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Henry V - Benevolent King Or Scheming Politician?

            In each production of Henry V, the emphasis changes: Henry can appear to be "the mirror of all Christian Kings" or as a cynic who uses the, seemingly corrupt, church to justify his actions. The play is full of noble speeches, heroic battles, and valiant English underdogs fighting their way to victory against all odds. King Henry seems to be a perfect leader - brave, modest, and fiercely determined, but with a sense of humour. Although his intentions may be honourable, the motives for them may not. He may be acting upon a purse offered by the church, and only undertaking the campaign for his own financial gain.
             However, this question of Henry's morals is more difficult than it seems at first glance. Henry is a model of traditional "heroism", but his value system is confusing - after all, his patriotism (or land lust, depending on how you look at it) leads him to invade a non-aggressive country and to slaughter thousands. He sentences former friends and prisoners of war to death, while giving the impression that he will show mercy; he never acknowledges that he holds any responsibility for the bloodshed he has initiated. The brilliance of Henry's speeches, his oratory and his careful development of his image make him an effective and inspiring leader. But his morality is questionable; Shakespeare's original production seems to highlight both sides, and it can be argued, equally.
             To begin with, Henry comes across as almost a "boy" in a man's job as others easily sway him when the church (Canterbury and Ely) persuades him to go to war. When Canterbury says "A thousand pounds by th" year. Thus runs the bill" and Ely replies "This would drink deep" we learn of exactly how much the Church is standing to lose if the new law passes. It is in their best interests to distract the King; the impending tax law would make them lose a lot of their wealth. His mood changes, because he was expecting a better and more appeasing gift.

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