This essay is a comparison of the kingship of King Henry V in the play “Henry V” written by William Shakespeare and Beowulf in the poem “Beowulf” translated by Seamus Heaney. The specific texts to be used for this purpose is the “Henry V” book of the Folger Shakespeare Library series and the “Beowulf” poem found in The Norton Anthology of English Literature 7th edition Volume 1, respectively.
Henry the Fifth and Beowulf are ideal kings fit to become role models for the leaders of today because they have great ideas of their kingship and leadership which made them rule over each of their kingdoms with strength, courage and faith in God’s providence as their source of power.
These similar qualities and characteristics make their kingship successful and fruitful. Henry the Fifth is worth emulating for he is a great and powerful king who holds his role as a king with highest regard. He manifests his ideas of kingship through his deeds throughout the play.
First, he sees his kingship as a serious matter. Thus, he acts responsibly forgetting the “wildness” of his youth. This is evident in his sudden transformation from the wild Prince Hal that he was in the past to a responsible and mature King Henry V. This is what Canterbury observes and states: “The breath no sooner left his father’s body But that his wildness, mortified in him, Seem’d to die too: yea, at that very moment, Consideration, like an angel, came, And whipp’d the offending Adam out of him, Leaving his body as a paradise, To envelop and contain celestial spirits.
Never was such a sudden scholar made; Never came reformation like a flood, With such a heady current, scouring faults; Nor never Hydra-headed wilfulness So soon did lose his seat, and all at once, As in this king” (Shakespeare, 13). This change in him is probably because of his desire to be respected as a ruler of his people. Indeed, he has matured over the time that he is required to stand up as a king. Second, he considers that his kingship depends on the will of the people. Hence, he consults his leaders before he makes a decision.
He specifically asks information from the leaders of the church, the Bishops, about the Salic law and his rightful claim to France and if there should be a reason for him to go to war if the king of France won’t accede to his claim. He also expresses his worry about leaving the country to go to war against France. He finally decides to go to France after hearing the advice of the bishops and after listening to the insult of the Dauphin through his messenger (19-23). Third, he believes that a king should have restraint and self-control. That is why when he was insulted by the message of the Dauphin, he did not react irrationally.
He showed cool-headedness with these words: “We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us; His present and your pains we thank you for. When we have matched our rackets to these balls, we will in France, by God’s grace, play a set to strike his father’s crown into the hazard. ” He also adds: “But tell the Dauphin, I will keep my state; Be like a king, and show my sail of greatness” (35). Moreover, he could have prevented the Dauphin’s messenger from coming out alive from England. Instead, he allowed him safe passage. If he were some other irrational king, he would have taken revenge right away.
But he did not and thus, he showed his greatness as a king. He also chose his words well in sending his message to the Dauphin through his uncle Duke Exeter (75). Fourth, he assumes that a king should be brave and courageous to lead his soldiers to war. Therefore, he is not afraid to go to war even if it will cost his own life. He does not leave his soldiers on their own to fight for the country instead he goes along with them and encourages them to move on. Henry V admonishes his soldiers with these words: “But every rub is smoothed on our way. Then, forth, dear countrymen.
Let us deliver Our puissance into the hand of God, Putting it straight in expedition” (65) and “We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs. March to the bridge” (119). Fifth, he has concern for his subordinates and his soldiers. When he was still contemplating to go to France to claim his rightful place, he thought of the women and the children who will be left behind when the men will go to war (29) especially that another country might attack their country if the king and all the men are away. He also became worried for his soldiers after he disguised as an ordinary man and talked to some of his soldiers (153).
This concern is also demonstrated when he prays “O God of battles steel my soldiers’ hearts. Possess them not with fear” (155). Sixth, he knows that his kingship is not a reason for abuse. So when he and his troops have taken over the town of Harfleur, he commands his soldiers not to loot and he tells them to respect and show mercy to every citizen in that town. He charges Exeter to have mercy on the people and show fairness and justice because he wants to win the people’s loyalty and respect (99). Seventh, he understands that a king should practice impartiality.
