The Chorus originates from Greek theatre where it consisted of a group of actors who made comments on the play as it progressed. Shakespeare has used the Chorus in several of his plays, including Henry V. The Chorus in Henry V has several functions. These include: setting the scene, moving time, apologising to the audience, encouraging the audience’s imagination and more.
The play is set effectively introduced in the first Chorus, where the reference to ‘Mars’ the god of war and the words ‘puissance’ and ‘warlike’ let the audience know that the play will involve war.
The scene is also set whilst describing the horses in the first Chorus. The horses are described as ‘Printing their proud hooves i’ th’ receiving earth’ which paints a picture of horses walking along and asks the audience to imagine the battle scene vividly, even to the extent of the hoof prints of the horses on the battle field.
A pictures is also painted in Chorus 3 where the boats in Harry’s fleet are declared as ‘behold… th’ constant billows dancing,’ these words paint a picture of the flags to the ships billowing in the wind.
Sound is also used to paint a picture, in places such as ‘The hum of either army stilly sounds’ where the two armies are camping the night before the battle, and also in the scene at Southampton docks describing the sounds you can hear ‘Hear the shrill whistle,’ this tells us that at the docks there was a whistle blown, the word ‘shrill’ tells us that it is high pitched.
The Choruses also have the ability to move time. This has been done by telling you what’s going on and as it’s different from before, ‘The youth of England are on fire,’ if the circumstances have changed since you heard of them, then obviously time has moved.
Time is also moved by the Chorus telling you ‘Imagined wing our swift scene flies… in motion no less than celerity’ which explains that the scene changes, but no less than time.
The subject of time is also brought up in the first Chorus, when he proclaims ‘ th’ accomplishment of many years into an hour,’ and that they cannot put years doings into a few hours.
Time is also shifted easily, merely by the Chorus telling you what time it is ‘third hour of drowsy morning name,’ and if it’s not the same time since you last heard from him, then you know time has changed.
Shakespeare also apologises for the lack of facilities he has, ‘pardon gentles all,’ in doing this, he is apologising and being polite to them so they may not judge him so harshly.
Shakespeare also apologises for not being able to travel with the audience, he apologises by saying ‘Linger your patience on and we’ll digest th’ abuse of distance,’ he asks them to be patient a little longer so they can solve the problem of distance between locations.
Shakespeare knows he has inadequate facilities, for instance ‘unworthy scaffold’ is acknowledging that his stage is not equip to re-enact the full-scale battle of Agincourt. He also says he wishes he had better facilities, ‘kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold,’ these are what he would like to have, and he realises and explains that he wishes he had them because that would make his play better for the audience.
The Chorus also sets the scene and moves places, ‘The… king at Hampton Pier,’ tells us where the king is, and that this is where the audience is as well.
The scene also changes time and place when Shakespeare writes, ‘entertain conjecture of time when… the pouring dark fills the wide vessel of the universe,’ where he is telling us that it is nighttime and dark.
The scene and characters are moved by the words, ‘Now we bear the king towards Calais,’ this tells us where Henry is, and where the audience should be.
The Chorus also glorifies Henry in several ways, ‘Warlike Harry assume the port of Mars,’ suggests that Harry is comparable to a god. He is also glorified when Shakespeare writes, ‘The mirror of all Christian kings,’ where Henry is being referred to as an example to all Christian kings.
The Chorus’s opinion is that Henry deserves to be king, we can see this from, ‘ well-appointed king,’ the fact that he is well-appointed shows that he feels he deserves to be king.
Harry is portrayed as modest and brave in Chorus four, ‘ The royal captain… walking from watch to watch… and calls them brother, friends and countrymen,’ shows this in that he is so modest he would call his subjects his ‘friends’ and even ‘brothers’ which would have been especially shocking in Shakespearean times.
The Chorus constantly attempts to encourage the audience’s imagination, to make it seem although the facilities in ‘The Globe’ are better than they really are, ‘Since a crooked figure may attest in little place a million,’ means that just as the addition of an 0 can turn 100,000 into 1,000,000 so few actors can portray thousands of people.
The audience are told to imagine in several instances in the choruses, ‘Than that of though, suppose you have seen the…king at Hampton Pier,’ and, ‘Now entertain conjecture,’ are both telling you to imagine simply.
The subject of fire is constantly brought up throughout the Choruses. ‘O for a muse of fire,’ is begging for some inspiration. Chorus two, ‘The youth of England are on fire,’ is describing the youth of England as fire. ‘Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames each battle sees each other’s umbered face,’ is how each camp before the battle sees each other at night.
The Chorus generally ends with a rhyming couplet, to signal to the audience that it is the end, ‘Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray, gently to hear, kindly to judge our play,’ and ‘To give you gentle pass, if we may we’ll not offend one stomach with our play,’ also, ‘And down goes all before them. Still be kind, and eke out our performance with your mind.’
I think the main purpose of the Chorus was to simplify a play, which could have been very hard to illustrate on the stage. Shakespeare wrote Henry V in the Elizabethan period, so there was not the technology back then that there is now to convey the image Shakespeare was trying to put across to the audience. So this was a way for Shakespeare to overcome this problem.