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The Irony Depicted in Shakespeare's Henry V Essay

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The Irony Depicted in Shakespeare's Henry V


As Norman Rabkin has observed, Henry V is a play which organizes critics into "rival camps" of interpretation (35). It can be seen as a play that is ambiguous; a play that exposes the playwright's own indecision; a play that aggressively takes sides in favour of nationalistic fervour which Shakespeare himself didn't believe in (35). All of these views, writes Rabkin, are wrong since according to him the play's "ultimate power" lies in its ability to "point in two opposite directions, virtually daring us to choose one of the two opposed interpretations" (36). In fact, it is Rabkin that is wrong: not in his supposition that the play "dares" the audience to choose, but rather, that a reading of Henry V cannot simultaneously contain all of the above. Another view would be that the ambiguity, the indecision, the disbelief and the forced choice, are all part and parcel of an urgently ironic reading. This can be justified through the ultimate irony of the play: that as "character driven," it lacks a real character to drive. "The King," after all, is an abstract concept bounded by prescribed rules of conduct in contradiction to subjective agency. This reading borrows from post-colonial critiques such as Spivak, since it leads to authority as being responsible for generating its own excesses by virtue of what it is; it winds up parodying itself. It is a devastating critique of governance and for those that seek to govern; in this reading, Henry V may go beyond Machiavellian orchestrations to undermining the entire project of governance.

Many literary critics have argued that Henry can be interpreted as Machiavellian in some respects, and this can be related to recurring themes of interio...


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...polemic-- does not diminish but rather provokes and sustains a dialogic discourse. Admittedly, there is little danger of this not happening without an ironic reading; Henry V, after all, continues to be performed hundreds of years after it was written. But certainly an ironic reading brings us closer to unexplored theatrical potentials, not to mention the dismantling --if only temporarily--of societal assumptions of governance.

Bibliography:

Brennan, Anthony. Henry V. NY: Twayne Publishers, 1992.

Rabkin, Norman. "Either/Or: Responding to Henry V," William Shakespeare's Henry V.
NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

Siemon, James R. "The 'Image Bound': Icon and Iconoclasm in Henry V," William Shakespeare's Henry V.

Shakespeare, William. Henry V. The Norton Shakespeare Histories. Stephen Greenblat, General Editor.
NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.


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