Study Guide

Henry V Memory and the Past

By William Shakespeare

Memory and the Past

BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The King is full of grace and fair regard.
BISHOP OF ELY
And a true lover of the holy Church.
BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The courses of his youth promised it not.
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.
Never was such a sudden scholar made,
Never came reformation in a flood
With such a heady currance scouring faults,
Nor never Hydra-headed willfulness
So soon did lose his seat, and all at once,
As in this king.(1.1.24-39)

The play is always reminding us about how much Henry has changed since the wild days of his youth. Here, Canterbury and Ely can't stop talking about what an amazing king Henry turned out to be, which seems like a miracle since he used to be such a degenerate.

BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
He seems indifferent,
Or rather swaying more upon our part
Than cherishing th’ exhibitors against us;
For I have made an offer to his Majesty—
Upon our spiritual convocation
And in regard of causes now in hand,
Which I have opened to his Grace at large,
As touching France—to give a greater sum
Than ever at one time the clergy yet
Did to his predecessors part withal.
BISHOP OF ELY
How did this offer seem received, my lord?
BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
With good acceptance of his Majesty—
Save that there was not time enough to hear,
As I perceived his Grace would fain have done,
The severals and unhidden passages
Of his true titles to some certain dukedoms,
And generally to the crown and seat of France,
Derived from Edward, his great-grandfather. (1.1.77-94)

Early on, we learn that a bill has just resurfaced in Parliament. (The bill had been raised before in Henry IV's reign, but it was pushed aside while England dealt with internal strife.) If the bill passes this time, the Church will lose a ton of money and land to the crown's treasury, so Canterbury and Ely want to make it disappear. Their solution is to urge Henry into a war with France and offer him a large sum of money to finance the campaign. This recalls a moment in Henry IV Part 2, where Henry IV advised his son to "busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out, / May waste the memory of the former days" (4.5.213-215). This raises an important question: is Henry's war with France an attempt to distract the "giddy minds" of the English so that they will forget that Henry's dad was a throne-stealer?

KING HENRY
But I will rise there with so full a glory
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us. (1.2.290-292)

Even though Henry is no longer a wild young prince who spends his time carousing with thugs, the Dauphin of France refuses to acknowledge Henry's transformation. One could argue that Henry's final decision to invade France is motivated by Henry's desire to force the Dauphin to recognize his majesty and power. We notice here that Henry uses the same metaphor he developed back in <em>Henry IV Part 1</em>, when he compared himself to the "sun" and promised that his transformation into a glorious king would dazzle his subjects and make them forget his riotous youth.

HOSTESS
As ever you come of women, come in quickly
to Sir John. Ah, poor heart, he is so shaked of a
burning quotidian-tertian that it is most lamentable
to behold. Sweet men, come to him.
NYM
The King hath run bad humors on the knight,
that’s the even of it.
PISTOL
Nym, thou hast spoke the right. His heart is
fracted and corroborate. (2.2.114-121)

At the end of <em>Henry IV Part 2</em>, Shakespeare promised to bring Falstaff back and send him to the war in France. Soon after <em>Henry V</em> opens, though, we hear that Falstaff is deathly ill. (He's so ill, in fact, that Shakespeare doesn't even bother to bring him out on stage.) What's up with that?

CAMBRIDGE
For me, the gold of France did not seduce,
Although I did admit it as a motive
The sooner to effect what I intended;
But God be thanked for prevention;
Which I in sufferance heartily will rejoice,
Beseeching God and you to pardon me. (2.2.162-167)

When Cambridge confesses that he took French money to assassinate King Henry, we're reminded that Cambridge supports Mortimer, who may have a better claim to the English throne than Henry, who only inherited the crown after his father usurped it from Richard II.

KING OF FRANCE
Think we King Harry strong,
And, princes, look you strongly arm to meet him.
The kindred of him hath been fleshed upon us,
And he is bred out of that bloody strain
That haunted us in our familiar paths.
Witness our too-much-memorable shame
When Cressy battle fatally was struck
And all our princes captived by the hand
Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales,
Whiles that his mountain sire, on mountain standing
Up in the air, crowned with the golden sun,
Saw his heroical seed and smiled to see him
Mangle the work of nature and deface
The patterns that by God and by French fathers
Had twenty years been made. This is a stem
Of that victorious stock, and let us fear
The native mightiness and fate of him. (2.4.51-68)

The Dauphin might underestimate Henry, but King Charles VI certainly doesn't. Here, he recalls the time when Henry's great uncle (Edward the Black Prince) invaded France and made their lives a living hell. This is Shakespeare's way of reminding us that Henry comes from a long line of warriors and is not to be messed with.

DAUPHIN
I once writ
a sonnet in his praise and began thus: 'Wonder of
nature—'
ORLÉANS
I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's
mistress.
DAUPHIN
Then did they imitate that which I composed
to my courser, for my horse is my mistress.
ORLÉANS
Your mistress bears well. (3.7.40-47)

Bourbon seems like a throwback to Hotspur's character in Henry IV Part 1, don't you think? Recall that Hotspur was the epitome of honor and chivalry (a word that comes from the French "cheval," which means horse). Here, Bourbon's over-the-top bragging about his beloved horse seems like a comedic parody of Hotspur's love of warfare and chivalry.

KING HENRY
O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts.
Possess them not with fear. Take from them now
The sense of reck’ning or th’ opposèd numbers
Pluck their hearts from them. 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.
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay
Who twice a day their withered hands hold up
Toward heaven to pardon blood. And I have built
Two chantries where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do—
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon. (4.1.300-316)

Henry V may not admit it in public, but he's really anxious about the way his father got his hands on the English throne. Here, he begs God to forgive him for his dad's crimes against Richard II and hopes that he won't be punished for Henry IV's sins.

FLUELLEN
It is not well done, mark you now, to take
the tales out of my mouth, ere it is made and
finished. I speak but in the figures and comparisons
of it. As Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in
his ales and his cups, so also Harry Monmouth,
being in his right wits and his good judgments,
turned away the fat knight with the great-belly
doublet; he was full of jests and gipes and knaveries
and mocks—I have forgot his name.
GOWER
Sir John Falstaff. (4.7.43-52)

Even though Shakespeare has killed off Falstaff, the guy never quite seems to go away (even though people are beginning to forget his name). Why do you think Shakespeare dredges up a memory of Falstaff at this particular moment in the play?

KING HENRY
It was ourself thou didst abuse.
WILLIAMS
Your majesty came not like yourself. You
appeared to me but as a common man; witness the
night, your garments, your lowliness. And what
your highness suffered under that shape, I beseech
you take it for your own fault and not mine, for, had
you been as I took you for, I made no offense.
Therefore, I beseech your highness pardon me. (4.8.51-58)

When Henry plays a practical joke on Williams (which involved disguising himself as a commoner and getting into an argument with the man), it seems like Henry is up to his old tricks. When we first met Henry back in <em>Henry IV Part 1</em>, the young prince loved a good gag. (Remember the trick he played on Falstaff at Gadshill?) Some things never change.

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