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Further Reading: Henry V

Altman, Joel B. “ ‘Vile Participation’: The Amplification of Violence in the Theater of Henry V.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 1–32.

Altman argues that in Henry V Shakespeare taps the audience’s emotions and directs their understanding so that they “admire the King and nurture hostile feelings toward him but also transfer those feelings . . . to the foreign enemy.” Employing a rhetorical reading, Altman explores the manner in which the play “evokes communal ritual and sacrifice, excites violence and its release, honors the shame consequent upon such consummation, and supplies the formal rhythms that accommodate reconciliation.”

Anonymous. The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. In Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 4, pp. 299–343. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.

This short play is a freewheeling popular treatment of the Henry V story that begins with his youthful wildness as Prince Hal and continues into his reign as king. Using the play as a source, supplemented by the historical chronicles, Shakespeare extends its story across three plays: Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.

Barton, Anne. “The King Disguised: The Two Bodies of Henry V and the Comical History.” In The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance, ed. Joseph Price, pp. 92–117. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975.

Barton traces the motif of the disguised king who mingles with his subjects through previous English history plays (1587–1600) and popular ballads. Henry’s meeting with the soldiers in Henry V, however, differs from other instances in that the meeting lacks the “comical-historical” tone of similar treatments. “The dilemma of the man placed at a disadvantage in the sphere of personal relations by the fact of a corporate self” extends into Hal’s wooing of Katherine as well. Barton posits that Henry V explores the tension between the private and public man far more seriously than the “comical” histories of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

Belsey, Catherine. “The Illusion of Empire: Elizabethan Expansionism and Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy.” Literature and History, 2nd ser. 1 (1990): 13–21.

Belsey examines how Henry V reproduces self-servingly English stereotypes of the Welsh, Scots, and Irish in the soldiers Fluellen, Jamy, and Macmorris. According to Belsey, the play presents soldiership as a profession in a way that is deeply unsettling to the spectator or reader, especially in Henry’s speech threatening Harfleur.

Berman, Ronald, ed. Twentieth-Century Interpretations of “Henry V.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Berman’s collection provides an overview of earlier twentieth-century criticism. Articles by Lily Bess Campbell and Geoffrey Bullough establish historical backgrounds, while Charles Williams, E. M. W. Tillyard, Una Ellis-Fermor, Derek Traversi, A. P. Rossiter, and M. M. Reese offer interpretations. “Viewpoints” from Yeats to Dover Wilson provide individual perspectives.

Branagh, Kenneth. Henry V. United Kingdom: Renaissance Film Company, 1989.

See Donaldson entry for a description of this film.

Calderwood, James L. “Henry V: The Art of Order.” In Metadrama in Shakespeare’s Henriad: “Richard II” to “Henry V,” pp. 134–61. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Calderwood regards Shakespeare’s second tetralogy as a progress from verbal realism to verbal skepticism. In Henry V, the “rhetorical word is no longer instinct with value, as in Richard’s time, nor divorced from it, as in Henry IV’s, but triumphant over it.” Calderwood sees the king as representing only a brief and tenuous order, for Henry V’s galvanizing rhetoric has a “built-in obsolescence.”

Campbell, Lily B. “The Victorious Acts of King Henry V.” In Shakespeare’s “Histories”: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy, pp. 255–305. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1947.

Campbell reasserts the relevance of Henry V to “specific and contemporary situations in English life and politics.” For instance, philosophical and religious concerns of the day inform Shakespeare’s treatment of Henry’s justification for his French campaign. Since Henry V is a war play, Campbell claims that Shakespeare “makes conspicuous use of the formal [Elizabethan] procedures of war.” She illustrates her arguments with citations from sixteenth-century pamphlets, treatises, and other printed commentaries.

Dollimore, Jonathan, and Alan Sinfield. “History and Ideology: The Instance of Henry V.” In Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis, pp. 206–27. London: Methuen, 1985.

Teasing out the contradictions and conflicts that disrupt Henry V, Dollimore and Sinfield follow the instances of insurrection that betray the inherent instability of state propaganda. Set against the suppression of the rebellious noblemen and the exclusion of Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym, Henry’s consolidation of power and his victory over the French become for Dollimore and Sinfield a “representation of the attempt to conquer Ireland and the hoped-for unity of Britain.” The human cost of such imperial ambition, however, ultimately protrudes and undermines the state’s ideological justifications.

Donaldson, Peter. “Taking on Shakespeare: Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 60–71.

