HAROLD BLOOM’S ESSAY ON SHAKESPEARE COMPARES THE DEVELOPMENT OF PRINCE HAL IN HENRY IV PARTS 1 AND 2 WITH KING HENRY IN WHAT HE CONSIDERS A LESSER PLAY, HENRY V.
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Harold Bloom’s essay on Shakespeare compares the development of Prince Hal in Henry IV parts 1 and 2 with King Henry in what he considers a lesser play, Henry V. Although various movies have made Henry V popular, Bloom feels that King Henry is less varied than Prince Hal and that he shows a certain moral weakness by deserting his friends, primarily one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters, Falstaff. King Henry’s great virtue is his ability to stir his troops to fight, which Bloom feels he did by promising what he had no intention to deliver, to make his soldiers “gentlemen” (320).
Bloom accounts for this character transition by citing Henry V’s own popularity as a “brutally shrewd” king who was one of England’s most successful monarchs up to that point in history (322). He also mentions the political problem Shakespeare probably had with the state censors who had already silenced Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson. Shakespeare would have had to help perpetuate the “Tudor Myth” of divine right, a difficult edge to walk when writing about a non-Tudor, yet immensely popular king.
Bloom goes on to write that the basis of Henry V is ironic. This irony stems from an allusion contributed to Fleullen about Henry’s likeness to the great Greek hero Alexander whose life Henry’s parallels in many ways, including killing their best friends and their early deaths. While Henry’s many flaws make him a poor specimen of a human being, this “militarism, brutality, pious hypocrisy all are outshone by England’s charismatic hero-king.” (324). While not Shakespeare’s best history play, we are still rewarded with the reading.