William Shakespeare's Henry V

William Shakespeare's Henry V

William Shakespeare's Henry V

William Shakespeare's Henry V

Excerpt

The Life of Henry the Fifth does not enjoy much critical esteem in comparison with Shakespeare’s other mature histories, but it is a remarkable play if one allows its ironies their full scope. The absence of Falstaff is the largest presence in this drama, since Hal is thereby absent also. Patriotic bombast abounds, and even a touch of Falstaff (or Hal) would destroy that rhetoric of gorgeous deception essential to the celebration of English prowess against the overdressed French. If we shipped Falstaff from Shrewsbury to Agincourt and the fat knight went into the battle there, carrying a bottle of sack instead of a pistol in his case or holster, would not the play break apart? Henry the Fifth can scarcely sustain its few overt references to Falstaff and dares not bring him on stage even to die before us. “The King has kill’d his heart,” says Mistress Quickly, and the otherwise hyperbolical Pistol adds, in all truth: “His heart is fracted and corroborate.” I do not read that last word as an error for “corrupted,” but as a sad indication that Falstaff so loves Hal that he has agreed to his own rejection and so wills to die.

Nothing else in Henry the Fifth touches the sublimity and pathos of Mistress Quickly and Falstaff’s followers recounting his final moments:

BARD: Would I were with him, wheresome’er he is, either
in heaven or in hell!

HOST: Nay sure, he’s not in hell; he’s in Arthur’s bosom,
if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. ’A made a
finer end, and went away and it had been any
christom child. ’A parted ev’n just between twelve
and one, ev’n at the turning o’ th’ tide; for after I
saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with

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