Foremost among the characters William Shakespeare develops in his series of historical plays is, undoubtedly, the character of Henry V. Henry, also at times referred to as Harry or Hal, develops through the course of four plays: Richard II, I Henry IV, II Henry IV, and Henry V. From the brief mention of Henry in Richard II to the full focus upon him in Henry V, a dramatic change clearly takes place: the playful carousing youth portrayed in the first play develops into a King and conqueror by the conclusion of the final play. In order to truly examine his development however, one must examine the growth and eventual fusion of two undeniable separate characters: the prince Henry, and the youth Hal. Only through a careful examination of these distinctly unique characters can one hope to truly understand the Henry we witness at the conclusion of Shakespeare's Henry V.
The character of Hal is first introduced in Richard II, though the character himself is never seen on stage. His father bluntly refers to him as his "unthrifty son² (Richard II V.iii.1) and states that "If any plague hang over us, 'tis he" (Richard II V.iii.3). While the opinions of his own father act greatly to shape our first impression of young Hal, it is perhaps his own words, related by Percy, which best characterize the irreverence of the youth:
His answer was, he would unto the stews.
And from the common'st creature pluck a glove
And wear it as a favor, and with that
He would unhorse the lustiest challenger. (Richard II V.iii.16)
Clearly, Shakespeare intends to portray Hal as a sort of antithesis to traditional monarchial stodgyness; the evidence of a misspent youth contrasts clearly against the politica...
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... Two Bodies of Henry V." Modern Critical Interpretations William Shakespeare's Henry V. Ed. Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 5-20.
Bloom, Harold. "Introduction." Modern Critical Interpretations William Shakespeare's Henry V. Ed. Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 1-4.
Brennan, Anthony. Henry V. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Evans, G. Blakemore. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
Granville-Barker, Harley. "From Henry V to Hamlet." Studies In Shakespeare. Ed. Alexander. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.
Rabkin, Norman. "Either/Or: Responding to Henry V." Modern Critical Interpretations William Shakespeare's Henry V. Ed. Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 35-59.
Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Ed. A. R. Humphreys, New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
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