King Henry IV

King Henry IV

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Book Review: Henry V
     William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1546. He was the third child to Mary and John Shakespeare and lived in the small, provincial town of Stratford-upon-Avon. He most likely attended the King's New School, of which usually employed Oxford graduates and was generally well respectd. After petty school, modern day pre-school, Shakespeare was moved to a higher level of learning in Grammar School. Here his literary foundation was set in motion as he studied the great artists Plautus, Ovid, Seneca, and Horace. Traces of these author's are present in most of his current works. Shakespeare, however, did not attend a University, but left school to become a playwright. At the age of 18 he married 26 year old Anne Hathaway, and even with their vast age difference, managed to bear 3 children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Seeking prestige with his plays, Shakespeare joined an acting troupe called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Even at this early stage in his carreer, he was a success. In 1597, he managed to buy New Place, the second largest house in Stanford, and secured a coat of arms for his family. When the lease ran out on his Theatre however, Shakespeare and his crew were forced to travel from production to production. They did this until 1599, when the now famous Globe theatre opened with the play Julius Ceaser. Living through two monarchs, Shakespeare died under the reign of James I, and if not for the publication of the First Folio by John Hemings and Henry Condell we may have never been given the gift of his verse. At the age of 52, Shakespeare had explored all of man's emotions and depth, and being exhausted from his journey, he died on April 23, 1616, the same day as his birth.
     Henry V takes place during the Hundred Year's War between France and England. It starts off in London, at the castle of Henry, and then travels across the 18 mile English channel to Paris, where Charles VI, the king of France rules. It incorporates the battlefield as well as the home into it's setting. Following the characters of Henry V, the Duke of Exeter, Captain Fluellen, and Pistol as some of the few prominent figures in the play, a picture of life can be put together. Henry is by far Shakespeare's favorite hero. He makes him out to be a noble, courageous, and good king, but most of all the ideal Christian king.

