Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2021
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.