Kingship in Henry V

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"The Inner Kingship of Shakespeare's Fifth Henry"
Craig Chalquist, M.S.

"I think it's fair to say that an understanding of the opposites is the key to understanding the psyche...Every war, every contest, every dispute, every game, is an expression of coniunctio energies concerning the opposites."
-- Edward Edinger

"When all else is gone and there's nothing left to lose, then what is left and cannot be completely lost or even thrown away is truly one's self...And what stays secret inside everyone is that some- where he is a king, somehow she is a queen."
-- Michael Meade

I have been known to be hard on today's trend of making a goal of psychological evolution. That's because I consider such evolution a byproduct of living in vital, daimonic touch with one's interior promptings. Individuation is like happiness: pursued for its own sweet sake, it can puff up into an elusive and self-indulgent project, as with those amateur mental-health mechanics who talk a perpetual blue streak of self-confessional repair jargon without ever wondering why the car always seems to be up on the blocks. As a stage, this may be necessary; as a way of life, it is debilitating.
But if you participate productively and authentically in yourself (self-relatedness rather than self-analysis) and your surroundings, then individuation just sort of happens. You turn a corner one day and realize that an old hurt has quietly faded. Feelings flow more freely. Loving gets easier. Anger passes more quickly. You're joyous more often.
It is that variety of individuation--as effect and result--which we will trace in Shakespeare's version of the ideal king, Henry V. By taking himself in hand in the here and now, by cultivating the inside of his outer kingship, he moves beyond himself.

Presume Not That I Am The Thing I Was

Toward the end of King Henry IV, Part II we find Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke) barely alive. Too spent to reach the Holy Land, where he'd hoped to find absolution, he dies weighed down with regrets about how he came by the kingship (wrested from Richard II), as his last words to his fun-loving, wayward heir disclose:

God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head.
To thee it shall descend with bitter quiet,
Better opinion, better confirmation;
For all the soil of the achievement goes
With me into the earth...
How I came by the crown, O God forgive;
And grant it may with thee in true peace live!

The theme of the dying king in need of renewal recurs in alchemical lore, where the artifex (adept) creates the fabled Philosopher's Stone by dissolving metals in an imperfect state (old king), then subjecting them to refinement and purification (new king). Jung having interpreted alchemy as a projected metaphor of psychological processes, we can say that in order to grow beyond oneself and put on the kingly mantle of one's new responsibilities, the old self must die so the new can be born.
And so Prince Hal, a former carouser, feels his father die in his arms and is transmuted by this initiatory event into Henry V, a nobler and more regal man, a leader fit to rule. He recognizes his previous immaturity and decides to outgrow it and grow up toward the duties that now await:

The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flow'd in vanity till now:
Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.

Soon after this, the new king meets up with Falstaff, a former drinking buddy who expects special favors. He publicly refers to the king as "my heart" and "Hal, my royal Hal," while his associate Pistol calls Henry "a royal imp of fame." Henry responds by promptly and accurately calling Falstaff on his arrogant sense of entitlement--"Reply not to me with a fool-born jest"--and bids these men to mind their manners. A question suggests itself here: is this sincere self-transformation or politically expedient elitism?
Which suggests another: how often do we resist turning away from people and places no longer suitable for us for fear of seeming like snobs, to them or to ourselves?Some version of, "You think you're better than us" is, in fact, one of the first accusations you can expect for declining membership in someone's "club," whether that means leaving a highly political workplace or outgrowing an abusive partner or putting distance between yourself and a family of emotional vampires (I like Bram Stoker's term for such: "the undead"). It's a clever control tactic, guilt-tripping dissidents by equating their rejection with egotism. I've known quite a few people who in all respects but one stood head and shoulders above the sort of malfunctioning, ignorant, manipulative, or just plain vicious people in whose company they tended to end up: a surface humility that really amounts to a lack of faith in oneself. The therapeutic concept for this dynamic is interlocking pathology: something has happened, usually early on, that left a strange psychic hole that manifests in our lives as an attraction to those with whom we don't belong...and a seductive craving for a validation from them that they are incapable of providing.
This is, however, a disservice to what Robert Bly calls the inner King (or Queen):

The inner King is the one in us who knows what we want
to do for the rest of our lives, or the rest of the month, or
the rest of the day. He can make clear what we want with-
out being contaminated in his choice by the opinions of
others around us. The inner King is connected with our fire
of purpose and passion...

