Comparison of Henry V play and film

Essay by jsirenaUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, January 2009

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Comparison of: Shakspeare's Henry V play and Film - Henty VWhile I don’t think Henry V is known as being Shakespeare's finest historic play, it depicts Henry as the idealized Christian king. Earlier plays had shown Henry as the "madcap Prince Hal," a young lad who was constantly in the company of lower-class types and who was constantly in one sort of trouble or another. His earlier life ultimately becomes a preparation for his kingship, and his earlier knowledge of these low types allows him to understand his common subjects and to measure his own sense of worth by their lack of noble qualities.

Each scene in Henry V is thoughtfully written, and portrayed in the film, to illustrate (and arguably exaggerate) some aspect of Henry V's character. Consequently, the scenes depict his religious nature, his mercy, compassion, his absolute sense of justice, his administrative skill, his fighting ability, his innate nobility, his ability to communicate with the common class of soldiers and people, and, in the final scene, his role as a romantic lover in his pursuit of Katharine's hand in marriage.

In both the play and the film (Act I, Scene 2) we see Henry respond to the Dauphin’s insulting gesture (the tennis balls) with an evenness of temper, amazing self-control, and complete courtesy as excepts the challenge and promises to dazzle, which in fact he does!Henry’s sense of justice is evident when he has his 3 friends arrested and sentenced to death for high treason against the crown (Act II, Scene 2). He is faced with not only a political tragedy but a personal tragedy. But however much the tragedy is personal, he must transcend it, and for the sake of England, he must send the traitors, whom he has believed to be loyal friends to their deaths. The speech is very moving and bitter and in the film this scene is powerful as he displays his anger at their betrayal. When the men are taken away from the room, he turns his attention to the next matter at hand in the fashion of a mature king.

Henry’s ability to communicate with his soldiers is probably most famously depicted in Into the Breach speech (Act III, Scene 1). Henry, surrounded by his troops, urges them on to one more supreme effort. This speech shows that he knows his men well; speaking plainly and to the point, he appeals to their manhood, their ancestry, and their love of England. In the film this speech is very effectively shortened to just the key points. In the dark of night, Henry is on horseback surrounded by his troops in the midst of the battle with the sound of horns in the background. His fighting ability is gallantly depicted in this scene and even more so in the battle at Agincourt.

We see an example of Henry’s merciful side (Act III, Scene 3) when he is speaking to the Governor at the gates of Harfleur. We have the first significant surrender, and we see Henry as a victor for the first time. In this role, he is stern and undeviating in his demands that the Governor surrender the town peacefully. He explains vividly the many horrors which could result if his demands are not met; yet, in contrast, he is willing to show great mercy if his demands are met.

Branagh’s film adaptations of the two war scenes were brilliant in all respects. He depicts these scenes with incredible cinematography, music and movement. These scenes, especially the battle at Agincourt, show the audience the pain, the blood, the brotherhood, the sheer determination of the English soldiers in a way that would have made Shakespeare proud. The battle at Harfleur (Act III, Scene I) is explosive! Filming through the breach from outside the wall provides a window looking into the fiery destruction and disruption of the town within and the breach itself gives power to the English. They seem unstoppable! It is night, which adds a sense of danger and fear to scene (for the French), with the sound of booming cannon fire.

The movie shows the power of the spoken word as Henry encourages his troops leading them to victory at the Battle of Agincourt (Act IV, Scene III). The fighting is fierce and the bloodshed is plentiful. Although this scene was a little longer than I thought necessary (it started to lose me), the long, one- shot of Henry carrying the slain boy through the battlefield with the carnage and the clean-up in the background, is beautifully choreographed. The music builds, the boy gets heavier in Henry’s arms and our emotions stir. The story, especially the film, could have easily ended with this scene.

Henry’s attempt at romance (Act V, Scene 2) can be seen as either charming or absurd since the conditions for the treaty between France and England depended on Henry's insistence that Kate must first be his wife and therefore, the wooing of Kate is an artificial pretense. He maintains that if Katharine's love depends on his performing some physical feat, then he would quickly win her, but he can’t muster up the words for doing so; yet his very words do win her over. In the end, the final aspect of Henry character is that of the successful lover. It was a touching scene with a little humor added because of the language and culture barriers between the two.

As much as I appreciate the works of Shakespeare, I prefer some of the film adaptations of his works, to reading the plays simply because I find it much easier to understand the language if I hear it as opposed to reading it. However, in this film I found some of the spoken text was difficult to understand either because the actors were speaking to quickly, or because the music got in the way.

I also found that the characters in this movie were easily confused due to the fact that so many of them look alike. With so many characters in this play one would hope they would be easily distinguished. The exception to this being King Henry played by Kenneth Branagh. He did an exceptional job representing King Henry V. Many of Henry’s speeches are delivered extremely well. Two best being the two most famous: the speech that got his enemies to surrender as he painted such a horrific picture of war (Act III, Scene 3) and his inspirational/motivational speech on St. Crispian’s Day (Act IV, Scene 3).

Overall, the movie was a bit long and could have cut down the length on some of the battle scenes, but was a great representation of Shakespeare’s play.