Professor Reggid Bassett
8 August 2013
Analysis of King Henry’s Vision of Kingship
This essay aims to critically analyze King Henry’s vision of kingship, the way he feels about his role as a leader and the factors he believed served as the source of his power in the light of Shakespeare’s popular play ‘Henry V’. The dramatic political developments and changes in medieval leadership models in the 16th century influenced Shakespeare’s literary works, including Henry V and Macbeth, in which he tried to promote a multi-faceted approach to reign and sovereignty. In the medieval era, a ruler was regarded as the conscience of the state who acts as a binding force between public and private interests and responsibilities and Henry had a profound understanding of this philosophy (Willers 301). It is quite rare for a man who inherits kingship, to develop the qualities required to rule effectively, win the loyalty and trust of people and exercise authority without activating tyranny. The fact that Henry V stood up to these challenges better than many monarchs, implies that he demonstrated Shakespeare’s ideal model of Kingship (Murley and Sutton 15). He may not be an exemplary ruler, but from Shakespeare’s viewpoint, he possess the substance that is expected to be present in any good king.
History has proved that the success of a nation depends entirely on the quality of the leadership it has. The more focused and devoted a leader is towards the interests and rights of the citizens the higher will be the chances of its success and development. Similar was the case of King Henry V who was once a rowdy and an uncompromising individual but after taking over the throne, he learned to avoid corrupt influences and claimed lawfulness, more intensely than his preceders. His priorities, judgments, duties and attitude towards governance changed drastically after coming to power (Mardock). He was more concerned about the state affairs and sidelined his private passions. is acquisition of the kingship influenced him to contemplate on the phases of his way of life as well as the character that was corrupt, and shaped him as a righteous king as well as an idyllic leader of the body politic (Willers 301). However, he could not prevent the monarchial tragedy to come into play, i.e. succession by a weak-willed King over a strong King (Murley and Sutton 28).
Henry viewed his kingship as a mutually dependent relationship between sovereignty and the kingdom as he recognized that the people were dependent on him to protect them and propose solutions to their problems. His nationalistic intentions can be clearly sought from the fact that in a scene, Henry V punishes the traitors, not because they were plotting against him but because they were plotting against the country. He says “we our kingdom’s safety must so tender, Whose ruin you have sought” (Willers 302).
Shakespeare adopted an entirely different approach in developing King Henry V’s character as compared to his other kingly characters. He has made King Henry V to appear more skillful and gifted. He bases Henry’s personality on the realities of life and tends to provide him with the power to achieve what he aims for.
Henry’s ability to appropriately justify all his actions and persuade others into accepting his ideas has given his character a stronger personality. Shakespeare also provides him with the ability to present himself honestly while still manipulating the audience. Shakespeare while personifying King Henry’s character has displayed incredible volatile writing skills. His writing has depicted an enormous difference amongst Henry V and other rulers of that time .
When compared with Macbeth, Henry V is shown to consider his kingship as a bond that brings together his kingdom with him. He considers it to be more of an opportunity rather then a liability. Macbeth, on the other hand, conceives Kingship in an entirely opposite direction which also becomes the reason for his downfall. King Henry, when compared with Duncan, has been shown as an advocate of justice who keeps in mind the interests of his kingdom. He is depicted to show mercy to trivial criminals, but tends to make an example out of the individuals who act against the interests of his kingdom even if they are old associates.
However, like every good thing has a bad side attached to it even King Henry’s character also had some flaws that even Shakespeare could not ignore, and failed to mold Henry’s character and philosophy in accordance with his circumstances and line of work. For instance, his actions regarding Gadshill were a prologue to the affair of Agincourt, which only resulted in violence (Muley and Sutton 18). He had the ability to draw a curtain over his deceitful schemes which is perhaps the most unscrupulous aspect of his reign. Putting the responsibility for the outcomes of his own acts on others, even though he portrayed himself to be the conscience of the kingdom is one weakness that overpowers his chief leadership qualities. A ruler who is not courageous enough to accept accountability of his own acts could not be expected to refrain from engaging in corruption. The education he received as a prince taught him that a King should be tough, and under some circumstances he needs to forestall and do cunning deeds.
Apart from this, King Henry V’s inexperience and lack of guidance by experts on ruling a state always made him end up waging wars with all his neighbors. This situation was further aggravated by the fact that his own title of King of England was contemptuous and hence, he ended up claiming the title of King of France. Despite all these flaws Shakespeare represented his character so beautifully that he is always remembered as a true hero, ‘King of England’ and the ‘Conqueror of France’ even though he was not a constitutional King.
Henry V possessed a remarkable blend of patriotism, pride, legitimacy, machiavellianism, ingenuity, toughness, benevolence and mercilessness; the qualities required to be a powerful and praiseworthy king. King Henry V during his kingship let go of all his passions and desires and evolved as a just, zealous and a strong-willed king who succeeded in harmonizing his inborn talents, leadership skills and virtuous nature with an effective policy for dealing with his nobles, public and the offenders. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Henry’s persona justifies him as a real, noble and a fair king who would always be remembered for his astuteness and gallantry.
Rolls, Albert. Henry V . Bloom’s literary criticism,2010.
Willers, Russel. “Models of Kingship: Shakespeare’s Depictions of the Relationship between the Sovereign and the Realm in Henry V and Macbeth”. Innervate. Volume I, 2008-2009, pp. 301-307.
Mardock, James, D. “Henry V: Critical Reception” Internet Shakespeare Editions. University of Victoria. Web. 14 Nov 2014. < http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/Texts/H5/>
Murley, J.A and Sutton, S.D. Perspectives on Politics in Shakespeare. Lexington Books, 2006.