Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Metaphors 2 key examples

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Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Wholesome Berries:

The Bishop of Ely uses a series of closely related botanical metaphors to describe the manner in which King Henry V was able to conceal his personal development and maturity during his otherwise rebellious youth. Speaking with the Archbishop of Canterbury prior to their meeting with the King, the Bishop states: 

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

First, the Bishop imagines the young Henry as a “strawberry” that has grown underneath a “nettle,” an unpleasant, stinging weed. Next, he notes that “wholesome berries” grow best when they are planted next to “baser” or inferior fruit. In both of these examples, the Bishop uses valuable fruit as a metaphor for the young Prince, and other, less valuable plants as metaphors for the poor company that Henry once kept. In the same metaphorical vein, the Bishop suggests that Henry’s “contemplation” or thoughtfulness has since flourished “like the summer grass” that grows most quickly “by night” when it is “unseen” by others. 

The Bishop employs these botanical metaphors in order to reflect upon the King’s surprising personal growth. In surrounding himself with a gang of criminals and vagabonds, the young Henry had once left doubts in the minds of many regarding his suitability for the role of King, as seen in the earlier plays, Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II. While the Bishop hardly approves of this company, here he acknowledges that Henry’s former friends did ultimately serve a purpose. By serving as negative examples of behavior and conduct, they in fact contributed to Henry’s development, and further, they allowed him to disguise his true nature until he was fully prepared to assume the serious responsibilities of a monarch. 

Act 3, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—A Few Sprays of Us:

The French Dauphin uses botanical metaphors in his mocking dismissal of the English nobility and troops. Speaking in court before other French nobles and the King of France, he says: 

Ô Dieu vivant, shall a few sprays of us,
The emptying of our fathers’ luxury,
Our scions, put in wild and savage stock,
Spurt up so suddenly into the clouds
And overlook their grafters?

In this complex series of closely related metaphors, the Dauphin imagines the English as being merely “a few sprays,” or offshoots, from an originally French plant, which have grown uncontrollably in the “wild and savage stock” of England. Surprisingly, these plants have “shot up so suddenly” that they now threaten to overtake and look down upon their “grafters,” or in other words, the original trunks or stems of the plants from which they derive.

The Dauphin’s metaphor emphasizes the shared background of the French and English nobility through the Norman Conquest, an earlier military takeover of England by the French aristocracy from which most English nobles could claim lineage. Indeed, Henry’s own claim to the French throne stems from this shared ancestry, and most of the members of his court were born in England, though of French heritage. Even while acknowledging this closely intertwined history, however, the Dauphin’s metaphor still demands a hierarchical relationship in which England is subservient to France. 

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