Internet Shakespeare Editions


An Ideal Monarch?

Henry seems like a brilliant ruler in Henry V. He is heroic and valiant, but also able to relate to the common soldier in his army. He is endowed with great gifts of speech and leads his troops to a remarkable victory.

At the same time, however, this greatness is questioned in the play. Henry remarks that "the King is but a man" (4.1.99) and the ensuing discussion with the soldiers Bates and Williams explores some disturbing questions of responsibility and authority. The structure of the play provides a further commentary on Henry's greatness, since his great speeches are frequently followed by scenes of the common soldiers, effectively contrasting them with Henry's words. It is also true that Henry, very much the man of action, shows little of the breadth of learning and idealism so admired in the period. His treatment of Bardolph is not far removed from the teachings of Machiavelli.

These questions are furthered darkened by the final chorus of the play, which reminds the audience of the death of Henry and the eventual loss of the French territories by the English. Of course, many had already seen these events in the plays of Henry VI, which Shakespeare had written earlier in his career.