Character Analysis King Henry V


While Henry V is not Shakespeare's best play, all of the three preceding history plays — Richard II and Henry IV, Parts I and II — lead up to Henry V and its depiction of Henry as the idealized Christian king. Whereas the earlier plays had shown Henry as the "madcap Prince Hal," a chap who was constantly in the company of lower-class types and who was constantly in some trouble of one sort or another, yet this earlier life ultimately becomes a preparation for his kingship, and his earlier knowledge of these low types allows him to understand his common subjects and to measure his own sense of worth by their lack of noble qualities.

Each scene in Henry V is constructed either to illustrate some aspect of Henry V's character or to present some of the low characters as comic relief. Consequently, various scenes depict his religious nature, his mercy, pity, and compassion, his absolute sense of justice, his administrative skill, his fighting ability, his innate nobility, his ability to communicate with the common class of soldiers and people, and, in the final scene, his role as a romantic lover in the suit of Katharine's hand in marriage.

In the opening scenes, he is characterized as being troubled over the religious rightness of his claim to the French lands and the French crown. He relies heavily on the advice of the Archbishop, with the idea that his (the king's) conscience will be clear. He charges the Archbishop "in the name of God" to "religiously unfold" the means by which he can lay claim to these lands. Throughout the play, Henry V's religious nature is constantly emphasized, and after the crucial Battle of Agincourt, he is the first to give all the credit of the victory to God. At his triumphant return to London, we hear that he is frightened that too many people will praise him and not give full credit to God.

In one scene, Henry is presented in a situation where he must be a judge. First, we see him as merciful and forgiving as he releases a prisoner for a minor offense; he then turns to three conspirators and, with a sense of just majesty, dispenses stern justice to them. And even here, although he feels a deep personal insult because of the conspirators' plot, it is ultimately the threat to the peace of England that allows Henry to put aside personal feelings and execute the men for the sake of "the health of England."

He can, then, in the same scene turn immediately from feeling a sense of personal betrayal and instantly administer to the needs of the kingdom and the conduct of the war. In addition, during the war, he demands that the conquered French be treated with respect while, at the same time, he allows one of his boon companions of his madcap days to go to his death because he stole from a church.

Even though we never see King Henry actually fighting on the stage, we are told repeatedly of his fighting prowess and of his battered armor and sword; in other scenes, we see him as the inspirational orator and leader of men, exhorting them to rise to the great demands put upon them by the nature of the wars.

Due to his associations during his youth, Henry is also able to communicate well and naturally with the common soldiers, and, because of the carefree tenor of his youth, he still possess a penchant for a practical joke, as we see when he allows Williams and Fluellen to almost come to blows because of the gloves in their hats. Finally, as would be appropriate with the ideal king, we see Henry dressed in all his regal regalia, as the witty and urbane lover who is courting the charming Princess Kate.

Therefore, in the above scene and others, many and various aspects of Henry's character are presented so as to demonstrate Shakespeare's point that here, indeed, is the ideal Christian king.