English 345 Shakespeare Study Questions on Henry V
1. What do we learn from the Archbishop of Canterbury's and the Bishop of Ely's conversation in 1.1? Do the church and the monarchy conflict or collude with each other as the play develops? Interpret Canterbury's extended beehive analogy (1.2.183-220).
2. Several commentators note that Henry repeatedly displaces responsibility (and guilt) onto others in politically strategic, rhetorically compelling and powerful ways (see, for example, Andrew Hadfield's essay on Henry V). Does such displacement occur in Act 1 and Act 2? Be alert to such strategies--also consider carefully Henry's speech before Harfleur (3.3), and also see study question #18 below.
3. Analyze the Chorus's ideological functions, especially in the representation of Henry and his subjects ("honor's thought / Reigns solely in the breast of every man" (2.0.3-4). Explore differences and contradictions between what the Chorus claims or promises and what is represented in the scenes that follow in each Act.
4. Henry frequently refers (defers, appeals) to God. Review such moments (e.g., 1.2, 2.2, 3.6.136ff., 4.7.79) and consider their purposes. How does Henry position or view himself in relation to God? See the source from Holinshed's Chronicles (handout), which corresponds to 2.2--compare, conclude. You might also compare Falstaff and Scrope, both one time intimates of the king. What purposes or significance do you find in Henry's attribution of demonic intervention/fall of man analogies/causes to explain Scrope's betrayal and conspiracy, rather than political or secular reasons (2.2)?
5. Bardolph, Nym, Pistol: Gower calls them "slanders of the age" (3.6.80). Why? How does the "Boy" see them (e.g., 3.2.27-52)? How are they introduced and to what effects (2.1)? What perspectives or problems do they embody? Respond to the exchange between Pistol and Fluellen over Bardolph's fate (3.6). Compare Pistol's rhetoric/actions with King Henry's.
6. The four "Captains": Gower, Fluellen, Macmorris, Jamy. What are their attitudes towards Henry and his enterprise? Toward each other? How is Gower represented, especially in relation to the others, each identified with subjugated ethnic groups. What tone predominates in the Captains' scenes (e.g., 3.2, 3.6, 4.7, 4.8, 5.1)?
7. How are "men" represented, particularly the "English" versus the "French?" What qualities are ascribed to each group, to individuals? Look, for example, at the French in 2.4, 3.5, 4.2, 4.4, and 5.2.
8. The play's representation of women: Mistress Quickly, Katharine, Alice, Queen Isabel. Do discourses of "femininity" relate only to these female figures? What do such women represent? What are their situations? See 1.2, 2.1, 2.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, and 5.2. See also McEvoy (Shakespeare: The Basics , second ed.198 ff.)
9. Examine the play's representation and use of hierarchies, especially social and class relations (e.g, 3.1, 3.5, 4.3.18ff., 4.7, 4.8).
10. Read closely the confrontation between the disguised Henry and soldiers Court, Bates, and Williams (4.1.86ff.). Evaluate the various concerns and claims, especially Henry's arguments and analogies as well as Williams' responses (e.g., 4.1.173, 4.1.183). How does Henry resolve his challenge with Williams (4.7, 4.8)? Interpret Henry's soliloquy (4.1.212ff.). Katherine Eisaman Maus comments that Henry "distinguishes sharply and problematically between the King's 'superior violence'--the violence of war--and the violence of individual subjects, which is merely criminal" (Norton ed. Shakespeare). Also see Hadfield's reading of this scene.
11. The killing of the baggage boys (4.6, 4.7). What exactly did happen? What are the reasons for the counterattack?
12. Dollimore and Sinfield ("History and Ideology") explain that the "principal strategy of ideology is to legitimate inequality and exploitation by representing the social order which perpetuates these things as immutable and unalterable--as decreed by God or simply natural" (211-12). They also observe that the "more ideology (necessarily) engages with the conflict and contradiction which it is its raison d'être to occlude, the more it becomes susceptible to incorporating them within itself. It faces the contradictory situation whereby to silence dissent one must first give it a voice, to misrepresent it one must first present it" (215). Review some aspect of the play in light of such an approach, and note that McEvoy also addresses Shakespeare’s drama from such perspectives. Claire McEachern's essay may serve as both counterpoint and complement to Dollimore and Sinfield--perhaps "state" ideology is interested in producing an "integrated and beneficient social unity" (48). But as McEachern argues, such unity and order also depended upon and made use of women, of the female body, to consolidate its ends (49ff.).
