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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Henry's Order to Kill His Prisoners
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0502  Monday, 22 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 11:54:04 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Henry's Order to Kill His Prisoners

[2]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 10:55:57 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 10.0498 Re: Marlowe; Harfluer; Women

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 19:04:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0498 Re: Killing of Prisoners


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 11:54:04 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Henry's Order to Kill His Prisoners

Brian Haylett and Mike Jensen have had a spirited debate about Harfleur
and the killing of the French prisoners by Henry. About Harfleur, I
think to understand this episode better, we need to remember the
conversation between Fluellen and MacMorris in 3.2.85-100, just before
Henry's horrific speech. That conversation makes clear that the miners
were almost ready to blow up the whole town, but the order was
countermanded (by Henry). Thus, his speech before the gates of Harfleur
is intended to substitute words for daggers (cf. Hamlet and Gertrude)
and "to save the blood on either side" (Part1). What would henry have
done of the Dauphin had reinforced the town? Fight, of course-but that's
war.

As to the French prisoners-I think that Brian is right to stress the
notion that sometimes events in history are close to unrecognizable,
especially in the heat of battle. It's hard to know EXACTLY what
happen-ed and when throughout this sequence. But I'd make two points:
first, when the French form a "rout," it can only be for one purpose-to
attack (the main army? get the prisoners? kill the boys? --THEY probably
don't know themselves-that's what it means to form a "rout" or "throng."
As in the rejection scene, henry must instantly decide what to do, and
he decides to kill his prisoners. He is PROBABLY right to do so because
the English cannot waste one man guarding prisoners if the whole throng
of French descends on them.  Moreover, if the French manage to overcome
the front line of Henry's defenses and free the prisoners, then Henry
will face a battle on two fronts-one he cannot win.

Point two: we can't tell if the "throng" attacks the boys first or,
hearing the moans of the French prisoners being killed, attacks the
boys' camp. If the latter, then Henry will always have to live with the
reputation, among some, that he was essentially "a misleader of
youth"-exactly the charge leveled (wrongly) against Falstaff.

I'd add, finally, that the references to Falstaff's rejection establish
the "necessity" of Henry's actions, or so it seems to me. Now, this is
hard to take, especially since the French prisoners are probably killed
on stage, but I think that Shakespere wanted to establish the awful
reality of war and the nearly inhuman commands that MUST some-times be
given in battle.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 10:55:57 -0800
Subject: Re: Marlowe; Harfluer; Women
Comment:        SHK 10.0498 Re: Marlowe; Harfluer; Women

To Bryan Haylett,

Thank you for the apology, which I am glad to accept.  Thank you also
for your interesting post about Henry V.   I am not persuaded, but it is
food for thought - and I always appreciate a good meal.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 19:04:09 -0500
Subject: 10.0498 Re: Killing of Prisoners
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0498 Re: Killing of Prisoners

Brian Haylett wrote:

>Gower had got the facts wrong and so
>had begun the rewriting of history, which often happens through human
>error rather than propagandist intent. Gower  (the English Captain,
>note) never questions Henry.

Lets look at what Gower actually says:

'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive, and the cowardly rascals that
ran from the battle ha' done the slaughter.  Besides, they have burn'd
and carried away all that was is the King's tent; wherefore, the King,
most worthily, hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat.
O, 'tis a gallant king."

In other words, according to Gower, Henry did not kill the prisoners for
military necessity or from anger at an arguable breach of jus in bello,
but because he was pissed that the French messed with his things.  I
suppose the "worthily" and "gallant" might be spoken archly.
 

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