Shakespeare Solved ®

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These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Did Shakespeare Write Henry V, Part 2?

King Henry V died on 31 August 1422, one month shy of his 36th birthday.

Shakespeare had dramatized him in three plays -- Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.

Tom Hiddleston in the Hollow Crown series

Shakespeare refers to him in the series of plays about his son, the Henry VI plays. Henry VI, part 1 opens in Westminster Abbey at for the funeral for Henry V.

But there is a great deal that happened in Henry V's life between these two series of plays.

It begs the question: did Shakespeare write a sequel to the Henry V play?

Even if he didn't actually complete a written play for it, did he plan to write it?

At the very least, was he thinking of writing a sequel?

At the end of the Henry V play, he has won the battle of Agincourt, and he has successfully wooed Catherine de Valois.

But he would go on to live almost 7 more years. 

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 film

His success at Agincourt was not the last time he fought in France. He would continue the war there. 

There is so much more to his life that it is hard to believe that Shakespeare never even considered telling more of that story.

Another reason why Shakespeare may have wanted to write a fourth chapter in he Henry's life is because when Shakespeare wrote about Prince Hal/Henry V, he was writing for Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

Essex was Shakespeare's friend and patron from around 1593-4. Shakespeare had written plays for Essex (and for his friend the Earl of Southampton) for many years. They were the two most dashing young men in all of London, and Shakespeare was very lucky to have made friends with them.

Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

Essex and Southampton turn up time and again in the plays: as Mercutio and Romeo, as Demetrius and Lysander, as Valentine and Proteus, Don Pedro and Benedick, etc.

The most controversial play Shakespeare wrote on behalf of Essex was his Richard II play -- which was a case for deposing a sitting monarch, and a thinly veiled threat against Queen Elizabeth.

Most famously, Shakespeare modeled his Prince Hal/King Henry V character after Essex. In a sense, Shakespeare was writing pro-Essex propaganda at a time when Queen Elizabeth's court was divided between two factions, the Essex faction and the Cecil faction.

Essex was the Queen's "favourite" for many years, but there were many at court, primarily Wiliam Cecil and his son Robert, who conspired against him.

When Shakespeare wrote his plays supporting Essex, he was trying to inspire London to rally behind Essex. When he wrote Henry V for Essex, he was writing a play for him as he was marching off to war, against Irish rebels.

Essex in armour

That play was first performed in early 1599. The Essex campaign in Ireland was a complete failure, and it led to Essex's complete failure at court, and his loss of favour with Queen Elizabeth.

Things were so bad for Essex, that by February 1601, he led an armed rebellion against the Queen and her court. He was executed.

David Tennant as Hamlet

So, between 1599 and 1601, when Essex was at his lowest point, and in desperate need of any and all support, could Shakespeare have thought of a sequel to his Henry V play?

He might have written about the events between Agincourt and Henry's death seven years later, how his fighting in France dragged on, and how he became sick. There would of course have been a deathbed speech to make everyone in the Globe cry.

What better way to gain sympathy for Essex than to show Henry's death on stage, whose  death came much too soon?

Shakespeare and Essex may have talked about this sequel. They may have even crafted whole scenes, and lines of dialogue.

Perhaps Shakespeare even wrote the entire play.

Perhaps he was still working on it when Essex could wait no longer, and rashly, insanely took up arms against Queen Elizabeth.

Jude Law as Henry

It is interesting to imagine what that play could been like. It is also interesting to think of what effect the play might have had, had it been completed and performed.

I want to believe that it would have repaired Essex's relationship with Queen Elizabeth and restored him to his privileged place in her court.

But sadly that is not what happened.

What do you think? Did Shakespeare plan to write a Henry V, Part 2?


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