Thus, he gives punishment to anyone who violates a law of the land or his word even if the person is an old friend, and he gives rewards to anyone who deserves it. King Henry V manifests this characteristic when Lord Scroop who was very close to him, Earl of Cambridge and Sir Thomas Grey who are also old friends conspired with France to kill him. He then ordered that they be arrested for treason (59). Another instance was when he allowed the execution of Bardolph, a former companion in his younger days, for stealing a communion plate from a church (115).
Eight, as a good leader he believes that a king needs to delegate work to his subordinates. This is what he did when he tells his uncle Exeter, brothers Clarence, Warwick and Gloster, and Huntington to “go with the King; And take with you free power to ratify, Augment, or alter, as your wisdoms best Shall see advantageable for our dignity, Anything in or out of our demands” (219). And most of all, he believes on a greater power who is the Almighty God whom he considers as his source of power. He continually refers to God in the play.
King Henry says: “But this lies all within the will of God, To whom I do appeal” (37) when he decided to go to war against France. He expresses his anxiety by saying “God’s will, I pray thee wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold” (163) while his soldiers are fighting in the war. At the end of the battle, he speaks to God with these words: “O God, thy arm was here, And not to us, but to Thy arm alone Ascribe we all! – When, without stratagem, But in plain shock and even play of battle, Was ever known so great and little loss On one part and on th’ other?
Take it, God, For it is none but thine” (199). King Henry V does not take the glory of the victory in the battle but he praises God for it. Similarly, Beowulf even before he was made a King of the Geats has the qualities of a good and great king as Henry the Fifth is and he is also worth imitating as a leader. The following are the ideas of kingship he manifested. First, Beowulf is compassionate as a leader. When he heard of Heorot’s predicament because of Grendel’s deeds, he went to Heorot to fight Grendel and freed Heorot of its miseries (lines 400-460).
He has compassion towards people that is why he sacrifices even his own life to save others. Second, he uses his strength which is the gift that God has given him as a way to help people who are in need. This is the means by which he was able to defeat Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the Dragon in order to free the people who are attacked by these creatures. There are times when he is about to be defeated but because of the great strength which he believes comes from God, he is able to overcome his deadly and monstrous foes.
Third, he is a brave and courageous warrior who never steps back from a challenge especially when he fights Grendel and Grendel’s mother. His bravery and courage can be seen throughout the poem. This was once again proven when as a king who is already old in age still hopes to fight the Dragon that has besieged his own land. Unfortunately, after he killed the Dragon, he also died. Fourth, he knows that a king should rule with discretion. He is even praised by Hrothgar with these words: “The Lord in his wisdom sent you those words that Beowulf is fit to be king of the Geats and they came” (lines 1840-1860).
Fifth, as a leader, he has great concern and responsibility for his men. Thus, when he was about to go and fight Grendel, he asks Hrothgar to take care of his men because he might no longer come back alive with his fight against the monster. And the most important of Beowulf’s qualities as a warrior and ruler is that he looks up to God as his source of power, guidance and protection. Throughout the poem, God is praised with such words as: “in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear: Almighty God rules over mankind and always has” (line 700).
Beowulf also expresses in the poem: “But the lord of Men allowed me to behold- for He often helps the unbefriended” and “If God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal” referring to his fight with Grendel’s mother. In addition, he says: “So I praise God in his heavenly glory that I lived to behold” (line 1779). In conclusion, Henry the Fifth and Beowulf exhibit the good qualities of a great king anchored on strength, courage and faith in God’s providence.
Both of them are wise, strong, brave, and devoted to God as their one and only source of power. They have very admirable traits which any king, ruler or leader in these modern days should pattern after.
“Beowulf”. Translated by Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature 7th edition Volume 1. Eds. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenbalt. USA: W. W. Norton & Co. Inc. , 1999, 29-98. Shakespeare, William. “Henry V”. The Folger Shakespeare Library. Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press. 1995.