Language is a human communication
device that is sophisticated enough to allow people to express infinite
and emotions. In it's most
basic written or spoken form, language can present ideas in a deliberate and
straightforward manner. However,
the flexibility of language allows the writer or speaker to express
that are more complicated than what the fundamental connotation of his or
statement seems to be. Much of William
Shakespeare's work exemplifies the careful use of language to express
ideas that have significance beyond the surface meanings of the chosen
An example of this technique can be found in Henry V, where
Shakespeare builds a connection between rhetorical and poetic
structures and the authoritative power of Henry V.
Through a close reading of Shakespeare's figurative tropes and
literary structures, it becomes evident that Shakespeare employs specific
of language to present a dichotic view of Henry V's relationship with
In certain areas of the play, it seems that
Shakespeare uses language to illustrate Henry's ability to turn situations
his favor, thereby enhancing the King's commanding power over his
adversaries. This is first seen in Henry V's defiance of the Dolphin.
When Henry receives an insulting gift of tennis balls from the Dolphin,
he immediately employs ambiguous language to turn the Dolphin's insult
an insult against the Dolphin himself. For
instance, when Henry comments, "all the courts of France will be disturb'd
with chaces," he is making a pun on tennis terminology (I.ii.265-266). According to the
Oxford English Dictionary, "courts" can refer to royal governing bodies as
well as tennis playing grounds. Likewise,
the word "chace" (currently written as "chase") literally means
but can also refer to a missed return in the game of tennis.
Thus, Henry is using language to exert his power of wit over the
offense of the French monarchy. Later
in the same rant, Henry uses repetition of language to further exert his
over the French. He declares,
"many a thousand widows shall this mock mock out of their dear husbands;
mothers from their sons, mock castles down" (I.ii.284-286).
Henry V turns the insult of the Dolphin around by repeating the word
but each time assigning different meanings to it.
By taking the words of the French and assigning his own meanings to them,
Henry is not only exercising his power to turn situations in his favor, but
is also displaying his desire to exert control over the French crown.
Another situation that illustrates a connection
between language and power for Henry V is when he condemns Lord Scroop,
of Cambridge, and Thomas Grey for their treachery to the state of
Henry uses forms of literary repetition to violently strip these traitors
of their power and influence within the English armed forces.
"What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop, thou cruel, ingrateful,
savage, and inhuman creature" (II.ii.94-95).
The use of consecutive adjectives takes on the form of a literary
upon each offensive word, thereby inflating the intensity and influence of
Henry's condemnation. Later in the same monologue Henry V uses the
poetic structure of anaphora to further lower the esteem of the three
Lines 128 through 131 comment on the seemingly virtuous qualities of the
conspirators, and they all begin with the phrase, "Why, so didst thou"
repeating this phrase at the beginning of each line of this
Henry V brings attention to the attempts of these men to deceive him.
Henry feels that his power as a King has been contested, and he uses
reproachful language to remove all power and dignity from his
In addition to punishing disloyalty to his throne,
Henry uses language to build patriotism among his troops in hopes of
the power of the English army. In
his famous St. Crispian's Day speech, Henry addresses his soldiers as "we
few, we happy few, we band of brothers" (IV.iii.60).
Again, Henry segments his statement such that each phrase builds on the
one before it. The increasing
intensity of Henry's beckon illustrates his desire to rouse his troops and
augment the power of his army. Throughout
the St. Crispian's Day speech Henry also makes crafty use of the word
By repeating a religiously-connotated word throughout a speech regarding
the secular matter of war, Henry reassigns the meaning of a religious
to suit his own secular need to enthuse his army.
In doing this, Henry V once again displays his ability to boost the
effectiveness of his command through language.
While Shakespeare uses Henry's language to
illustrate the King's authoritative cunning, language is also used to expose
weaknesses in Henry's power and in some cases a lack thereof.
This is evident as soon as Henry enters into the play.
Following the grand entrance of the King and his group of attendants,
Henry's first words are "Where is my gracious Lord of Canterbury?" (I.ii.1). This
immediate reference to one of the lower decision makers of the court draws
attention away from the King's individual power.
As these are the first words that come out of the King's mouth, they
impact the reader or audience member with a first impression of the King as
person who is dependent upon his underlings.
This impression is reinforced when Henry warns the Duke of Canterbury to
"take heed how you impawn our person, how you awake our sleeping sword
By warning the Duke to be careful when advising him, Henry seems to be
displacing his responsibility, and ultimately his power over England onto
shoulders of the Duke. In addition,
Shakespeare forms a copulatio structure by presenting repeated framings of
different verbs by the words "you" and "our."
This poetic structure singles out the Duke of Canterbury from the entire
rest of the English state, thereby emphasizing the magnitude of the burden
Henry transfers to him.
Apart from the King's excessive delegation of
power, a close reading of Henry V's Act I speech in defiance of the Dolphin
reveals that the passage alludes to the King's total lack of power.
Henry V promises to the ambassador that he will "be like a king, and
show his sail of greatness" (I.ii.274-275).
The phrase "like a king" implies that Henry himself is not a king; he
merely assumes the role of one. In
regards to power, the passage suggests that Henry V is not an inherently
ruler. It shows instead that he is
an ordinary, powerless man who has stepped into a position where command
accredited to him. When Henry V
makes reference to displaying his "sail of greatness," speculation can be
made concerning the true source of Henry's power.
While this passage can be read as a threat to unleash the formidable
English naval fleets onto the French, an alternative
interpretation of the word "sail" shows an image of Henry as hollow
king who possesses no true power as a single person.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "sail" can be
applied to something that uses the wind to generate propulsion.
This image of a sail is analogous to Henry V, who must rely on the
forceful winds of his advisors if he is to generate any sort of
Linguistic ambiguities bring
further doubt to Henry V's legitimacy as a King when he confronts a group of
English soldiers while he is disguised as a Welsh soldier named Harry le
Henry tells the soldiers, "the King is but a man," (IV.i.101-102) and that, "his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness
appears but a man" (IV.1.104-105).
The Oxford English Dictionary presents different definitions of the word
"appear," one being to "display one's self acting as a character,"
and another being to "come forth from concealment."
A surface reading of the passage indicates that Henry is using the first
definition-he implies that when the King removes his decorative garb (as
has done in this scene) he is merely acting as if he were a common
man. However, a close reading of this passage causes the reader to
entertain Henry V's use of the latter connotation. In this sense of the
word "appear," Henry's statement
indicates that the King's impressive attire is merely a façade and he is
coming forth from concealment to show his true self when he removes his
These opposing ideas bring to question whether the King's control lies
inherently, or in his elaborate attire. Thus,
Shakespeare uses ambiguous language to question the ruling power of Henry V,
well as question the legitimacy of kings in general.
Shakespeare uses language in Henry V to
present opposing views of Henry V's relationship with power.
Language illustrates Henry's uncanny ability to turn hostile situations
in his favor, showing the reader and audience that Henry derives his ruling
power from his own craftiness. Through
repetitive linguistic structures, Henry intensifies
manner of communicating with others, allowing him to exert greater control
his soldiers. Shakespeare also
employs certain literary techniques to portray Henry V's weaknesses, or lack
of power. For instance, language
emphasizes the King's dependence on his advisors, thus creating a weakened
view of the King himself. Also,
Shakespeare's use of words with multiple connotations brings into suspicion
the true nature Henry's power. By
using different forms of poetic and rhetorical structures, Shakespeare
synthesis between language and power, form and meaning.
Therefore, he roots the main themes of Henry V in the elementary fabric of the play itself.
node your homework