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The treatment of male comradeship in Henry V and The Rover Paper

Essay Topic:

Comradeship is a familiarity or sociability (typically between men) with a person who shares one’s interests and activities including political persuasion. In this assignment I shall examine the treatment of male comradeship in relation to William Shakespeare’s Henry V and The Rover written by Aphra Behn, with comparative analysis of the two texts.

Henry V was written during the Renaissance period against a backdrop of the military campaign against the Irish. Through his portrayal of Henry as a victorious King, Shakespeare not only appealed to the audience’s national patriotism but appeased the existing monarch Elizabeth I. This epic historical play provides an ironic insight into the price of being King through a contrast of Henry’s misspent youth: ‘riots, banquets and sports’ (Penguin p63) and his new world as court politician, military leader and upholder of Christian values.

The opening scene provides the play’s first example of comradeship. It begins mid-conversation between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely. Shakespeare uses this device to stimulate the audience’s interest, as they become party to a private conversation. His use of religious leaders would have created an initial sense of trust in the action and messages conveyed. However, as the scene unfolds, their shared conspiracy, encouraging Henry to war with France in order to shift focus from a law expropriating church property would have been considered shocking.

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Act II.1 to II.3 presents a fascinating juxtaposition of comradeship. In II.1 we are reintroduced to Prince Hal’s ‘unlettered, rude and shallow’ (Penguin p63) friends. Unsurprisingly the scene opens with Pistol and Nym exchanging strong insults and drawing swords. There is no regard for friendship. Only after Bandolph intercedes does Pistol relent ‘And friendship shall combine, and brotherhood’ (Penguin p80). However, even this truce lacks sincerity as Pistol’s underlying motive is to have his friends accompany him to France. News of Falstaff’s ill health is also reported in which Nym cites the King as the cause and Pistol comments that Henry has broken Falstaff’s heart. Here Shakespeare reminds reader and audience that comradeship can be superficial both amongst common men and indeed royalty.

The following scene depicts the comradeship of Scroop, Cambridge and Grey, in their shared treachery toward the King. Shakespeare heightens their falsehood through using language displaying excessive loyalty. Scroop’s speech ‘no service shall with steeled sinews toil’ (Penguin p82) and its alliteration of the letter ‘s’, which would have signified feelings of mistrust to the audience. Henry then delivers a long rhetorical and emotional speech. His anguish at Scroop’s betrayal, the friend who ‘knew’st the very bottom of my soul’ (Penguin p84), coupled with the length, use of language and symbolism clearly signifies the importance Henry places on loyalty, friendship and Christian morality, which he finds lacking in the traitors.

Act II.3 reports the news of Falstaff’s death. The genuine feelings of grief shared by Pistol, Nym and Bandolph are soon replaced by a mutual plan to go to France, not to fight for Henry and England but like ‘horse-leeches’ (Penguin p89), to pillage the dead. In this sense the comradeship that exists represents to the audience, an honour amongst thieves.

Shakespeare deliberately clusters the scenes of Henry distancing himself from his boyhood friendships and his treatment of the conspirators to build an image of Henry the King, strong, ruthless but just. Even as a King-in-waiting, Henry knew that a time would come when he would cast-off his companions in order to show himself worthy of the crown (Henry IV: Part 1, I.2). Later in the play (Act III.7) we see the final vestige of his past alliances in his decision to hang Bandolph for theft. All previous bonds of friendship are now severed in place of unfeeling authority.

Act III.1 recounts Henry’s military attack on Harfluer. His rallying cry ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more’ (Penguin p96) is synonymous to a trumpet call. The reference to ‘dear friends’ signifies to the audience that Henry considers himself, his nobles and troops to be comrades-in-arms. Moreover this powerful and dramatic speech incorporates imagery and metaphor ‘action of the tiger’ (Penguin p96), under a premise of honour and victory, before finally culminating in the climatic words ‘Cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’,(Penguin p96). In speaking directly to his men they believe he is taking a personal interest in them. He appeals to their nationalism and in turn expects their support.

In Act IV.I Henry dons a disguise and roams amongst his troops at night in order (similar to Germanicus, Penguin p13) to test their morale. His argument with Court, Bates and Williams is telling as despite of his speech at Harfluer Henry’s soldiers question the King’s fears and honour. Here again Shakespeare creates a sense of comradeship through the King’s use of prose, the language of the troops and the common man in trying to answer their questions.

