The main thrust of Henry V is a patriotic celebration of the valour and determination of the British (not only English, but also Scots, Welsh, and Irish soldiers are portrayed with affection) under the leadership of ‘the mirror of all Christian kings’. This heroic portrayal characterized Laurence Olivier's film treatment of 1944, which served as a rallying cry to the beleaguered British in the Second World War. However, Shakespeare is not presenting an uncomplicated historical pageant: on the eve of Agincourt, Henry is revealed to be full of self-doubt, and his slaughter of the French prisoners is a possibly necessary but nevertheless brutal act. While celebrating the glorious victory, Shakespeare also recognizes the ugliness of warfare. The Chorus's apology for attempting to present a massive battle ‘Within this wooden O’ may suggest that Shakespeare was chafing at the limitations of Elizabethan staging; or he may have been ironically celebrating the power of the human imagination.
Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.
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William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet