Henry V

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Appearances Theme Analysis

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In Henry V, appearances are easily shifted and generally untrustworthy. Again and again, people or situations are not what they seem to be to other characters onstage. Henry V’s first entrance onstage is preceded by discussion of his changed demeanor and the false assumptions made based on his former appearance as a reckless young prince. Once on stage, one of Henry’s first actions involves exposing and punishing the duplicitous traitors Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey, telling them that their falseness has tarnished the appearance of even the best-seeming men in Henry’s eyes. Yet Henry’s exposure of the traitors itself plays with appearances, as he leads the men along as if he trusts them before revealing he’s on to them. During the war, Henry puts on a show of optimism and conceals his anxieties. Henry also disguises himself in Erpingham’s cloak and argues with Michael Williams about the king’s justifications for war while pretending to be a common soldier. Though Henry eventually reveals himself to Williams, he only does so after tricking Fluellen into assuming the appearance of the man Williams argued with and swore to fight. Later wooing Katherine, Henry claims to be a simple, ineloquent soldier, though the rich and complex language in which he makes the claim disproves the claim itself. Still, Henry’s false appearances are strategic or playful but not malevolent and he pardons Williams, acknowledging it was his own disguise that incited the soldier’s criticism. Other characters who play with appearances include the Dauphin, pretending not to be himself before the English messenger, and Pistol, who deceives without compunction and who, in his last lines of the play, resolves to tell everyone in England that the wounds he suffered from Fluellen’s beating are actually noble battle scars.

While characters on stage toy and struggle with false appearances, the Chorus repeatedly recalls the false appearance of the stage itself, asking the audience to pardon the play’s inadequate efforts to portray historical events. The theater, the Chorus laments, has nothing but “the flat unraised spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth 
so great an object” – a paltry appearance of reality. Each act opens with such an apology by the Chorus and his persistent refrain complements the role false appearance plays within the drama itself, inviting audience members to consider appearances before them in regards to dramatic narrative as well as dramatic form.

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Appearances Quotes in Henry V

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry V related to the theme of Appearances.
Prologue Quotes

But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that hath dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: Pro.9-12
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Prologue, the Chorus introduces the play that will follow. He praises the play's subject, King Henry V, and calls out for a muse of fire to help deliver a production worthy of "the warlike Harry." But in the quote, the Chorus apologizes, since the stage can only approximate history, greatness and war. He calls the actors "unraised spirits" and the stage an "unworthy scaffold" on which they will attempt to show Henry V, "so great an object."

Theatre can only accomplish so much; it cannot truly depict countries and battles and "mighty monarchies," and so the Chorus asks the audience to use its imagination. He asks them to forgive the imperfection and use their thoughts to go beyond the appearances on the stage, imagining a thousand soldiers for every one and truly seeing horses where there are none.

However, at the same time, Shakespeare seems to perhaps be making a larger point or claim, because he knows that in fact through the magic of theater the audience will get caught up in the story, will see the actors on stage as soldiers really fighting in a war. So even as Shakespeare starts the play by apologizing for the weakness of theatrical appearances, he is also sort of secretly highlighting the power of theatrical appearances. This important, in part, because the play portrays Henry V himself as a master of theatrical appearance, and of being able to unite England and defeat France, in part, because of this mastery.


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Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

The strawberry grows underneath the nettle
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbored by fruit of baser quality.
And so the prince obscured his contemplation
Under the veil of wildness, which, no doubt,
Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,
Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.

Related Characters: Bishop of Ely (speaker), Henry V
Page Number: 1.1.63-69
Explanation and Analysis:

Act 1 opens with the Bishop of Ely and the Bishop of Canterbury worrying about a bill that would limit the power of the Church; this bill was originally proposed during the reign of Henry IV. But Canterbury and Ely reassure themselves by talking about how much Henry V loves the Church, and how changed he is, praising his poise, reason, and maturity. In Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V is merely Prince Hal, a rambunctious, disappointing son who slums in the pubs with common people.

Here Ely recognizes the change in Henry V, comparing him to a strawberry that grows hidden and surrounded by worser fruit. Hal "obscured his contemplation / Under the veil of wilderness," meaning that he hid his growing intelligence and maturity by acting and appearing wild. This maturity and kingliness, he says, probably "grew like the summer grass, fasted by night, / unseen" until he suddenly appeared confident, competent, and kingly. 

These remarks by the bishops signify a resolution of a claim made by Hal in Henry IV part 1, in which he predicted that his transformation from wild youth to king would happen in just this way. He used the metaphor of the sun suddenly bursting through the clouds after being hidden. Put another way, his wild youth (while fun) was a calculated act, a performance, intended to make his eventual kingliness even more powerful.

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Therefore take heed how you impawn our person
How you awake our sleeping sword of war:
We charge you, in the name of God, take heed
For never two such kingdoms did contend
Without much fall of blood; whose guiltless drops
Are every one a woe, a sort complaint
‘Gainst him whose wrong gives edge unto the swords
That make such waste in brief mortality.
Under this conjuration, speak, my lord;
For we will hear, note and believe in heart
That what you speak is in your conscience wash’d
As pure as sin with baptism.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Archbishop of Canterbury
Page Number: 1.2.24-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry is about to meet with ambassadors from France, but first wants to meet with Canterbury and Ely; the King wants to know for certain whether or not he he has a legitimate claim to the throne of France. Here Henry tells Canterbury to be careful in his answer, and to be truthful in the name of God, since the answer has the potential to "awake our sleeping sword of war." Note that Henry's regal speech and mastery of the 'royal we' supports the claims that he has matured made by Ely and Canterbury in the preceding scene.

Henry introduces the potential of violence and war with great compassion, showing an understanding of how much bloodshed a war would create, and how those who suffer would be "guiltless." He recognizes that war has the potential to waste and destroy lives, and shows hesitancy over going to war for the wrong reasons. War is dangerous, not just a game for glory.

With this heavy interpretation battle and an appeal to conscience and God, Henry tells Canterbury that he will trust the Bishop completely in this matter. After carefully considering the matter and listening to Canterbury's lengthy legal and biblical justifications and encouragement from his entourage (below), the King decides to wage a war in attempt to gain the French throne.

All of that said, one can also read Henry's entire speech to be a performance rather than honest. In this reading, Henry wants to wage war against France, both to conquer it and expand his power and because he knows that having a foreign enemy will help keep his own country united (something that his father, the previous king, advised him just before he died). And yet he also knows that the best way to get the war he wants is not to appear to want it too much, to act like a king who cares only for his subjects.

And finally, one can read Henry's motives as being even more complex. He might both want the war and be concerned about his citizens, and he might want the war because he knows it will help unite England and end the years of civil war that plagued his own father's reign as king (dramatized in Henry IV parts 1 and 2). And so Henry V might be performing here to help get the war he feels his country needs, and be willing to sacrifice some of his people to save his country.

Which motive is true or right is not clear, and it isn't definite that it's only one motive pushing Henry V to act. What is clear is that Henry V is a master of performance and appearances, and you as a reader should always keep that in mind when thinking about the play.  

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem:
And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
To mark the full-fraught man and best indued
With some suspicion. I will weep for thee;
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man. Their faults are open:
Arrest them to the answer of the law;
And God acquit them of their practices!

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Sir Thomas Grey
Page Number: 2.2.144-151
Explanation and Analysis:

Still feigning ignorance, Henry asks Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey who should be in charge of England during his campaign in France. When they suggest themselves, he reveals that he knows about their conspiracy. When they beg for mercy, he shows them to be hypocrites (based on their call for harsh punishment of the drunken man who had insulted the king) and criticizes them for their betrayal. 

Henry V says he'll weep for the traitors, comparing their revolt to "Another fall of man." The betrayal is thus described with high stakes and extremely emotional and religious meaning. King Henry is comparing himself to God, and in doing so is asserting his divine right to the throne (the idea that the king ruled because God wants the king to rule). The rebellion then, must be seen as similar to Adam and Eve's act of disobedience that caused them to be thrown out of the Garden of Eden. 

Their crimes now out in the open, Henry orders the conspirators' arrest, saying that only God can "acquit them of their practices," even calling on God to grant them mercy. He later explains that he does not seek personal revenge, but rather acts out of concern for England's safety and respect for its laws. This calm, fair decision is further evidence of Henry's maturation, but also is an example of his ability to project an image of himself as a just and good king always looking out for England.

At the same, Henry's comment that the traitors had left a "blot" that, for Henry, marks even the best men with suspicion indicates that he's now hesitant to trust anyone since the traitors appeared so genuine. It also suggests one of Henry's main concerns as king, which is again about appearances: as king, Henry knows, he can never entirely trust anyone. Everyone is performing when around him, even those who are loyal, because, well, he's the king! (Imagine how you might behave if you were to meet the President of the United States) This means that Henry, as king, must constantly perform for others, while at the same time he can never see the true intentions of others because they are always performing too. Being surrounded always by appearances is one of the costs of being king, and piercing this veil of performance is something that Henry will try to do all through the play in order to get a real sense of what his people think of the world and of him.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

O peace, Prince Dauphin!
You are too much mistaken in this king:
Question your grace the late ambassadors,
With what great state he heard their embassy,
How well supplied with noble counselors,
How modest in exception, and withal
How terrible in constant resolution,
And you shall find his vanities forespent
Were but the outside of the Roman Brutus,
Covering discretion with a coat of folly.

Related Characters: The Constable of France (speaker), Henry V, Lewis the Dauphin
Page Number: 2.4.31-40
Explanation and Analysis:

The King of France (Charles), his son Prince Dauphin, and others are discussing the English invasion. King Charles suggests the strongest defense possible, but his son the Dauphin says his father's fears are ridiculous, making fun of Henry V based on the way he carried himself in his youth. Here, the Constable of France tells the Dauphin that he is "too much mistaken in this king," offering further evidence of Henry's transformation.

For his argument, the Constable points to the way that Henry acted with the French ambassadors, saying that he heard them with "great state," seeming both "modest in exception" and "terrible in constant resolution." Note the anaphora, the repetition of a word at the beginning of consecutive lines ("how") to emphasize these points. Like Canterbury argued in Act 1 Scene 1, the Constable says that Henry's "vanities" and "folly" in his earlier years were merely an appearance, covering up his "discretion" and true nature as a warrior king.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.32-37
Explanation and Analysis:

With his forces about to engage the French in their first battle, Henry delivers this speech, which begins, "Once more into the breach, dear friends." This rousing pre-battle speech is evidence of the eloquence that Canterbury and Ely ascribed to Henry in Act 1 Scene 1. Here he uses language to reinforce his Kingship, and by appealing to his soldiers as both friends and Englishman, rhetorically prepares them with visions of their connection to their country and their king to rally them to face and overcome the horrors of warfare.

In these lines he calls all of his soldiers noble, saying that even the lowest of them have "noble luster" in their eyes. In the preceding speech they have been told to discard their peaceful ways and embrace the battle that will follow, and they have been reminded of England's proud history and many victories. Now, they "stand like greyhounds," ready to fight for their country and their king. Declaring "the game's afoot," Henry gives his final rallying cry, telling his men to follow their spirits and, charging, cry out "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" In this way he appeals simultaneously to their faith, their sense of camaraderie with each other as soldiers and countrymen, and their sense of duty to their King. Note that by calling himself the informal Harry, he draws his men even closer to him.

Henry may believe all these things, but once again he is also putting on a performance for his men here. He is, through his words, conjuring a vision of a united England while also helping the men to conjure visions of their own best, bravest selves. 

Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Where have they this mettle?
Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruite with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth,
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?

Related Characters: The Constable of France (speaker)
Page Number: 3.5.15-20
Explanation and Analysis:

The war between England and France is now well underway, and here the French King and his retinue discuss England and their advance thus far. In these lines, the constable wonders how the English have so much strength ("mettle"). Speaking about England's climate, he finds it miraculous that such a rainy, "foggy, raw and dull" place where "the sun looks pale" could turn out such ferocious warriors. How, he asks, can the cold damp place make men with such "valiant heat?"