At Agincourt (Act IV.3), Henry turns Westmorland’s despair to his advantage, stirring his men into battle with the infamous and passionate rhetorical alliterative speech of power, honour, courage and fellowship ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ (Penguin p134). Shakespeare’s specific image of the King as one with his men again evokes the same effect as Harfluer in lifting the troops’ morale, they believe honour awaits them. The audience would undoubtedly appreciate Henry’s emotional patriotic speech which is still revered today.

Aphra Behn’s The Rover, written during the Restoration period depicts a post-puritan backlash apparent through its rudeness and crudity. Moreover, The Rover, is more focussed on a carnival celebration of wine, women and frivolity than Shakespeare’s celebration of national patriotism, war and military victory. Assessment however of male comradeship within this play will take into consideration examples which both exist and are absent in Henry V.

Act I.2 takes place in Naples and introduces Colonel Belvile and Fredrick (soldiers of fortune), their friend Ned Blunt and Willmore (The Rover). Willmore initially seeks to create through his bravado a sense of camaraderie between the men, ‘Love and mirth are my business in Naples’ (Apl p270). The subsequent street performance reiterates this masculine environment and point of view, with the women dressed as courtesans offering their bodies for sale.

Act I.2 introduces the concept of money and status against comradeship. Belvile and Fredrick’s apparent friendship with Blunt masks a political resentment and contempt of him not being a cavalier and his upbringing. The cavaliers having lost their estates, money and status, are now using Blunt to support them. Behind his back Belvile says ‘he’s our banker…’ (Apl p274). Indeed money is reiterated once more as the four men discuss about a prized courtesan, Angelica. Although they have different opinions of prostitution in moral terms, ultimately they share a common desire and a generic masculine identity in their fascination with sexuality, price and a woman as a commodity. Following Willmore’s conquest of Angelica in Act III.1, the men stereotypically converge to discuss his exploits over a drink.

Within Act III.6 we see the duplicity of male comradeship. Wilmore having attempted to rape Belvile’s love Florinda, uses alcohol and mistaken-identity as an excuse for his behaviour, Fredrick begs forgiveness on behalf of Willmore, which is reminiscent of Pistol’s defence of Bandolph. Initially Belvile losing his patience says ‘Draw or I’ll kill you’ (Apl p295), however later in the scene he rushes to Willmore’s defence saying ‘Pray heaven the rogue is safe’ (Apl p296). This might indicate to the reader that honour amongst men supersedes Belvile’s loyalty to Florinda. Unfortunately, his honour is misplaced, Willmore escapes and Belvile is arrested. This contrast between the two male protagonists: one honest and upright whilst the other an ‘extravagant rake’ (Apl p161), interestingly mirrors the change we witness in Henry’s progression from Prince to King.

Act IV.1 opens with Belvile’s soliloquy regarding recent events and his imminent death at the hands of Antonio. This speech echoes in part Henry’s soliloquy on the eve of Agincourt in its angst and introspection. Belvile’s language alters as his captor Antonio enters the scene, as he recognises the ‘man-seems of quality’ (Apl p297). This dual identity of Belvile’s public and private faces is again reminiscent of Henry V. In the subsequent discussion there appears to be a mutual respect and appreciation of a gentleman’s code of honour. This representation of comradeship is superficial as Antonio only releases Belvile from his custody on the understanding that he will represent him at a duel. This scene shows that although masculine codes of honour are an external sign of social conduct they are open to corruption and misrepresentation. Indeed in Act IV.2 we witness Hellena donning a male disguise in order to gain respect and manipulate Angelica into releasing Willmore. Similarly Henry V also disguises himself in order to walk and talk freely amongst his troops.

Following the foiled rape attempt in Act III.6, Florinda later escapes a similar fate at the hands of Blunt and Fredrick in Act IV.5. In this following scene however the men (now including Willmore, Belvile and Pedro) believing the woman locked in the adjoining room to be a prostitute (Florinda), decide to draw lots (swords). The male characters are thus involved in a contest of masculine power (symbolised through the sword as phallus) in which rape of the woman is the prize. This perceived show of male unity and propensity for violence presented by Behn is shocking and is similarly mirrored by Henry V who takes Katherine the King of France’s daughter as a trophy/spoil of war.

In conclusion both Henry V and The Rover present varying degrees of male comradeship. What is apparent in both plays is the contrast between the public and private appearance of male characters who adjust their behaviour and alliances to suit their own needs, sometimes with shocking outcomes. Aphra Behn’s play demonstrates that honour, friendship and decency can be disregarded within a single moment without remorse, in times of peace. Whilst in contrast within Henry V these codes are for all intensive purposes upheld in the interest of the common good.

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