Henry V, though reputed to be a crude, early item from Shakespeare's canon, provides many interesting and mature discussions on morality and psychology. Far from being, as it were, pre-written by being an "historical" work, it is a testament to the bard's skill that he can work so many ideas into a frame that has to take account of popular facts.
Interpretation of the play tends to revolve around issues of kingship, duplicity in Harry's self-presentation, or the consequences of war, but there is a glaring line of discussion present which has generally been missed: the relationship of war to sex and masculine pride. One critic writes, "War is a version of male lust. Hal never grows up but works out ways to aggrandize himself by owning more and more property. Geography as ego. And... he's a rapist too" (Landis 201). There are at least three significant relationships of pride, lust, and war which are brought out in the play and will be pointed to in the following. One is war as a response to insult and perceived or suggested (sexual) inadequacy. One is war as the occasion of massive rapine. The other is war itself as a sort of metaphorical rape. These themes will be brought to light most clearly by attention to the most traditionally ignored passages of Henry V.
Critics have often dismissed the comic scenes of the play as crowd-pleasing devices or filler, "only casually related to the main action" (Becker 74). The filler theory can be dismissed outright given the length the play already enjoys. The scenes involving Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph, or Fluellen and Gower actually fit the play perfectly. As far as the play's themes go, these...
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... of many of this play's lines.
Becker, George J. Shakespeare's Histories. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1977.
Brennan, Anthony. Henry V. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Landis, Hoan Hutton. "Another Penelope." Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare. Ed. Marianne Novy. Chicago: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1990. 196-211.
Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Ed. F. Marshall and Stanley Wood. London: George Gill & Sons, (year unknown; between 1892 and 1936).
Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. London: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Wilcox, Lance. "Katherine of France as Victim and Bride." Shakespeare Studies 27 (1985): 61-76.
1 i.e. the lily, the symbol of France, featured on its coat of arms.
2 "Flower of the bed," i.e. the maiden Katherine.
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