Study Guide

Henry V Gender

By William Shakespeare

Gender

BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
'In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant'
(No woman shall succeed in Salic land),
Which Salic land the French unjustly gloze
To be the realm of France, and Pharamond
The founder of this law and female bar. (1.2.42-46)

Here we learn about the Salic Law in France, which says women can't inherit the throne and their sons can never inherit the throne through the female line. This is a pretty rigid way to establish the lines of succession, don't you think?

BOY
They
would have me as familiar with men’s pockets as
their gloves or their handkerchers, which makes
much against my manhood, if I should take from
another’s pocket to put into mine, for it is plain
pocketing up of wrongs. I must leave them and seek
some better service. Their villainy goes against my
weak stomach, and therefore I must cast it up. (3.3.48-55)

Here, the unnamed Boy criticizes Bardolph and Nim for stealing and declares that thievery goes "against [his] manhood," as if breaking the law makes one weak and effeminate. Throughout the Henry plays, Shakespeare has associated unruliness with effeminacy, especially in <em>Henry IV Part 1</em>, where women are often associated with rebellion.

KATHERINE
Alice, tu as été en Angleterre, et tu parles
bien le langage.

[Alice, you've been in England and you speak the language well.]
ALICE
Un peu, madame.
[A little, madame.]
KATHERINE
Je te prie, m'enseignez. Il faut que j'apprenne
à parler.

[Please teach me. I must learn to speak it]. (3.4.1-5)

When we translate these lines into English, it becomes pretty clear that Catherine is only interested in learning English because her father plans to marry her off to an English king. This reminds us that Shakespeare never actually reveals to us Catherine's interests and desires, which suggests that they're not even relevant.

KING HENRY
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;
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.(4.3.60-67)

We've talked about this passage before, but it's important to the theme of gender so it's worth mentioning here. When Henry delivers his famous St. Crispin's Day speech, he suggests that warfare forges bonds between men that cannot be broken.

EXETER
The pretty and sweet manner of it forced
Those waters from me which I would have stopped,
But I had not so much of man in me,
And all my mother came into mine eyes
And gave me up to tears.
KING HENRY
I blame you not,
For, hearing this, I must perforce compound
With mistful eyes, or they will issue too. (4.7.28-35)

Because weeping is associated with weakness and women (especially "mother[s]"), Exeter is ashamed of the fact that he cried when he witnessed the deaths of men on the battlefield. What's interesting about this passage is that King Henry admits that he's feeling a little misty-eyed as well, which is touching and a little refreshing.

QUEEN OF FRANCE
Our gracious brother, I will go with them.
Haply a woman's voice may do some good
When articles too nicely urged be stood on.
KING HENRY
Yet leave our cousin Katharine here with us.
She is our capital demand, comprised
Within the forerank of our articles. (5.2.94-99)

When Queen Isabel announces that she's going to help the men negotiate the terms of the peace treaty, Henry asks her to leave her daughter behind, since Henry's marriage to Catherine is <em>numero uno</em> on Henry's list of demands. The fact that Catherine is on Henry's list of demands suggests that women don't really get any say at all when it comes to political matters, despite Isabel's claim that a "woman's voice" might hold some sway over the men.

KATHERINE
Dat is as it shall please de roi mon pére. (5.2.257)

Catherine knows that she's being used as a political pawn. When Henry begs her to marry him, she points out that it's not up to her. Her marriage will be decided by the king, her father, who is busy signing away his daughter as part of a peace treaty with England.

BOURBON
Let us die. Once more! Back again!
And he that will not follow Bourbon now,
let him go home and with his cap in his hand
Like a base pander hold the chamber door,
Whilst a slave no gentler than my dog,
His fairest daughter is contaminate. (4.5.13-18)

As some of the French soldiers retreat, Bourbon orders them to go back and fight. If they don't, they're nothing better than fathers who hold the door open for rapists to enter their homes and rape their daughters. This analogy between conquest and rape will surface again in the play (see below).

KING OF FRANCE
Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively,
the cities turned into a maid, for they are all
girdled with maiden walls that war hath editorial never
entered.
KING HENRY
Shall Kate be my wife?
KING OF FRANCE
So please you.
KING HENRY
I am content, so the maiden cities you
talk of may wait on her. So the maid that stood in
the way for my wish shall show me the way to my
will.(5.2.332-341)

When Charles agrees to let Henry have Catherine as part of the peace treaty between France and England, both kings use the language of warfare to talk about sex and marriage. Charles suggests that the walled cities Henry hasn't managed to conquer are like "maids" (virgins) that have yet to be penetrated. Still, Henry quickly points out that, because he's conquered France (with his army), he'll soon be conquering/penetrating another maid, Catherine.

BURGUNDY
Pardon the frankness of my mirth if I
answer you for that. If you would conjure in her,
you must make a circle; if conjure up Love in her in
his true likeness, he must appear naked and blind.
Can you blame her, then, being a maid yet rosed
over with the virgin crimson of modesty, if she deny
the appearance of a naked blind boy in her naked
seeing self? It were, my lord, a hard condition for a
maid to consign to.(5.2.303-311)

Ugh. Burgundy doesn't even have the decency to leave the room where Catherine is sitting before he cracks a joke about what she'll be like in Henry's bed.

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