Ambiguity in Shakespeare’s History Play “King Henry V”

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In keeping with Shakespearian tradition, minimalism drives the set in Henry V , but the overall staging is stunning. At the rear of the thrust stage, a single rampart stands, composed of gray, Lego-like boxes the sizes of orange crates and coffins.

Those same decorations act as moveables to define everything from tables to walkways. The explosive sound and low but aptly manipulated illumination contribute to an unsettling ambiance befitting the circumstances. Notably, battle scenes are deployed without replicas of weapons.

Instead, bright red shirts are used both to represent swords and blood, and the choreography of their contrast with the gray and sepia surroundings visually astounds. In addition to finely orchestrating stage effects, Rosa Joshi directs a fine cast with assurance.

Her great instinct for effective kinesthetics and her charm whether speaking French or learning English is delightful. Kimberly Scott also stands out in several portrayals. The use of American accents throughout, except for the French characters, makes for more accessible portrayals with better audience comprehension and should not be considered a downgrade from the use of British pronunciation. Shakespeare was probably the first playwright to depict real events in works expressly intended to illuminate the past, although some lost plays may have anticipated him in some respects.

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Other Elizabethan playwrights also wrote histories, whether influenced specifically by Shakespeare or simply by the age. However, most of these works are familiar only to scholars. Shakespeare's work has survived because he was not merely exploiting a current interest; nor was he a mere purveyor of Tudor propaganda.

Lorna Hutson

In writing history plays, he pursued his own concerns, exploring political values and social relations. Throughout his career he was preoccupied with the value of order in society; this theme is present in such very early and apparently unlikely works as The Comedy of Errors, and it recurs in most of the plays. But nowhere is it as explicitly dealt with as in the histories. What, then, do the history plays say about this subject? As we have seen, the ideal king of the history plays, Henry V, is a highly ambiguous figure. While Shakespeare's belief in the need for authority is evident in his work, so also is a distrust of those who hold authority.

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This paradox reflects a fundamental irony: the only rational form of rule—power that is humane yet absolute—is also impossible to achieve. Thus the history plays point up an underlying characteristic of human societies—political power inspires disturbing fears as well as profound ideals. To view Plays sections by genre:. To view other Shakespeare Library sections:. Histories History Plays Shakespeare's 10 plays dealing with events in English history.

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Edward III. Henry VI, Part 3. Henry IV, Part 1. Henry VIII. Henry IV, Part 2. King John.

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    Richard III. Henry VI, Part 2. Sir Thomas More. It lies entirely in the eye of the beholder. Someone with a patriotic point of view might identify himself with the virtuous Henry or admire that - although weakened by plague and famine - the English soldiers and their king defeats a superior French army, whereas a more critical reader might question the legitimacy of waging a war of aggression in the first place. Furthermore particularly modern readers feel disgusted by the killing of the unarmed prisoners at the battle of Agincourt.