Shakespeare’s plays, Henry V (1599) and Macbeth (1623) have similar, yet different, plots.
The play Henry V revolves around a young man (Henry V) who has recently been crowned King of England following his father’s (King Henry the IV) death. The issue is that the townspeople know him as reckless and carefree; however, he has much more to offer. The prince of France, the Dauphin, sends Henry a gift ( a chest filled with tennis balls) which Henry finds insulting. As a result, and in a state of anger Henry makes the rash decision to plan an attack against France. Henry’s army sets sail and they soon arrive to France. The morning before the “big” attack he calls for a meeting where he tells his troops that everyone who wishes to surrender and not go to war shall stay put; however, those who are willing to risk their lives and shed blood shall come along on the voyage- no one stays. When in France, the English troops attack and kill over twenty-thousand french while only a little over two-dozen English men are killed. After the war the king of France and King Henry make peace and Henry announces that he would love to marry Katherine, the princess. The King of France blesses their union and a couple months after having a child King Henry dies.
In Macbeth on the other hand, a general (Macbeth) is thirsty to become king and take over the crown after three witches told him he would eventually become king of Scotland- according to their prophecy. Macbeth was left in awe and was uneasy about whether or not he should believe the witches. To his surprise, when he arrived home he was announced to be duke of Cawdor- the witches were right. Soon after, he was convinced by his wife (Lady Macbeth) to murder the King of Scotland (Duncan) in order to fulfill the prophecy- after some thought, he did and was crowned king. In order to keep his beloved crown, he plans on killing Banquo (a general) and his son so that they won’t have a chance to inherit the throne (as the three witches said they would); however, the plan fails and Banquo’s son gets away. Lady Macbeth eventually commits suicide due to feeling guilt after causing much of the chaos and Macbeth is left alone. Macduff, a nobleman, plans on attacking Macbeth and finally puts an end to such a faulty leader. He succeeds and kills Macbeth. Malcolm, the son of King Duncan is able to take over the crown and rule Scotland once in for all.
In both plays, Shakespeare makes it clear what roles Kings and leaders play in a time of war and how personalities differ. Shakespeare implies that there two types of roles that leaders play; those willing to create peace after conflict and those who are chaotic and cause mess among the empire. Comparing both plays, it is quite facile to determine who is a “good leader” and who is a “bad leader” in Shakespeare’s Henry V and Macbeth.
As mentioned, Henry V was known to be a young and reckless prince. A prince who associated with the wrong people and had no sense of leadership. Townspeople expected him to fail due to stories from his past; however, things changed when he was crowned King. King Henry V proved himself to be: committed, fearless, and focused- a good leader. He was ready to take on such an honorable and tedious role in order to lead his people. Sure, the idea of Henry V going to war over the petty symbolism behind being gifted tennis balls seems quite immature, but rash decisions are often learning experiences. His first attempt at creating peace happens when the English army attacks the city of Harfleur and the city is breached. Henry proposes a deal with the governor, that if the people of Harfleur surrender everyone will be safe, but if they try to defend themselves the English army will spare no brutality. The governor surrenders and Henry V moves along. He then shortly finds out that one of his close friends Bardolph was lynched for stealing from the French church. As a result, he speaks to everyone on the importance of treating the people of France as they would their own people. Of course, he is saddened to see one of his childhood friends hung, but he is also angered and denounces Bardolph for his crimes.
Henry’s act proves him to be a “good” leader. Henry, at first was set on destroying the city of Harfleur and soon after fighting the French army in one “giant” battle. This plan was altered, he had mercy on the governor of Harfleur and it’s people, no destruction would be done. Furthermore, although he was there to fight the French he was not for disrespecting the french. He commanded his troops to treat the French as they would their own people and ultimately be kind. Henry being angered at Bardolph’s actions show a sense of growth and maturity- he believed Bardolph’s actions were indeed wrong and inhumane. Additionally, after the big war between the English and the French troops, King Henry forbids for any English to boast about their victory. King Henry commands he speak to the King of France and wishes to create peace- they agree and King Henry ultimately marries the princess of France- Katherine. King Henry forbidding the English to celebrate their victory shows he is a humble and thoughtful leader- yes the English won but many French lives were lost that evening. It is not stated explicitly but the reader can assume his guilt caused him to want peace among the English and french.
Not only does Shakespeare reveal, “good” kings/ leaders like Henry V in his plays, but also “bad” malicious leaders like Macbeth. Macbeth was a troubled general who believed the news that the three witches told him; he would become king. After finding out, he realized he would anything in his power to make this happen. He is tempted by Lady Macbeth to murder King Duncan in order to dethrone him and fulfill his ambitions to become king. He is easily convinced and kills Duncan.
From this moment on Shakespeare implies that Macbeth will be a “bad” leader considering he was easily convinced in order to satisfy his own egocentric ways. After committing the crime, Lady Macbeth realizes he can not stop there, he must put an end to anyone who is a threat to him and his beloved crown. Macbeth plans on killing Banquo’s children because according to the witches they are the ones that will inherit the throne. Macbeth’s selfishness and insecurity spiral out of control and he is entirely focused on wearing a crown that he forgets the leadership skills it takes to be a King and run Scotland. Macbeth is proving himself to be unworthy and sluggish with no real intentions to lead Scotland. Instead, he is proving himself to be suited to deal with battle, violence, and crime considering he resolves most of his problems through violence and murder rather than politics.
Ultimately, Shakespeare makes it evident that Macbeth is a tyrant who is thirsty for royal blood, but lacks real leadership skills making him all in all a “bad” leader. Both kings in Shakespeare’s plays: Henry V and Macbeth, are revealed to have completely different personalities which will ultimately determine what role they will play as leaders. In Henry V we see King Henry portrayed to be a good leader who is: focused, understanding, and knowledgeable whereas in Macbeth we see “King” Macbeth portrayed to be a bad leader who is: selfish, jealous, and blithe.
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