Three for One – Shakespeare’s Best Offer
In Henry V, Shakespeare combines elements of comedy, history, and tragedy through various means. Because of this masterful combination of everything – deep themes, philosophical musings, comic characters, tragic characters, historical plot, wit, humor, romance, tragedy -I believe this play is one of my favorites, and one of Shakespeare’s best works.
Shakespeare relies mainly on the various nationalities and speaking accents of the play’s characters to give comedy to the play. The English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish captains all speak with pronouncedly differing accents that are highly comical, especially since they each tend to either misunderstand one another or make fun of each other because of these accents. Then there is Catherine, and the way she often butchers the English language with her French ways. Although Alice tries not to correct her, she often is forced to step in and correct the princess’ mispronunciations. However, Alice herself often goofs up the English she is trying to teach Catherine! This is not pointed out by any character, but obvious to the English-speaking audience and remarkably funny. Also, the play’s seemingly happy ending makes this play like a comedy.
There is also irony that can be both funny and tragic. When King Harry disguises himself as a common soldier, Williams mistakes him as such ad the irony of Harry’s speech to Williams and Bates is at first comical because we as the audience are let in on the “joke,” but later when Williams brings up the subject of the divine right of kings, or their responsibility for soldiers’ deaths, it becomes almost tragic because we understand the extent of the burden that Kind Harry bears.
But there is also tragedy in the piece as seen in the main battle scenes and their aftermath. There is also tragedy in the deaths of the traitors to King Harry, as well as the death of Falstaff. The character of Pistol further seems to add tragedy because he is so rude, ruthless, and selfish that he constantly proves a danger or annoyance to the “good guys.” Finally, in the end of the play, the epilogue foreshadows what will happen soon to King Harry and the kingdom he has worked so valiantly to establish and enlarge. His death seems so imminent; although he has won the battle, he cannot enjoy his success long. As actual history says, he will soon die, causing his country to become embroiled in a severe civil war.
Historical elements are present in Henry V as well, and come mainly from the storyline of the play. Shakespeare follows Harry’s battle successes and his conquests for the French throne, as it really happened. Shakespeare was making use of the fact that most of his audience would have been familiar with the famous English hero, King Harry, and his history, so he stays fairly true to the historical part and uses the audience’s knowledge of this history to form the tragic element of King Harry’s soon-present demise, as just mentioned.
All three elements of history, comedy, and tragedy are seamlessly woven together. Harry experiences loss, but eventually gets his girl in the end (but we know he won’t last much longer), and he does (in the play) what he did in real life, at least as far as warfare is concerned. So the characters are the main source of comedy, the plot/storyline is that for tragedy, as is our knowledge of Harry’s history, and the plot is also the basis for the element of history in the play.