An English Hero

Henry V - William Shakespeare

I originally read this play because it was set during the Hundred Years War and I wanted to use it as a primary source. Unfortunately it is not a primary source since it was written 150 years after the events depicted and the essay was about the English Parliament's influence on the war, which this play has nothing to do with. This is another example of why I would love to go back and redo those classes to see how well my essays come out now that I know a lot more. I am still surprised that I managed to pass.



This play is a piece of propaganda - it depicts Henry V as a hero. Well, to the English he is a hero as he revived the flagging war against France with a number of decisive victories, the greatest being Agnincourt, the battle upon which the play is focused. The play forms part of Shakespeare's War of the Roses cycle which begins with Richard II and ends with Richard III.



I won't go into too many details about whether Henry V deserves his title as a hero, because, as mentioned, to the English he is a hero. He defeated the French and almost conquered France (though this was really an extension of the Norman Conquest, because when the Normans conquered England they retained their capital at Rouen, and as the nation developed, the Norman lands became part of England). Further, this play focuses only on Agincourt, the lead up to the battle, the battle itself, and it's aftermath. Also in this play we see Shakespeare's rather crude humour with the French Princess attempting to learn English (and failing). The play ends with Henry taking his prize: the French Princess.


Really, there isn't all that much to this play. It is simply a retelling of history by the victors, and even though the French did end up kicking the English out of France, England still ended up as the victors, and were able to write the history of the war to suit their own purposes. It was only because of the rise of Joan of Arc that the English lost, though it is interesting to note that England probably could never have controlled France simply because every bit of France that they took there would always be more France to take, and the further they move the more dispersed their forces became and thus the more difficult it become to put down rebellions.


I recently saw a performance of Henry V (twice) and you can read more about this play here.