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Henry V seems to celebrate and glorify war, a fact that bothers some critics and readers. However, Henry is careful to note that people should not be fighters all the time; he often states that peace is better than war. His message, then, is that when men have to fight, they should do it with full force. In the Harfleur speech, for instance, he begins by saying that “[i]n peace there’s nothing so becomes a man / As modest stillness and humility,” before he goes on to talk of war (III.i.3–4). Earlier passages, such as Henry’s speech to Canterbury in Act I, scene ii, or the message he sends with Exeter in Act II, scene iv, illustrate that Henry likes to present himself as a basically peaceful king who has been forced into making war. This stance can be viewed as hypocrisy, however, since Henry is the one invading France. Similarly, Henry’s actions in the play do not reflect the “modest stillness and humility” he claims to prize (III.i.4). Still, one can argue that Henry V does not celebrate war so much as it celebrates Henry and his skillful political ability, which happens to involve using war to achieve his desired ends.
I just finished Henry V, the 19th Shakespeare play, in my quest to read all the Bard by his 450th birthday next year. If you're interested, visit my blog to find out what I thought of it and more on what I thought of Henry:
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