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Shakespeare's Representation of Henry V and Henry VI: Critical Overview

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Any student of history who plunks down to expound on the fifteenth century is fighting Shakespeare from the minute he lifts his pen. It is a fight he will most likely lose.

Shakespeare’s representations of the Plantagenet lords, sovereigns, and nobles who led and demolished England are strong to such an extent that they have, by and large, become magically melded with the genuine, recorded people themselves.

Who, for instance, can consider Henry V without burping up a line or two from the St Crispin’s day discourse, when ‘we glad couple of, we band of siblings’ gave the dauphin what for? (Henry V 4.3.60). Who is Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s lamentable sovereign, if not the ‘She-wolf of France, however more terrible than wolves of France,/Whose tongue a greater number of toxins than the snake’s tooth’? (3 Henry VI 1.4.551-2).

Also, when Richard III’s skeleton was expelled from a Leicester vehicle park the last pre-winter, didn’t the open fervor essentially turn on the opportunity to find whether it would take after that of Shakespeare’s hunchbacked insect? In any case, Shakespeare’s virtuoso advises our creative mind regarding the late Plantagenet lords as most likely as Holbein’s brush illuminates our psychological picture regarding the early Tudors.

This mid-year Shakespeare’s Globe will visit the three Henry VI plays at settings crosswise over England – including outside exhibitions at a few Wars of the Roses front lines. So it merits asking precisely what the minstrel can inform us regarding the ‘genuine’ history of the fifteenth century. Is there whatever we can conveniently detract from the plays? Or then again would they say they are for the most part only one incredible pleasant twisting? Shakespeare wrote in entire or section ten English history plays (eleven on the off chance that we check Edward III), for the most part, moved in two short imaginative blasts toward the start of his vocation. Somewhere in the range of 1590 and 1592 he composed the plays usually now assembled as the ‘main quadruplicate’, including the three pieces of Henry VI and Richard III.

After a short rest, he came back to history somewhere in the range of 1595 and 1599, creating the ‘second quadruplicate’ – Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. Confusingly, the chronicled occasions of these four plays go before those of the primary quadruplicate, yet there are some associating verifiable subjects. (You should consider it like Star Wars, with Richard II as The Phantom Menace.)

During this subsequent period, most likely in 1596, he likewise composed King John – an exception, as in it is set in the twelfth century. A lot later, in 1613, came the community-oriented Henry VIII, yet this is, in all honesty, a quite ropey bit of nostalgic Elizabethiana, about which we will say no more. The fact of the matter is that before the finish of the sixteenth century, Shakespeare had composed an epic cycle of authentic plays, for the most part, contacting occasions that occurred among 1397 and the triumph of his own Queen Elizabeth’s granddad Henry VII in 1485.

In this, he was traditional. From the 1580s there had been a pattern for ‘narrative’ plays carrying English illustrious history to the stage, because of the new accessibility of genuine verifiable attempts to dig for the material. Key among them were Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548) and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577/1587). Different sources included John Foxe, whose Actes and Monuments had been distributed in 1563, and John Stowe and Thomas More, whose genuinely hostile History of Richard III educated the split and harmful beast Shakespeare was thus to make.

From his sources, Shakespeare acquired a considerable measure of verifiable predisposition. Most clearly he grabbed the suffering ‘Tudor perspective on’ the Wars of the Roses as an awesome discipline by one way or another earned by the disobedience to common requests that occurred when Richard II was dismissed. This thought is most definitely felt in Richard II, the three Henry VI plays, and, to a degree, Richard III.

In Richard II, the messy work of testimony is finished by Bolingbroke, legitimate duke of Lancaster, and Edmund Langley, Duke of York, both of whom are hounded by the melancholy religious administrator of Carlisle murmuring foreboding things like, ‘the blood of English will fertilizer the ground/And future ages moan for this foul demonstration.’ (Richard II 4.1.138-9).

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Furthermore, doesn’t it just? In 1 Henry VI we see the nobles of England arranging in groups spoken to by white and red roses. ‘I’ll discover companions to wear my draining roses,’ says the duke of Somerset (1 Henry VI 2.4.73), and what pursues through the span of the remainder of the quadruplicate is a veritable hoard butcher, just finished with Richard III’s demise and the marriage between the ‘Lancastrian’ Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, ‘the genuine succeeders of every imperial house’, by whose association ‘common injuries are halted, harmony lives once more.’ (Richard III 5.7.30/40).