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He transforms himself from a rowdy child into a wise monarch, just as "the strawberry grows under the nettle/ And wholesome berries thrive and ripen." He matures with responsibility. Every scene in Henry V is constructed to illustrate some aspect of his character. Whether his relegious nature, mercy, sense of justice, administrative skill, fighting ability, or ability to communicate with the common people, Henry is an all around hero, one to be respected and loved. The Duke of Exeter is the uncle of Henry V and his trusted advisor; he functions as both a statesman and as a warrior. Even though he is left in charge of the city of Harfleur, where he is instructed to rule with leniency, he turns up at the Battle of Agincourt, and later he acts as the English ambassador and mediator of the treaty between Henry and the King of France. Captain Fluellen is an intensely loyal Welshmann, who provides much of the humor in the his eagerness to argue and to show off his knowledge of the classics, even though he gets most thinkgs mixed up. He is a very proud, opinionated, conceited person who is willing to argue with anyone about anything. I do not like him at all. Pistol is a ranting and raving coward, a "swaggering rascal," a "fustian rascal," and a "bottle-ale rascal," who to me represents the inner weakness of man. He has a rather small part, but is mentioned throughout the entire play. In Act IV, scene 4, he really annoyed me with his false display of authority against a helpless french soldier. He goes so far as to threaten to cut the soldiers throat if not given adequate pay, a most lowly act that goes into direct opposition to the values and characteristics of Henry. So one may see Pistol as an antithesis of Henry, for he is neither royal nor loyal, but a simple naive knave who is "dispensed" with at the hands of the French, very deservedly. If I were to cast these characters I would cast Matt Damon as Pistol, because I really don't like him, especially since he was in that movie "Good Will Hunting." I would give the Duke of Exeter to Sean Connery, because I think the age and wisdom of Mr. Connery would be just right for the scene of an Englishman in the Hundred Year's War, under the control of Henry V. For Fluellen I would cast Jim Carrey, because I think he has the ability to carry on a serious role, and still make himself look like an idiot, which is Fluellen. Not to discredit Carrey though, because I think he's an excellent actor. Henry V, the most grande of them all presents and very troubling task. Whether to take the action heroes of today in Mel Gibson and Russel Crowe, or to go with the past examples of Harrison Ford or even Arnold Swarchanaeger. I think I should pick Harrison Ford, though, now that I think about it. I don't beleive he has ever played in a period piece like this, and so his interpretation would be interesting. I think a young Ford from Indiana Jones, would capture the integrity and confidence of a young Henry, while still showing the maturity and wisdom of a wise Christian ruler.
     Henry V tells of Henry V. It begins at the recurrence of the Hundred Years War, when the viability of Henry's claim to the throne of France comes into question. When the Dauphin insults Henry, with a wagon of "tennis balls," Henry in a angry exclamation declares the tennis balls will be turned into cannon balls, and many will "curse the Dauphin's scorn." The majority of the play is spent in tenseness of an impending war between the two major powers in Europe. They both remember the horrible strength of the Black Prince and his conquering of Crecy, and both fear the loss of thousands of lives. Yet, Henry invades France with a third of his troops, and after a few minor engagements incurrs upon the biggest victory in English history as well as the main battle in the play, Agincourt. Here Henry speaks to the common soldiers and sees their fears and pain, he takes upon himself the guile of his people, and still leads the English, in front of insurmountable odds to victory. Once victorious, Henry takes to the kingdom of Paris, and forces the King to sign over inheritance of the throne. He swoons the princess Katharine with his charm and begets the child Henry VI whom Shakespeare wrote another play about.
     The play is told as a story, its characters experiencing everyhing first hand, just as the action happens. There is no main narrator, but there is often times a chorus, who sets up the scene by asking the audience to yeild to their imagination, for no stage can capture the glory of history. We learned of the entire play in history, from the begenning of the Hundred Years War, with Edward III, to the battle of Agincourt, to the decleration of Henry as future king of France. We learned of Henry's death also, and the subsequent rise of Joan of Arc to help the Dauphin defeat the English and give back to France its lost territory. The 3rd phase of the Hundred Years War is the English Phase and is led by Henry V. It is ended by the Treaty of Troyles, where Henry takes the future crown of France after the death of Charles VI. The title Henry V, came from, as many of Shakespeare's history, the main character of his play. Henry is the epitomy of everything good and just to Shakespeare, and from his English nationality he makes a strong connection with the pride of his country.
     Shakespeare wrote in what to many is a dull, painfull language, filled with archaic similes, and troublesome verse. Often times I found myself questioning the plot, wondering what was going on. Finding myself in a conundrum, I sought explanations of Shakespeares language. When I found too much information than I ever desired, I saw for the first time the full dependency that Shakespeare had on his words. While at best boring to the general public, once a persons eyes are opened to the vast imaging and creation of verse, they cannot help but feel the greatness of Shakespeares lines. Even though fully never understood, the lines and rhymes in Shakespeare are the only way to express the magnitude of events of which he takes on. How else could one capture the imagination and heart with such strong ferocity, other than with the poetic descriptions of Shakespeare. I would, however, make it somehow easier to understand if I could. How, I don't know, because the power it now contains exumes more than any other collection. All in all, I think Shakespeare can only truly be understood when in true form, not saying I always understand it, or even begin to understand it, but the plethora of information that can be taken from it makes it a priceless tool for any reading.
     I would have enjoyed the play thoroughly without the obtrusive characteristics of Pistol. I didn't like him much, and his low life actions lost my interest in some spots. This book would most definitely be classified a classic, for most of Shakespeares tales are, but the story of an English king, fighting for God and country, with his "band of brothers," gives to all that read it inspiration for the future, because they see goodness in mankind. Any person would enjoy this book, it speaks of an inner driven quest, one of glory and fame, and yet one of piety and humbleness, that spans the history of humanity. My favorite "line" comes in form of Henry's speech to his soldiers before the legendary battle of Agincourt. It must be one of the most moving speeches in literature, or else is just my favorite. Henry tells his men
This day is called the Feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day and live old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers-
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
This truly is a rousing speech and recurrs even today. The new mini-series Band of Brothers by Tom Hanks, whether good or not, I don't know, but it comes from Henry's speech to his men, more than five hundred years earlier. The people of France and England in the Middle Ages had the same desires and longings as the people of today. While their priorities may be different, the passion, desire, and courage in life still stands as a continual occurence throughout history.
     From the time of the Hundred Years War, many great wars have taken place. One comes into mind when I think of Henry, and that is WWII. The D-Day invasion of the allies brings the most recent connection with the full unity of force that Henry marched in on France. Wars will not change, fighting may, but the battle between forces, the Idealized Christian Henry, against a defiant French kingdom, will always be a common factor of the world man lives in. In the end "This star of England. Fortune made his sword/ By which the world's best garden he achieved,/ And of it left his son imperial lord."
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