Gerald Narmore (Research Paper)
18 January 2007
A King’s Rhetoric and National Unity in Henry V
John S. Mebane is correct when he asserts that William Shakespeare’s Henry V is “monolithic in its aggressive nationalism” (Mebane). Other scholars apparently agree, for the patriotic fervor personified in this play has been given wide contemporary critical attention. Much of this attention naturally attempts to ascertain Shakespeare’s philosophic views regarding nationalism. For example, Mebane perceives in Henry V (Shakespeare) Shakespeare’s intent to present “expressions of political chauvinism so intensely hyperbolic that they are ripe for the parody, ironic deflation, and anticlimax that almost inevitably follow” (Mebane). Accordingly, the play’s “patriotic rhetoric” actually exposes the evilness of warfare, and Henry’s actions as king are nothing more than “pure Machiavellian policy” (Mebane). A nearly opposite position is taken by John Mark Mattox in “Henry V: Shakespeare’s Just Warrior.” According to him, instead of presenting Henry as a manipulative, Machiavellian politician, Shakespeare actually portrays the king as a “hero who pursues noble aims in a way that does not offend Christian moral sensibilities” (Mattox). Other critical interpretations of Shakespeare’s portrayal of nationalism in Henry V tend to range between these extremes.
Few critics, though, have examined Henry’s remarkable success at unifying a diversity of often hostile nationalities and social classes as one nation striving for a common cause, at least judging from this author’s research. Henry’s ability to manipulate his subjects through rhetoric, though, has been extensively examined, but usually these efforts occur within the context of Henry’s supposed “pure Machiavellian policy” (Mebane). Machiavellian policy, however, cannot account for the king’s success in instilling national unity in his subjects, and efforts to Machiavellian-ize Henry appear...