William Shakespeare's Henry V

William Shakespeare's Henry V

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Henry V was one of the greatest kings in British History. His epic rise to power was captured for posterity in the writings of William Shakespeare in the play named for the king. Although a play, the story as told by Shakespeare was remarkably close to being historically accurate (Pilkington, 1997). This play was brought to the modern world in the film Henry V, which was written, directed by, and starred Kenneth Branagh in the title role as the young king (Branagh, 1989). Through the course of the movie, Branagh painted a powerful picture of the evolution of Henry from a young and perhaps rambunctious boy into the man who would be known as a powerful and fair monarch. The film took the viewer from the time shortly after Henry assumed power, upon the death of his father Henry IV, through to the end of what can be argued as his greatest achievement, victory over France. The film was rich with emotion and designed to touch viewers at the core. The fact that the film was based on historical fact, that Henry was a “real” man who lived these experiences, made the content that much more poignant. Having watched the film and examined both the setbacks and triumphs of the king there were countless opportunities to have viewed leadership in action. What follows is an examination of some of the more evident examples of leadership provided by the film along with a discussion of their application to the leadership principles that we have studied thus far.
Having viewed the film it would be hard for one to think of Henry in any way other than as a charismatic leader. Through reading The Art and Science of Leadership: Explorations into the Classics, we learned that charisma was the quality or power that was possessed by an individual that gave them the ability to influence or inspire a larger group of people (Bratton, Grint, and Nelson, 2004). In the film, Branagh presented compelling examples of Henry’s charismatic leadership. The Saint Crispian’s day speech epitomized this charismatic leadership. Tired and hungry, sick with dysentery and in the middle of a retreat to England, Henry’s army was encountered by the French at Agincourt. The British were vastly outnumbered, by some accounts five to one. Encouraged to retreat or surrender by his cousin Westmoreland, Henry gave an inspiring speech, relying on his charisma, which challenged the men to run headlong into certain death.

