Henry V: The Fictionalized King

Henry V. What do you think of when that name is mentioned? My first thought is a young, handsome, English king making a dynamic speech to his loyal followers. (Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare).

Who was this king? Was he really the character that Shakespeare imagined? How did the play-writer fictionalize this historic figure?

A painting of King Henry V at Agincourt

A painting of King Henry V at Agincourt

The Play (Warning: SPOILERS) The play opens with a narrator asking if a theater stage can effectively show the battlefields of France and asks the audience to use imagination. Preparations for a campaign in France are detailed and three of the king’s “friends” plot to assassinate him, but are discovered. Sir John Falstaff, an old friend, of Prince Henry, dies and other rowdy friends embark as soldiers in the campaign. Various scenes show the French court debating what to do and King Henry besieging a town. Princess Katherine of France is “taught” English to make her a more desirable queen for King Henry should he agree to accept her in exchange for peace. On the eve of battle, the French Prince expresses overconfidence while across the field King Henry wanders quietly among his soldiers, concluding his reflective evening by acknowledging he is a king, yet still only a man praying for victory. The next morning King Henry makes the famous St. Crispin Day speech and rallies his troops. The fighting is intense, the Duke of York is brutally killed, but the English win the battle. The French are forced to make peace and King Henry attempts to win Princess Katherine’s heart, though her limited knowledge of the English languages makes a humorous scene. The play concludes with the betrothal of King Henry and Princess Katherine, but the narrator reminds us the English king died and the throne went to his son.

The History The play is actually part of a series Shakespeare wrote (Richard II, Henry IV part 1 & 2, Henry V) detailing historical events of the British monarchy and the Hundred Years War. Henry V depicts that king’s campaign in France and the Battle of Agincourt (1415). The English were highly successfully at Agincourt; French casualties were between 7,000-10,000 while English casualties were less than 150. The long bows used by the skilled English archers were very effectively and when the French knights rode into a muddy field they were literally sitting targets. After the battle, King Henry had the French prisoner killed, rather than holding them for ransom. King Henry did marry Prince Katherine.

The Fiction

1. Carousing In this drama the main character has suddenly left his “Prince Hal” character of the previous two plays and is now a noble king. There is some historical question regarding the authenticity of Henry’s carousing years, especially considering the leadership positions in the government and military he held while still a prince. This view of Prince/King Henry appeared in an earlier drama and Shakespeare seems to have expanded it. Why? It’s dramatic to see a careless boy suddenly take responsibility and win a great national victory…still it may be unfair to the real Prince Henry.

2. Young, Handsome King Henry V was about 29 years old in 1415, not quite as young as he sometimes appears in art of the Battle of Agincourt. Every hero is supposed to be handsome, right? Um, not in this history. When I first saw a production of the play, I was confused by one of the King’s statements when he is trying to talk with Princess Katherine; he refers to his face being scarred and perhaps frightening. A little research revealed that the real King Henry had suffered a severe arrow wound in the face during a military expedition when he was younger. (We won’t go into the graphic details here, but it was a very bad wound and would have left an ugly scar). Hmm…also interesting to note that in this portrait of the king (see below) we only see the unscarred side of his face.

Medieval portrait of King Henry V

Medieval portrait of King Henry V

3. English Nationalism This is a more challenging topic to add to the fictional list. There is no question that the French lost the battle and were likely awake all the previous night “preparing” those heavy armor suits while the English were resting. But it is very evident Shakespeare was an Englishman and he certainly portrays the English in the best light. Certainly there’s prudence in what the English did – I’m not debating that. I’d just like to consider the French side of the story…sure, they were proud, but were ALL of them really as overconfident as Shakespeare imagines? It is also interesting to note that he does not acknowledge King Henry’s killing of the French prisoners…again portraying the English as good as possible.

4. The Speeches Okay, okay, I know Henry V is drama – I expect the great, dramatic addresses, but let’s remember these are the product of Shakespeare’s imagination. I greatly dislike opening a history book for young readers and having Shakespeare’s words presented as the authentic speeches of the real King Henry.