13. Compare the Olivier and Branagh film versions of Henry V.
14. Explore more fully several of Maus's comments in her headnote to the play (The Norton Shakespeare). For example, she observes that "the factors that render someone an effective king are not necessarily morally admirable ones." She also argues that "Troubles over the way proper generational sequence ought to be defined resonate throughout the play."
15. As you review the play, keep McEvoy's analysis in view. Note, for example, that McEvoy argues that "Power in the history plays comes down to one of three things: first, having the military force to take what you want; second, being able to persuade people; or, third, being able to put on a convincing performance which makes effective use of the most powerful beliefs of the time" (Shakespeare: The Basics, Second Ed. 194).
16. Marjorie Garber comments that the St. Crispin's Day speech (4.3.24-67) "returns the play to many of the same themes raised at the beginning by the Prologue: memory, epitaph, and mortality. It proposes a kind of immortality in fame familiar from Shakespeare plays in other genres, like Love's Labour's Lost. But in this drama of English history the very existence of the play as a commemorative object confirms the ideology of the King's impassioned claim. Old men will remember us, as the reader and the audience remember. And, moreover, they will remember 'with advantages,' augmenting, expanding and embroidering upon, the facts of the battle. In this patriotic account of the transmission of feats of heroism, the tales told veterans and their sons reverse the negative affect of 'Rumour painted full of tongues' in Part 2 [Henry IV], glorifying the 'story' each time it is repeated. . . . [Henry] has become the modern king a modern England needs. Whatever the audience may feel about his character, its calculations and self-dramatizations, the fit between this King and his circumstances is carefully crafted by the playwright, who was writing almost two hundred years after the Battle of Agincourt and would have had his own modern monarch, as well as Henry V, clearly in mind" (Shakespeare After All 399-400). Here, and more so elsewhere in her commentary,Garber is far more inclined than Maus or McEvoy to interpret the play and especially the figure of Henry V in terms less critical of the use of theatricality as a deployment of power and as a displacement of responsibility. She characterizes, for example, Henry's defensive encounter with Williams (4.1) this way: "The King is playing a role here, at the same time that he is speaking no more or less than the truth. . . . Here he fulfills his promise to be a 'Christian king' in another sense. Again the play stresses the loneliness as well as the responsibility of rule" (402-03).
17. Garber astutely calls attention to a recurring preoccupation, in the history plays, with the "question of language and its relationship to politics and rule. At issue is not only language-learning but a respect for the multiplicity of languages, and an awareness--both comic and serious--of the dangers of translation" (405). Examine scenes and exchanges that might serve to illustrate Garber's point, such as 3.4, 5.1, and 5.2.
18. In her book Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (1991), Karen Newman analyzes the ways that a sense of English national identity is fashioned through opposition to others, including women as well as the Welsh, Irish, and Scots, and particularly via contrasting uses of language (dialect and register), with Henry demonstrating a flexible, masterful range of being able to speak in the dialect/social registers of different classes and identities. For example, in Henry's speech before the walls of Harfleur (3.3.33), Newman finds that "expansionist aims of the nation state are worked out on and through the woman's body. Henry speaks to the men of Harfleur by means of transactions in women . . . . In Henry's speech, the power of the English army is figured as aggressive violence against the weak, and particularly as sexual violence against women" (101-102). Newman also finds such conquest and colonization of the other's identity anbd body in Katherine's attempts to learn English in a scene (3.4) that emphasizes a fragmentation and gradual sexualization of a woman's body. Moreover, later, Henry's wooing of Katherine (5.2) are "strategies of mastery" that work to fashion her into an "English wife" (103-104). Read Newman's essay to see how her arguments and theoretical perspectives may complicate and enlarge your understanding of the play and what's at stake.
19. Consider the varied ideas and points of analysis in Andrew Hadfield's essay on the play, including Hadfield's claim that the play is Shakespeare's most sophisticated analysis of kingship, and the possibility that the play "can be read as a republican play; or, perhaps, more accurately, a work that does not discount the possibility that England could be ruled better by a strong leader than a hereditary monarch, someone who had no claim to govern apart from intrinsic merit. The logic of Henry V's meditations on the question of his kingship is that a king should rule because he--or she--is the best suited for the role" (461-462). An example of such a suitable leader might be Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex, who is imagined as returning in triumph from his Irish campaign (462).
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