Welcome to the King Henry V Assignment Page




General Instructions: As published in the Reading Syllabus for ENG 321, by class time on October 27 I am to receive a critical essay of about five pages on William Shakespeare's history playHenry V. The essay must reach me both as a traditional paper copy and as a Macintosh document in Microsoft Word 98. I have developed a Style Sheet, outlining the specific document conventions you need to observe when producing a printed, not typed, document, for your convenience. Be forewarned, you'll probably have to forget a few of the rules your old typing teacher taught you: the Mac is not a typewriter, and we should take advantage of its ability to reproduce the standards of the traditional print shop! Failure to meet all terms will result in a penalty, unless I can be persuaded to modify the terms. For additional information on revising papers, my grading policies, etc., click here.


Background: It is always easier for both playwright and reader/audience to deal with a transparently flawed protagonist than it is to "cope" with a perfect character. Flawed characters (including villains) offer both the drama of their struggle and the spectacle of watching recognizably human beings trying to prevail. You never know for sure what is going to happen next, or how the outcome is going to be brought about. There is only one instance, I believe, in which Shakespeare tackled the problem of the successful and admired ruler, the martial epic of The Life of Henry The Fifth, a historic figure he had presented before as Prince Hal under radically different circumstances in his two Henry IV history plays. As one modern critic observed, "Henry of Monmouth's world, which was wide enough to include Falstaff and Hotspur, has been successively narrowed to his royal measure. The genrous disorders of Eastcheap and Shrewsbury, where life was ardent, complex and manifold, give place to the comparatively artificial simplicity of an epic performance in which all intrerest is centered upon a single figure, and this single figure is itself contracted to become a symbol of successful valour and authority. . . . the man dwindles as the hero is enlarged. . . .Henry's heroic speeches are, of their kind, the berst ever trumpeted by a martial poet from the battlements of time. But the human interest of the play lies elsewhere. It is to be sought in the constant effort of the shrinking man to come to terms with the swelling monarch."

The Specific Challenge:Using the deliberately unidentified critic's argument/distinction, write a critical essay of ca. five pages (, observing the guidelines codified in the Style Sheet linked here), in which you present how Shakespeare manages to create tension and conflict between the heraldic figure of the king in the admiration of his subjects--the public persona-- and the fallible human being inside. Hint: you could do worse than starting by examining the exchanges between the King and his common soldiers on the eve of Agincourt. Remember, to succeed in my judgment, you need to support all general claims with sufficient, explicit evidence from the play. There is no need for consulting secondary material of any kind.


If you have questions or simply want to check out your ideas before you commit them to 'paper,' feel invited to see me. It usually helps a lot to start such a critical essay early.----Good Luck,cpb




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