Analysis

Shakespeare wrote this play to emphasis the history of England and to glorify it. He accomplished his goal. Overall, the drama is based on historical fact, but it certainly has the fictional gloss.

Unfortunately, the King Henry of the play is the only King Henry most people know about. He may have been a more responsible and trustworthy prince than Shakespeare portrays. He won a great victory at Agincourt, but the history is tarnished by the slaughter of the prisoners – an action not acceptable in medieval chivalry. Thus Henry V is a fictionalized king best known for the Speech of St. Crispin’s Day which was written by William Shakespeare.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I don’t meant to be harsh; I really enjoy the drama Henry V. Just remember the power and influence of historical fiction! What are your thoughts?

In case you’re interested here’s a link to the full text of Henry V.

And I’ve seen the 1989 adaption of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. I enjoyed it, but be forewarned the olde English may be challenging to interpret. *There are some intense battle scenes, death scenes, and a hanging which may not be suitable to all audiences.*

Shakespeare’s Historical Fiction

Can you think of a story written about 400 years ago that has remained popular throughout the centuries? How about the works of William Shakespeare? (Check my postscript for a quotation about reading Shakespeare during the Civil War Era!) Did you know many of his plays are actually historical fiction?

1623 William Shakespear Plays

“So what is Historical Fiction?” Good question – and many people are going to give you many different answers. (Ah, human nature…) Well, here on Gazette665, I like to define historical fiction as a story in a historical setting with characters behaving in accordance with their cultural norms in order to give readers a glimpse of life in the past through an interesting tale. (Note: characters could be entirely fictional, or they could be real historical figures).

“Okay – so why Shakespeare?” I think Shakespeare was one of – if not the first – historical fiction writers. He wrote masterpieces which are still read and performed about 400 years later. This month we’re going to take a closer look at the history behind William Shakespeare’s plays. I hope the topic will be fun and enlightening for the writers and history buffs alike! But let’s start with a lighter introduction this week:

5 Things To Notice In William Shakespeare’s Historical Fiction

1. Highly Motivated Characters Shakespeare’s character are dynamic. They fight battles, plot traps, determine never to fall in love, try to escape guilty consciences, and mock the frailty of human nature (just to name a few). The plots of the stories vary, but the main characters have a great obstacle to overcome.

2. Dramatized Historical Events  Historically, King Henry V made a speech before the Battle of Agincourt, but it probably wasn’t the stylized “we few, we happy few” address that Shakespeare wrote. This is one of the keys to Shakespeare’s historical fiction. He studied past events, gleaned enough history to keep it real and somewhat factual, then masterfully added the gloss of fiction to add glory (or tragedy) to a historical event.

3. Intensified Emotions (And Speeches) Think of any Shakespearean play and you’ll recall deep thoughts and feelings expressed in flowing words. Yes, it’s un-realistic. People simply don’t wander through their house saying long soliloquys. Soldiers don’t have time to make glorious speeches as they charge into battle. But that’s not the point. The important thing is the deep emotion Shakespeare wrote into his plots. As readers we can feel the pain, the joy, the triumph, the hope.

4. Understood Human Nature Shakespeare understood human nature. He used it as he wrote (and fictionalized) historic events. A Scottish king really was murdered (more about this history in an upcoming post). Shakespeare takes the few known facts about the incident, crafts a story of rebellious desire and a hideous action, and then shows us the outcome of the character’s descent to madness because of the torment of his conscience. Suddenly, historical facts become understandably real – there is human motivation and reaction in these plays…pride, rebellion, love, hope, escape, justice.

5. Writing With A Message As the master playwright constructed his plays, he added “effects” that would prompt thought in his audience. One story might dramatize a national victory, another highlight the tragic chaos in Italian cities, while another shows the importance of friendship. There’s a purpose to the story…an inspiration…something the audience (or reader) can learn. Best of all, the messages Shakespeare worked into his plays are timeless – we can appreciate them today.