Doing without available and idealizable adults who can carry the inner King or Queen for us until we are mature enough to take it back makes staying true to it more difficult, but this can be problematic regardless of where we came from. Fortunately, that quiet presence-within tends to be persistent. In all but the undead, the royal voice of the real Self continues to whisper until one day we hear it and begin to listen.
Having heard this voice and devoted himself to its service, the king turns away from those who would only drag him down into dissipation...for Henry is no longer unsure about who he is or where he belongs--and that, not snobbery or station, is what makes him different from the others. In touch with the inner King, he has no need for a makeshift sense of identity supplied by undesirable companionship. By trusting the guidance of that King, he himself takes on a kingly mien. He is awake.

Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
Once More Unto the Breach
We come now to King Henry V.

Believing that his rightful lands have been confiscated by the French, Henry petitions the royalty of France, who not only fail to take him seriously but insult him by sending him, via the dauphin (the French king's eldest son), a case of tennis balls. The French are unaware of Hal's psychological transformation into the capable Henry V. They soon find out, however, because the king resolves to launch an expedition to recover his ancestral inheritance. He dispatches a reply to the dauphin, inviting him to a game of tennis--in France. He prepares his men to fight.

Therefore let every man now task his thought,
That this fair action may on foot be brought.

Let's forego the easy literal intepretations of this war (a greedy thrust for land, a monarch's reaction to feeling humiliated, etc.) and consider it from a deeper psychological level fruitful of many points of view. An expedition into foreign territory can mean a form of inward advancement, an expansion of one's psychological territory, an increase of consciousness, a taking up of new potentialities. "There is game in the field," remarks Line Five of the I Ching Hexagram The Army; "it furthers one to catch it." Henry is spreading out and pushing past his usual boundaries, and taking back the ancestral lands might signify getting back in touch with the very deepest layers of the psyche, the collective inheritance noted by Jung. The incompetent French court might remind us of any worldly power that holds illegitimate sway over some fertile/sacred possession; human history--in this case rewritten by Shakespeare for dramatic purposes--is filled with Pharisees doing business in the temple, or landowning potentates taxing the rightful residents penniless.
Of course, one can count on any psychic expansion to trigger resisting forces. Henry uncovers a plot against his life by three men paid by the French. He sadly remarks:

I will weep for thee;
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man.

An interesting simile. Henry has lost some of his innocence, which tends to happen when you discover inside the "court" of your personality those complexes that fight against your aspirations. He roots them out, and the three unwise assassins, anti-Magi who'd bring death instead of gifts, are executed per their own recommendations. By the play's third act, the English have landed in France and are besieging Harfleur. At first Henry's men are repelled, but he rallies them...

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...

...and they take the town. Gracious as well as practical, Henry refrains from sacking it, ordering instead that his disease- and battle-weakened army regroup at Calais. As they advance, he also orders his men to give fair and courteous treatment to any French citizens they meet.

When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom,
the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.

This combination of humaneness and resolution makes an effective blend for an individuator. Avoiding a Timonlike alternation between idealizing and hating, the two faces of passivity, assertive Henry balances the opposites instead of being unbalanced by them, knowing when to stand his ground and when to give it, when to strive and when to rest. He maintains the mental flexibility to adjust with changing times. And by doing this, he reserves to himself the ability to turn defeat to victory, as we'll see next.

Commend Me To The Princes

The French have headed off Henry at Agincourt before he could reach Calais. His decimated army is outnumbered five to one, and the French herald Montjoy approaches to request that the English surrender. Henry refuses.

Night falls on a weary English camp. Aware that his men are worried, Henry disguises himself in a cloak so he can move freely among them, empathizing with them and cheering them up.

There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out...
Thus may we gather honey from the weed,
And make a moral of the devil himself.

At one point Henry encounters three troopers discussing what the king must feel at such a time, if anything. Henry tells them:

I think the king is but a man, as I am: the violet smells
to him as it doth to me: the element shows to him as it
doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions:
his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but
a man; and though his affections are higher mounted
than ours, yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do,
his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are:
yet, in reason, no man should possess him with any ap-
pearance of fear, lest he, by showing it, should dishearten
his army.

The conversation then turns to the obligations owed by a soldier to his monarch. Henry:

Methinks I could not die any where so contented as in
the king's company; his cause being just and his quarrel
honourable.

A man named Williams voices another opinion, one Henry certainly sympathizes with even if he doesn't share it:

Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the
king that led them to it.

Henry clarifies:
The king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his
soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for
they purpose not their death, when they purpose their services...
Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own.