Donaldson compares Olivier’s and Branagh’s treatments of Henry V, examining—and ultimately questioning—the orthodox view that Olivier’s film is a celebration and Branagh’s a critique of Henry. Donaldson suggests that Olivier’s persistent theatricality presents the King as “primarily an actor,” and he suggests further that, in the Olivier film, the almost mystical conception of England that the play seems to embrace is presented as a social and artistic construction. Conversely, while Branagh seems cognizant of “political” and “alternative” Shakespeares, his film’s initial unmasking of cinematic apparatus fades, and the film affirms “cinema’s traditional claim to present real people with authentic feelings.”

Fleming, Juliet. “The French Garden: An Introduction to Women’s French.” ELH: English Literary History 56 (1989): 19–51.

Fleming analyzes the 1605 text The FrenchGarden by Peter Erondell, which advertises itself as a textbook from which women may learn French. According to Fleming, however, the book eroticizes female education for male titillation. She then compares it to the language-learning scene(3.4) in Henry V, a scene that also, for Fleming, exposes female sexuality in a way that both denies women access to it and, from a male perspective, discredits women’s chastity.

Goddard, Harold C. “Henry V.” In The Meaning of Shakespeare, pp. 215–68. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

For Goddard, Henry V is pervaded with “an irony that imparts intense dramatic value to practically every one of its main scenes.” For instance, Act 1 is suffused with irony, particularly in Henry’s mixture of questionable personal motives and his professed devotion to God’s will.Goddard sees the underplot of the play, especially Pistol’s boasting, as ironic commentary on the upper plot and its hero.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Invisible Bullets.” In Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, pp. 21–65. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

To understand Shakespeare’s transformation of Hal from “rakehell” to monarch, Greenblatt pursues a poetics of Elizabethan power, one inseparable from a poetics of the theater. Henry V, in particular, is dependent upon the gap between the “real and ideal,” as the spectators—both in the play and of the play—are induced to make up the difference, “to be dazzled by their own imaginary identification with the conqueror.” Manifest in the Chorus’s appeal “ ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings” is an implication that all kings are “decked” out by imaginary force and, therefore, that a sense of the limitations of king or theater “excites a more compelling exercise of those forces.”

Levin, Richard. “Hazlitt on Henry V and the Appropriation of Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Quarterly 35 (1984): 134–41.

Levin argues that critics have been wrong to represent Hazlitt’s 1817 essay on Henry V as an ironic reading of the play. According to Levin, Hazlitt disliked Henry V as both a historical and dramatic character, but did not assume that Shakespeare shared his own critical viewpoint. And so, for Levin, Hazlitt acknowledged, as many modern critics do not, that Shakespeare gave us a heroic portrait of Henry, however little critics may like Henry.

Neill, Michael. “Broken English and Broken Irish: Nation, Language, and the Optic of Power in Shakespeare’s Histories.” Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994): 1–32.

Neill surveys the discourse about the English and Irish nations in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign. He finds in it the contradiction that Englishness was defined both in opposition to Irishness and through the desire to subjugate and incorporate the Irish into the English nation. Colonial Ireland was represented by imperial England as a woman requiring an (English)man. Neill then traces this discourse in some major scenes in Henry V, including the Jamy-Macmorris scene and Princess Katherine’s language lesson.

Olivier, Laurence. Henry V. United Kingdom: A Two Cities Film released by United Artists, 1944.

Olivier’s 1944 film—strongly influenced by the fact that England was fighting Nazi Germany as the film was being made, and, in fact, dedicated to “the Commandoes and Airborne Troops of Great Britain”—begins in a plausible mock-up of an Elizabethan theater before traveling via camera to the battlefields of France. Olivier thus attempts to realize through film what Shakespeare attempted in verse. In a play where Shakespeare repeatedly stresses the limitations of the stage, Olivier makes the transition between the limits of the stage and possibilities of film the very focus of his work.

Rabkin, Norman. “Either/Or: Responding to Henry V.” In Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, pp. 33–62. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Noting that the opposing modern critical views of Henry as ideal Christian king or as Machiavellian prince are irreconcilable, Rabkin maintains that neither conception can be treated as the true interpretation: each excludes too much of the play. Shakespeare deliberately prepares for this ambiguity by modifying Henry’s character through Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Citing the Chorus’s closing words, Henry’s speech at Harfleur, his killing of the French prisoners, and his coarse wooing of Katherine, Rabkin concludes that the play presents a deeply problematic view of reality.