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One could not help but be moved by Henry’s suggestion that there was more valor in fighting. In Henry’s words:
“If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.” (shakespeare.mit.edu, 2008)
In addition, Henry spoke of valor, kinship, and the glory they would all receive. In the end, partly because of the inspiration provided by Henry’s charismatic leadership, and partly due to the superior fighting capabilities of the English troops, England and Henry prevailed.
Speeches such as Henry’s Saint Crispian’s speech are powerful in their ability to persuade others to take action. There are times when a leader is faced with the need to rally the troops to achieve a goal. Often this is the case when the goal seems unreachable. Appealing to the sense of what is right and to a person’s pride, as Henry did in this speech, can be a powerful force of motivation. Emotional appeals have their place in leadership. As Monica Sjönneby pointed out, “All leadership works through emotions. All undisputed leaders have earned their reputation because their leadership was emotionally compelling to a large or small group of followers” (2008, n.p.). Being able to play to the emotions of your followers – to drive them to a conclusion – is a concept that has been prevalent in our society and many societies before. In Ars Rhetorica, Aristotle wrote of the use of emotion. He believed that emotional appeal was a powerful tool for a speaker to use to persuade others to their cause (Honeycutt, 2004). Therefore, the ability to draw upon charisma and appeal to the emotions of a follower was a critical skill that leaders needed to master.
Kouzes and Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge wrote of the five practices of exemplary leaders. These were “Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart” (2007, p.14). In the film, there were many examples of Henry personifying these practices (strategosinc.com, 2008).
Setting an example for others to follow was an important part of the Kouzes and Posner leadership model (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Henry was a leader who led by example. He treated the conquered French with dignity and respect. Having conquered Harfleur, he bade his uncle to treat the citizens with mercy (Branagh, 1989). Later, after ordering that Bardolph be hung for stealing from a church, he commanded that on their marches through the country nothing be compelled and nothing be taken that was not paid for. Throughout the film, Henry provided a shining example of integrity, courage, and honor for his men to follow.
Inspiring a shared vision, as Kouzes and Posner pointed out, is a critical component of leadership (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). In the film, Henry inspired the vision of what would be. From the outset, he painted a vision among his court members of what the monarchy would be when he claimed his rightful place as king of both England and France. He inspired them to follow him into battle (Branagh, 1989).
Kouzes and Posner suggested that true leadership required a leader to challenge the process (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Henry did not accept the status quo; he challenged the process. He was not content to stay in England alone; he desired to rule France as well. Henry took his desire and made it a cause for all to follow. He, convinced that it was his birthright by the Bishop of Canterbury, sought to claim what was “his” regardless of the cost (Branagh, 1989).
According to what Kouzes and Posner wrote, enabling others to act is a hallmark of true leadership (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Henry enabled others to act. He placed trust in his men at Agincourt (strategosinc.com, 2008). At that same battle, he had York who was the youngest of his nobles take the lead into battle.
Kouzes and Posner wrote of the necessity of a leader to encourage the heart by rewarding those who do well (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Henry also encouraged the heart of his men. He spoke of the rewards of kinship – that they would be his brothers regardless of their stature or position:
“For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile” (shakespeare.mit.edu, 2008)
Many times throughout the film, one was presented with Henry leading the Kouzes and Posner way. He provided a powerful example of leadership and doing the right thing.
Henry led from the front. We see him not as Charles in France ruling from the castle where no harm could come to him but rather at the spearhead of the battle leading his troops. At Harfleur, he was the first through the breech. His impassioned speech drove his men onward:
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.” (shakespeare.mit.edu, 2008)
At Agincourt, he fought side by side with his men (Branagh, 1989). In battle, this was critical. As we read in Be, Know, Do, leaders who lead from the front earn the respect of their troops. In fact, the authors of this text contended that leaders who stay away from the battle jeopardize operations, as they do not know what is going on. Furthermore, they risk losing the trust of the soldiers that they lead (Hesselbein and Shinseki, 2004). Henry’s willingness to risk his life beside his men demonstrated his faith and his dedication to both the cause and his men.
Character, values, ideas - these are all components of leadership. Noel Tichy, in his book The Leadership Engine, wrote of the importance of leaders stating that leaders are the ones who determine direction and make things happen. He stated that leaders chart the course during times of change taking the followers from where they are now to where they need to be. He called leaders revolutionaries (Tichy, 2007). Henry did just that. The film was about Henry’s journey from prince to king. On that journey, Henry took with him a country and its people (Branagh, 1989).
Throughout the film, we saw examples of Henry sharing what Tichy called “teachable points of view.” Teachable points of view, Tichy wrote, are lessons that a leader can pass on to their followers. The intent of these items, according to Tichy, was to develop leadership in others (Tichy, 2007). For example, as mention earlier, the hanging of Bardolph was a pivotal moment in the film. By ordering his friend to be hanged for stealing from the church, Henry taught his followers that integrity was critical to the success of his campaign in France (Branagh, 1989).
This demonstration of his values, as Tichy pointed out, was a critical component of successful leadership. Tichy stated that it was important for a leader to live the values that they espoused. Henry acted with integrity and honesty, showing mercy to those he conquered, and taking no retribution on the people of France (Branagh, 1989). Henry lived his values and was an example for all of his men to behold. He provided true leadership according to Tichy’s model.
Henry V was a great leader. He led his country through times of great change and turmoil at the culmination of the hundred-year war between France and England. The king’s life was chronicled in a play written by Shakespeare and later adapted for modern times in a film by Kenneth Branagh. Throughout the film, the viewer was presented with shining examples of Henry’s leadership as he developed from prince to king. The film was wrought with emotion and designed to touch the viewer’s soul. Having watched the film and examined both the setbacks and triumphs of the king there were countless opportunities to have viewed leadership in action and to have seen the application of the leadership principles we have studied thus far.

Branagh, K. (Director), (1989). Henry V [Motion Picture]. United States: The Samuel Goldwyn Company.
Bratton, J., Grint, K. & Nelson, D. (2004). The Art and Science of Leadership: Explorations into the Classics. Mason, OH:South-Western College Publishing.
Hesselbein, F, & Shinseki, E (2004). Be - Know - Do: Leadership the Army Way.San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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Kouzes, J, & Posner, B (2007). The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Pilkington, A (1997). Henry V: Fact and Fiction. Retrieved August 29, 2008, from Bard.org Web site: http://www.bard.org/Education/studyguides/henryv/henryvfact.html.
shakespeare.mit.edu, (2008). The Life of King Henry the Fifth . Retrieved August 29, 2008, from HenryV: Entire Play Web site: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/henryv/full.html.
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strategosinc.com, (2008). King Henry V and Charismatic Leadership. Retrieved August 29, 2008, from Shakespeare on Leadership Web site: http://www.strategosinc.com/henry_v_synopsis.htm.
Tichy, N (2007). The Leadership Engine. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
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