Study Guide

Henry V Power

By William Shakespeare

Power

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 (1.1.24-32)

According to Canterbury and Ely, Henry V is an excellent king, despite his wild youth. Here, Canterbury compares Henry to Adam (from the Book of Genesis) and suggests that Henry has been redeemed for the sins of his past.

KING HENRY
My learnèd lord, we pray you to proceed
And justly and religiously unfold
Why the law Salic that they have in France
Or should, or should not, bar us in our claim.
And God forbid, my dear and faithful lord,
That you should fashion, wrest, or bow your
   reading,
Or nicely charge your understanding soul
With opening titles miscreate, whose right
Suits not in native colors with the truth;
For God doth know how many now in health
Shall drop their blood in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to. (1.2.11-23)

At this point in the play, we've already learned that Henry is thinking of claiming the French throne. Here, Henry tells the Archbishop that it will be his fault if Henry starts a big war that can't be justified. Is it just us, or does Henry seems reluctant to take responsibility for his actions and decisions?

BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Then hear me, gracious sovereign, and you peers
That owe yourselves, your lives, and services
To this imperial throne. There is no bar
To make against your highness' claim to France
But this, which they produce from Pharamond:
'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.
Yet their own authors faithfully affirm
That the land Salic is in Germany,
Between the floods of Sala and of Elbe,
Where Charles the Great, having subdued the
   Saxons,
There left behind and settled certain French;
Who, holding in disdain the German women
For some dishonest manners of their life,
Established then this law: to wit, no female
Should be inheritrix in Salic land,
Which Salic, as I said, 'twixt Elbe and Sala,
Is at this day in Germany called Meisen.
Then doth it well appear that Salic law
Was not devisèd for the realm of France,
Nor did the French possess the Salic land
Until four hundred one and twenty years
After defunction of King Pharamond,
Idly supposed the founder of this law,
Who died within the year of our redemption
Four hundred twenty-six; and Charles the Great
Subdued the Saxons, and did seat the French
Beyond the river Sala in the year
Eight hundred five. Besides, their writers say,
King Pepin, which deposèd Childeric,
Did, as heir general, being descended
Of Blithild, which was daughter to King Clothair,
Make claim and title to the crown of France.
Hugh Capet also, who usurped the crown
Of Charles the duke of Lorraine, sole heir male
Of the true line and stock of Charles the Great,
To find his title with some shows of truth,
Through in pure truth, it was corrupt and naught,
Conveyed himself as th' heir to th' Lady Lingare,
Daughter to Charlemange, who was the son
To Lewis the Emperor, and Lewis the son
Of Charles the Great. Also King Lewis the Tenth,
Who was sole heir to the usurper Capet,
Could not keep quiet in his conscience,
Wearing the crown of France, till satisfied
That fair Queen Isabel, his grandmother,
Was lineal of the Lady Ermengare,
Daughter to Charles the foresaid Duke of Lorraine:
By the which marriage the line of Charles the Great
Was re-united to the crown of France.
So that, as clear as is the summer's sun,
King Pepin's title and Hugh Capet's claim,
King Lewis his satisfaction, all appear
To hold in right and title of the female.
So do the kings of France unto this day,
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. (1.2.37-100)

Whoa! Canterbury gives a looooong, drawn out speech explaining why he thinks it's okay for Henry to make a grab for the French throne. (We counted, and it takes the guy 63 lines.) Here, he says that the French have been using the Salic Law as an excuse to prevent English kings (like Henry's great-grandfather King Edward III) from inheriting the French crown. (Salic Law is just the name of a French rule that prevented men from inheriting the crown through a female line. In other words, if a king has a daughter, she can't inherit the throne and her sons and grandsons can't inherit it either.) Canterbury also claims that, from a historical and legal standpoint, the Salic Law only applies to Germany, not France. Plus, adds Canterbury, a bunch of French kings have inherited the crown through <em>their</em> mothers' family lineage, so the Salic Law shouldn't apply to King Henry V either. Um, okay. If it's such a cut and dry case, why does it take Canterbury so long to justify it?

