War Crimes Law Comes of Age: Essays

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

II
Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth and the Law of War*

I INTRODUCTION

William Shakespeare wrote during the Elizabethan Renaissance, a period of revived and intense interest in history.1 The Life of Henry the Fifth, written in 1599,2 one of Shakespeare's histories, is a patriotic, epic portrayal of a phase in the bloody Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between England and France. It describes a medieval campaign led by a chivalrous and virtuous king, who could perhaps do wrong but not a great deal of wrong, and in which the few acting in a just cause defeat the many. In this play, Shakespeare relives past glories.

King Henry V ( 1387-1422) succeeded to the throne of Henry IV in 1413 and two years later invaded France. The play telescopes the phase of the Hundred Years' War that started in 1415 with the landing of Henry's army near Harfleur and its victory at Agincourt and ended in 1420 with the conclusion of the Treaty of Troyes, which pronounced Henry the heir to the French throne and seemed to mark the ascendancy of England -- until Joan of Arc's rallying of the French in 1429 sparked a turning point eventually leading to the defeat of England. The play is an ideal vehicle for consideration of the late medieval practice and rules of warfare: first, because it narrates a wide range of relevant events, including assertion of the just cause of the war, issuance of an ultimatum or declaration of war, episodes showing the conduct of the war and negotiation of the treaty of

____________________
*
I acknowledge with thanks the helpful comments made on early drafts of this essay by Luigi Condorelli, Gerald Harriss, Graham Hughes, Peter Lewis, Andreas Lowenfeld, David Norbrook, Ashley Roach, Linda Silberman, Donna Sullivan and Malcolm Vale. In addition, for their important help, I thank Philip Uninsky and my research assistants David Berg and Maria Chedid. I am particularly grateful to Maurice Keen and Peter Haggenmacher for their invaluable advice and guidance. I also wish to express my appreciation to the Filomen D'Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Research Fund of New York University Law School, the Fellows and the staff of All Souls College, Oxford, where, as a Visiting Fellow, I completed this essay, and the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, for their support.
1
L. CAMPBELL, SHAKESPEARE'S "HISTORIES": MIRRORS OF ELIZABETHAN POLICY 18-20 ( 1947).
2
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE 835 ( G. Kittredge ed. 1971) [hereinafter Kittredge]. This essay will cite Henry V with annotations from the Yale Shakespeare ( R. Dorius ed. 1955).

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