Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 4, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The style of the play is primarily elevated and formal, befitting its status as a history play that depicts significant events and figures in English history, though Shakespeare also uses a more vulgar style in the play’s comedic scenes. Henry V is written primarily in blank verse, a form of poetry that is characterized by unrhymed iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s use of blank verse gives the dialogue a rhythmic quality that emphasizes the gravity and importance of characters' speeches. However, the play also includes passages of prose, a more natural mode of speech that is used for more casual or comedic dialogue between “low” or common characters, such as Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym. 

Sometimes, these two different styles are brought into conflict with one another, to comedic effect. “Low” characters, for example, occasionally adopt the blank verse used by the play’s nobles, parodying their pompous manner of speech. Additionally, when King Henry V conceals his identity in the English army camp, he encounters the blunt, vulgar, and casual language of soldiers that is never used around him in his official capacity as King. In an exchange with Pistol, for example, the disguised King and common soldier argue about the Welsh Captain Fluellen: 

Art thou his friend?

And his kinsman too.

The figo for thee then!

I thank you. God be with you.

This is one of many moments in the play when elevated and casual styles of speech are brought into close contact with one another. Pistol’s exclamation—"figo for thee”—is a vulgar profanity that he would never knowingly use around a figure such as a King, who, despite his disguise, is unable to lower himself to similar language. Rather, he responds in his usual, formal style. Much of the comedy of the scene, and in the play more generally, stems from the unlikely contrast of styles.