Watching the Laurence Olivier Henry V caused a flood of new Shakespeare thoughts.The play is one of Shakespeare’s ten historical plays—highly fictionalized for entertainment, but timeless in insight. A battle in 1415 AD becomes inspiration for a circa 1600 play by Shakespeare, that becomes inspiration for a 1944 adaptation during World War II, that becomes inspiration for seeing Shakespeare gift for entwining entertainment and instruction.
At first, the film appears to be a war movie,
but the war theme is accompanied by numerous other themes seen daily in education. About the time one might dismiss Henry V from being neither a history, nor a war film, it doesn’t matter because it becomes both of those in a mix with comedy, commentary on church and government, and a stream of colorful vignettes.
It’s a cross section of life during wartime and shows that no matter what life brings, Shakespeare will give it back to the public as entertaining poetry about all social classes. The bard was a forerunner of the community college because he left out no type of person.
Let’s start at the top.
In the opening scene, the top religious leaders talk about the sudden transformation of Henry into a scholar and leader upon the death of his father—this being after a wild and carousing youth. This is like some we see today suddenly deciding to go to college, tired of wasting themselves.
The clergy are also engrossed in Henry’s transformation because of their immersion in politics and money. In a comic scene of esoteric tangles, the clergy inform Henry of the complicated legalities entitling him to French held lands on the continent. A war, celebrated for defeating a loathed rival, could also get those bratty French in line and replenish coffers in England.
Additionally, Henry, after he does achieve a glorious victory, pledges to rejuvenate the French culture—one that had withered under a large and lavish French army at the expense of its citizenry’s development. The elite and arrogant corps of French knights, under self-aggrandizing nobles, had had left ordinary people uneducated and unable to prosper.
While these larger themes unfold, lots of entertaining ones constantly arise.
Bawdy tavern characters, shady dealers, fearful soldiers, and grumblers about the battle tactics, are mixed in with the more serious minded army professionals in this war effort—one that meant launching a fleet of ships to land an invasion force that would have to live off the land while planning battle on foreign soil. Discussions also take place about whether Henry’s war is even worth dying for.
He drank the last goblet of mead! (Photo credit: One lucky guy)
The panorama of character types reminds one of the student mix in a community college. All kinds of life styles converge upon a community college, and students decide in comic or serious ways whether the war on ignorance is worth their sacrifice.
Henry V is not without technology,either.
How else would an inferior English force, hit by disease, kill 10,000 French and lose only 25 of its own? The innovation of the long bow made the difference because the bowmen drove tall, pointed stakes and shot from behind those. The onrushing mounted French knights, in their flashy and heavy armor—the style of an era now fading—could not get close without impaling their horses, plus arrow technology had become armor piercing.
But technology alone did not win. Henry repeatedly gives credit to God for the victory, making himself an example of humility and obedience to a higher king. He also expresses these qualities in his ability to mingle with his troops as well as gather them for rousing, inspirational speeches as Shakespeare keeps Henry away from hubris in the quest for military glory.
Romance too has its place, both sad and happy.
Princess in a Tower (Photo credit: eschipul)
One of the newly married soldiers learns of his wife’s death back home. The big splash, however, is Henry’s courtship of the beautiful French princess after the victory. She doesn’t speak English, and his French is sparse and rusty. My does she make him work to win her, setting up Henry’s entreaties as the occasion for marvelously entertaining and romantic tension—filled with noble and elevated appeals by a conquering king who would immediately woo and win the vanquished nation’s leading maiden.
The moral of all of this is that to depart from one’s carousing or “going nowhere” path could lead to Camelot, or at least a place in Camelot with the right leader, and the right system, and the right education, and the right cause. So do your homework everyone!