Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Act 3, Scene 6 of Henry V why does Henry describe the sad state of his men to Montjoy?

Montjoy is the messenger of France and comes to Henry V with a message from Charles VI, saying that Henry must "repent," admit he and his men are too weak to win, and consider the ransom that will need to be paid when he is inevitably captured by the French army. Henry V refuses, and part of that refusal is a detailed description of the sickness and weakness of his soldiers: "My people are with sickness much enfeebled,/My numbers lessened." Henry accomplishes two things when he describes the English army to Montjoy in this way. He manages to insult the French, saying that, in their weakened state, his few soldiers are "almost no better than so many French." He also sets the stage for a dramatic victory of the sickly, weak English army over the strong, numerous French army by emphasizing his men's disadvantageous condition. This shows confidence on Henry's part and a sense of drama on Shakespeare's part.

How does Act 3, Scene 7 of Henry V shed light on the king of France's demands as stated by Montjoy in Act 3, Scene 6?

Montjoy brings the king of France's demand that Henry V acknowledge his weakness and inevitable defeat in Act 3, Scene 6. This is a fairly aggressive demand, and one that displays Charles VI's confidence in the French army's ability to win against the English. Yet Act 3, Scene 7 immediately undermines this display, proving it to be nothing but bluster. The French Dauphin, his companions, and other nobles are at their most ridiculous in this scene, boasting about horses and armor, making fun of each other, and cracking crude jokes. They do not seem capable of winning against any army. Although the Dauphin boasts that his "way shall be paved with English faces," the likelihood that the French have the ability to defeat the English is at its lowest point in this scene.

How does the chorus's report in Act 4, Prologue of Henry V contrast with reality regarding Henry V's actions in Act 4, Scene 1 before the Battle of Agincourt?

The chorus says that Henry V "visits all his host,/Bids them good morrow with a modest smile,/And calls them brothers, friends, and countrymen" and that he "freshly looks and overbears attaint/With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty,/That every wretch, pining and pale before,/Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks." In this description Henry V walks among his soldiers, smiling at them, speaking to them, and wishing them good fortune in battle. Yet what actually happens is that Henry V borrows Sir Thomas Erpingham's cloak and goes among his men in disguise, arguing with his soldiers and eavesdropping on his officers. Rather than encouraging the men, he debates with them the king's responsibility for the spiritual state of his soldiers. The cloak is a nod perhaps to Queen Elizabeth's cloak of an elaborate spy system. It is notable that many spies hired were actors, for their apparent ability to sit and eavesdrop on conversations while appearing to innocently hang around strumming a lute. The ability to recite by memory these conversations made them excellent spies. It is speculated that playwright Christopher Marlow, a contemporary of Shakespeare's, was one of these. This is one of the more drastic examples of how the perspective of the chorus differs from the actions the play portrays. The chorus presents Henry V in a positive light as representing the glory of England. The fact that Henry tricks his men by disguising himself so he can listen in on and participate in their conversations (to his own advantage) suggests that he is not as admirable as the chorus would have the audience believe, and is, indeed, quite deceptive at times.

In Act 4, Scene 1 of Henry V how does the argument between Michael Williams and Henry V reflect the differences between a common soldier and a king?

Although Henry V suggests that a king is a man like other men, with the same fears they have, the argument between Henry V and Michael Williams highlights the stark differences between a common soldier and a king. Henry, of course, cannot suggest that his own course of action is anything but just and honorable, just as he cannot show any outward fear. He has to be completely confident, or give the appearance that he is. A common soldier, however, can have both doubts about whether the war is just and honorable and can express fear about the war's outcome. In addition Williams argues that the king is ultimately responsible for whether the soldiers die in God's grace or out of it because the common soldier cannot disobey the king's orders, especially when he believes that the king is appointed by God. This problem—being stuck between two courses of action that are both against God—is not a problem a king will face.

In Henry V how does Henry V live up to Machiavelli's ideas of a strong leader's characteristics?