What is your favorite Shakespearean play? Why? Please share your thoughts in a comment. Next week we’ll start looking as the history behind the dramatic masterpieces!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’m off to a Civil War Re-enactment today, so that historical era is forefront in my mind, and I couldn’t help adding this connection. The works of William Shakespeare were popular reading material for young people during the Civil War era.

Twenty-two year old Sandie Pendleton (Confederate officer) wrote to his mother from a military camp, detailing some his friends activities: “We have been reading Shakespeare at nights, McGuire reading excellently & Crutchfield being more conversant with it than anyone I ever saw and reciting by heart every passage that can be called for, while I, at first a mere listener, now put in comments upon ancient tragedy and can…make apt quotations and cite parallelisms in quite a learned way…” (November 15, 1862) [Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton, by W.G. Bean, page 84]

There’s your Civil War era cultural history for the day! See you next week with photos from the re-enactment.

Extended Deadline for Story Contest

I’ve decided to extend the story submission deadline for the Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest. The new deadline is SATURDAY NOVEMBER 15, 2014!

Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest

As a reminder, this contest is open to all ages. The challenge: write briefly about a historic event from the perspective of a snowman. Winning stories will be featured on Gazette665 during the winter months.

The Guidelines, Writing Tutorials, and Example Story are available HERE.

Happy Writing!

Your Historian (and Author),

Miss Sarah

Introducing The Story Contest…

Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest

To encourage creative writing, I’m hosting a story contest: The Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest!  Tell the story of a historical event from the perspective of an observant snowman.  On the contest page there are some examples and inspiration to get ideas started.

8 stories will be selected and will be featured on the blog in the months of December and January. Those 8 stories will compete for Family Choice Awards and Miss Sarah’s Favorite.

There’s no age limit to this writing contest…so let your imagination fly and write a story. Check the contest page for more details and the guidelines.

Stories may be submitted between October 1 and November 1, 2014. I’m so excited to see what you write.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’m also sharing some tips for writing Historical Fiction and how to use Characterization – visit the contest page to learn more.

Welcome to Gazette665

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If you’re looking for quick and interesting history lessons, educational resources, or short historical fiction stories, you’ve come to the right place.  This post explores what to look for on this new blog…join the fun!

The blog posts for each month will be themed and will take a closer look at a historic event, person, place, anniversary, or era’s culture.  The themes may range from ancient history to modern times, but I’m partial to American History and the Civil War era – just letting you know.  The goal of my posts will be to entertain, educate, and inspire and I’m looking for feedback from my readers to let me know how I’m accomplishing those goals!  Also, watch for occasional “bonus posts” which will detail places I’m currently visiting, up-coming events to follow, what I’m reading, etc. etc.

Look for the first themed blog post on Friday, June 6, 2014…I’ll even give you a hint about the theme for this month.  Hint: 70 years ago.

Specific educational resources are available on the other pages of this site.  I’m a living historian and (wait a second, what does that mean?  Check the page to find out!) my American Civil War group – “The McGuire Home, Winchester, Virginia” – occasionally hosts fun events or travels to re-enactments.  Check it out!  Watch for new pages in the next months and I’ll be sure to let you know in the blog as more becomes available on the site.

Okay – how many of you want to read a historical fiction short story that’s entertaining and informative at the same time?  (I’m counting the raised hands…)  Now, how many of you dabble in writing short historical fiction but find that many magazines don’t want the story, especially if it has a strong religious message?  If you raised your hand on the last question, check out the story submission guidelines to get your short story featured on this site!  Readers, look for new stories and leave some encouragement for our new writers.  (You can check out the first featured story, “Not on a Battlefield,” written by yours truly).

I’m looking forward to this new adventure of blogging and the opportunity to share what I love – History with a Biblical Worldview!  I hope you’ll join me and time travel through the centuries each week from the comfort of your computer screen…

Your historian,

Miss Sarah