So we’ve reached the end of what many critics call the Henriad, the tale of Henry of Monmouth, Prince Hal, King Henry the Fifth. I find him as a character and the play itself FULL of contradictions. But unlike earlier plays that felt at odds with itself (read Love’s Labor’s Lost, Taming of the Shrew, and even to a certain extent, Merchant of Venice), this one I feel as if the contradictions are meant to deepen the play, and they don’t weaken it.
Henry is a man of opposites, a character of the like we have not seen before … so much so that I can’t help but wonder if our Prince Hal is a rough draft for another acting prince whose name starts with an H…
Here we have a character who is not entirely likeable… but who is (in the vernacular of my nieces in NorCal) hella charming. He claims to think of himself as a soldier, but who, since his slaying of Hotspur in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, is NOT depicted as waging war… in this play, the closest he comes is urging his soldiers back into the breach. He threatens rape, but calls for God to help him. He sentences an old friend (actually multiple) to death, but gives money to a stranger who challenged him just the night before. Henry is a man of opposites, a character of the like we have not seen before (at least, not at this level of writing), so much so that I can’t help but wonder if–in a sense–our Prince Hal is a rough draft for another acting prince whose name starts with an H, who’ll be coming around next year… you know, our melancholic Dane.
Just thinking aloud here.
I didn’t really like last month’s Second Part of Henry the Fourth, after absolutely loving the previous month’s First Part. In fact, at the end of last month, I was a little confused as to my feelings about Henry, and I was no longer looking forward this play as I had been before. So where do I stand on Henry the Fifth?
The character, I’m still torn on, for all those contradictions mentioned above. But the play? Well, I think the play deepens in resonance because of those contradictions. So I do love the play, Sam I am, just not quite as much as I do The First Part. So I’d have to slip it in as third of the histories, behind only Richard the Third and The First Part, and I’d certainly rank this in the top third of all the Canon thus far.