The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the play as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.
Henry V is in most respects a model of the ideal king—wise, just, courageous, and kind. Yet there are a number of moments when less praiseworthy qualities seem apparent. It would be an overstatement to say he is a villain, but neither is he as perfect as his surface behavior would indicate. Write an essay showing how the positive qualities in him are to an extent counterbalanced by negative tendencies.
I. Thesis Statement: Although Henry V exhibits the virtues of an ideal English king throughout the play, certain details suggest that some aspects of his nature are less than admirable—indeed, that there are elements of the villain, as well as the hero, in him.
II. Examples of positive and negative behavior
A. Treatment of his friends
Positive: He shows mercy toward a drunken soldier who insulted him.
Negative: He broke Falstaff’s heart by disavowing their earlier friendship.
B. Unmasking of the conspirators Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge
Positive: He cleverly manipulates them into passing judgment on themselves.
Negative: He deviously entraps them rather than forthrightly charging them with treason.
C. Heroism in battle
Positive: He courageously leads the charge into Harfleur and at Agincourt.
Negative: He threatens monstrous punishments at Harfleur—babies spitted on pikes, etc.—and cruelly orders all French captives killed at Agincourt.
Positive: He weeps at the deaths of York and Suffolk.
Negative: He callously has Bardolph, a former friend, hanged for a minor theft.
E. Personal honesty
Positive: In wooing Katharine, he speaks from his heart as a “plain soldier.”
Negative: He knows she is his by right. The soldier act is false and manipulative.
III. Conclusion: Given the inconsistencies in Henry’s behavior, it is impossible to regard him simply as an ideal king.
In the language of the theater, a “foil” is a character who serves as a contrast to another, illuminating that...
(The entire section is 954 words.)
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