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Social Positions Explored in Shakespeare's Henry V

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Social Positions Explored in Shakespeare's Henry V

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5. Social Positions Explored in Shakespeare’s Henry V

Shakespeare’s Henry V explores the relationship and variations of thought between nobility and commoners. Throughout the play, Shakespeare describes multiple instances that depict the vast divide between the King and the lower class. Harry perceives himself as a man whose “cause [is] just, and his quarrel honourable” (IV.i.121); however, his subjects are hesitant to admit they believe this as well. Shakespeare identifies what it is that makes the King so different from commoners by putting them in a similar situation and describing the various reactions. The disparity between the two positions is also demonstrated in the responsibilities each one assumes according to their social rank. A common theme in many of Shakespeare’s plays is duality; in Henry V, Shakespeare represents this by contrasting the nobility against the commoners. A frequent method Shakespeare employs is comparing the opinions of both groups –which often differ greatly. In Henry V, the main conflict revolves around who is the rightful ruler of France and the resulting war that ensues in its pursuit. As a result, Shakespeare is able to demonstrate both ruler’s opinions as well as those of the commoners, subtly stating the differences between the two. One of the best examples of this is depicted in Falstaff’s former boy’s soliloquy:

As young as I am, I have observed these three swashers. I
am boy to them all three, but all three, though they should
serve me, could not be man to me, for indeed three such
antics do not amount to a man. (III.ii.27-30)

Shakespeare uses this passage to give a voice to the common folk to express their thoughts on King Harry as a King and as a man. In this passage, a servant boy negatively comments on the people he is serving: Nim, Bardolph, and Pistol, which also reflects his view as a commoner on the King. This particular section of the speech focuses on what it is to be a man and in the eyes of the...