In the opening scene in Henry V, the bishops Canterbury and Ely are first to mention King Henry. They discuss the sudden transition of Henry from an unruly youth to an almost revered monarch. Henry, having had such a mutinous past, surely cannot be transformed into a brilliant and successful leader – must’ve there been any reason for it? Through the metaphor, “The strawberry grows under the nettle”, Ely explains that Henrys transformation into a successful leader was nurtured under the ‘nettle’ of his profligacy.
This conveys the idea that his previous behavior could’ve all been an act with which his ‘true self’ could have been developed through and perhaps made more evident; or possibly the opposite, where in fact Henry had to sacrifice his hedonism for the purpose of being a good leader. Henry was portrayed as a weak leader through the first scene: he was seen as indecisive, lacking confidence and easily manipulated by the Church. Henry is concerned with his legitimacy to France’s throne when he seeks reassurance to make a claim through just actions: ‘with right and conscience make this claim’.
Likewise, his hesitancy to invade France is depicted throughout the scene: he is constantly trying to find excuses that will counteract his claim, simply reaching his decision when the French ambassador arrives and presents his disdainful gift of tennis balls. From this, Henry has to choose whether he exposes himself as a weak leader accepting the gift, or to show contempt towards the French maintaining a sense of dignity and pride amongst the English.
When Henry declared war on France in his speech, he suggests he feels the responsibility that he should appear a strong leader, but the fact he is so vague and he was forced to make the choice implies that he has not yet made the genuine decision of whether he is to be the strong leader. However between Act 1 and 2, there is a clear contrast in the portrayal of Henry as a leader. In Act 1, his unsure and cautious character is pressured with the duty of leadership. However in Act 2, he is depicted more a tyrant and a manipulative leader.
In Scene 2 of Act 2, he is shocked when his friends betray him in the hope of receiving money. Almost with devious intentions, Henry turns the traitors’ own accusations against themselves and uses dramatic irony in his speeches which emphasize how unaware the traitors are of their own problems. The speech refers to the ultimate fate of the conspirators. Phrases such as ‘the execution and the act’ don’t seem out of place when put into context with what else is being said to the traitors, however as the audience are aware of Henry’s aim; it is clear how easily they are blindly falling into Henry’s trap.