Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth and the Law of War*

Theodor Meron

in War Crimes Law Comes of Age

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780198268567
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191683534 | DOI:
Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth and the Law of War*

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The Life of Henry the Fifth, written in 1599, one of Shakespeare's histories, is a patriotic, epic portrayal of a phase in the bloody Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) between England and France. It describes a medieval campaign led by a chivalrous and virtuous king, who could perhaps do wrong but not a great deal of wrong, and in which the few acting in a just cause defeat the many. This chapter provides an international lawyer's commentary on the play by examining how Shakespeare used internationa1 law for his dramatic ends; to compare his version with its principal sources, the chronicles of Holinshed and Hall, and occasionally with other historians' views as to what transpired during the reign of Henry V; to assess Shakespeare's text in the light of 15th- and 16th-century norms of jus gentium, primarily as reflected in the writings of contemporary jurists and earlier medieval jurists; and, now and then, to show how attitudes toward the law of war have changed since Shakespeare's times, and thus to illustrate the law's evolution. The chapter draws on the works of modern writers on medieval and Renaissance law, such as Maurice Keen.

Keywords: international law; Henry V; jus gentium; medieval jurists; war; Maurice Keen

Chapter.  30372 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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