As the conversation continues, these French lords will continue to suggest that the Englishmen put Frenchmen to shame, since French women now yearn for the English. These lines can be seen as an appeal to the English audience of the play, who would probably have cheered upon hearing praise of their country. 

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

I think the king is but a man, as I am.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Michael Williams, John Bates, Alexander Court
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 4.1.105-106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, once again, Henry is acting as something that he's not. Though instead of feigning ignorance as he did when confronting his traitorous English lords in Act 2, Scene 2, here he is pretends to be a common soldier.

He uses his disguise to observe his soldiers' behavior when they are not in the King's presence, to discuss private matters openly, and to test the feelings of his men. He claims to serve under a man who is certain that the English forces are doomed and says that his commander has not told the King this opinion. 

He utters this line in the middle of a debate with John Bates, Alexander Court, and Michael Williams. He humanizes the King (himself) by saying that he is just a man, giving a lengthy prose speech in which he describes the King thinking and feeling like a normal man (note Henry's ability to alter his language to fit in with his soldiers). Henry here shows the vulnerability and humanity he otherwise could not show, since it might dishearten his troops and his country. By altering his appearance, he is able to articulate the private thoughts that plague the public figure of the King.

He may show what outward courage he will; but I believe, as cold a night as ‘tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck.

Related Characters: John Bates (speaker), Henry V
Page Number: 4.1.117-119
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to Henry's humanization of the King, John Bates responds that he believes the King might show "outward courage" while inwardly wishing himself at home. Ironically, Bates is correct in thinking that the King is using outward appearance to conceal his true self, but instead of concealing fear, he is concealing his royal personage and walking amongst his men.

Bate's arguments represent the belief among many common soldiers that wars are simply blood baths, not righteous and glorious fights in the name of honor and lineage. Further, he implies that the soldiers are just the king's tools, used and then tossed aside to get what the king wants.

The king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death, when they purpose their services.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.160-164
Explanation and Analysis:

Continuing the dialogue in which the responsibilities and powers of kings are called into question, Henry (still in disguise) insists that a king is not responsible for a soldier's death. He argues that a king asks his soldiers to fight, but not to die. Their deaths are ultimately left up to fate and to God, and regardless of the king's intentions, his soldiers have all sinned in the past. That they serve in a war is due to the king, but the end they meet depends on the type of people that they have been in their lives.

Comparing different levels of obligation, son to father, servant to master, and soldier to king, Henry says that those with the higher positions ask for services but not for "death." Just as a father sending his son on a voyage is hopeful he will live, a king leading his people to war hopes that there won't be casualties.

Through this entire debate between the disguised Henry and his soldiers we see a king able to share his viewpoints and argue with common soldiers, to pierce the appearances that he would never be able to see past were he to be undisguised. Meanwhile, Henry himself is able to preserve the infallibility, fearlessness, and regal presentation that becomes a ruler. At the same time, these soldiers are espousing ideas that are far more threatening to the very idea of kingship and therefore to Henry himself than the plots of some treacherous lords could ever be. How or whether Henry ends up responding to these ideas will therefore also give a much stronger indication of his own character and core beliefs -- will give the audience the ability to pierce the performance that Henry has been putting on as king for the entire play. And, indeed, near the end of the play Henry finds a way to both reveal that he was the man who was arguing with Williams and to reward him rather than punish him, signaling his recognition that it was his own disguise that led to the discussion, his general status as a good and fair king to his men, and, perhaps, an indication that he prefers Williams open disagreement to the "appearance" of agreement put on by his sometimes traitorous lords.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.62-69
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, also excerpted from the St. Crispin's Day Speech, are probably the most famous from the play. In an impressive display of rhetoric and masterful use of language, Henry makes his soldiers feel like his equals and relish their opportunity to fight for and with him. He marks the exclusivity of the chance with "we few," and immediately modifies it to "we happy few," making clear that the group is not a grim company marching towards death but rather a lucky group of men granted a rare chance to achieve glory.