That last sentence is the clincher. A king should take care and lead wisely, but he can no more take responsibility for the ultimate fate of his men than a father can for what becomes of his son, or the master his servant--because what each of us becomes is ultimately for us to choose. Wise Henry has no wish to head a mass of irresponsible children who make him responsible for their decision to follow him. They are there because they want to be there, fighting at his side for an honorable cause.
Nevertheless, he goes away bothered, acutely aware of the burden of command and the lives that depend on his power of judgment. Disguising himself has helped him understand his men, but it has also increased his envy for them--and his loneliness, because unlike them, he has no one to understand him:

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

These lines might have been uttered by Lincoln, whose face aged so much while he held the presidency. The pomp of office never impressed him, either.

Henry continues to lament the futility of mere title:

O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it?

What good is ceremony, he wonders, if it has no power to heal? And what difference in the world do the titles really make?

'Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill'd and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave...

This is not a lamentation heard only from thoughtful kings. Many individuals awakening to a clearer sense of selfhood have been known to second it. ("Be virtuous," Twain remarked, "and you will be eccentric.") How easy it would be, some think during dark times, to be ordinary, contented, and confined to the daily round! To stay in step! To have a predigested religion, or a faith in law and order, or a belief in what one sees on the news!
There is a terrible, terrible solitude in standing so alone, in recreating one's values and straining to discern one's guiding star, and those who have been so chilled may have learned to inspire confidence in those around them, but they often feel like strangers to every land but loneliness.
By giving himself permission to fully experience such thoughts and feelings, Henry remains still with them long enough to integrate them--rather, allow them to integrate themselves--into his conscious personality: a self-affirming move, to be sure, but also a necessary protection against the ego inflation that almost always accompanies a sustained attempt to realize the inner King. It's dangerously easy to either stuff the King and suffer the resulting self-alienation, or to identify wholly with Him and fall into a state of dysdaimonic possession.
Henry's intimate contact with his men and his subsequent soul-searching restore his in-the-gut sense of his humanity: the king is, after all, but a man. But he is a man who would be king, and his greatness depends on recognizing what makes him different from other men while bearing firmly in mind his solidarity with them.

Combine Your Hearts In One

Having sorted his feelings and regrounded himself, Henry understands that the time has come to act. He arms himself and prays.

O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.

Rousing his men, the king reminds them of the peculiar glory to be had only in fighting against the odds:

We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us...
All things are ready, if our minds be so.

Inspired, desperate, and bravely led onto the "well-foughten field," Henry's men proceed to pulverize their opponents. The French sustain heavy losses and are forced to surrender. Henry gives thanks to God and sends his brave army back to England.
In France, the once-proud French nobles, having learned their lesson, agree that Henry will marry their king's daughter Katherine, with whom Henry has fallen in love, and become the heir to the French throne upon her father's death.
Symbolically, we behold many potential reconciliations of opposites: nobles with nobles, England with France, past with present, ideal with real, all summed up in the coniunctio--the last joining or conjunction of heated elements that brought the alchemist's opus to a successful conclusion--of Henry's marriage to Katherine. His selfhood forged in the initiatory fire of battle (the play can be considered a series of initations), Henry is whole...almost. "A fellow of plain and uncoined constancy," he must now learn how to love.

Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms
Such as will enter at a lady's ear
And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?

Henry's French is even rougher than Kate's English, but the two manage to make themselves understood. A similar translation problem arises when a man attempts to understand his anima (the feminine aspect of his unconscious) or a woman her animus (her masculine aspect). The unconscious seldom expresses itself in the language of logic or reason. It speaks in symbols, images, metaphors, myths, dreams--or symptoms if we fail to listen to ourselves alertly enough.
When Henry asks Kate if she likes him, she doesn't understand--"Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell vat is 'like me'"--so he offers an unsophisticated if charming explanation:

An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.

She isn't sure whether to believe him (just as the unconscious requires our consistent attentiveness in order to "believe" we're serious about getting to know it), but he persists, asking her for instruction in the arts of romantic sincerity.

Mock me mercifully; the rather, gentle princess, because
I love thee cruelly...

--referring to both the battlefield necessity of their impending marriage and his more complete familiarity with leadership and warfare than with relationship and tenderness. To his credit, he realizes this gap in his psychological education and turns to her for guidance. He has learned to follow the trail of whatever is numinous for him, as she now is.

