King Henry V

King Henry V - T.W. Craik, William Shakespeare I actually really enjoy Shakespeare. Especially King Lear (of the few I've read so far) I just didn't like Henry V as a character, which severely stunted my ability to enjoy the play. Only the Saint Crispin's Day Speech stopped me from giving this just one star.

I'm not altogether certain that I'm understanding the historical context, but it seems to me that Henry's war does not have just cause. Simply because he has a doubtful claim to France's throne, and the prince of France--the Dauphin--insulted him? My dislike of Henry's war, and therefore Henry himself may be helped along by the fact that the responsibility of Joan of Arc's unfair death seems to be evenly divided between him and Charles VII, the king of France whom Joan served.

I'm not a pacifist, but I agree with J.R.R. Tolkien; "War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend." (Somewhere, and I cannot for the life of me remember where, I read sort of summary of Tolkien's feelings on war; that he felt that war was evil, but sometimes necessary to protect the good things in life)

I think the reason that Henry's first speech bugs me is because he is manipulating his countrymen into fighting an unjustified war. Henry started this war because he wanted to be king of France as well as England, and because the Dauphin insulted him. This means that the English are trying to take over a country, while the French are defending their homeland. When I'm presented with this scenario I will almost always side with the defenders, rather than the attackers. I think that the French had a reason to fight; to protect their homeland, but I don't think the English did, and Henry whipping them into a bloodthirsty frenzy to be sure that they wouldn't show mercy was wrong. Returning to the Tolkien theme, sometimes showing pity can save your world, as with Bilbo sparing Gollum.

Henry has ethos because he is a figure of authority. He is the king. One thing that I think gives the speech extra pathos and ethos, and it may be the only time that I see logos in it, is when Henry does appeal to them not to let the fallen Englishmen have fallen in vain. If they lost the war then those people would have died for nothing. This is the way that I feel about the Vietnam War. America pulled out just when we could've won. Of course I am looking back on it, without having lived through it, so maybe I shouldn't be one to judge what the right decision was at the time.

It's not just Henry V that I dislike though. The Archbishop of Canterbury urged Henry into this war, and might very well have been responsible for Joan of Arc's false heresy sentence and death. And the French Dauphin. Regardless of how Henry was in his youth, it was wrong of him to insult him, especially since Henry was in a position of power so that he could start a war over an insult.

So I guess the two main reasons why I don't like the speech or Henry is because of my feelings about the reasons for the start of the war, and because of the feeling of manipulation.

This speech is more rousing by far than the previous one. Henry made this speech when he was outmatched, cold, sick, hungry, desperate and afraid... and so this speech had a ring of truth to it. Henry was asking his men to fight for their lives. I actually felt inspired by this speech. I do thing that Henry had some character growth in act IV. He faced his own guilt in his discussion with Williams. He defended himself, which I found annoying, but then when he was alone he had an eloquent soliloquy that I felt truly showed that, despite his defending his own actions, showed that he had taken some of what Williams said to heart.

The Saint Crispin's Day Speech is really interpretable, however, so I'm going to compare four different interpetations, and how the different recitations affected me. I like to listen to the plays while following along, and in the fully casted AudioGo, Arkangel recording, the actor spoke quietly, as though the speech was personal, mainly for Gloster, Bedford, Exeter, Westmoreland and the other officers. The result of this was that when Montjoy came, I felt Henry should have given in to save his men's lives. Of the three film-versions of the speech I watched on Youtube, Tom Hiddleston's performance most closely echoed that of the audiobook. He seemed to be speaking mainly to his high officers, but he had a lot more feeling in his words than the actor in the recording. He had a lot of sadness in his voice, like he was preparing to die, and coming from him, it didn't seem so unreasonable that he would not accept the French request for his ransom. Lawrence Olivier actually seemed to be addressing all his men, but to me at least, he didn't seem to have a lot of emotion, so I didn't find his version of the speech very compelling, though I did like it better than the audiobook. He was at a disadvantage to the other film versions, though, because Lawrence Olivier's version of the speech was the only one that didn't have music accompanying it. It's incredible, what a good soundtrack can do to add or bring emotion. The last version I'll look at is Kenneth Branagh's. This version was my favorite (once I got over the fact that Gilderoy Lockhart was wearing bright red and blue livery) but the majority of the comments on Youtube seem to disagree with me, prefering Olivier's version. I liked this version because I felt that, played by Branagh, King Henry was addressing his entire army, but at the same time, trying just as hard to give himself courage. Branagh had the most emotional performance of all of them. I could hear his courage, and his desperation. The music, by Patrick Doyle, added to the emotion, it sounded hopeful almost to the point of triumph, yet without undermining the feeling of urgency. With Branagh, not only did I not feel that Henry should have handed himself over, I actually felt that if he had tried, his troops wouldn't have let him do so, and I liked that about this performance. Though I do prefer all of the the film versions to the audio, it is obnoxious to me that all three of them cut out parts of the speech, especially the newer Branagh and Hiddleston versions.

Henry's war was still unjust, but now, because he had truly faced the hardships of war, and heard the complaints of some of his people, and, just maybe, started to take some of the blame for himself, I felt much more inspired. The reasons for the war were unfair, but the reasons for that one battle were acceptable.

As with the last speech, this one's main components are pathos and ethos, but there is quite a bit of logos to the speech, and the three elements are balanced much better than before. Henry has more ethos than he did before, because, not only is he king, but he too is about to enter a battle he doesn't expect to win. This gives him much more credibility. Instead of simply ordering his men to go into battle, he is going with them. With pathos Henry brings hope to a situation that seemed hopeless. "If we are mark'd to die, we are enow/To do our country loss; and if to live,/The fewer men the greter share of honour." Henry also gives them the desire to tell their children stories about this day; "This story shall the good man teach his son;/And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,/From this day to the ending of the world,/But we in it shall be remembered." There is also logic in this speech, because if they fight they will probably die, but if they don't fight the certainly would, after all, they were described as many being sick, and the French were blocking them from going somewhere to rest.

I think that my preference of this speech can be traced to the desperate situation that Henry's men face. This is the kind of speech I would expect to hear from the defenders, rather than the attackers. But then, right now the French are attacking. Henry is still to blame for the whole situation, but this time, he and his men are defending something--their lives. I did not find this speech to be manipulating, because this time, Henry's men know exactly what they are up against.

I still don't like Henry, or the war he started, but I do like the Saint Crispin's Day Speech.

PS. This review is made up of patched together answers I made in discussion posts for an online class. The questions for the discussion posts were mostly regarding Henry's two motivational speeches in Act III. Scene I, and IV. Scene III.