Study Guide

Henry V Patriotism

By William Shakespeare

Patriotism

BISHOP OF CANTEBURY
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.
O noble English, that could entertain
With half their forces the full Pride of France
And let another half stand laughing by,
All out of work and cold for action! (1.2.107-119)

When Canterbury and Ely urge Henry to channel his ancestors and "forage in blood of the French nobility," it's pretty clear that they think it's Henry's patriotic duty to declare war on France.

BISHOP OF CANTEBURY
She hath been then more feared than harmed, my
   liege,
For hear her but exampled by herself:
When all her chivalry hath been in France
And she a mourning widow of her nobles,
She hath herself not only well defended
But taken and impounded as a stray
The King of Scots, whom she did send to France
To fill King Edward's fame with prisoner kings
And make her chronicle as rich with praise
As is the ooze and bottom of the sea
With sunken wreck and sunless treasuries. (1.2.161-172)

Henry worries that invading France will leave England's borders vulnerable to attack from outsiders. After all, when Henry's great-grandfather led a campaign on foreign soil, England was invaded by their neighbors, the Scottish. Canterbury's response is that England was hardly threatened by the Scots. In fact, she took the Scottish king prisoner, which was quite a feather in her cap. In other words, Canterbury says that England's been racking up successful military campaigns left and right, making the country rich with the "treasures" of victory.

KING HENRY
But this lies all within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal, and in whose name
Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on,
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallowed cause. (1.2.302-306)

Henry frequently declares that God is on his side. Here, he warns the Dauphin (via the Messenger) that, when he invades France, he's coming as God's avenger.

KING HENRY
On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonor not your mothers. Now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good
   yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture. Let us swear
That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt
   not,
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble luster in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot. (3.1.18-35)

Remember when Canterbury and Ely told Henry that he should invade France for his country's (and his family's) honor? Well, here, Henry uses the same tactic to motivate his soldiers.

KING HENRY
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' (3.1.37)

It doesn't get more patriotic than this. When Henry declares that God is "for England," we're reminded that national pride and religious zeal go hand in hand in this play.

KING HENRY
I dare say you love him not so ill to wish
him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel
other men's minds: methinks I could not die anywhere
so contented as in the king's company, his
cause being just and his quarrel honorable.
WILLIAMS
That's more than we know. (4.1.128-133)

When Henry (disguised as a common soldier) attempts to justify his invasion of France, Williams replies with much skepticism: "That's more than we know." In other words, Williams doesn't necessarily buy into Henry's patriotic call to arms but concedes that it's not his place to criticize the king.

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. (4.3.62-69)

Henry suggests that it's a privilege for his troops to fight by his side, even if they wind up dead. The king's strategy for rallying his troops seems to boil down to this: everyone who stayed at home is going to be so jealous! Plus, they'll feel like a bunch of wimps for not getting their battle on.

KING HENRY
My people are with sickness much enfeebled,
My numbers lessened, and those few I have
Almost no better than so many French,
Who when they were in health, I tell thee, herald,
I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen. Yet forgive me, God,
That I do brag thus. This your air of France
Hath blown that vice in me. I must repent.
Go therefore, tell thy master: here I am.
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,
My army but a weak and sickly guard,
Yet, God before, tell him we will come on
Though France himself and such another neighbor
Stand in our way. There’s for thy labor, Montjoy.
Gives money. Go bid thy master well advise himself:
If we may pass, we will; if we be hindered,
We shall your tawny ground with your red blood
Discolor. And so, Montjoy, fare you well.
The sum of all our answer is but this:
We would not seek a battle as we are,
Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it.
So tell your master. (3.6.150-171)

As the English troops prepare to fight at Agincourt, they are serious underdogs because they're exhausted, sick, and completely outnumbered. When Henry's army emerges virtually unscathed, the victory is that much more compelling. It's obvious that Shakespeare meant for the play to instill his audience with a sense of national pride.

KING HENRY
Then every soldier kill his prisoners (4.6.38)

Wait a minute! What's this? How are we supposed to interpret Henry's order for his men to kill all of the French war prisoners? Is this the act of a noble king or a cold war monger? Is Shakespeare criticizing Henry? You decide.

FLUELLEN
By Jeshu, I am your majesty's countryman,
I care not who know it. I will confess it to all the
'orld. I need not to be ashamed of your Majesty,
praised be God, so long as your majesty is an
honest man. (4.7.117-121)

When the Welsh Captain Fluellen declares that he is proud to be Henry's countrymen (Henry was born in Wales), we're reminded that Shakespeare tries to unite all of the country's of Britain into one cohesive nation. (This is why he portrays Captains from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England fighting together in Henry's army.)

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