Shakespeare’s King Henry – Development of a Leader

Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the great, Julius Caesar and even Hitler. What do all these figures from History have in common? These were all great leaders in their times, maybe not all were equitable but they all for sure have good leadership qualities. What determines a leader though? What qualities are needed to make a great leader? Many forms of good leadership exist. Some people say a great leader is one who knows how to conquer and conduct properly, while other people think a good leader is one who achieves a lot and shows it off.

In “Henry V” by William Shakespeare, Shakespeare presents the idea that a great leader is not born, but developed slowly from one type of a character to an ideal character of a leader – just like King Henry in “Henry V”. In “Henry V” Henry is a character who is emerging from a shameful reputation into a political strategist, from there he develops into a courageous soldier and then finally into a great and memorable King. The first stage Henry goes through in the play that indicates his ultimate transformation is his sudden level of maturity.

This is evident when at the beginning of the play the two Bishops – Bishop of Canterbury and Bishop Ely are discussing his former days as a careless Prince. “The courses of his youth promised it not….. But that wilderness…. seemed to die too” (I. i. 25-27). This shows that everyone remembers that Henry who is King now use to be a womanizing, and juvenile Prince. To put an end to his past reputation Henry develops a sudden maturity and strategic mind to gain political control as a King. This is evident in the way he handles the three traitors. “We do deliver you.

Get you therefore hence, Poor miserable wretches, to your death” (II. ii. 176-177) Henry sentences and punishes the traitors in such a manner that even they do not blame Henry for their mistakes, they believe they deserve them. After Henry gains political strategy and a reputation as a “shrewd” politician, he gains the love of his own people and he even gains the respect of his enemies. One part of the play that proves this is when the French King, Dauphin and Constable are discussing how to defend France against England. “Think we King Harry strong…. he Kindred of him hath been fleshed upon us; And he is bred out of that bloody stain” (II. iv. 48-51). The French King says this and he is warning the Dauphin to be careful and be strong when defending France because Henry is born out of the line of Edward III who has defeated France already. By making even his enemies realize what they are up against; Shakespeare starts to develop Henry’s apparent transformation through the words of other characters from the play first to add to the dramatic affect. Through the first phase, Henry is shown to be a newly hatched butterfly that has just shed its cocoon.

Henry is dispersing his past status as a tavern loving Prince, and is emerging anew as a political power. As the play continues, readers are now shown other great qualities in Henry. During his second phase of becoming King, Henry is now shown to be a very brave, courageous and inspiring soldier during the battles in the war to take over France. Henry inspires his men and fights alongside them and ends up conquering all of France for England. “But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger: Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood” (III. i. 5-7).

Henry says this to his men to get them ready for battle. He builds up courageous fire in the hearts of his soldiers and makes them hungry for battle. Then during the battle, instead of hiding or being specially protected Henry goes into battle with his soldiers as one of them and fights with hope beside them. “The King’s a bawcock and a heart of gold…I love the lovely bully” (IV. i. 45 and 49). Here Pistol is talking to the King without knowing it and he says that the King is a good fellow. This shows that by stirring his soldiers along with hope and friendships Henry has found a place in the heart of every one of his soldiers.

The result of Henry taking charge and leading his men into battle to fight alongside them is that he and his army win the battle of Agincourt and defeat France. Henry conquers France for England. An excerpt that displays this victory is right after the battle when Henry is told he has taken France. “The day is yours” (Iv. vii. 86). Montjoy informs Henry that the English have won and he is here to help collect the bodies of the French people. Thus this transformation from a political strategist to a brave soldier gains Henry immense loyalty and love from his people.

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