From arrogant brigand to newly crowned king to supreme commander to identifier with and inspirer of fellow combatants, Henry, now victorious and ready for marriage, has never stood still in his inward development. And yet he never worried about it either. He tackled those priorities required by his role and authorized by his daimon, alternating introversion and extraversion as circumstances demanded. And with each new situation he absorbed and grew, gathering honey from the weeds: if it has to, the individuating soul can feed on nearly anything, turning bitterness into nourishment, trials into triumphs. Perhaps this could lend us a new definition of nobility.
In the end, the important thing is not growth for its own sake, but growth through creative fidelity to the intrinsic promise of his inner kingship, her inner queenship, and their animated relationship. What makes this possible and then crowns its achievements is the sophisticated innocence of being open to whatever comes your way, outer or inner. Therein lies the possibility of wholeness, outer and inner, as Kate's queenly mother Isabel seems to sense with her closing blessing:

God, the best maker of all marriages,
Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one!

General Advice on How to Watch a Shakespearean Film

1. As in any performance of the plays, everything you see is a decision on the director's part. But this is heightened in a film, due to editing. There are fewer incidental mistakes or improvisations present, in that the director undoubtedly knows of these when they happen, but she or he can choose to edit them out. In a live performance, everyone lives with the inevitable mishaps that will occur on-stage. All this means that in a film when you notice anything that strikes you or stands out, you are probably noticing it because you are meant to. Keep a list of the things that particularly impressed you about the film. Do not overlook techniques unique to film--presentation of credits and title, for example, or sustained musical effects. Why did the director do these things? Are they united in some sense, pointing towards a larger effect overall?

2. Watch how credits are handled. Directors do some marvelous things to tell you what they think of a play via their use of credit sequences. For example, compare the openings of the Olivier and Brannagh versions of Henry V. What is going on behind the credits? When do the credits come? Does anyone speak before them? Are all the names of the cast given to us right away? What is the music like during them? What typescript are they in? What is the sustained general effect of the use of the credits?

3. On a second or third viewing of a film, it is often highly productive to keep a cheap copy of the play in your hands and loosely note which scenes the director has omitted or re-ordered. Even in a first viewing, you might want to have a list of scenes from the textual version of the play and a phrase as a title for each to remind you of the sequence of events in the text. Why have these scenes been dropped or re-ordered? What does this tell you about the differences between a film and a performance of a play?

4. What's been cut from the film? How does the director use the cuts to support her or his idea of the major themes of this film? What other possible themes are omitted or occluded by these specific cuts? To really see the difference the director's omissions can make, watch two different versions of the same play on film.

5. Films can achieve many things that a performed play cannot: special camera angles, special effects, orchestral experimentation on a grand scale, more sets, realistic settings, etc. Look for the striking elements of this film that are unique to a film. What are they? How do they manipulate your feelings about the production? About individual characters?

6. Where did the director find her or his cast? Are they popular actors? Do they specialize in one form of acting or performance (i.e. music, as opposed to theater) or another? If you know that the guy playing Hamlet is a rap musician, for example, how does this affect the way you see this character? Are the majority of cast members known for their theatrical or Shakespearean performances? Is the presence of any one actor jarring to you as audience in some way? Are these actors well-known? Is the director relying on star appeal? Shock appeal? What are the ages of the cast? Do they seem appropriate to you? Can you explain any of the director's casting decisions?

7. Where is the film set? In what era? How accurate is the costuming and landscaping for that era? How do these decisions on the director's part add or detract from your understanding of the play? Do you need a play to be set in its historically "accurate" setting--i.e. ancient Rome for Julius Caesar or Renaissance Italy for The Taming of the Shrew?

8. How has the costuming been handled? Is it era specific or does it just imply the general feeling of an era without total accuracy? In other words, is it being used to convey a general impression or to set forth a historical era or both?

9. How intelligent does this director take his audience to be? How knowledgeable are we expected to be about the original text? How can you tell? Have any subplots or characters been dropped for this film? Why?

10. Has the genre of the film been changed? This certainly happens; consider the rendition of Hamlet in Disney's The Lion King or the transformation of The Tempest that is Forbidden Planet. What is the effect of this change on your perception of the play? Why might the director see the new genre as more appropriate?

11. How is the music being used in this film? Are there specific themes for specific characters? How does the score affect your perceptions of the dialogue? Is the music overdone or intrusive?

12. What did this film teach you about this play that you had not gotten from reading it or seeing it staged? What would you change?

13. Especially when a new film comes out, watch the entertainment channels and shows for interviews with actors, crew, and director. Their ideas about what was actually happening in the film can be startling compared to what you may actually have seen. Try to keep track of their comments as you watch the film. How accurate do you find their observations to be? How successful were they in expressing their intentions on film?