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“ Canterbury: The courses of his use promised it not… Ely: We are blessed in the change “ (Act I Scene I) Henry V is the final play in Shakespeare’s tetralogy, a series of four plays that chronicles the rise of the house of Lancaster to the British throne. The future King Henry V, known then in Henry IV parts 1&2 as Prince Hal, is a young rogue, who occupies the majority of his time causing grief with his lowlife friends, Falstaff and Bardolph being two of his closest. Yet following a final plea from his father (King Henry IV) at his deathbed, Prince Hal vows to be a responsible king. Upon his father’s death, Hal is crowned King Henry V, and when Falstaff and his compatriots come to greet him, the new King rejects them, possibly symbolising that he wants to put his disreputable past to bed. In order for Shakespeare to successfully transform Hal into king, he must show the audience that King Henry V not only beholds the qualities common to a great ruler, but that he is also able to live down his disreputable history. In the first scenes of the play Shakespeare makes these points apparent. From what the King says, his actions and his remarks towards others, the audience is made aware that King Henry V is a changed man. The first scene introduces us to Ely and Canterbury, two wealthy bishops, who are discussing how to focus the King’s attention on invading France (to become heir), rather than a bill that needs to be passed or declined. Neither of the bishops wants the bill to be passed, because as a result the government would be authorised to take away land and money held by the Church, hence they would be worse off. To encourage the king to concentrate on the invasion, Canterbury promises to raise a very large "donation" from the clergymen of the Church to help fund the king's war efforts. Through the political scheming of Canterbury and Ely, we see that Henry has gotten th
e Church to give him money in return for his safety. The support of the church also makes his campaign against France more justifiable, and it helps win him the support of all Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England through the church's influence. King Henry is introduced as a clever, thoughtful, and efficient man. He seems to be thinking carefully about whether or not to invade France. Although his decision seems to suit the clergymen very well, it is not clear that he has allowed them to manipulate him. Henry warns Canterbury very sternly that the lives lost in war must be on Canterbury's conscience, if he misleads the king. During the scene between Canterbury and Ely, Shakespeare gives evidence as to Henry’s change in character. He conveys this to his audience through the two clergymen. Whilst plotting, both men remark on the fact that the King is a completely different man than expected. They refer back to his adolescent years as a youth and to his seeming lack of interest in the crown. They comment on the fact that since assuming power, Henry has become deceitful in his approach to affairs of state, showing that he is a great politician, great military strategist and dealmaker. They also spend some time admiring the virtue and intelligence of him. They note, "The courses of his youth promised it not"; i.e., no one knew the king would turn out so well because he squandered his adolescence in "riots, banquets, sports" and generally hanging around with lowlifes. Shakespeare has shown that the king’s reformation is a sign for the future, and that by miraculously changing his ways, he has become a source of strength and determination. Shakespeare again shows Henry’s strength in character, through the scene involving the present from the Dauphin. Once Henry has sent word; laying down his claim to certain parts of France, the Dauphin of France sends Henry an insulting response. As a symbol of unity
and friendship the Dauphin had sent a crate of tennis balls, rather than a precious, expensive item. This may have been to tell the king that the Dauphin sees him as a joke, a game for fun and mockery. The Dauphin may be under the influence of Henry’s frivolous past and acting upon misguided information. Yet nevertheless King Henry is enraged by the joke and his frighteningly cold speech to the ambassador is masterful in its transformation of something so ridiculous as tennis balls into something genuinely threatening. Henry starts out being deceptively mild--"We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us" but then recognises the Dauphin’s error in judgement. Henry declares his intent to invade and conquer France and that the price of this "game" will be the kingship of France. Henry concludes his speech by saying that the Dauphin will regret his mockery of the English king” when thousands weep more than did laugh at it" (l. 296). In the case of Henry V, Shakespeare demonstrates that unlike many leaders; who rise to power and then fall to death or destruction; Henry differs in that he alone realises he must fall in order to rise. He tells the messengers from the Dauphin: "But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state, Be like a king and show my sail of greatness When I do rouse me in my throne of France: For that I have laid by my majesty And plodded like a man for working-days, But I will rise there with so full a glory That I will dazzle all the eyes of France" (Act I Scene I) Henry therefore describes himself as a king who has already been down on the ground with the workingmen. He is now ready, as he tells us, to show his "sail of greatness" and "be like a king". Through the language of Shakespeare Henry comes across to the audience as necessary but harsh, able to turn civil war into a religious crusade. However, i
n the process he puts aside his former friendships, as we see in the scenes involving the death of Falstaff, upon which the hostess viewed that Falstaff would die because "the King hath killed his heart". This sense of disregard and emphasis on the future is also re-iterated in the treason scene. Henry V is a classic tale of power, betrayal, unity for the cause of war and above all the rising of a great king. A must for all Shakepspeare fans.
