The Flawed King in Shakespeare's Henry V

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The Flawed King in Shakespeare's Henry V

To turn Henry V into a play glorifying war or a play condemning war would be to presume Shakespeare's intentions too much. He does both of these and more in his recount of the historical battle of Agincourt. Although Shakespeare devotes the play to the events leading to war, he simultaneously gives us insight into the political and private life of a king. It is this unity of two distinct areas that has turned the play into a critical no man's land, "acrimoniously contested and periodically disfigured by opposing barrages of intellectual artillery" (Taylor 1). One may believe that Henry is the epitome of kingly glory, a disgrace of royalty, or think that Shakespeare himself disliked Henry and attempted to express his moral distaste subtly to his audience. No matter in which camp one rests, Henry V holds relevance for the modern stage. Despite containing contradictions, Henry is also a symbol as he is one person. This unity of person brings about the victory in the battle of Agincourt.

The theme of unity transcends any ambiguity found in Henry's character or motives. This theme is evident in many areas of Henry V, but for the sake of this article, the importance of this theme is discussed between play and audience, and within Henry himself. This production of Henry V proposes that these two aspects be emphasized to show how Shakespeare's play has a message for modern theatergoers. The setting and age are left the same, as this adds to the validity of the play.

Henry and his army are victorious at the battle of Agincourt. England and France are united, and Henry reigns supreme for the time being. An obstacle to overcome when directing Henry V is that it is affirmative l...

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... and ambiguity. Shakespeare uses the ironies found in the play so that we will remember his play's limits. It cannot produce an ideal, nor can we as an audience.

Works Cited

Beauman, Sally, ed. The Royal Shakespeare Company's Centenary Production of Henry V. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1976.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Iser, Wolfgang. Staging Politics: The Lasting Impact of Shakespeare's Histories. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. "Henry V." The Norton Shakespeare: Histories. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katherine Eisaman Maus. London: Norton, 1997. 726-795.

Taylor, Gary, ed. Henry V: The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.

Traversi, D.A. An Approach to Shakespeare. Vol. 1. New York: Anchor Books, 1969.
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