Henry V

by: William Shakespeare

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Tun of Tennis Balls

The Dauphin knows that Henry was an idler before becoming king, and he sends Henry a tun, or chest, of tennis balls to remind Henry of his reputation for being a careless pleasure-seeker. This gift symbolizes the Dauphin’s scorn for Henry. The tennis balls enrage Henry, however, and he uses the Dauphin’s scorn to motivate himself. The tennis balls thus come to symbolize Henry’s burning desire to conquer France. As he tells the French ambassador, the Dauphin’s jests have initiated a deadly match, and these tennis balls are now cannonballs.

Characters as Cultural Types

As the Chorus tells the audience, it is impossible for a stage to hold the vast numbers of soldiers that actually participated in Henry V’s war with France. As a result, many of the characters represent large groups or cultures: Fluellen represents the Welsh, Pistol represents the underclass, Jamy represents the Scottish, and MacMorris represents the Irish. These characters are often given the stereotypical traits thought to characterize each group in Shakespeare’s day—MacMorris, for instance, has a fiery temper, a trait thought to be common to the Irish.


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