In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that a leader must not allow personal virtue to influence decisions, and that a leader may sometimes do less virtuous things in the interest of the state. He also discusses the extent to which the goodwill of the citizens allows a man to be a strong leader, so that appearances are, ultimately, more important than actual motives. Henry V certainly seems to embody this type of leader, since his preoccupation with maintaining the appearance of a Christian king is far more important than any actual spiritual or moral motive he may possess. Henry's skill in using language to manipulate people and events is also a Machiavellian trait. Yet Henry's private self-doubt and his awkward interactions with Katherine show a more human side. Although he has some Machiavellian characteristics, these do not account for the entirety of his character as Shakespeare portrays him.

How does Henry V's loss of both his father and Falstaff affect his character in Henry V?

Of course the loss of Henry IV provides Henry V with a motivation for the war with France and inspires his attempts to unite England. But the death of Henry IV and the shunning and eventual death of Falstaff also serve to isolate Henry V from both of his father figures. This makes him an orphan, and like so many coming-of-age stories featuring an orphan, the play is in some ways about Henry's quest, like that of Aeneas, to replace his lost family with a new one. He seeks to build a "band of brothers" out of his army, looking for a connection among the soldiers as he moves among them in disguise. He also seeks to build a new family with Katherine, becoming a father instead of a son.

Why does Shakespeare include Queen Isabel in the negotiations at the end of Henry V?

Queen Isabel's role is a small one, and is often cut from performances of the play entirely. However, as a woman and a mother, her role is unique. She gently rebukes Henry's warmongering (referring to the way Henry's eyes contained "the fatal balls of murdering basilisks"), while asking for peace, saying she hopes this day "shall change all griefs and quarrels into love," suggesting the imagery of the warring Mars versus the loving Venus. A recurring image in the play is the suffering of women and children (who are either in areas where there is battle or who are left at home as the men go to war), so using a mother to bring attention to the need for peace seems appropriate.

How does Act 5, Scene 1 of Henry V reflect the situation between Henry V and the king of France?

In Act 5, Scene 1 Captain Fluellen forces Pistol to eat a leek in retaliation for the insult Pistol leveled at him the day before. Fluellen is relentless, first demanding that Pistol eat the leek, then striking Pistol repeatedly to make him comply. Finally Pistol gives in, humiliated, and eats the leek. Like so many of the interactions among Henry's men, this reflects a situation in Henry's own life. Henry was insulted by the Dauphin, and in retaliation he demanded Charles VI give up the crown of France. When Charles VI did not comply, Henry invaded France, waged war, and humiliated the French army with a resounding victory. Pistol's leek-eating parallels the way Charles VI must humble himself and give in to all of Henry's demands.

In Act 1, Scene 1 of Henry V why is the archbishop of Canterbury's claim that Henry transformed as if an angel "whipped th' offending Adam out of him" significant?

In Act 1, Scene 1 the archbishop of Canterbury idealizes Henry's transformation by alluding to the Garden of Eden: "Yea, at that very moment/Consideration like an angel came/And whipped th' offending Adam out of him,/Leaving his body as a paradise." His suggestion is that Henry's soul has been somehow healed of the taint of original sin, which all human souls were believed to have. Like a return to Eden, Henry was changed from imperfect and sinful to perfectly noble, in an instant. The play also implies Henry V returned his kingdom to a previous state of perfection. By healing the divisions that haunted his father's reign, and furthermore recapturing France, Henry returns these troubled lands to a paradise-like state. As the chorus says in the epilogue, Henry V made his kingdom the "world's best garden." Of course Henry is seen to be a more flawed character than the archbishop of Canterbury and the chorus would have the audience believe.

In Henry V how does the chorus compensate effectively or ineffectively for the theater's shortcomings?

The chorus may have several motives for his apologetic tone, but there is a legitimate concern, which is that the events in the play are not easily depicted on a stage. Large battles, complete with horses, archers, swordsmen, and the like would be almost impossible to show authentically. Henry's voyage across the sea would also lose something of its excitement if it had to be staged using set pieces and props. Shakespeare's strategy, then, is to have all the action happen offstage and allow it to be described in detail by either the chorus of by another character. For example, Pistol, Bardolph, and the others talk together as the battle is going on elsewhere. Characters express their anger that the baggage boys were killed, but the murders are described, not shown. In addition the chorus repeatedly asks the audience to imagine scenes such as Henry V's triumphant arrival by ship in England. The chorus describes such scenes in elaborate poetic detail, effectively staging them in the minds of the audience.

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