ENGL 333: Shakespeare
Professor Jennifer D.
15 November 2012
A Chorus of Vitality in Henry V
William Shakespeare’s Henry V is a work that has been read and reprinted an innumerable amount of times ever since its first edition around 1600. One may then conclude that this is an excellent work not just to read but to see performed and they would be correct. There have been many adaptations of Shakespeare's works throughout history and his drama Henry V is no exception. Why is this such a great work? What makes it different from Shakespeare’s other plays? How can we still read this work in todays world and find enjoyment from something that was written centuries ago? Shakespeare was a master writer and what makes most if not all of his works so good is the use of timeless themes that still apply today. Themes such as power, friendship, and honor can be seen in many of his works including Henry V. However, the thing that really makes Henry V so fantastic is not a theme but a character, and that Character is the Chorus. In Shakespeare’s Henry V the Chorus plays a vital role to the audience by giving historical content, stage set up, and explaining the passage of time, which makes the Chorus one of the most important characters in the play.
Before any of Shakespeare’s works were published they were first performed in a theatre for a live audience. There were many different theatre’s during Shakespeare’s time because the theatre was considered a main source of entertainment. Theatre’s were places where men and women of varying social ranks could come together and enjoy a good comedy, tragedy, or drama such as Henry V. Even Kings and Queens attended the theatre, but they would attend a specific theatre named Whitehall, which was built for people of royalty and of noble birth. So why is the Chorus such a big deal in Henry V? The Chorus is such an important aspect to this play because of several things. First, the Chorus tells the audience historical content related to the play. Second, the Chorus talks about the stage set up for the audience. Lastly, the Chorus explains the passage of time throughout the play. Without any of these actions done by the Chorus the audience would be lost during the performance of the play. Let’s look now more closely at these actions and how the Chorus is so important.
In Shakespeare’s Henry V the Chorus does a great deal to the benefit of the audience, and one of these actions is giving historical content to the audience. This is one of the three reasons why the Chorus is one of the most important characters in the play. The Chorus giving historical content during the play may not sound very important, but to the audience watching the play this is vital. Why is this such an important and key action? This is because the play is based off of historical events. Without giving historical references and context the audience could most likely be missing out on crucial historical details that relate to the play such as:
Can this cock-pit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within the wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? (1.1. 11-14)
In this example there are two instances that show historical content. The first instance is the reference to France’s vasty fields, and the second is when it mentions Agincourt, which is concerning the Battle at Agincourt. The Battle at Agincourt is historically a real battle, and is also a part of the play. This example is mentioned in act one scene one because the Chorus only speaks before and after each act. This is so it can explain what has just happened and what is about to happen. Another example of the Chorus giving historical content in the play to the audience is when it gives the aftermath of the story. The Chorus does this by saying:
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned king
Of France and England, did this king succeed,
Whose state so many had the managing...
Cited: Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Ed. Gary Taylor. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982. Print. The Oxford Shakespeare.
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