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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: NT Henry V
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1559  Tuesday, 5 August 2003

[1]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 09:17:35 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1549 Re: NT Henry V

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Monday, 04 Aug 2003 19:07:24 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1546 Re: NT Henry V

[3]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 05:06:34 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 14.1549 Re: NT Henry V


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 09:17:35 +0800
Subject: 14.1549 Re: NT Henry V
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1549 Re: NT Henry V

Here is a pertinent quote from the book "Henry V, War Criminal?" by John
Sutherland and Cedric Watts:

"Herschel Baker, in the Riverside Shakespeare, blandly notes that
'Henry's dreadful talk before Harfleur and his command to kill the
prisoners were approved procedures in fifteenth-century war'. Approved?
If that were the case, what foe would ever be fool enough to allow
himself to be taken captive? Are we to assume that a mass offstage
slaughter of prisoners accompanies that battles we see on stage in the
Henry IV plays?"

Also, we know that Shakespeare frequently modifies the story line of his
sources to suit his purpose. He could easily have omitted Henry's
dreadful order to kill the prisoners in the play, as both Kenneth
Branagh and Laurence Olivier chose to do in their film versions. I
believe Shakespeare, on the other hand, deliberately included it because
it was his purpose to do so.

Kenneth Chan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Monday, 04 Aug 2003 19:07:24 -0700
Subject: 14.1546 Re: NT Henry V
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1546 Re: NT Henry V

Don Bloom writes:

>2) Was it accepted at the time (early 15th century), or was it instead
>criticized outside England as unchivalrous?

Henry's own officers very vehemently opposed the killing of the
prisoners.  Many of them refused and Henry was forced to send a
contingent of 200 archers, led by an esquire, to carry out the gruesome
task. There seem to have been strong ethical and moral arguments put to
Henry as to why he could not do this. Also, financially, these
men-at-arms were worth a chunk of change! But Henry could see the third
French 'battle' readying for the assault and he had no time to
contemplate rationale arguments at that point.

In Henry's defense he had to act quick. He was facing the imminent
attack of the third French 'battle' led by the very able counts of Marle
and Fauquembergue. This would have been a mounted charge and Henry still
thought the outcome was too close to call. With a very large mass of,
poorly guarded, French prisoners behind him and a very powerful, mounted
'battle' front coming at him, he had little choice.

Henry's herald warned the French that any prisoners taken in this third
charge would be put to the sword. He proved these were not idle threats
when he killed the prisoners he was holding.

It is interesting that the French never condemned Henry for his order.
It is thought that this was due to the fact they had unfurled the
'oriflamme' the special red war banner that indicated that no quarter
would be given in the next assault. It was the French, it would seem,
who gave Henry no other option.

Of course there is the argument that Henry only threatened to kill the
prisoners if they rejoined the battle and the massacre never took
place.  Henry brought more than 1,000 prisoners back with him to England
and left many in France (they had already paid their ransoms). The only
men Henry could have spared to take the prisoners from the field at that
moment would have been the archers who were running low on arrows.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 05:06:34 -0400
Subject: Re: NT Henry V
Comment:        SHK 14.1549 Re: NT Henry V

Perhaps Brian "God, I love this play" Willis should also listen to it.
It is the Englishman Gower, not the Welshman Fluellen whose 'rationale'
justifies Henry's order:

"Tis certain there's not a boy left alive, and the cowardly rascals that
ran from the battle ha'  done this slaughter. Besides, they have burned
and carried away all that was in the King's tent, wherefore the King
most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O,
'tis a gallant king." (4. 7. 5-10)

Fluellen quickly distances himself from this absurd English
spin-doctoring (what else would you call  'most worthily' and ' 'tis a
gallant King'?) by giving the language a Welsh spin of his own. It
enables him to call Henry a pig.

T. Hawkes

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