KING HENRY
May I with right and conscience make this claim?
BISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The sin upon my head, dread sovereign, (1.2.101-102)

Good question, Henry. <em>Can</em> you make a claim to the French throne with "right and conscience"? We're not so sure.

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 thankèd for prevention,
Which I in sufferance heartily will rejoice,
Beseeching God and you to pardon me. (2.2.162-167)

When it's discovered that the French have bribed Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey to assassinate King Henry before he can invade France, we're led to believe that plot is treacherous. Here, though, Cambridge reveals that he took money from France only because he thought it would help him achieve his end goal. [Cambridge supports Edmund Mortimer, who seems to have a better claim to the English throne than Henry V. Remember, Henry V only inherited the throne after his father Henry IV usurped the crown from Richard II (<em>Richard II</em>, 4.1). Also, Mortimer is the great-grandson of Edward III's third son, while Henry, on the other hand, is the grandson of Edward III's fourth son.]

When it comes down to it, is the traitors' plot really that scandalous? Or, is it just par for the course in this series of history plays? If you ask us, Cambridge's plot to bump Henry V off the throne isn't so different from what Henry IV did to Richard II, which is this: He took money from France (the King of Brittany to be specific) to help his campaign to overthrow King Richard (<em>Richard II</em>, 2.1).

KING HENRY
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. (3.6.163-171)

Okay. Henry's claim to the French throne may be dubious, but he often comes off as an awesome king. Here, he has the confidence to <em>tip</em> the enemy messenger after the guy delivers a threatening message from France.

KING HENRY
I think the King is but a
man, as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to
me. The element shows to him as it doth to me. All
his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies
laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man,
and though his affections are higher mounted than
ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears as we
do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as
ours are. Yet, in reason, no man should possess him
with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing it,
should dishearten his army. (4.1.105-116)

Disguised as a common soldier, King Henry walks among his troops the night before battle and delivers a speech that reveals his isolation. Here, he tries really hard to convince us that he's just a "man" like everybody else. The fact that he's running around in a disguise so he can hang out with his troops like a regular Joe suggests that Henry longs for the human connection he enjoyed with Falstaff and company (back in <em>Henry IV Part 1</em>). The moral? It's lonely at the top.

BATES
Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we
know enough, if we know we are the king's subjects.
If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the
king wipes the crime of it out of us.
WILLIAMS
But if the cause be not good, the King
himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all
those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a
battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry
all 'We died at such a place,' some swearing, some
crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left
poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe,
some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard
there are few die well that die in a battle, for how
can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood
is their argument? Now, if these men do not die
well, it will be a black matter for the king that led
them to it, who to disobey were against all proportion
of subjection. (4.1.134-151)

Not everyone is on board with Henry's war. As Bates and Williams point out, most of the common soldiers don't even know if the king is justified in invading France. Bates says he doesn't even want to know if the king is wrong because he's powerless to do anything about it. Williams delivers the most crushing accusation when he says that Henry is ultimately responsible for sending his soldiers to their deaths.

KING HENRY
So, if a son that is by his father sent about
merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea,
the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule,
should be imposed upon his father that sent him. (4.1.152-155)

This is Henry's response to Williams' claim that the king is responsible for the deaths of his soldiers. Here, he compares kingship to fatherhood in order to shirk responsibility (once again). Does this even make sense? Why or why not?

KING HENRY
Upon the king! Let us our lives, our souls, our
debts, our careful wives, our children, and our sins
lay on the King!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing. What infinite heart's ease
Must kings neglect that private men enjoy? (4.1.238-245)

When Henry complains that being king means that he never gets to relax, we're reminded of something his father said back in Henry IV Part 2: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" (3.1.31). In other words, kingship is a heavy burden.

KING HENRY
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. (4.1.303-316)

Uh-oh. It looks like someone is feeling guilty about the fact that he inherited the crown from a father who stole it from Richard II. Here, Henry asks God to forgive him for his father's sins and says that he's spent years trying to atone for Henry IV's sins. This raises an important question. If Henry's claim to English throne is questionable, how the heck can he justify going after the French crown?

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