Romance in Henry V

from "Commodification and Representation: The Body
in Shakespeare's History Plays" by K. A. Ewert

One final foray into commodification: after his spectacular victory at Agincourt, Henry V still has work to do to secure his claim to France. The wooing of the French princess Catherine in the play's final scene is much more than a love suit. Henry requires Catherine, his "capital demand" (5.2.96) in the peace settlement, so that he may secure his rights to France through lineage as well as conquest; he will secure his claim through her body, and through her body he will provide for an heir to continue that claim: "Thou must…needs prove a good soldier-breeder" (203), he informs his bride-to-be. In the scene of Henry's wooing he has the vast majority of the lines, but the uses he would make of Catherine's body here in the aftermath of war—as a politically valuable possession, and as a convenient "conduit" for the "transmission of patriarchal authority" into the future (Rackin 161)—must still be measured against the presence and reactions of that body represented upon the stage. The scene is, after all, the most lengthy encounter between French and English in the entire play; in its protracted length exists the possibility that Henry meets more resistance than he met on the field at Agincourt, or from the French court who will ratify every one of his demands. It is, of course, Catherine herself who calls into question his "suit":
King Harry Therefore, queen of all, Catherine, …wilt thou have me?
Catherine Dat is as it shall please de roi mon père.
King Harry Nay, it will please him well, Kate. It shall please him, Kate.
Catherine Den it sall also content me.
King Harry Upon that I kiss your hand, and I call you my queen (242-50) With the diplomatic party and their demands off in another room, Henry attempts to fashion the situation into an independent, private love-suit between himself and Catherine. Catherine's response here is conditional: conditional on what has led to this point and on what is going on in that other room. She seems supremely aware of her commodity status here, that she is one of the demands. She does not appear to "consent winking" (302), as Henry later acknowledges. By allowing Catherine to have her eyes open to the political context of the final scene, Shakespeare does not change the fact of her match with Henry, but he does perhaps open our eyes to the strained and artificial nature of Henry's attempt to pass off politic commodifications as a love-suit. This particular body of convenience may not so easily be bought and sold, or be made, as Henry hoped, to "wink and yield"