Chorus Passages from Henry V Script
A company of soldiers enters through the audience, singing.
Music: ‘Brown Eyes’
The company then delivers the first chorus, divided
(like the subsequent ones) between them.
CHORUS 1 (taking the crown from one of the ammunition boxes)
O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention:
CHORUS 2 A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.
CHORUS 3 On your imaginary forces work. 5
CHORUS 4 Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high uprearèd and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
CHORUS 5 Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts: 10
CHORUS 6 Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them,
Printing their proud hoofs i’th’ receiving earth;
CHORUS 1 For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
Turning th’accomplishment of many years 15
Into an hourglass;
CHORUS 2 For the which supply,
ALL Admit us Chorus to this history,
CHORUS 3 Who Prologue-like your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Now watch how propeller perform this scene
Roger warren on Legend and reality in Henry V
By the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V in 1599, his central character was already half-submerged in legend; the prodigal prince who seemed miraculously transformed into the heroic warrior-king who won the battle of Agincourt. The story was familiar from the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed, but also from more popular sources, such as ballads and the drama. There had been at least two plays (probably more) about Henry V before Shakespeare’s. Did theatre-goers at the newly-constructed Globe in 1599 – when Henry V may have been the opening production – find a picture of Henry V similar to the one with which they were familiar? To some extent they did. The Chorus has some of Shakespeare’s most magnificent, eloquent verse; if you want a picture of the legendary hero-king, here it is; but the Chorus’s idealistic view is constantly juxtaposed with scenes of political and psychological realism -- and from the very start.
After the Chorus’s opening panegyric, what does the audience see? Not the King in glory, but two ecclesiastical politicians out to defeat a possible attack on church finances by offering Henry a bribe to invade France. It is important to stress that the effect is not wholly ironic or cynical: Henry is not easily bought. He interrupts the Archbishop’s mumbo-jumbo about the Salic law with the penetrating single-line inquiry ‘May I with right and conscience make this claim?’ Once reassured, he calls in the French ambassador, who presents him with the Dauphin’s present of tennis balls and the mocking message that he ‘cannot revel into dukedoms here’. Henry points out that the Dauphin, in deriding ‘our wilder days’, has not noticed ‘what use we made of them’ – that is, acquiring the common touch that will prove so useful with his soldiers, especially at Agincourt. His speech then builds to an elaborate threat to revenge the Dauphin’s insults by invading France: he makes it appear that the invasion is the result of the Dauphin’s mockery, whereas he has already taken the decision to invade. This mental habit of taking a decision and then finding a reason for it is characteristic of the King’s mental processes.
Something similar occurs at the siege of Harfleur. At first, in his exhortation to his troops (‘Once more unto the breach’), he sounds like the heroic warrior-king whom the Chorus describes. But his threat to the inhabitants of Harfleur takes on quite a different tone. In the midst of vividly evoking the rape and pillage with which he threatens them, he asks ‘What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause?’ If they suffer from the siege, they have only themselves to blame. So with the lack of mercy shown to the three conspirators. In a characteristic cat-and-mouse game, Henry invites them to recommend mercy to another offender. They don’t, and so when they themselves plead for mercy, he can reply ‘The mercy that was quick in us but late / By your own counsel is suppressed and killed’. As at Harfleur, as with the Dauphin’s tennis balls, he passes the buck for tough decisions on to others; it is their responsibility, not his.
This question of a King’s responsibilities or otherwise comes to the fore in the great central scene of the play, the night before Agincourt. Introducing it, the Chorus is at his most eloquent in describing the King’s ‘largess universal, like the sun’, so that his soldiers see ‘A little touch of Harry in the night’. The audience, however, sees something more complicated. An argument breaks out between the soldier Williams and the disguised Henry about the extent to which the King is responsible for his soldiers, and for their souls: Williams says, ‘if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it’. Henry concludes that ‘Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own’. This does not quite answer the question of his responsibility, but as Alvin Kernan puts it, ‘no ruler of a state can ever answer such questions’.
Perhaps Henry’s most remarkable speech in this scene is the plea to God not to take revenge on him for his father’s sin in deposing King Richard II. He lists the various things he has done in an attempt to make amends: re-burying Richard’s body in Westminster Abbey, and paying for regular prayers and masses for Richard’s soul. He concludes:
More will I do,
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after ill,
This is perhaps the moment when we see the private man, as opposed to the efficient politician, most clearly. ‘More will I do’: it sounds almost as if he is trying to do a deal with God. That would be typical of the political operator that we have seen in the public scenes; but then there is a strange dying fall, as if Henry feels that all his efforts will be in vain – not the most positive frame of mind to face the confident French at Agincourt. But characteristically he sets such doubts aside, pulls himself together, and concludes ‘The day, my friends, and all things stay for me’.
He is thus able to inspire the troops with his ‘Crispin day’ speech – and also able, in the midst of battle, ruthlessly to order the killing of the French prisoners (because they have become a military encumbrance). In the next scene, Fluellen and Gower discover that the deserters from the French army have massacred the baggage-boys, ‘wherefore the King most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat. O ‘tis a gallant King’. This provides an interesting echo of the tennis balls scene. In fact, the killing of the prisoners happens before the discovery of the killing of the boys; Gower, like his King earlier, attributes a subsequent motive to an event that has already taken place.
In Henry’s wooing of the French princess, there is certainly charm and humour, but also an undertow of that practical sense of political realities that Henry always shows. For the Princess of France is ‘our capital demand’; and towards the end of the scene he says that he wants her to ‘prove a good soldier-breeder’: this is surely a tough and unromantic thing to say. Did Kate ‘prove a good soldier-breeder’? In the Epilogue, the Chorus calls Henry ‘This star of England’, but also points out that his son was Henry VI, ‘Whose state so many had the managing / That they lost France and made his England bleed’: the marriage of Henry and Kate led eventually to the Wars of the Roses. So it is interesting that even the Chorus ultimately bears witness to the un-heroic aspects that we have seen throughout the play: in its closing moments, legendary ideals and practical realities finally come together.