Shakespeare – Henry 5 – Before The Shining Walls Of Harfleur
Before The Shining Walls Of Harfleur
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In the play Henry V, during the siege of Harfleur, King Henry delivers a speech, which stirs the battle-weary men (who are thinking of deserting before the coming winter), into a frenzy, winning the battle and continuing the siege. Later, as a result, Harfleur surrenders. Henry’s speech is masterfully delivered, with good use of grammatical schemes, inventive use of tropes, and a cunning grasp of the troops’ needs and mindset, or pathos. The speech is delivered as a motivational gesture, from the king to his subjects. He uses the speech to manipulate these common soldiers from many different countries into a patriotic camaraderie, the spirit in which the enemy was defeated.
Henry uses several distinct schemes in his speech. He opens his speech with a repetition, “Once more onto the breach, dear friends, once more;”(III.i.1) which implies that they have all been working hard and are tired of fighting, and he realizes this as much as them. He opens the speech this way so he can appeal to their patriotic spirit, and tell how cowardly it would be to give up now, after all, they have done. At the same time, he sets a common ground between them, one soldier to another. Later, he uses a wide range if roughly parallel phrases, telling them to “lend the eye a terrible aspect”, “set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide”, and “Hold hard the breath and bend every spirit / To his full height.” (III.i.6-17) He does this to get them into the spirit of battle with these phrases, and essentially says ‘get ready, be courageous, act fearsome.’ Next, he uses antithesis in his claim that “Fathers that, like so many Alexanders, / Have in these parts from morn till even’ fought / and sheathed their swords for lack of argument” (III.i.19-21). He is saying, essentially, that their ancestors took joy in the simple act of war. They tended towards being soldiers so much that they would fight just for the sake of fighting, regardless of alignment or reason. But these soldiers do have the reason, and it is a war, so they should fight doubly hard as their forefathers.
Next, there are numerous tropes that Henry uses. Figures of speech and comparisons one of Henry’s strong points in the play and this speech exemplifies the way he used them to manipulate the emotions of the troops. His use of hyperbole when he says that their only options are to run into battle “Or close up the wall with our English dead”(III.i.2) gives the troops a reason that they cannot give up, because, after all, they are at war (in enemy territory, no less). In the simile “Like the brass cannon; let the brow overwhelm it / As fearfully as doth a galled rock / O’erhang and jutty his confounded base, / Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean” (III.i.11-14), He compares the troops to rocks, standing steady when challenged, and to the ocean, in that they could be wild and powerful when they so desired. Later, he addresses them in a way that appeals to their ancestral honour and to their nationality, “On, on, you noblest English. / Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof” (III.i.17-18).
Henry’s entire speech could be cited as an example of pathos, but several passages stand out in the way they make the speech seem to touch on feelings that the soldiers already have as if it is personally for every single person in the audience. He recognizes that many of them are wishing they were at peace when he says, “In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man / As modest stillness and humility;” (III.i.3-4) In the following lines he tells them that peace was fine, peace was great, but they had been summoned to war, and that required a different mindset than peace.
In his speech at the walls of Harfleur, Henry successfully uses tropes, grammatical schemes, and pathos to propel his soldiers into battle. He plays on their fears, loyalty, and honour in order to rouse them for battle. He is a skilled manipulator of their emotions, and his opening words become a battle-cry later in the book. Overall, he makes a great speech, just what the troops needed to boost their morale enough to get through the next battle.
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