Culmination: From Tavern to Throne

Henry V is the culmination of Harry’s journey from Prince Hal to King Henry. We see his maturation from frivolous prince to a crafty and just ruler. He keeps the things he learned from the taverns in mind; he uses games to control people, and he relies on the rhetoric he learned in the taverns but he uses these techniques to manipulate situations to his advantage for the sake of his country now.

We see him use the Tavern training in his entrapment of the three traitors, Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey. He more or less gets them to seal their own fate when they advise him to show mercy on the supposed drunk man. Scrope tells Henry, “Let him be punished, sovereign, lest example / Breed, by his sufferance, more of such a kind.” (2.2.45-46). In order to be seen as a tough ruler Henry must weed out any traitors in his court, even if they are some of his dearest friends. Scrope even tells him you need to punish the drunken rebel so no more will speak out against you; he basically tells Henry you need to kill us to make sure there will be no other traitors against you. And Henry uses the clever rouse of giving them power in his absence, but it is really their execution notices. He needs to be elaborate and scary with the deaths of the traitors to scare others, to show them he is no longer Prince Hal, but now King Henry and traitors will be punished. His Tavern training has prepared him for such clever political games; however, in the very next scene 2.3, we learn that Henry has removed himself completely from the tavern life to be King. The death of John Falstaff is not staged, the audience learns of it through the Hostess Quickly. This is an interesting choice on Shakespeare’s part. I think he does it to really cement the fact that Falstaff is no longer apart of the play because he is no longer a part of Harry’s life. In order to be an effective King and to be taken seriously Harry had to leave his Tavern days behind him but he took everything he learned there and uses it to his advantage.    

Even on the battlefield he uses his ability to talk to all types of people that he mastered in the taverns. He makes inclusive and inspiring speeches to his men to get them to rally behind him. Henry eloquently assures his men of the glory they will receive because of the war, he says, “But we in it should be remembered, / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. / For he today that shat sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile”(4.3. 59-62). His speech is beautiful as well as powerful. Shakespeare writes this speech formally because the King is addressing his men, but when Henry secretly goes out to talk with his men in a disguise he easily slips back into the prose speech from the taverns proving that he can truly talk to anyone in any given situation. This rhetorical device is a great tool for a king to master. Henry can use language to manipulate situations to avoid violence as well. In Act 3 Scene 3 when Henry calls for the surrender of Harfleur he uses such graphic and violent imagery, he tells the governor, if you do not surrender to me then my men will get so caught up in the fervor of war and being a solider that they will defile your daughters, kill your fathers and put your infants on pikes. Henry’s language makes it seem like it will be the governor’s fault his town is destroyed if he does not surrender. But Henry is bluffing, he tells Exeter, “Use mercy on them all” (3.3. 131). In the Branagh film we watched Henry looks relieved that the governor surrendered. Henry’s ability to use language as a tool is no different from what politicians do today.

All of these traits make Henry a sound and just ruler. He really has reformed himself from Prince Hal to King Henry; capable of making difficult decisions for the good of his country, able to talk to and inspire all types of people, and with a command of language that gives him a great advantage in battle. All these attributes that make him a great ruler he learned in the taverns proving that he really did need those experiences to prepare him for his role as king.     

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