and sons (and even uncles and nephews) seem to be strengthened by wartime heroics. When Canterbury encourages Henry V to declare war on France, he tells the king to look back at his family tree for inspiration in order to invoke his great-uncle's "war-like spirit." (Henry's great-uncle was Edward the "Black Prince," the guy who terrorized France in the mid-1300s. Later in the play, King Charles recalls how the Black Prince slaughtered the French while the prince's dad, King Edward III, stood on a mountain top watching as his "heroical seed" in action.

...for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands,
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn. (1.2.296-301)

Here, Henry openly declares war on France after the Dauphin sends him an insulting gift (a bunch of tennis balls). What's interesting about this is the way Henry emphasizes the fact that warfare tears families apart. We also notice that Henry has a tendency to blame others for his actions. Even though he's the one declaring war, he claims that it France's fault that the wives of their soldiers are going to be turned into widows and the children made into orphans when their fathers are killed in battle.

Ô Dieu vivant, shall a few sprays of us,
The emptying of our fathers’ luxury,
Our scions, put in wild and savage stock,
Spurt up so suddenly into the clouds
And overlook their grafters?
Normans, but bastard Normans, Norman bastards!
Mort de ma vie, if they march along
Unfought withal, but I will sell my dukedom
To buy a slobb’ry and a dirty farm
In that nook-shotten isle of Albion. (3.5.5-14)

Here, the French insult the English by referring to them as "a few sprays of us." In other words, the Dauphin sees the English nobility as offshoots of the French because their ancestors are the Normans, who invaded England back in 1066. This is why Bourbon calls the English noblemen "bastard Normans."

By faith and honor,
Our madams mock at us and plainly say
Our mettle is bred out, and they will give
Their bodies to the lust of English youth
To new-store France with bastard warriors. (3.5.28-32)

Wow. The French characters are really anxious about the thought of interbreeding with the English, don't you think? The Dauphin of France is worried that the French women will hook up with English soldiers and produce "bastard warriors" (have kids that are half French and half English). What's odd about this is the fact that King Charles VI has recently offered to let King Henry marry his daughter Catherine (who is the Dauphin's sister) as a peace offering. Henry declines the offer initially, but the marriage does eventually take place.

Not today, O Lord,
O, not today, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown.
I Richard's body have interrèd new
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears
Than from it issued forcèd drops of blood. (4.2.303-308)

Henry is always afraid that his family's history will come back to haunt him. The night before the Battle of Agincourt, he prays to God and begs him not to punish him for his father's sins – stealing the crown from Richard II and having him murdered. Although his father's actions are responsible for Henry inheriting the English crown, Henry worries that these actions will ultimately cause his downfall.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition; (4.3.62-65)

This speech has become famous for the way it gives voice to the idea that soldiers become a family (specifically, a brotherhood) when they experience combat together.

I pray you, then, in love and dear alliance,
Let that one article rank with the rest,
And thereupon give me your daughter.
Take her, fair son, and from her blood raise up
Issue to me, that the contending kingdoms
Of France and England, whose very shores look pale
With envy of each other's happiness, (5.2.357-363)

Henry's marriage to Catherine is an important part of the peace treaty because the marriage unifies England and France. If Henry and Catherine can produce a son (which they will), then he'll also one day rule both countries.

Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned King
Of France and England, did this king succeed,
Whose state so many had the managing
That they lost France and made his England bleed,
Which oft our stage hath shown. And for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take. (Epilogue.9-14)

Talk about irony. After all the bloodshed and struggle (which included a lot of talk about how Henry's family lineage gave him rights to the French throne), Henry's efforts to rule France don't mean anything because, later, he dies and his son, Henry VI, takes over and loses France.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...