Classics · Shakespeare

Henry V Act III

“Once more unto the breach …”

Isn’t it amazing when you’re reading along in Shakespeare and all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, words you recognize pop out at you? I once had a professor who would say this before exams, but I had no idea where it came from until now.

On a very different note, the language in this play is sometimes hard to decipher, and I’m not just talking about the scene in French. I speak French. No, I’m talking about Captain MacMorris, whose lines are written in what’s clearly supposed to be an Irish accent. Shakespeare is difficult enough to understand without having to filter through “ish” for “is” and so on. Jamy also speaks in a spelled-out accent, and so does Fluellen, although his is easier to understand. It’s not impossible, but it does add another layer of complication on top of Shakespeare’s ordinary antiquated language.

As for King Henry, I said before that he was a fascinating character, and I still think so. I’m not entirely sure whether he’s harsh and unrelenting or fair and merciful, and I’m not sure he’s sure, either. It seems as if, being new at the whole leadership thing, he’s still figuring that out. When he tells the governor of Harfleur what will happen if they don’t surrender, he comes across as bloodthirsty – and while I don’t think he wanted it to come to that, it would also be foolish of him to make empty threats. Later, he sentences one of his own soldiers to death for looting a French church and makes a speech about how he won’t allow his army to plunder or steal – a strange mix of judgment and mercy in itself, and very different from what he was saying back in Harfleur. It doesn’t seem like he wants to do any more harm than necessary, but he’s willing to adjust his idea of “necessary” by a lot depending on the circumstances.

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