Monday, 9 April 2012

Shakespeare - Henry V:

The central theme of the book seems to be whether Henry is a good heroic king or just pretending to be good, in order to achieve his goals. Just as in life, the question remains unanswered, but this makes the reading of Henry more interesting. There are a couple of themes that illuminate this question: the morality of the war, Henry’s cruelty, and how Henry addresses his subjects.

The moral grounds of the war against France are extremely shaky: Henry’s claim to the crown of France are solely based on the judgement of an archbishop. This archbishop tries to engage Henry in his war, so he can’t introduce a tax on church income – as the bishop openly admits in the beginning of the play. Thus the morality of everything that follows, the whole war and whether Henry is behaving like a good king or not, is put in doubt right form the beginning. Henry does not acknowledge that: he demands complete obedience, no matter whether the cause of war is right or wrong:
King (disguise as a common soldier): “Methinks I / could not die anywhere so contented as in the king’s company, / his cause being just and his quarrel honourable.
Williams: “That’s more than we know.
Bates: (…) If his cause be wrong our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.
Williams: But if the cause be not good the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in a battle shall join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at such a place’ (…)
King: So if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise d sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him. Or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation. Bu this is not so. The king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant, for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.163).

Moreover, Henry behaves extremely cruel: “And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his / Hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul / Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance / That shall fly with them; for many a thousand widows / Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands, / Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down, / And some are yet ungotten and unborn / That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.96).

Henry to the Governor of besieged Harfleur: “If not, why, in a moment look to see / The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand / defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking aughters, / Your fathers taken by the silver beards, / And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls, / Your naked infants spitted upn pikes / Whiles the mad mothers with heir howls confused / Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry / At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen. / What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid? / Or guilty in defence be thus destroyed?” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.135).

And this cruelty doesn’t stop, when it comes to his own people (i.e. luggage):
King, still unsure whether the battle is won: “But hark, what new alarm is this same? / The French have reinforced heir scattered men. / Then every soldier kill his prisoners. / Give the word through.
Llewellyn: Kill the poys and the luggage! ‘Tis expressly against the law of arms.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.185).

And Henry clearly calls his subjects brothers when he needs them, but sops doing so, once the battle is won: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more / Or close the wall up with our English dead!” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.125).

Chorus: “O now, who will behold / The royal captain of this ruined band / Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent? / Let him cry ‘Praise and glory on his head!’ / For forth he goes and visits all his host, / Bids them good morrow with a modest smile, / And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.156).

King: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers - / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile / This day shall gentle his condition.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.176).

When counting the dead he makes a clear difference between those of name and the rest. (p.196).
French Montjoy (ambassador): “To sort our nobles from our common men, / For many of our princes – woe the whie - / Lie drowned and soaked in mercenary blood, / So do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs / In blood of princes, while the wounded steeds / Fret fetlock deep in gore, and with wild rage / Yerk out their armed heels at their dead masters, / Killing them twice.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.188).

King: “For I am Welch, you know, good countryman.” (Shakespeare, 1992, p.189).

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