The character of Hal is a fascinating character in this play because he transforms from being a conniving and cruel youth to Shakespeare’s idea of the perfect king. Hal as a young boy was very wayward. His choice of friends was not necessarily the best. He was always amid commoners, low-lives and bad company causing him to reflect such characters of theirs. His friends involved him in terrible acts like stealing, heavy drinking, prostituting and doing most things that break the law, until he decided to change. It must be included that we first see Prince Henry’s metamorphosis in Henry IV. Hal mentions during an aside in Act 1 Scene 2 that he will throw away his bad behavior and redeem himself by showing more “goodly”. He says: “So, when this loose behavior I throw off, And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, by so much shall I falsify men’s hopes and like bright metal on a sullen ground, my reformation, glittering o’er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I will so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.” The death of King Henry IV was the wakeup call that makes Hal take a dramatic turn in his behavior as he soon realizes the importance of his responsibility as the new King of England. He immediately dismisses his old friends Poins and Falstaff as a result. He publicly tells Falstaff “I know thee not old man” and from there on disowns him as a friend. Hals public rejection of his old friend Falstaff connotes cutting the last thread of whatever attached him to his old lifestyle. King Henry realizes immediately that the only thing that matters to him is saving England and ruling his people the right way by sacrificing his old life and putting England’s safety first before himself. Many of these qualities define King Henry as a successful leader. However, many scholars have their reservations about this portrayal of Henry V. Some believe that he was just as bad a king as many others, naming him a cruel and arrogant criminal mind. It is understandable that many would think of Henry V as a cruel King because of the wayward life he lived before being king. Therefore, it can be argued that King Henry V was a ruthless king even with his religious beliefs because he declared war on France, but same can be said of the church because they offered to pay for the war. Critics of Henry V would also say that he displays cruelty when he executes his three friends, Scroop, Gray and Cambridge and also declaring death on his old friend Bardolf because he stole. In King Henry’s defense, I would say King Henry takes his responsibility seriously and is sturdy enough to separate favoritism from leadership. After all, Cambridge, Scroop and Gray were traitors that planned to kill King Henry.
Different viewpoints have been taken, but the fact remains that Henry V was a wise and great King who eluded great success in leadership as soon as he left his old ways. He fully transforms from an ignorant youth to such a strong, charismatic and willing leader. As soon as Henry becomes King, things change for the better. He metamorphoses into this responsible young man that is fit to rule England even though his father feared he will be unable to. The Leadership theme in “Henry V” carries so much significance to the overall meaning of the play. Being a good king comes with burdens. In act 1 Scene 2 when Henry carries the burden of being a responsible king as he demands that things be done the right way in the eyes of God. He says, “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” Henry had to make sure that when he wages war against a Christian country, his cause was just, if not, he would have sinned against God. Canterbury, therefore, places the sin upon his head if cause is deemed unjust. As a good King, it is inevitable for tough decisions to arise.
King Henry applies the law to all persons regardless of their relationship to him. We see this when Bardolph, King Henry’s friend from his youth stole from a French church. Bardolph being Hals childhood friend did not stop him from suggesting his execution because of his wrongful deed. He said “We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge, that in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”In Act 3 Scene 1, King Henry carries yet another burden of his responsibility as the people rely on him and hope to get through it all. Even when in battle and all seems lost, King Henry shows strength and inspires his men to do the same with his words. Here Henry showed his exceptional quality of speaking. He can change his style and rhetoric to suit the mood and atmosphere he is trying to create. He said “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there is nothing so becomes a man, as modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof! Fathers that, like so many Alexanders, have in these parts from morn till even fought and sheathed their swords for lack of argument: “It is interesting that he addresses his men as “dear friends” in the quote above. This technique is used by leaders in other to improve their relationship with their followers, empowering them and also making them believe they are friends of the King. He creates unity between them by calling them friends, addressing things as “our”. They know that unlike all other men in England, they are the Kings most loyal friends, they and they alone shall bask in the glory. Henry worried greatly about his decision to attack France and how it could affect his soldiers because they showed a lot of fear since they were outnumbered and were expecting to die.
Henry showed a lot of care towards his men on the night before the battle of Agincourt. Henry tries to make them summon some courage and reminds them that they are warriors and should be daring in battle. He asks them to have faith in God and also in him as he prays to God to harden the hearts of his men. He says: “O God of battles! steel my soldiers’ hearts; possess them not with fear; take from them now the sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers Pluck their hearts from them.”King Henry V is well spoken, shows love and kindness to his people, and remains fearless in decision making. All of these attributes put together make him the charismatic and effective leader that we speak of today. With that being said, the characteristics of Hal as a troublesome young youth and King Henry as a good leader, being the same man, shows that change can be made if responsibility is evident.
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