Hear him but reason in divinity
And, all-admiring, with an inward wish
You would desire the King were made a prelate;
Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,
You would say it hath been all in all his study;
List his discourse of war, and you shall hear
A fearful battle rendered you in music;
Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian knot of it he will unloose
Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
The air, a chartered libertine, is still,
And the mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears
To steal his sweet and honeyed sentences.
(Act 1, scene 1, lines 41–53)

The Bishop of Canterbury speaks these lines in praise of King Henry V. After commenting on the newly crowned king’s radical transformation from youthful rapscallion to capable leader, Canterbury praises the various virtues Henry exemplifies. In addition to being well versed in matters of theology as well as foreign and domestic affairs, he also possesses an undeniable eloquence that transforms even the most technical discourse about policy into music. According to nearly every metric, Henry is an ideal king.

We are no tyrant, but a Christian king,
Unto whose grace our passion is as subject
As is our wretches fettered in our prisons.
(Act 1, scene 2, lines 249–51)

Although this passage doesn’t fully showcase the eloquence characteristic of Henry’s many speeches in the play, it’s important for the way it encapsulates the image the king holds of himself. More than anything else, Henry sees himself as “a Christian king.” Here, he relates his status as a Christian king to his ability to keep his personal “passion” in check, subjected to his will in the same way “our wretches [are] fettered in our prisons.” As the man responsible for maintaining law and order, Henry can sometimes seem cold and even ruthless. However, he also often acts with mercy and magnanimity, as when he releases a man who had denounced him when drunk, or when he fills a common soldier’s glove with coins. Henry also reveals a genuine Christian faith. In act 4, scene 1, for example, he prays in solitude that God has forgiven him for the sins of his father and will therefore aid him in battle. Finally, it’s worth noting that Henry is himself Christlike in the way he sups with commoners and goes in disguise among his followers.

The King is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant, for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services. . . . Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars to as every sick man in his bed: wash every mote out of his conscience.
(Act 4, scene 1, lines 160–64, 182–86)

Henry speaks these lines while wandering among his soldiers disguised as a common fighter. A man named Williams claims that the king must take responsibility for those who will die in the battle that will occur the next morning. Henry responds with a lengthy discourse on the nature of responsibility, claiming that even though soldiers fight in the king’s service, they are ultimately responsible for themselves. This argument reflects Henry’s characteristic tendency to deflect responsibility for his military actions. Throughout the play he consistently frames himself as responding to others, asserting that their action—or inaction—is what spurs him to violence. Later in this same scene, however, when he’s alone, Henry reflects on how he, as king, must inevitably accept the burden of responsibility.