Henry V By William Shakespeare

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HENRY V Mr. Lewis Tate

Importance of the Chorus 21st February 2015

Written around 1598, Henry V is the last play written by William Shakespeare in the second tetralogy that includes historical plays such as Richard II, Henry Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. In Henry V the young mischievous prince grows into a capable and determined king “over night”. One who respects his council and accesses a situation before making a judgment. Henry V portrays the events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, which was a turning point in the Hundred Year War. There is no doubt that this play is a reflection of imagination and theatrical illusion, The chorus plays an important role in the play and the focus of the essay will be to understand the importance of the chorus in the play.

What is a chorus? A chorus can act as a narrator introducing and setting the scenes, informing the audience about the off stage action in between the scene changes. It can also be a group of people that dance and chant in unison to enhance the presentation of the drama and allow the audience to look at it from a third-point perspective. In Greek Tragedy, a chorus would generally act as a bridge that connected the audience with the performers by giving the audience an insight on what the actors were thinking and because battles and murders could not be performed on stage, the chorus would describe the events to the audience in order to set the mood and to keep them interested in the play. In Henry V, Shakespeare uses the chorus for the second time in his career after Romeo and Juliet.
One of the main reason’s of choosing a chorus in this specific play was to honor the greatness of King Henry V directly and also so that he wouldn’t have to rely on the characters to help convey how great the king was, in the play. He uses the chorus to create audience’s view on Henry V, pulling both the character and audience together creating a personal relationship between them, allowing the viewers to create a deeper connection with the King himself. This Chorus is unlike the traditional Greek Chorus of 12, Shakespeare combines all of the 12 people in the chorus into one personality and establishes a friendship that informs, presents, excites and manipulates the audience’s imagination and emotional responses to the scenes. It is not very different than a reality Television series with a host that describes, controls and informs the audience of what happened, what happens and what will happen in the show.

Shakespeare begins the play by calling upon the muse. “O for a muse of fire,” epic poetry traditionally calls upon the muse in the opening lines by giving credit to the realm of gods. After calling upon the muse he apologizes for the inability to perfectly show the audience what in envisioned the play to be and asks them to imagine. He introduces the play with the imagery of flames and war. The play is set effectively introduced in the first Chorus, where we can see the reference to 'Mars' the god of war, elevating Henry V to a god-like stature and words 'puissance' and 'warlike' let the audience know that the play will involve war. Shakespeare sets the audience to think that the play is more divine where the king and the country are concerned. He personifies “Famine, Sword, and Fire” by having them “Crouch for employment” “leashed” “at his heels” (I.Prol.6-9) giving the King immortal-like power.

Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them

Here (1.Prol.25-27) Shakespeare is demanding the audience to extend their imagination even further and create large battlefields and countries across the sea and horses runnning on the field, fighting. At the start of Act 4, the Chorus depicts the growing tension on the