Henry is a strong imperial leader. His oration to his men at the breach, with its inhuman but exhilarating images of the tiger, the cannon, and the rock, works well as a rhetorical ploy to make them keep fighting in a tough situation. …
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Henry shows his military discipline in approving, without hesitation, the execution of Bardolph for stealing from a church: "We would have all such offenders so cut off". Yet there is no moment of compunction, no recognition of past ties between him and his Eastcheap companion, even though Fluellen makes a point of identifying Bardolph by his carbuncled complexion and nose "like a coal of fire". It is only retroactively linked with Henry's spontaneous and understandable anger over the massacre of the luggage attendants, an anger that then reaches excess in Henry's threat to cut more throats. If temperance is a cardinal virtue of the ruler, Henry has failed again. His behavior on the battlefield veers confusingly between coldblooded practicality and barely restrained fury.
Henry is convinced that the course of the war is providentially arranged and that human intervention counts for little: "We are in God's hand, brother" ((Henry V (ed.), 1954, III. vi. 177) and "how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!" (IV. iii. 133). Often, though, the dramatic context overlays Henry's religious assertions with irony. Henry determines that the campaign against the French "lies within the will of God," but only after declaring his intention to make the Dauphin pay dearly for his ill-advised gift of tennis balls.
The favorable portrait of Henry is continually subject to ironic qualification without being totally undercut. Henry's possible chicanery or question the decency and fairness of his tactics modify the portrait of him as a hero without turning him into an antihero. Henry V is shown to us as a great leader, but not an infallible one." Henry Strong leadership shows imperialism that Shakespeare implies, requires cunning as...
Henry has completely appropriated the persona of the soldier, calling it "A name that in my thoughts becomes me best". His threatening speech is thus predicated on a total divorce between the sensitive mortal who is bound to feel "pity" for violated women and butchered babies and the hardened military leader who would fatalistically let his soldiers run amok. If Henry actually allowed this brutality to take place, could he remain a respected ruler, full of "king-becoming graces"? Again there is a tenuous balance between the monarch's ruthlessness and "mercy." It is possible, though not certain, that the blood-chilling threats are merely a clever tactic to coerce surrender, so that once the Governor has capitulated Henry can "Use mercy to them all". There is a similar conflict between the King's "lenity" and "cruelty" toward an individual when Henry, while insisting on treating the French with respect and not stealing from their land because "the gentler gamester is the soonest winner," nevertheless approves Bardolph's execution. He reveals no regret over the death of an old comrade for theft. The expedient military leader clearly cannot afford to be sentimental.
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