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.
Appearances Quotes in Henry V
But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that hath dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!’
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?
I think the king is but a man, as I am.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.