Literature Essay on the Theme of Social Class in King Henry V by Shakespeare

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1717 Words
Date:  2021-06-14

King Henry V is a play set in the early 15th century, a period when the political situation in England was tense. King Henry IV had died, and thus his son King Henry V assumed the throne. To gain the respect of the English people and the court as well, King Henry V needed to leave his old ways behind and concentrate in reforming the political situation in England. Henry, therefore, lays claim to particular parts of France, based on his distant roots in the French Royal family. When the young prince Dauphin, sends King Henry an insulting message responding to these claims, Henry makes a decision to invade France. The clergy and English noblemen fully support the Kings decisions. This decision, however, turns out to affect the lower class people he ruled. The individuals have to leave their homes, families, and friends. In the opening scenes of the play, Henry's character is one of being distressed above the mystical honesty of his claim to the French lands and the French crown. Due to his associations during his youth, King Henry can naturally communicate with the ordinary soldiers. Also, Henry possesses a sense of humor gotten from his carefree tenor of his youth. The night before the battle, King Henry tours the camp in disguise just to find out what his fellow men think. It makes him see the heavy responsibilities he has as a king. Being a religious leader, King Henry rallies his troops and prays for them. King Henry and his troops win the battle, and as part of the subsequent treaty, he woos and wins the heart of Katherine as a way of linking the two countries through marriage.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

In the process of becoming a great king, Henry is forced to act in a manner that, were he a commoner, might seem immoral and even punishable. To strengthen the stability of his throne, Henry betrays his friends such as Falstaff and even orders the death of other friends to uphold the law. Henry says that the huge responsibility put on the king's shoulders render him distinct from all other people. King Henry is also characterized as being willing to condone and even cause massive and unprovoked violence with the aim of achieving his goal.

There is a very distinct parallel line between rulers and the commoners as portrayed in this play. The average soldiers experience war in a different way as compared to the King and other noblemen. They are the ones who bear most of the burden of war, and if they lose, they are most likely going to be killed. When ordered to attack France by the king, the common soldiers have no option but to obey the orders. It is clear in a scene whereby a soldier by the name William says that "to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." Even though King Henry refers to the soldiers as his "band of brothers," it is very clear that they cannot be on the same level as him. Moreover, Henry's soldiers are classified into three: the king and dukes (High), Fluellen and professional soldiers, and Williams and Pistol among other regular soldiers. In this play, the noble soldiers claim the righteousness of war while they undermine the lower soldiers. The world is divided into two i.e. the superior and the inferior. This play questions the friction between the two parties over war.

A clear situation of disagreement is on the eve of the day of war at Agincourt where Henry disputes with a common soldier Michael Williams over the king's role in the battle. After this heated debate, Henry soliloquizes on the king's responsibilities and complains that he cannot sleep with other worrying soldiers. This idea is traced back to Machiavelli, who insisted the prince should be a soldier and the subjects ought to obey his commands. Also, Henry and the dauphin's attitudes toward war reflected that war only wages for their power and profit. To the class that rules, war is viewed as a tennis match according to Henry. War is also a marketplace where both peace and profits are being exchanged.

The professionals are Welsh, Irish, and scot, but Gower was the only English man. This scene shows the glorious unity of the British Isles to English people, while the colonized looked miserable and unsympathetic. They also experience oppression regarding social status. Captains such as Fluellen and Macmorris are higher in status, and they regard Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym as "cullions." This difference in social class is also evident where the professional soldiers' names have not been listed unlike those of aristocrat soldiers (Delabastita 320). Despite having praised Fluellen on the eve of battle, Henry still uses him as his scapegoat. It is clear that the ruling class always uses the lower rank of people, whether at war or not.

