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Nemesis which the authors of Henry VI. read in the impending ruin of the house of Lancaster; we move in a world in which tragic Nemesis has no place, and another, more Shakespearean, conception of human affairs controls the action. Henry is not irrevocably
bound by the guilt of his ancestors: his sheer soundness and strength of character emancipate him at once from the inherited taint and the paralysing selfdistrust; if ruin follows in the next reign, it is not the guilt of the dead but the weakness of the living that brings it on.
All the other characters serve in their degree to set off the king's; but none are even distantly his rivals. The English commanders, the prelates, the traitor nobles, are slightly sketched, and either implicitly fall in with or but faintly disturb the onward sweep of Henry's course. The conspiracy of Cambridge and Scroop was in reality a dangerous symptom of distrust: a dramatist bent upon plot-interest would have made us tremble for the king's life. Shakespeare announces it with a quiet assurance that there is no danger, for all is known, and the conspirators themselves hasten to deprecate any further anxiety by expressing their heart-felt penitence. The whole episode serves simply to exhibit Henry's bearing as man and king, the stern Roman fortitude humanised with Germanic pity and regret-when discharging the duty of sentencing an old comrade and friend to death.
The one formidable rival of the king is no single The French. figure, but the 'bad neighbour' at whom he dashes his little force, the assembled power of France. And the French are drawn collectively, in slightly modulated shades of the same conventional hue. The brush which had painted the rival of Henry's youth, now dashes off with far less care and delicacy the foes of
his manhood. The vapouring chivalry, the fantastic self-conceit which so fatally alloyed Hotspur's sturdy Saxon strength, reappear with more of blatant flourish in men of finer wit but weaker fibre. The Dauphin, less original than Hotspur, but without a spark of his real heroism, misconstrues Henry as completely; and Shakespeare plays with visible pleasure upon the tennis-ball motive which he found in Holinshed. He makes the English envoys to the French camp deliver a special message of scorn to the Dauphin (ii. 4. 110 f.); and the Dauphin, in spite of history and his father's orders, figures in the French camp at Agincourt. But the Dauphin is only an extreme type of the fatuous intoxication which possesses the whole host, and is chiefly responsible for its overthrow. Agincourt is the duel of Shrewsbury, writ large; with the difference that there is here no counterpart to the pathos of the mourning for Hotspur. A few wild curses and cries of rage suffice to sum up the immeasurably greater tragedy of the French rout. And in the fifth Act the French themselves seem to share in the exultation of England over their own surrender. In painting Henry's own attitude towards the enemy, however, Shakespeare's touch is not quite so firm as when he limned Prince Hal. The speeches before Harfleur to Montjoy, and after the battle, are hardly in keeping with the modesty of true valour which makes him forbid the display of his bruised helmet and bent sword in the London streets. In his actual treatment of Harfleur he shows a humanity not recorded of the historic Henry, who allowed the town to be sacked. On the other hand, his ferocious slaughter of the prisoners at Agincourt has not a whit
1 Holinshed relates that the Dolphin sore desired to have been at the battell, but he was
prohibited by his father' (iii. 552).
more excuse in the play than in the chronicle. And it is hard, lastly, to resist the wonder, as we listen to the bourgeois jocularities of the last Act, that the consummate master of words and of thoughts, who had shown himself so easily equal to every situation of statecraft and war, should become so obviously the bluff, plain soldier in his wooing. In these scenes we return within a measurable distance of The Famous Victories, where Henry approaches the French princess with
How saiest thou, Kate, canst thou love the King of England? Kate. How should I love thee, which is my father's enemy? Hen. Tut, stand not upon these points,
'Tis you must make us friends.
I know, Kate, thou art not a little proud that I love thee?
No such inequality marks his bearing to his own men. The group of English soldiery in the foreground are, after Henry, by far the most detailed figures, and altogether Shakespeare's creation. They provide a new Eastcheap in which the king indulges the humanities, without the riots, of the old; and one which, in its relation to the old, gives us a subtle measure of the king's relation to his past. Pistol and Bardolph, the old victims of Falstaff's wit, reappear in their disreputable decay with a congenial third, Nym; but Bardolph promptly falls a victim to Henry's insistence on honour and discipline, and Pistol's moment of hollow triumph1 is but a prelude to his final humiliation; while the Boy, once a promising pupil of Bardolph's, sums up their characteristics at the outset (iii. 2.) with the honest indignation and the merciless candour of youth. Falstaff himself was deliberately excluded, and the omission is the more glaring since the historic Sir John Fastolfe actually
1 The scene between Pistol suggested by The Famous Vicand the French soldier (iv. 4.) is tories.
accompanied the expedition, and, as Shakespeare read in Holinshed, was left by Exeter in charge of Harfleur.1 But with Falstaff, Shakespeare must have felt, there was no middle way between banishment and the old camaraderie. His powerful personality would have violently disturbed the focus of the play, and threatened the supremacy of Henry. In his place we have Fluellen, a less wonderful, but hardly a less finished, creation of comic genius. Falstaff's humour is a dazzling solvent of truth: Fluellen's a whimsical enforcement of it. Falstaff's finest jests are rooted in dishonour and breach of trust; Fluellen's quaint analogies from ancient history are arguments for valour, discipline, and hero-worship. It was not in irony, we may be sure, that Shakespeare let him compare Harry of Monmouth with Alexander of Macedon; and there is weighty significance in the grotesque 'parallel' by which he supports it, that 'as Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgements, turned away the fat knight with the great-belly doublet.'
1 Exeter in the play is first made governor of Harfleur and then found (i., iii. 6) defending the bridge near Agincourt. Can
the discrepancy be due to Fastolfe having originally been introduced and then omitted?
THE LIFE OF
KING HENRY THE FIFTH
Chor. O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
7. famine, sword and fire. This trio is probably suggested by a speech of Henry's, as reported by Holinshed, in which he replies to suppliant citizens, during his siege of Rouen (1419),
that Bellona, the goddess of battle, had three handmaidens blood, fire, and famine, all of which were at his choice to use (Hol. iii. 367, ed. Stone).