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KING HENRY V.
THE PLOT. In the epilogue of the second part of the play of King Henry IV., Shakespeare promised that he would continue the story' by intro ducing the wars of King Henry V. upon the stage, and make the audience 'merry with fair Katharine of France.' In this drama he fulfils his promise.
The historical play of Henry V. was pri three times during the life of Shakespeare; but in no instance with his name. The earliest edition came out in 1600, under the title of "The Chronicle History of Henry the Fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Together with Auntient Pistoll. As it hath bene sundry times playd by the Right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine, his servants. London. Printed by Thomas Creede for Tho. Millington and John Busby.' The two next editions were published in 1602 and 1608.
This play was founded on Holinshed's Chronicles, and a preceding play of 1592, • The Famous Victories of Henry V.'
Upon the evidence of a passage in the chorus of the last act, which bears reference to the Irish expedition of the Earl of Essex of 1599, this play is supposed to have been written during that year. The reference to this wooden O’in the prologue, fixes the date as not earlier than 1599, when the Globe Theatre was built.
It was a drama that enjoyed great popularity, being played over and over again at the theatre. The internal evidence shows that the second and third editions were not published from any authentic MS., but from what would be taken down in notes during the performance. 'It is by some authorities supposed that Henry V. was originally produced by Shakespeare in an incomplete state, and that large portions of the folio, of which no trace can be pointed out in the quartos, were added at a subsequent date.'*
King Henry V. is the favourite hero of Shakespeare in English History; he paints him as endowed with every kingly virtue, one
of the finest characters that have proceeded from his master-mind. These virtues, as set forth in the words of the archbishop, are not usually mentioned in history. His actions at the beginning of his reign are thus described by Holinshed : Virtuously considering that all goodness cometh of God, he determined to begin with something acceptable to his divine Majesty, and therefore commanded the clergy sincerely and truly to preach the word of God, and to live accordingly that as they might be the lanterns of light to the temporality, as their profession required. The laymen he willed to serve God and obey their prince. Besides this, he elected the best learned men in the laws of the realm to the offices of justice, and men of good living he preferred to high degrees of authority.'
The whole of the second scene in the first act is taken from Holinshed-the quotation from the Book of Numbers—the speeches of Westmoreland and Exeter with some variation. Westmoreland was warden of the Scottish marches, and the old Chronicle says,
that he moved the king to begin with Scotland.' He quoted the old proverb in favour of the policy he urged. Exeter replied that it was proper to begin with France : 'If the king might once compass the conquest of France, Scotland could not long resist for where should the Scots learn policy and skill to defend themselves, if they had not the bringing up and training in France.' The historical allusion to Edward III. standing on a hill at the battle of Cressy is taken from Holinshed.
In the second act we are brought to Southampton, the place of Henry's embarkation for France. The Duke of Bedford is the Prince John of Lancaster of King Henry IV. The Earl of Cambridge is the second son of the Duke of York with whom we meet in the play of Richard II., and brother to Edward, the Duke of York, of this play. Lord Scrope is Henry, nephew of Archbishop Scrope. Sir Thomas Grey was of the family from which Earl Grey was descended. Shakespeare here follows Holinshed with the dramatic addition which makes the conspirators, unconscious of the detection of their own guilt, urge Henry to execute rigid justice upon an inconsiderable offender. Cambridge says, 'For me, the gold of France did not seduce ;' and, according to Holinshed, it was the intention of Cambridge to exalt to the crown his brother. in-law Edmund, Earl of March, as heir to Lionel, Duke of Clarence; after the death of this earl, the crown would come to Cambridge's wife. The scheme was charged upon him in the indictment.
In the fourth scene of this act we are introduced to the French court. The mention of the Duke of Burgundy is Shakespeare's own idea ; it is not in the old Chronicle. The ambassadors from Harry, King of England, are announced, but here is a decided departure from history. Exeter's mission, as mentioned by Holinshed, took place some time before Henry went to France. It appears that our poet must in this part have relied upon popular tradition.
In the third act we find Henry before Harfleur : his address to his soldiers may probably have been suggested by one which Holinshed ascribes to a later period of the campaign : When he had thus ordered his battle he left a small company to keep his camp and carriage, which remained still in the village, and then calling his captain and followers about him, he made to them a right grave oration moving them to play the men, whereby to obtain a glorious victory, as there was hope certain they should, the rather if they would but remember the just cause for which they fought, and when they should encounter such faint-hearted people as their ancestors had so often overcome.'
Henry's threat to the inhabitants of Harfleur is not in accordance with the old Chronicle, which is thus : 'At his first coming on land he caused proclamation to be made, that no person should be so hardy, on pain of death, either to take anything out of any church that belonged to the same, or to hurt or to do violence to priests, women, or any such as should be found without weapon or armour and not ready to make resistance.'
It is in this act that Fluellen, an officer in King Henry's army, is introduced. It is probable that in his early years Shakespeare had become acquainted with several Welsh persons who had settled at Stratford, and the name Fluellen may have been taken from one of these people. There was a William Fluellen buried at Stratford, July 9, 1595.
Previous to the occupation of the bridge, Henry received a message from the enemy which is thus recorded : •Mountjoy, kingat-arms, was sent to the King of England to defy him as the enemy of France, and to tell him that he should shortly have battle. King Henry advisedly answered : “Mine intent is to do as it pleaseth God. I will not seek your master, but if he or his seek me, I will meet them, God willing. If any of your nation attempt once to stop me in my journey now towards Calais, at their jeopardy be it; and yet I wish not any of you to be so unadvised as to be the occasion that I dye your tawny ground with your red blood." Shake speare differs from this account in that he makes the messenger to demand a ransom. The eve of the battle of Agincourt is thus described by Holinshed:
They (the French) were lodged even in the way by which the Englishmen must pass towards Calais, all that night after their coming thither made great cheer, and were very merry, pleasant, and full of game.
The Englishmen also of their parts were of good comfort, and nothing abashed of the matter, and yet they were both hungry, weary, sore-travelled, and vexed with many cold diseases. Howbeit reconciling themselves with God by housell and shrift, requiring assistance at His hands that is the only giver of victory, they determined rather to die than to yield or flee.'
The king's appeal—'O God of battles ! steel my soldiers' hearts,'