Shakespeare’s King Henry V is a man who is extraordinarily gifted in the area of speech. With his use of words, he can inspire his soldiers, persuade anyone, and frighten his enemies. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, there are specifically two speeches that are most well known even to this day, the speech before Harfleur and his St. Crispin’s Day speech. In both speeches, Henry’s goal is to inspire his soldiers to do their best in the upcoming battle. However, Henry uses different tactics in the two speeches, showing a difference in character. With a close comparison with the two speeches, one can see that he keeps his semi indifference with status gaps with an added confident side; he changes from displaying a violent ruthless side to him to a calmer and civilized side of him; and he transforms from someone who worries living up to the past to someone who focuses on the outcome of the future. In both speeches, Henry searches for his soldiers’ loyalty and devotion.
In his Harfleur speech, he creates an egalitarian aura throughout his speech. He starts off by addressing the soldiers as “dear friends” (III. i. 1), allowing the soldiers to feel as if the king views them as equals. Later on in the speech, Henry elevates the stature and status of the soldiers by saying “ Let us swear/ That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt not,/ For there is none of you so mean and base/ That hath not noble luster in your eyes./” (III. i. 27-30). This is uncommon in those times; for a king to put himself the same level as common folk and calling them dear friends. Though he has severed all ties with his old friends, Henry still displays the indifference he has with spending time with common folk. Of course, he uses this to his advantage to earn the loyalty of his people. In the case of his St. Crispin’s Day speech, Henry adds another device to earn his soldiers’ loyalty. Yes, he does keep his semi indifference with social status with calling them his brothers (IV. iii. 64), but he does not put as much emphasis as in Harfleur. His main persuasive argument used is the freedom of choice.
He says, “That he which hath no stomach to this fight,/ Let him depart. His passport shall be made,/ And crowns for convoy put into his purse.” (37 39). Not only does giving them the choice to leave gives support to his claim for wanting a smaller army, but it earns him loyalty and devotion. Henry finally hints at a merciful side to him with promising not to behead any coward, but instead, will give them money for the journey home. This also displays the confidence he has with his ability of persuasive speech. Henry has just spent the night listening to his soldiers’ worries so he knows for certain that they have no hope, yet he offers to further decrease the size of his army because he is confident they will not leave. This confidence will then be transmitted to the soldiers, therefore lessening their worries.
These added characteristics shows a more established and good king compared to when he is during his Harfleur speech. Before the battle of Harfleur, Henry V uses vivid imagery to motivate his soldiers to instigate the soldiers’ primal instinct toward violence. He is using the appeal of masculinity, encouraging his soldiers to go into a mindless fury and kill. He tells his soldiers, “then imitate the action of the tiger:/ Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,/ Disguise fair nature with hard-favored raged,/” (III. i. 6-8). He starts off his speech with the image of a tiger and ends it off with the image of greyhounds, saying “I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,/ Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot./” (III. i. 31-32). He wants them to be mindless blood thirsty animals, animals who are uncivilized and savagely. He also gives a detailed description on how it is like when one is blind with rage, saying “Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,/ Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit/ To his full height.” (III. i. 15-17). How is he able to give such a vivid description of such passion and rage during a fight?
It is possibly because Henry is talking from his experiences from his own adrenaline rushes and his own rage and passion in battles. It seems that Henry is one who glorifies war for the fact of the violence in battle, giving him the characteristics of ruthlessness. This ruthlessness is displayed not only throughout this play, but in Henry IV part 1 and 2 as well. It gives an uncivilized and low status characteristic to him that makes him no different than how he is when he is with his thieving friends in Henry IV. However, in his St. Crispin’s Day speech, he is appealing to honour; a much more civilized and sophisticated appeal. He claims he wants a smaller army because “The fewer men, the greater share of honor.” (IV. iii. 24). Unlike his previous speech, Henry talks in a more peaceful and calmer manner.
He does not include images of fury or rage; instead he talks about his own opinions and personal desires. He makes a point that he puts honour as a priority, saying “Such outward things dwell not in my desires./ But if it be a sin to covet honor,/ I am the most offending soul alive.” (IV. iii. 29-31). It is a great persuasive device to put emphasis of how important honour is to him because he is someone of great stature and power, therefore honour must be of great importance. It seems that Henry is someone who cares a lot about fame and honour, different from the violent image that he portrays in his Harfleur speech. This way of thinking and glorifying about war is a more civilized and of a higher status way of thinking, showing that Henry is no longer the man he is in his rebellious stage. He is becoming a man that his father would be proud of. Another characteristic change that Henry seems to go through is his mindset and what time period is he focusing at.
In his Harfleur speech, it seems that Henry focuses on the past and what he has to live up to. He tries to invoke English patriotism in his soldiers by saying, “Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,/ Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,/ Have in these parts from morn till even fought/ And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.” (III. i. 18-21). He talks about how great their ancestry is and to not disappoint. This shows that Henry worries whether or not he can live up to the name Henry or his position as a king. Here, Henry is still living as if he is under his father’s watch where he is still constantly looking for approval from his father. Henry is constantly comparing himself to others and making his decisions based on what his ancestors or predecessors would do. Again, Henry is no different from when he is in Henry IV. On the other hand, in his St. Cripin’s Day speech, Henry focuses more on the future and what is to come after the war. He talks about the future and what the soldiers will live like once they win the battle.
He says the soldiers will forever be proud of what happens in the battle and that “He that shall see this day and live t’old age/ Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours/ And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’” (IV. iii. 44-46). Henry talks about the future a lot in this speech, partly because it gives hope to the soldiers coming out of the battle alive, but mostly because Henry is truly thinking about the future. It seems that Henry has forgotten about worrying about the past and whether he’ll live up to it and focuses more on what he can do for the future. This is a great development in his character because throughout the play, Henry is influenced by what he saw with his father’s experience, but now there are signs that Henry finally can do what he thinks is best as a king without any influences or reserves.
Henry has finally matured and is no longer the man he used to be. In conclusion, one can say that from the time he makes his Harfleur speech to the time he makes his St. Cripin’s Day speech, Henry has gone through dramatic changes. In his Harfleur speech, he calls his soldiers his friends to gain loyalty, showing his semi indifference to social status; he uses vivid imagery of animals to inspire his soldiers to become animal-like in killing, displaying a gruesome side to him; and he also uses ancestry and historical references to invoke English patriotism in his soldiers, demonstrating that he focuses on living up to the past. In comparison, in his St. Crispin’s Day speech, he gives them a freedom of choice to gain loyalty, proving his confidence and hint of a merciful side of him; he talks about the importance of honour to claim a smaller army is better, demonstrating a more mature and civilized character; and he discusses about the future to give hope, showing that he focuses on the future.
During the time of the Harfleur speech, he displays himself as a man who is indifferent to social status, violent, and constantly compares oneself to his predecessors. Therefore making him not much different from when he spends his time with thieves and drunkards. However, during the time of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, he displays himself as a more confident, civilized, and futuristic king. Henry V has definitely grown up and matured to a better king compared to when in Harfleur.
Shakespeare, William. “Henry V”. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Print.