Comments by Bob Corbett
General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on
This is definitely one of my favorite plays I’ve read is this project of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays. I’m not convinced it is great poetry, and doesn’t seem to be filled with exciting and memorable lines, but the story of the play is gripping. My first impetus was to check on the historical accuracy of Shakespeare’s portray of Henry V. However, I decided to write my notes about the play first and then worry about the actual history; this is Shakespeare’s choice to make Henry V be whom Shakespeare wishes and I’m not reading the play as history. The basic situation is that Henry’s cousin is the king of France, but because of a death in the royal family and the rules of inheritance Henry has, on his view, the right to become the King of France. So, he plans to head to France, accompanied by a large army, and lays claim the crown.
However, before they go Henry has his advisors in and Bishop Ely counsels Henry, telling him there is an old saying
“If that you will France win,
Then with Scotland first begin."
Ely then explains that as soon as Henry takes his army to France, the Scots will see this as a great moment to attack England and assert their separation from the English.
For once the eagle England being in prey, To her unguarded nest the weasel Scot
Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs,
Playing the mouse in absence of the cat,
To ‘tame and havoc more than she can eat.
But Shakespeare’s Henry is astonishingly cocky about his coming success in France and his ability to control the Scots at the same time. This incredible self-confidence is the hallmark of Henry’s character on Shakespeare’s view.
Once they do get to France, he meets with the Dauphin and tries to assure him that even though he has come to usurp his father’s crown, he comes in good will and with right on his side.
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us.
His present and your pains we thank you for,
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chases. And we understand him well,
I 'low he comes o'er us with our wilder days,
Not measuring what use we made of them.
We never valued this poor seat of England,
And therefore, living hence, did give ourself
To barbarous license, as 'tis ever common
That men are merriest when they are from home.
I recall from Henry IVth that Shakespeare recounted the younger days of Henry V and his life with the common folks in taverns and such, including his close friendship with one of Shakespeare’s classic creations, Sir John Falstaff. Henry’s seeming ability to get along with the common men, at least on Shakespeare’s view, seems to hark back to those days when his role was not one of a royal personage, but one of the guys at the tavern.
In any case, in a battle in which Henry is absurdly outnumbered and in which the French (and for that matter, Henry and all his leaders and even common soldiers as well) are convinced this will be a total slaughter of the English.
However, the tide changes and it isn’t a slaughter. In what Henry takes to be the hand of God, the English become the slaughters of thousands of French warriors suffering few deaths and injuries themselves.
Despite the brutality of the war scenes which are a huge part of the play, and because of the Shakespeare’s characterization of Henry, there is a certain lightness to the play which made it all kind of fun, despite the mounds of the dead and suffering of the wounded. Curious.
It is a delightfulBob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com