Henry V is one of the famous war plays by William Shakespeare. The play can be presented to be both anti-war and pro-war. The play is pro-war; this is because a part of it glorifies war through Henry’s speeches where he urges his troops into battle and through the chorus sang in the play. The play is also anti-war, which is evident in Henry and his nobles’ dialogues where they try explaining the human cost of war. The bishops are conniving for warfare to postpone a bill for taxation of the church, and the soldiers are expected to reap profit from the conflict (Mowat & Werstine, n.d.). The paradox William Shakespeare was encompassing was that conflict has its negative effects, yet still men love it. The paper will focus on how the Henry V play is more anti-war rather than pro-war.
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War leads to people asking God for intervention; in the play, when the war is progressing, Henry is all alone and he is at his lowest ebb and decides to pray (Mowat & Werstine, n.d). In the supplication, he asks the Almighty for assistance on the battlefield since his soldiers are not strong as the French men. This can be presented as an anti-war because he needs God’s help which could portray the message that the war was not justified. Therefore, his claims were all wrong when he tried to show it was right to get into war. The agony of him trying to ask for divine intervention also illustrate how engrossed he is and in search of answers from the Almighty. If Henry wins the war, then it would be that God was on his side and he will have a price to pay.
War leads to mistrust and betrayal by people close to the king. This is evident in the play where Henry is extremely emotional where he battles with tears in his eyes, and he is exceedingly sad after what Scroop, his trusted acquaintance, did to him. In Henry remorseful state, “Whatever would I say to you, Lord Scroop, thou unkind, unappreciatively savage, and coldhearted creature? Thou that bids endure the vital of all my advisers that knew the deepest part of my soul” (Mowat & Werstine, n.d.). The confrontation between Henry and scoop demonstrates how the former was suffering, and it showed the unpleasant face of warfare. It also displays how an individual could be deceived through the greediness of wealth.
Shakespeare’s play also tries to portray how horrific and gruesome war can be. At the scene at the siege of her fleur (iii) through the speech of Henry, “Should thy pure maids tumble into hand /of the hotter and enforced abuse/and, your nude babies being spat upon pikes /whilst the wrathful mothers with wails confused” (Mowat & Werstine, n.d.), it depicts an anti-war message. As it tries to show what war can do to innocent people and how gruesome it is. Moreover, when the battle is finally over, Henry is read the death toll, where only twenty-five English men are dead as compared to the French where ten thousand soldiers did perish. As for the French, it is the number of lords that did die such as the high constable of France. This shows the negative side of the war through the price the soldiers have to pay due to war through their deaths.
When the performance ends, there comes the epilogue that is written in some kind of a sonnet that attempts to explain what took place subsequent to the triumph at the Agincourt that had a powerful anti-war message. Henry V, who is the king, dies during the conflict, and his son takes over the throne in France. Nevertheless, the son later loses France due to his depraved management of the estates. “Whose states such many did have a managing, as they did lose France, thus, did cause his England to bleed” (Mowat & Werstine, n.d.). The statement conveys an anti-war communication as it explains how all was lost during the time when Henry and his men braved the battles. It was the war that Henry did believe in and so he did lose his life in it, but only for the son to take over the throne and fails within months after his father’s demise.
In conclusion, the play can be illustrated as conveying an antiwar message because it tries to show how the innocent suffer, the gruesomeness of war, and the many that lose their lives during the fighting. Often people are driven by their greed for power and wealth. In their selfish motives, the less vulnerable and the innocent persons hurt the most as they quench their thirst. Families feel pain from the loss of their loved ones and the government agonizes from the demise of senior soldiers. At the end, war has no benefits for those involved do not to enjoy the benefits of the wealth and power they have accumulated. This is evident in the play where the battles come to an end but Henry is dead and can no longer claim the throne. The son takes over his father’s position but later loses the power. What individuals thrive to achieve during confrontations might not be of any benefit to them and may not always be in their favor either, hence, there are no reason for them participating in war.
Mowat, B., & Werstine, P. (n.d). The life of king Henry V. Folger Shakespeare Library. Web.
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