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Henry V (Wordsworth Classics)
ISBN 1840224215 / 9781840224214 / 1-84022-421-5
Publisher Wordsworth Editions Ltd
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"Cry, 'God for Harry! England and Saint George!'" Henry's V's rallying cry to his soldiers before Harfleur has become an iconic rallying cry for English nationalism. More than any other Shakespeare play, Henry V has been seen to define what it means to be English in its account of Henry's triumphant victory over vastly superior French forces in 1415. The play has been endlessly quoted by politicians as an incitement to patriotism, and Laurence Olivier's ground-breaking film of the play was dedicated to the Allied soldiers who landed in France on D-Day in 1944.
More recently critics have questioned the extent to which the play is simply a piece of nationalist propaganda, pointing to the more ambivalent reflections on the cost of war voiced by various characters throughout the play. As one of Henry's soldiers reflects on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, "if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make". Henry himself has already been defined as a cunning and rather unsympathetic character in Henry IV Parts One and Two, and his cynical manipulation of patriotism in his pursuit of military glory is incisively undercut by the Irishman Macmorris' poignant question as to "What ish my nation?" This more ambivalent dimension of the play is most effectively captured in Kenneth Branagh's post-Falklands film, Henry V, which portrays a king much more aware of the dreadful consequences of going to war. Branagh's film suggests that Henry V ultimately questions, rather than endorses the glory of going into battle for one's country. --Jerry Brotton [via]