My favourite versions of my favourite Shakespeare characters: Henry V

Branagh in a still from the movie (IMDB)

A character’s view that came exactly in the time I needed it serves us to start this new series of articles.

As every Shakespeare nerd worth their salt, I have my favourite characters. Moreso, I have my favourite versions of my favourite characters. I might like them because they are close to my vision of how the character should be interpreted (give or take some things) or they have influenced massively the way I see the character.
This one has the honour of being my favourite among the favourites for one very special reason: It came to me exactly in the right time I needed it, and it gave me a very important message.

See, my teen years weren’t exactly easy. While I’ve been tremendously privileged in some aspects, others weren’t as good. I had been suffering bullying for a few years and my grades took a massive fall (ironically, one of the reasons I was bullied because I was supposedly a nerd and a teacher’s pet) and if I did not take care of them, I might be stuck in high school most of my life. Which honestly, in hindsight, eugh, but at that time I felt as I had given up. I’d endure the image the rest had of me (Whether it was the teacher’s pet or a lazy disaster) all while being a complete and utter failure and pretty much just existing.

The only thing I kind of liked was learning English, and by that time, my obsession with Shakespeare was already starting.

Thankfully, one of those days, my mum brought be a dvd she had found discounted, because I liked Shakespeare and all that stuff. It was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

I had not read the play, but I thought why not? and started the dvd.

And man, I was hooked from the very start. All of it because of a Very Important Reason: I had never identified so hard with a character as I did with Branagh’s Henry.

I know, a teen girl identifying hard with a fictional depiction of a king of England is sort of weird, but bear with me because it kind of makes sense. (Or at least it does to me.)

And a lot of it has to do with the way others see us and we see ourselves, but also our inner battles to reach our true potential.

Even if it is said that there has been a change in Henry after the death of his father, reputations (in this case Hal’s one as a wild youth uninterested in politics) are something that is hard to shake off, and neither friend, nor foe, has forgotten Henry’s past and pretend to either use it to their advantage or insult him. There’s the intent of manipulation of the clergymen who think they can make him go to war with France (Something he seems to ponder on, despite their insistence) to make sure he does not pass a bill that might affect the Church, and the insult of the French Dauphin with the tennis balls.

And thus, we end up in war. But not only the war against the French, but the very same war Henry has to battle to finally settle who he truly is. And for that, one has to make sacrifices. In the case of Henry, it is saying goodbye to everything and everyone that made him Prince Hal.

Personally, I find those scenes, specially the ones he shares with Falstaff (brought from parts of the Henry IV plays as far as I remember), quite brutal. But it is necessary for Henry. After all, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and if we hide ourselves in the past, as difficult as it might feel for us not doing so, we might not wear our crowns or conquer our very own France as we are destined to do.

But even with those sacrifices and bearing the weight of them, Branagh’s Henry becomes an inspiration to his men, even if he surely is as terrified as them of the French that outnumber them. Branagh’s version of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech has become a mantra of sorts for me in difficult times, so heart-soaring and inspirational it feels that it makes me believe that I can get through everything and anything that Life presents me.

That is the thing, I might not be a medieval king of England in the conquest of a foreign kingdom, but as Branagh’s Henry, I have battles of my own to lead. Battles that I have to fight and, that, hopefully, shall help me to understand that I, too, can lead my own destiny, and maybe, one day, be victorious at my very own Agincourt.

So far, I know I’m very far from it, and that the road will be difficult, but if Henry didn’t give up, neither will I.

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