Sunday, 28 December 2014

Henry V: The Sun Unclouded

Prince Hal had become a new king when we left him in Henry IV, part II. Now it seemed that the new king gained popularity (in a good sense, not the old Shakespearean one) among his subjects. Remember when he said he'd 'throw off his loose behaviour' and 'falsify men's hope'? He did it. Everybody wondered how the king, who had been well-known as a good-for-nothing brat, could change into such a good and wise king in so short a time. But His Majesty's wisdom is about to be put to the test.

The clergy and the nobles were pushing him to "reclaim" his title in France. Henry actually had a (weak) claim over the Kingdom of France, which was explained through a long genealogical tree. Assured that he was rightful in his claim, Henry decided to take over France.

The ambassador of France came into the court, with a mock gift from the Dauphin - heir apparent of France. This gesture was definitely meant to start a war. Henry told his people to get ready for France.

Meanwhile, Falstaff died. That's it. End of story. His friends, including Pistol and Bardolph, joined the army. They didn't really mean to fight for the king, of course, they tried to get some extras along the way, stealing from people in an already difficult situation.

The king caught 3 of his "best friends" red-handed, trying to kill him for "foreign gold". Henry was so shocked that the men he trusted could do such a thing to him. (Maybe he was never really wise in choosing friends.) The traitors executed, he departed shortly to France.

Jamie Parker as Henry. Have I told you that he's my favourite
actor to play the part?
He won the Battle of Harfleur, and march on towards Calais. France began to consider Henry as a real threat. However, the Dauphin still felt that Harry was just a petty king who loved to have fun. France sent a messenger to Harry asking about his ransom. (It's an old practice, that when you are held a prisoner you must pay a ransom for your release, much like a kidnapped kid. Seriously.)

In the night, while the French bet on the numbers of Englishmen they would kill, and debate upon horses and armours, Harry disguised himself in the night, and went around the camp to see his soldiers. He also meditated upon the nature of being king, and as the morning approached, he prayed that God might help his soldiers to be brave.

After a motivating lengthy speech (video above), and again, refusing to discuss his ransom with the herald of France, Henry and his army marched to battle. Surprisingly, they won. Henry refused any celebration, for he believed it was God who fought for him, and the credit must come to Him and Him alone.

France agreed to discuss the claim. Henry was about to be next in line for the throne of France, and he was to marry the king's daughter, Katharine. Interestingly, although Katharine was promised to him, Harry still tried to woo her all the same. It seemed that he really liked her, after all. Well, apart fromt he comedy, the scene pretty much showed that Harry was an awkward lover, which is cute, by the way.

Happy ending.


It doesn't sound exciting, is it? Well, the exciting parts are hardly in the main plot. The funny ones are Fluellen and Pistol, the heroic one is Henry, not in a big gesture, but in small small things that he does or says.

Henry V is a comedy, but it never ceases to make me sad. Firstly the character of Henry. He was never the stern, calm king that he tried to act throughout the play. There are moments when the "real" Henry came out, and those moments are priceless. But he was almost never alone, and when there were people, there's this feeling that he staged himself to fit into their expectation of a good king.

The king in all his glory before the Battle of Agincourt played by
(the more popular) Tom Hiddleston, which I also love.
Secondly, the Chorus. The function of the Chorus in Henry V is to build our expectation, and then destroy it. It really feels like history, you know, like when you read a history school book, and you read all these heroes that fought for your motherland, and they are praised so high that you start to wonder whether they were as blameless as their pictures in the books. The Chorus is that history book, the play is the reality.


Henry V is a lot of things. For one, it is an ending to a brilliant story about a boy's journey to maturity. It's also a great example of man's struggle to fulfill a role destined for him. It's about being human.

Read it, or at least, watch it. No review can do it justice. No doubt your reaction to it will very much depend upon your own life experiences, and your interpretation.

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