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Henry V is the most famous and influential of Shakespeare’s history plays. Its powerful patriotic rhetoric has resounded down the ages, gaining eloquent expression in Laurence Olivier’s renowned film. Henry himself, astute and charismatic, who led his ‘band of brothers’ to victory in the Battle of Agincourt, could indeed seem to be ‘this star of England’. In recent decades the play has attracted increasing critical attention and is now highly controversial.
109 pages with a reading time of ~1.75 hours (27345 words), and first published in 1599. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that have dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object: can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work. Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confined two mighty monarchies, Whose high upreared and abutting fronts The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder: Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts; Into a thousand parts divide on man, And make imaginary puissance; Think when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth; For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times, Turning the accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass: for the which supply, Admit me Chorus to this history; Who prologue-like your humble patience pray, Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
London. An ante-chamber in the KING’S palace.
[Enter the ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, and the BISHOP OF ELY]
My lord, I’ll tell you; that self bill is urged, Which in the eleventh year of the last king’s reign Was like, and had indeed against us pass’d, But that the scambling and unquiet time Did push it out of farther question.
But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?
It must be thought on. If it pass against us, We lose the better half of our possession: For all the temporal lands which men devout By testament have given to the church Would they strip from us; being valued thus: As much as would maintain, to the king’s honour, Full fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights, Six thousand and two hundred good esquires; And, to relief of lazars and weak age, Of indigent faint souls past corporal toil. A hundred almshouses right well supplied; And to the coffers of the king beside, A thousand pounds by the year: thus runs the bill.
This would drink deep.
‘Twould drink the cup and all.
But what prevention?
The king is full of grace and fair regard.
And a true lover of the holy church.
The courses of his youth promised it not. The breath no sooner left his father’s body, But that his wildness, mortified in him, Seem’d to die too; yea, at that very moment Consideration, like an angel, came And whipp’d the offending Adam out of him, Leaving his body as a paradise, To envelop and contain celestial spirits. Never was such a sudden scholar made; Never came reformation in a flood, With such a heady currance, scouring faults Nor never Hydra-headed wilfulness So soon did lose his seat and all at once As in this king.
We are blessed in the change.
Hear him but reason in divinity, And all-admiring with an inward wish You would desire the king were made a prelate: Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs, You would say it hath been all in all his study: List his discourse of war, and you shall hear A fearful battle render’d you in music: Turn him to any cause of policy, The Gordian knot of it he will unloose, Familiar as his garter: that, when he speaks, The air, a charter’d libertine, is still, And the mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears, To steal his sweet and honey’d sentences; So that the art and practic part of life Must be the mistress to this theoric: Which is a wonder how his grace should glean it, Since his addiction was to courses vain, His companies unletter’d, rude and shallow, His hours fill’d up with riots, banquets, sports, And never noted in him any study, Any retirement, any sequestration From open haunts and popularity.
The strawberry grows underneath the nettle And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best Neighbour’d by fruit of baser quality: And so the prince obscured his contemplation Under the veil of wildness; which, no doubt, Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night, Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.