Henry V

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, Prologue, scenes i–ii, and Epilogue

Henry’s kind treatment of his future wife and his show of seeking Catherine’s consent to the marriage are undoubtedly meant to reassure Catherine and the audience that he will accept his role as a husband with the same commitment and faith with which he has accepted the role of king. Yet the suggestive sexual remarks that Burgundy and Henry trade after the French noblemen reenter are unsettling. Burgundy’s reference to the “naked blind boy” of love, who will invade Catherine’s maidenly virginity, alludes to the god Cupid but is also a phallic reference (V.ii.275). The references to Catherine’s “naked seeing self” (V.ii.275) and to the “eyes” of maidens (V.ii.306) play on the Renaissance euphemism that substitutes “eye” for “vagina.” The play, which throughout has examined the relationship between the noble and the common, concludes by juxtaposing mannered discussions of a marriage between high nobility and the earthy raunchiness of sex jokes.

The Epilogue, like Pistol’s news from home, strikes an unexpectedly somber note: it reminds us that Henry and Catherine’s son did not, in fact, do what they had hoped by uniting the two kingdoms. Henry V, though the ideal king, was not influential in a historical sense—he looks to overturn history, but instead history overturns him. As always, the Chorus points out the difference between a play about a brief period in English history, within which Henry V is a highly successful protagonist of potentially dubious moral character, and the full scope of that history, a context within which Henry proved largely ineffective.


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