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Henry V | Character Analysis

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King Henry V

At the end of Henry IV, Part 2, Prince Henry V's father, who had deposed King Richard II and been plagued by doubts about his own right to the throne throughout his reign, dies. This leaves Henry V with the difficult task of proving—to himself and to the country—that his own kingship is approved by God. To achieve this he casts aside all of his former irresponsible ways and companions and, as the play begins, decides to assert his claim to the French throne. Throughout the play Henry V shows himself to be a capable wordsmith, using language to persuade both himself and others of his noble intent and kingly character. This talent also often disguises the uncomfortable realities of his invasion of France, as he feels compelled to sanitize the suffering and violence of war with talk of glory, honor, and necessity. But his strategic manipulations appear to work to his advantage. When Henry V's small army is successful against the French, he takes it as a sign that God has forgiven his father's usurping the throne from Richard II and given his favor to Henry V and his line. Henry V gains the hand of Katherine, Princess of France, by handling their courtship like a smooth business deal. However, he does employ some charm; their "dance of wits," despite Katherine's impediment of limited English, is one of the lighter moments of the drama. Henry V's success, however, is short-lived. According to the epilogue, Henry V dies not long after, leaving his infant son by Katherine as England's king; the son will go on to undo Henry V's victories.

The Dauphin

Heir to the throne of France, the Dauphin is disdainful of Henry V based on the English monarch's irresponsible behavior in his youth. While those who know Henry V see that he has made a change and left his former ways behind, the Dauphin finds such a change difficult to believe. His insulting gift of tennis balls, implying that Henry V should play games like a spoiled child rather than try to rule a kingdom, provides an extra incentive for Henry V to invade France—a course of action Henry V has been considering but has not decided upon until enraged by the Dauphin. Henry V's invasion does not reduce the Dauphin's arrogant attitude. When faced with the prospect of real battle, his boasting becomes ridiculous as he praises his horse and brags about his armor. He is quickly captured by the English despite his admirable horse and armor.

Katherine

Katherine only appears in two scenes but is an important figure in the play, since it is through marriage to her and their production of an heir that Henry V hopes to secure the power won in battle for the future of his descendants. Katherine is clever, witty, and word conscious. Although her role as princess of France causes her to be treated more as a chess piece than a person, she manages to come through as a woman who is passionately patriotic to France and isn't easily swayed by Henry V's wooing.

Captain Fluellen

Captain Fluellen is a loyal and brave captain in Henry V's army. Although he is frequently funny, especially in his fussy obsession with proper military procedures, he is also greatly respected by Henry V, who remarks, "There is much care and valour in this Welshman."

Duke of Exeter

Thomas, the Duke of Exeter, is Henry V's uncle as well as a loyal, trustworthy adviser and leader of the king's forces. Although he is left in charge of Harfleur, he follows Henry V's army and appears at the Battle of Agincourt; he later helps mediate a peace treaty between Henry V and the King of France.

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Term:

Dauphin's tennis balls

Definition:

The Dauphin’s gag gift of tennis balls hinges on the ancient custom of sending a gift of treasure to a foreign ruler as a gesture of respect and friendship. On behalf of the Dauphin, the ambassador claims to present King Henry with a chest of treasure in exchange for Henry’s abandonment of his claim to parts of France (apparently, Henry’s early claims in France were limited to a few smaller regions, instead of the whole country). But the Dauphin, who has heard stories about King Henry’s irresponsible teenage years, has sent tennis balls instead of anything valuable. The sarcastic spirit of this gift implies that the Dauphin considers the English king to be unworthy of an adult exchange. He claims that the Dauphin’s mockery has provoked him to invade France, when, in fact, he has already decided on war before even admitting the French ambassadors. For the second time in this scene, Henry transfers responsibility for the deaths in the imminent war to someone else: first, he ascribes it to Canterbury, and now he ascribes it to the Dauphin. This strange evasion of responsibility, combined with Henry’s willingness to accept Canterbury’s corrupt and self-interested maneuvering, are among the many subtle criticisms that Shakespeare injects into his portrayal of Henry as a heroic king. As the war proceeds, Henry assumes the dimensions of an epic hero, but Shakespeare occasionally implies that, beneath Henry’s heroic status, his ethical status is somewhat dubious.

Term:

You must not dare, for shame, to talk of mercy; For your own reasons turn into your bosoms, As dogs upon their masters, worrying you. See you, my princes, and my noble peers,

Definition:

HENRY V ACT 2, SCENE 2 LINES 85-89 He's talking to Scroop, Grey, and Cambrdige and telling them they should not 'talk of mercy' when they themselves had been willing to condemn a drunkard just moments earlier for the same crime as them. Evidence of Henry's cunning, ruthlessness, and also his placing of wartime concerns over friendship.

Term:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; Let pry through the portage of the head Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it As fearfully as doth a galled rock O'erhang and jutty his confounded base, Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean. Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit To his full height. 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: Dishonour not your mothers; now attest That those whom you call'd 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 lustre in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' Alarum, and chambers go off. And down goes all before them. Still be kind, And eke out our performance with your mind.

Definition:

HENRY V ACT 3, SCENE 1 LINES 1-37 Henry says this before the Battle at Harfleur. It describes a monarch lowering himself to their level, and also raising up the commoners. Lack of mercy he showed his conspirators is what he now wants his army to demonstrate. Compares his army to Harrod (guy in Old Testament who had all young boys killed) He convinces his soldiers to move forward, and imitate animals. 3 main tactics: (1) Henry tells his soldiers to be like animals, without mercy or human compassion. He wants his army to be purely instinctual and savage. (2) When that fails he tells them not to shame their ancestors or draw their legitimacy into question. Are they English or aren’t they? (3) Tells his common men they will be “noble” if they charge into the breach once more In Act 3, Scene 2, Fluellen and Bardolph take Henry's words into different contexts: the former is Henry's yes man, the latter orders others to move without he himself moving, commenting on Henry (who actually did fight with the soldiers). Henry's seech is successful, but only to a point. It does not get the unanimous reaction he was hoping for.

Term:

Tragic paradox

Definition:

curve of action = negative completes itself with death of hero yet undeniable effect: admiration for the tragic hero Described by McDonald in Chapter 3

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