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13 - Henry V and the Pleasures of War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2021

David Loewenstein
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University, University Park
Paul Stevens
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
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Summary

While Henry V is alive with religious echoes, its moral direction seems incoherent or unstable. Accordingly, the focus of this account is the way the play’s use of religion paradoxically intensifies and legitimates the pleasures of war. The chapter aims to explain not only how the sacral monarchy of England’s Plantagenet kings lives on in Shakespeare’s play but more importantly how in instrumentalizing it and its complex political theology, the prince outdoes his royal predecessors and the play aestheticizes war. It does this by enabling Henry to appropriate the dynamism and sheer agency imagined in Scripture’s representation of God’s freedom. The king comes out of a whirlwind and his army appears as Leviathan – all apparently in the service of the new national community. While Henry V is insistently skeptical about the value of war, its delight in the king’s virtù or violent agency complicates the irony and so denies the play any clear-cut moral critique.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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References

Allmand, Christopher. Henry V, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
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Harriss, Gerald. Shaping the Nation: England 1360–1461, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2005.Google Scholar
Keegan, John. The Face of Battle, New York, Viking Press, 1976.Google Scholar
Kerrigan, John. “Oaths, Threats, and Henry V,” Review of English Studies, 63 (2012), pp. 551–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Introduction to Henry V,” in Greenblatt, Stephen et al. (eds.), The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., New York, W. W. Norton, 2016, pp. 1533–40.Google Scholar
Rabkin, Norman. “Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 28 (1977), pp. 279–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shapiro, James. “‘What Ish My Nation?’ Shakespeare’s Irish Connections,” The Irish Times, April 23, 2016.Google Scholar
Vale, Malcolm. Henry V: The Conscience of a King, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2016.Google Scholar

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