I don't think I ever really believed that I would read Shakespeare for fun. I always thought that I would only ever trawl through him to find material with which to pass exams. But I was wrong. I do read Shakespeare for fun - and I read *Henry IV* for fun more than most. But before we go any further, a word of congratulation to Dooyoo. Nice one, Dooyoo! Unlike the Stationer's Register or the First Folio you invite us to think of Henry IV as a single play. And that's right. I don't think that you can really think of the two parts as fundamentally separate. So, if *Henry IV Part 1* is your set text for a forthcoming exam, hard luck! You should really try and get your head round *Part 2* as well! Having said that, what follows is not going to be an Eng Lit essay. My aim will be to write about *Henry IV* as a consumer product that you might buy for pleasure. If you're looking for Lit Crit insight, go to the library! Having said that, you will study the play so much better if you can enjoy it as well. It is strange to be writing about *Henry IV* as a book. Like all of Shakespeare's plays, it is difficult to appreciate unless you have seen it performed. However, for perfectly good reasons, Dooyoo implicitly invites us to respond to this play as a printed text. So, for me, part of the fun of reading Shakespeare is constantly to imagine how I might stage it, constantly to imagine how the lines might be delivered so that their astonishing third dimension might become as apparent as possible. And another thing that applies to just about the whole of Shakespeare: once you get your head round him, you will experience language in a way that is often thrilling and of which you are only partially conscious whilst you read or listen. His feel for language is so acute that he can effortlessly use words with contradictory connotations, calling upon each opposite at the same time and taking your awareness to a whole new level
. For example Falstaff tells Hal that if he banishes Jack Falstaff he is banishing the world. "The world" at one level means "everybody": Falstaff poses as Everyman. But "the world" also means "social custom" in its most demeaning sense (as in "worldly" or "man of the world", or "the world, the flesh, and the devil"). Falstaff, because he fails to make this discrimination, is devising his own punishment. Hal resolves to banish Jack, and does so, and by doing so becomes a transcendent figure. WHAT IS *HENRY IV* ABOUT? It is about a King, Henry IV, who lives in the terrible shadow of regicide. He is paying the terrible price for deposing his vain predecessor - and civil war is the price he has to pay. It is about the formation of the King who Shakespeare offers as the ideal: Henry V, the winner of Agincourt; the subduer of the French; the one who, by distracting with foreign conquest, unites the nation that has been divided by civil war. We also see Prince Hal, Henry V to be, living a thoroughly dissolute life knowing that when he becomes king, he will be putting all his bad behaviour behind him, knowing that his prodigal years are a sort of incarnation: he will be the king who REALLY knows what his people are like, he has stooped to the depths and sampled what he finds there. WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE *HENRY IV* PARTICULARLY PLEASURABLE FOR ME? 1. The breadth of vision, the two worlds - of high life and low life. This contrast is made palpable on the page by the distinction between prose and verse. I am constantly struck by the way Shakespeare imagines a world of total and crushing responsibility (the world of the court and the rebellion) and puts it next to a world of total irresponsibility, the world of "hearing the chimes at midnight", of debts never paid, of dissipated wealth gained from robbery. <br> &
lt;br><br>This polarisation speaks deeply to me: my life, like lots of others, is full of crushing responsibility and I dream occasionally of irresponsibility. But lest I think that there is some kind of middle way between these two things, in *Part 2* we get an extraordinary glimpse of the middle life, the world of work and everyday order, the world of Justices Shallow and Silent, the world of parsimony, smallness, poverty, corruption, and cowardice. The healing comes in *Henry V*, not with calm moderation, but with that most seductive of distractions, a "band of brothers" set on a grand crusade. 2. Falstaff. I never really enjoyed Falstaff as long as I kept expecting to be constantly laughing at him - this is not Verdi's delightfully slapstick character. Falstaff opened up for me once I started to think of him as one of the most consummate depictions of evil in the English language. Falstaff is so much fun to be around that you either excuse or ignore the terrible tragedies that light on people who wind up paying for his irresponsibility. His ragged troop led into battle at Shrewsbury are butchered, and the handful of survivors have a life of beggary to look forward to because they have been so badly maimed. And the court are right to panic at the thought that Falstaff might have his hand on the engines of real political power when Hal succeeds to the throne - Falstaff is utterly genial, and utterly corrupt. He himself knows that he can only survive under Henry V if Hal decides that he will no longer hang the thieves. I have never found an opinion harder to write than this one!
This edition of Henry IV, Part I, with Falstaff towering among his comic inventions, has an introduction discussing both the critical and theatrical history of the play. It also analyzes its language in a commentary on individual words and phrases, and explains the historical background.