He then calls the whole group a "band of brothers," and says that whoever on that day fights with him will be his brother. To instill in them bravery and the desire to fight, he places them on his kingly level, inviting them to share in his glory. He then appeals to their sense of patriotism and honor by suggesting that any Englishmen missing the fight will curse themselves for missing the opportunity and question their own manhood. Again, we see Henry use masterful language to energize his men with multiple, overlapping ideals. These speeches are extremely performative, and indicative of Henry's success as a king.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Will you mock at an ancient tradition, begun upon an honourable respect, and worn as a memorable trophy of predeceased valour and dare not avouch in your deeds any of your words? I have seen you gleeking and galling at this gentlemen twice or thrice. You thought, because he could not speak English in the native garb, he could not therefore handle an English cudgel: you find it otherwise; and henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you a good English condition.

Related Characters: Captain Gower (speaker), Ancient Pistol
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 5.1.74-83
Explanation and Analysis:

In these lines, Captain Gower chides Pistol based on a series of interactions between Pistol and Fluellen. Pistol has mocked Fluellen, making fun of his traditions and asking him to eat his leek (which is disrespectful to a Welsh man). Fluellen has been wearing the leek past when he usually would so that he could settle things with Pistol; upon meeting Pistol, Fluellen insults him, beats him, makes him bite the leek, and gives him a coin.

Here, Gower tells Pistol that he essentially deserved the harsh treatment for mocking "an ancient tradition." Gower says he has seen Pistol "gleeking and galling at [Fluellen] twice or thrice," thinking that because of his accent, he was less threatening and demanding of respect. But after the beating, Gower claims, Pistol has found otherwise, and learned a "good English condition" from a "Welsh correction." In other words, a Welshman has taught him how to be a good Englishman, who is respectful and gentlemanly. This lesson reinforces the image of England as inclusive, culturally diverse, and honorable.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

But, before God, Kate, I cannot look greenly nor gasp out my eloquence, nor have I no cunning in protestation; only downright oaths; which I never use till urged, nor never break for urging.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Katherine
Page Number: 5.2.148-152
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Henry is in the process of wooing Katherine, the French daughter of King Charles. Henry has not only defeated the French, he seeks to solidify his and the English hold on the French throne by marrying the French Princess, Katherine, and in time producing an heir to both the English and French thrones.

The two kings have made an agreement about the marriage beforehand in verse, and now, in part due to the language barrier (Katherine speaks mainly French; Henry mainly English), Henry and Katherine, with translation help from Katherine's servant Alice, speak in prose. That Henry switches to prose here makes sense, given the content of his language, which suggests mildly that he is no great speaker and is ineloquent. He says to his future wife that he has no special words or cunning, "only downright oaths," which he never uses until urged to do so and never breaks no matter what.

In this exchange we see another kingly tactic at work, this time on the battle field of love. Henry has demonstrated that he is a quite capable speaker, giving powerful speeches to his men before war. But here, he takes a modest approach, intentionally appearing humble to make Katherine feel safe. Especially with the language barrier, he wants to seem like a simple husband opposed to a mighty king. Even though they are marrying for political reasons, and it is her father that has decided on the marriage, Henry wants to make it seem like Katherine has a choice. All through the play it has been clear that Henry believes that in order to rule he must also be loved by his people, and he goes to great efforts to speak and present an image that his people will love. Henry's belief and tactics with Katherine are just the same, seeking not just obedience but genuine love by presenting himself in just the right way.

Your majestee ave fausse French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle dat is en France.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Henry V
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 5.2.227-228
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine has carefully rejected Henry's advances, despite his lengthy arguments and constructed appearance of humility. In the lines preceding this quote, Henry has slightly broken the humble, unschooled character he has been building. Henry talks about what their son will do and asks what Katherine thinks, before giving her a lengthy, praising epithet in French.

To this French Katherine responds the above line, saying that Henry has "fausse [false] French enough to deceive" even the smartest women in France. The moment that Henry drops his act of humility and inserts pomp and pretension, Katherine calls him out for being false, demonstrating that despite her accent, she is intelligent. She sees through both acts, both the exaggerated humility and the forward romantic praise in French. To proceed, Henry must say "Fie upon my false French" and be direct and honest with her. There is an implication here that perhaps, in Katherine, Henry has found someone with whom he can be honest, can and must share his true self.