Henry V, An Ideal Machiavellian Ruler

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For hundreds of years, those who have read Henry V, or have seen the play performed, have admired Henry V's skills and decisions as a leader. Some assert that Henry V should be glorified and seen as an "ideal Christian king". Rejecting that idea completely, I would like to argue that Henry V should not be seen as the "ideal Christian king", but rather as a classic example of a Machiavellian ruler. If looking at the play superficially, Henry V may seem to be a religious, moral, and merciful ruler; however it was Niccolo Machiavelli himself that stated in his book, The Prince, that a ruler must "appear all mercy, all faith, all honesty, all humanity, [and] all religion" in order to keep control over his subjects (70). In the second act of the play, Henry V very convincingly acts as if he has no clue as to what the conspirators are planning behind his back, only to seconds later reveal he knew about their treacherous plans all along. If he can act as though he knows nothing of the conspirators' plans, what is to say that he acting elsewhere in the play, and only appearing to be a certain way? By delving deeper into the characteristics and behaviors of Henry V, I hope to reveal him to be a true Machiavellian ruler, rather than an "ideal king". In regards to use the use of mercy and cruelty, Machiavelli states that a ruler should "desire to be held merciful and not cruel", but also "should not care about the infamy of cruelty, because with very few examples he will be more merciful" than those who show too much mercy to their subjects, and not enough cruelty (The Prince, 65). In other words, the ideal Machiavellian ruler must know how to use cruelty and mercy well. The first aspect of this Machiavellian concept to be examined wil... ... middle of paper ... ... all of these are examples of when Henry V cried out to God, the most powerful example takes place when the war is finally over. In front of all of his remaining soldiers, he attributes the entire victory of the war to God, telling God to "take it.. for it is none but thine" (4.8.113-114). The character of Henry V, in Shakespeare’s Henry V, displays several characteristics of a Machiavellian ruler. However, the most prominent is his ability to not only use cruelty well, but to appear merciful as well. Henry V is also a great actor, as seen in the second act with the conspirators, and uses his natural acting abilities to appear as though he is a moral and religious ruler. For Machiavelli himself says that although a ruler doesn't have to really be merciful, humane, honest and religious, it is useful for a ruler to appear to be all of these things (The Prince, 70).

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