Shakespeare's Henry V

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English society in the Renaissance period had very clear-cut ideas about the role of the monarchy. Seen as God's representative on earth and appointed by divine right (Grillet 34), the monarch was not only highly revered by the populace, but was faced with the responsibility of acting in God's stead and of maintaining the requisite appearance (if not the reality) of state and ceremony, pomp and pageantry, grace and glory.


According to Machiavelli, the ideal monarch should be a soldier (The Prince 49), merciful yet adequately cruel (55), cautious and prudent in decision-making, and full of humanity (56). King Henry V exceeds the expectations of the ideal Renaissance male, epitomizes the Machiavellian prince, and is a mirror of the character of God who appointed him, and the Messianic king, whom he represents. This is revealed in his speeches to his subjects and adversaries, to himself (soliloquies) and his future wife, Katherine.
In the play, as in the historical precedent, he is faced with the dually awesome and glorious decision of making war with France in order to reclaim his right as king thereof and extend his rule, but also, more frivolously, in response to a foolish slight on the part of the French Dauphin, who, thinking Henry to still be the author of "youthful pranks", sends him a set of tennis balls (I.ii). The portrait of this king that unfolds throughout the play is that of a young monarch who is defining his role, status, power and leadership, and who "must prove his fitness to rule through appropriate choices and actions" (Hall 83).
In the first act we see Henry contemplating the decision to go to war with France. Though the king, he defers graciously to age and wise counsel. ...
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