Content Category

Literary Criticism

Abstract/Description

The Shakespearean play Henry V was written shortly after the British victory against the Spanish armada in 1588. Though many people of that era and even more people today view this play as a celebration of the British victory, the reality is that Shakespeare is cautioning his nation against claiming that victory alone implies divine right to, or support of, that victory. Shakespeare uses Henry V to point out that even the great victory at Agincourt was the result of human efforts and that mythologizing it risks allowing a sense of pride in that achievement to overrule the important fact that people died for that victory. The mythologizing of past leaders often causes present leaders to seek their own mythical achievements, and when those achievements include war, leaders risk their citizens’ safety for very little gain. Kenneth Branagh attempts to continue this narrative in his film adaptation of Henry V, and though his adaptation does attempt to repeat Shakespeare’s warning, he allows his film to idealize King Harry, and so perpetuates the very pattern Shakespeare warns against. The victors may write history, but that doesn’t make their actions right.

Origin of Submission

as part of a class

Faculty Involvement

Dr. Brandie Siegfried

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Reality and Mythology in Henry V

The Shakespearean play Henry V was written shortly after the British victory against the Spanish armada in 1588. Though many people of that era and even more people today view this play as a celebration of the British victory, the reality is that Shakespeare is cautioning his nation against claiming that victory alone implies divine right to, or support of, that victory. Shakespeare uses Henry V to point out that even the great victory at Agincourt was the result of human efforts and that mythologizing it risks allowing a sense of pride in that achievement to overrule the important fact that people died for that victory. The mythologizing of past leaders often causes present leaders to seek their own mythical achievements, and when those achievements include war, leaders risk their citizens’ safety for very little gain. Kenneth Branagh attempts to continue this narrative in his film adaptation of Henry V, and though his adaptation does attempt to repeat Shakespeare’s warning, he allows his film to idealize King Harry, and so perpetuates the very pattern Shakespeare warns against. The victors may write history, but that doesn’t make their actions right.