Archive for the King Henry V Category

Plagues, Protestants, Patrons, Performers

Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2009 by Saera

The Bubonic Plague was very effective in Shakespeare’s time, as it was a major cause of the deaths in England. In Romeo and Juliet, it figures into the play as Mercutio curses the feud between the Capulets and Montagues and says “A plague on…” It affected the Elizabethan theatre as when a certain number of people died from it in cities, that city’s theatres were closed. The play actors often could contact this disease themselves, and it obviously would affect their work if caught. It could potentially affect the play’s audiences also, because if they suspected the theatre as being a breeding ground for disease (which it was!), they would avoid attending performances.

Catholics and Protestants

The Catholics in Elizabethan England were persecuted because Elizabeth was Protestant, so England was Protestant. The Protestants were very concerned with the possibility of a Catholic rebellion or uprising, which would be associated with an attempt to dethrone Elizabeth and so they carefully censored all publications, including plays. Shakespeare’s works all had to be censored and this is reflected in his plays by the absence of explicit Catholic materials. The Reformation had just finally been accepted in england with the divorce of Henry VIII, which was the major factor in England’s religious conversion. Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was a Catholic who rigorously persecuted the Protestants of England when she ruled after Henry VIII. SO England experienced major shifts between Protestant and Catholic rulers and there was a general sense of confusion and uncertainty about one’s religious freedom – who knew when the ruler would be overthrown by someone of another religion?

Elizabeth I

She was Anne Boleyn’s daughter by Henry VIII, who came to the throne in 1559. She helped England defend against Spain, she was a Protestant, and she was a patron of Shakespeare. She was also very willing to do whatever it took to maintain her kingdom and she censored Shakespeare’s plays heavily for anything that would challenge her position. She had a network of spies that she used to enforce order and keep her informed as to people’s opinions about her. She had no qualms about killing or imprisoning her friends if they crossed her (look at what she did to Sir Walter Raleigh). Although she seemed kind and “feminine,” she was a tough queen and Shakespeare knew this. She questioned him after he wrote Richard II because she thought it was associated with a plot to dethrone her and lead an uprising. But overall, Shakespeare enjoyed her favor.

All-Male Acting Companies

Because all of Shakespeare’s actors were male, he needed men who could sound and act like women. He also was limited in how many women’s roles he could assign each play. Therefore, there are more men’s roles than women’s in his plays. This again reflects how the Elizabethan stage relied on the use of language to capture their audience’s attention. Special effects, scenery, and realistic portrayal of characters (especially women) became less important than the lines those characters spoke. For example, no one cares what Juliet looks like – her lines reveal her character, which is that of an attractive, strong, loving , firm woman. We eagerly await her responses to the events of the play, not caring about how beautiful the actor is. The acting companies frequently traveled around, which is perhaps one reason why they did not include women. Some critics viewed the cross-dressing of the male actors as female characters as being evil, but most people did not seem to mind.



Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

Catherine is the daughter of the king of France, who eventually marries King Harry in King Henry V. In scene 5.2, Catherine’s true colors come through as she accepts Harry’s proposal of marriage (in a very roundabout way). She has already been introduced earlier, but only appeared in one scene. This time, she has center stage. She really does not talk much, in comparison with Harry, but certainly says enough for audiences to understand her. She acts coy, and because she cannot speak good English, must have an interpreter. This serves to compliment Harry because it shows how he really can speak fluent French. This scene also shows Harry’s human, personal side. By being the object of his love, Catherine’s role in this scene is to allow this side of Harry to shine through and to draw his personality out. In the play, her dramatic function is to provide some comedy (through her bad attempts to speak English), to allow the side of Harry the man versus Harry the king and soldier to come out, and to introduce romance to the play. Thematically, her role is to bring up the issue of whether Harry will be a good ruler for France or not, to also reinforce the theme of Harry the man (not just a “king”), and to show Harry’s superiority of sorts, as seen by his humbleness and mastery of the French language.


Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

Fluellen is a captain of the English army under King Harry in King Henry V. He is a Welshman. In scene 3.3 of the play, Fluellen is introduced and right away establishes his temper and accent! In this particular scene, his role seems to be to give the audience some insight as to the “warfare” oart of the play 9one of its essential themes) and expose the small factions and fights between nationalities (Scot, Welsh, Irish, etc.) that could become a major source of contention, but do not. He also gives the audience some comic relief with his extreme accent and bobmastic character qualities. He almost gets into it with MacMorris, but he shows restraint and calmness when necessary. His dramatic function in the play as a whole seems to be to add comedy and diversity to the play, as well as allowing some explanation for the audience as to what is going on in the war, and to give them a different perspective, from a higher ranking officer in the army, than just King Harry’s view. Thematically, he reinforces the idea of King Harry’s ability to command respect of and unify various peoples from various nationalities. He also provides some contrast to King Harry’s character and temperament, allowing audiences to better understand both characters. Fluellen is both lovable and laughable, and arrg, a better man you’ll not be seein’ too soon, lass!

Three for One – Shakespeare’s Best Offer

Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

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.henry20v20dvd20review20criterion20olivier20pdvd_011-01

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.