So, as my Shakespeare class careens through the semester (we’ve already read two plays and had four quizzes/tests on them), we now turn to the history plays. I’m intrigued if only because Shakespeare’s histories are plays that I’m not familiar with (unless you count Julius Caesar as a…
I won’t pretend like I have the official, literary analysis answer, but I do have an opinion.
Part of the argument to why Henry V will not be such a good king, which pops up maybe a couple times throughout the course of the play, is that up to this point, Harry has been acting kind of like a fratboy. He’s thus far spent his time drinking, partying and overall kind of shunning his responsibilities as a prince. So there are serious doubts in place, when he comes to take the throne, that he’ll be up for the job.
So part of what Henry has to do over the course of the play is to eradicate that image and part of himself and craft a new image, as a true military leader and a great king. This happens I suppose symbolically through the death of Falstaff as well as the hanging of Lieutenant Bardolph.
And even though he does end up coming into his own, that doesn’t mean this part of Henry V’s story isn’t tragic. I hate the cliched term “loss of innocence,” but that’s what best describes these losses. I guess it’s up to the director’s interpretation whether Henry himself is saddened by this loss (as he is in the Branagh film), or hardening himself against any sympathy in order to better lead his soldiers.