Hardly any students of history today would underwrite that perspective on the Wars of the Roses. There was, for instance, no ‘Lancastrian’ red rose utilized during the fifteenth-century wars: the red-rose/white-rose polarity was to a great extent created during Henry VII’s reign so as to combine the two tokens in a single Tudor rose, which would advance the possibility of solidarity reestablished through administration.

Nor was Henry VI a remarkable holy person that Shakespeare describes him – this was another bit of early Tudor promulgation that had saturated authority accounts by Shakespeare’s day, intended to reinforce the notoriety of Henry VII’s Lancastrian ‘precursor’. Innumerable different characters, as well, are mad in Shakespeare, not least among them the haughty and goal-oriented Humphrey duke of Gloucester, whose notoriety is vigorously cleaned; and the previously mentioned Margaret of Anjou, whose name is painted extremely dark.

At that point we should think about that a lot of what Shakespeare composed was metaphorical remarks without anyone else times during the 1590s: a period of dynastic uncertainty, outside danger, and respectable instigate. Elizabeth I once sharply kidded on observing an original copy of Richard II that ‘I am Richard II, know ye, not that?’ – a reference to the way that the play had been distinctly arranged in London in 1601, during the baron of Essex’s rebel against her legislature.

Be that as it may, even this was not the central matter. What we ought to consistently recollect is that Shakespeare composed plays principally to engage – his plays were never expected to involve a history exercise, however, basically drew a crowd of people by temperance of its verifiable setting. This is maybe most valid for the two pieces of Henry IV, in which a youthful and crazy Prince Hal squabbles with his beleaguered father. This was an articulated misrepresentation of the genuine connection between Henry IV and the future Henry V, between whom there was surely contact in 1412-13, yet not of the nature delineated by Shakespeare. Neither did the well-known contention among Hal and Hotspur ever look like that delineated by Shakespeare, who (among numerous different mutilations), adjusted the period of Hotspur and enhanced their own hostility, the better to make a story analyzing how a sovereign ought to become familiar with the craft of being a lord. In that sense, 1 and 2 Henry IV are not so much plays about ‘Henry IV’ by any means. They are a family drama, a reflection on sovereignty, and an energizing activity escapade in period dress.

It would be unimaginable and monotonous to list every one of the instances of Shakespeare’s chronicled contortions. As each great Hollywood screenwriter, today knows, a splitting story consistently precedes recorded accuracy. Utilizing Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays to find out about the wars of the roses is about as astute as confiding in Saving Private Ryan to disclose to you the genuine story of the subsequent universal war.

However obviously, having said this, there are minutes when Shakespeare can be shockingly generally exact.

The purple talks he gives Henry V are completely designed, yet on the off chance that we read the letters the genuine Henry managed (in English) from the bleeding edge of his battles in Normandy after Agincourt, there is a stridency and magnificence to his tone that is unrivaled in correspondences by any of his other noble chiefs. Shakespeare’s adult Hal roars consistent with the soul, if not the letter, of his genuine partner.

Furthermore, every so often, the dramatization is truly lifted from the recorded page. My own preferred section from all the history plays – Richard II’s burdensome talk ‘For the good of God let us sit upon the ground/And recount to pitiful accounts of the passing of lords… ‘ (Richard II 3.2.155-6), conveyed after he finds that Bolingbroke has landed in England to dismiss him, is intriguingly near an onlooker account by the recorder Adam of Usk of a sentimental after-supper discourse that the genuine Richard gave during his detainment in the Tower of London, concerning the downcast inheritance of English history, and this present domain’s inclination to kill off its rulers.

In Shakespeare’s grasp, this discourse is given another area in reality, new words, and an emotional significance expelled from its verifiable setting. Be that as it may, the connection between the dramatization and the history is still there: shockingly, bracingly immediate. To my brain, that is the place Shakespeare’s most noteworthy virtuoso as a student of history producer lives.

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Shakespeare’s Representation of Henry V and Henry VI: Critical Overview. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“Shakespeare’s Representation of Henry V and Henry VI: Critical Overview.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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