During Henry's speech, there was a dispute among Nym, Boy, and Pistol as it undermined their honor as ordinary soldiers. Unlike King Henry and other noble soldiers, ordinary soldiers were not interested in fame but a safe return to their homes after a battle. It was highly condemned by the aristocrats even though it was the honest feeling of the ordinary soldiers. The common soldiers seemingly tended to be afraid and escaped from war more frequently than the aristocrats. This was because most of the burden of battle lied on their shoulders. Ultimately, the ordinary soldiers fight just to obey orders and not for social status purposes. Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph alter the cause as a means to earn money while Williams, Rates and take the cause with some doubt. On the eve of battle, King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier and observes the common soldiers, who were afraid of the upcoming battle. People in the lower class of this play do not oppose the aristocrats, but there are exceptions like Williams who imagine rising against the king.

Henry V considers the different attitudes toward war, the disparity between the two classes of society and how the professionals blindly obey the ruling class of the community (Shakespeare 99). Common soldiers unwillingly go to war, and this is as a result of the parody of the aristocrats. These differences in values ultimately question the social injustice between the great soldiers and the ordinary ones. During the battle, the king explicitly asserted that whoever sheds his blood shall be considered as his brother. However, when reporting the deaths, he enumerates the names of the aristocrats but fails to do the same for the other soldiers. This was a clear indicator

It is very clear that there are only two groups in Henry's kingdom: the aristocrats and the commoners. Although the commoners are seen to seek profit by pains and labors, they are paid for their service as opposed to the good soldiers. The aristocrats tend to use the commoners to achieve their ends under the pretext of patriotism and honor: the commoners hence lose their lives without anyone noticing. The play also presents scenes in which the actions of citizens being completely different with the decisions of the king and the nobles. The pride in aristocrats is also evident on the site where Captain Fluellen puts on a leek on his cap as an outside the show of pride to Wales. Such symbols created a disparity among the aristocrats and the commoners, yet they all fought together.

At the beginning of the play, the archbishop also brings out this aspect of social classes. He apparently makes an analogy between the society and a colony of bees. He explained that just like people, bees have a leader and the rest of the hive works toward a common goal. Ultimately, the division of individuals into various classes is as natural as bees working together. This argument was purposefully meant to bring both the aristocrats and the commoners together. Once they were united, regardless of what social class or status they were in, they would achieve a lot. Similarly, when Henry was delivering his St. Crispin Day speech, he assured his men that if they fought in battle together, they all become a "band of brothers." This bond was important because it would help break the divisions previously erected in social status as most of Henry's men were simple. Moreover, after playing a very humiliating joke on Williams, King Henry offers to fill his glove with some money as a way of apologizing.

According to King Henry, warfare is a way of gaining honor and glory, but on the other side, Williams clearly shows that the common soldier is more concerned about practical issues like losing their heads, legs or arms during wars. It tells us that there is a distinct way of thinking between the aristocrats and the commoners. The soldiers considered to be of the low class are concerned of more practical issues and care about themselves a lot. On the other hand, the aristocrats are only concerned about the power and pride that comes with warfare (Delabastita 304).


We learn that soldiers of lower class bear most of the burden of battle and thus they played a crucial role in the society. The commoners performed their national duty by obeying all orders given to them by the king and the noblemen. King Henry, however, led the people with wisdom and promoted unity among the two social classes. King Henry marries Katherine, who is seemingly happy about it. Peace is therefore brought up with this union. He also leads by example, putting himself in the middle of the battle and not only leaving the ordinary soldiers in the leadership of the noblemen. The King cares about his people, seeks their counsel and interacts with them. He even makes a promise that however humble a soldiers birth is, their participation in battle awards them nobility. He also makes sure that his army is united by a common purpose. Henry finds out that going to battle with fewer soldiers who are united is better than having many soldiers with no common purpose.

Works Cited

Delabastita, Dirk A great feast of languages: Shakespeares multilingual comedy in King Henry V and the interpreter. The translator 8.2 (2002): 303-340.

Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Vol.21.Classic Books Company, 2001. Retrieved from:

Cite this page

Literature Essay on the Theme of Social Class in King Henry V by Shakespeare. (2021, Jun 14). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism