Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: The Sixteenth Century on War
  • Editor: James D. Mardock

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Authors: Balthazar Ayala, Robert Barret, Richard Crompton, Stephen Gosson, Barnabe Rich
    Editor: James D. Mardock
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Sixteenth Century on War


    Henry V enters into many aspects of contemporary European debates on the legality, morality, and practice of warfare. As Paola Pugliatti points out, the last two decades of the sixteenth century saw "war manuals, either original or in translation, invad[ing] the printing market" -- in England alone forty titles of books about war were published between 1578 and 1600 (Pugliatti 91-92). During this period Europe was embroiled in nearly constant warfare, in which Englishmen were frequently involved, raising the question of what constituted a just war, especially between Christian nations, precisely the question that Henry debates with his soldiers, without resolution, on the eve of Agincourt. Additionally, as the technology of warfare continued to change, readerly demand grew for technical manuals and comparisons of modern warfare with what Fluellen calls "the pristine wars of the Romans" (TLN 1200). The selections below give a sense of the contemporary discourse about war's morality and justice, the legal issues surrounding Henry's siege of Harfleur and killing of prisoners, and the debates about the disciplines of war that so exercise Shakespeare's Welsh captain.

    The selection from Balthazar Ayala is taken from John Pawley Bate's 1912 translation of the Latin text (Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1912, vol. 2, 236). All other texts are transcribed from originals accessed through Early English Books Online.