Babel on the Battlefield. Englishing the French in Shakespeare’s Henry V


Abstract - This paper examines Shakespeare’s Henry V from the perspective of the play’s deep concern with languages and with the dynamics of their interaction. The drama is characterised by linguistic heterogeneity of various kinds, from the blatant bilingualism that sets it apart from other plays in the canon, to the welter of regional dialects, personal idiolects, and stylistic registers that are also played off against one another within it. At the same time as it enacts a confrontation between the English and French tongues, and the mentalities and cultural codes they respectively encode, it also juxtaposes different voices articulating contrasting evaluations of events and discrepant perceptions of the protagonist himself. The linguistic multiplicity of the play is therefore part and parcel of the ambivalence of attitude with which recent criticism of the play has increasingly been concerned. At the same time, it also implicates issues having to do with translation and other forms of cultural negotiation, as well as those of names and of the mechanisms through which these are conferred. If on the one hand the king is implicitly attempting to establish linguistic uniformity through his military conquest of France, he is unable to curb the tendency towards linguistic fragmentation that is manifest among his own subjects and even in his own use of language.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v13p211

Keywords: Shakespeare, Henry V


Abate, C.S. 2001, “Once more unto the breach”: Katharine’s Victory in “Henry V”, in “Early Theatre” 4, pp.


Baldo, J. 1996, Wars of Memory in “Henry V”, in “Shakespeare Quarterly” 47, pp. 132–59.

Danson, L. 1983, Henry V: King, Chorus, and Critics, “Shakespeare Quarterly” 34, pp. 27–43.

Goddard, H.C. 1960, The Meaning of Shakespeare, 2 vols., rpt. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (IL).

Greenblatt, S. 1992, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Levin, R. 1984, Hazlitt on Henry V, and the Appropriation of Shakespeare, “Shakespeare Quarterly” 35, pp.


Lynch, J. 2008, Becoming Shakespeare: How a Dead Poet Became the World’s Foremost Literary Genius, Con-stable, London.

Maguire, L. 2007, Shakespeare’s Names, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Maguire, L. 2004, Studying Shakespeare: A Guide to the Plays, Blackwell, Oxford.

McEachern, C. 1994, Henry V and the Paradox of the Body Politic, “Shakespeare Quarterly” 45, pp. 33-56.

Nims, J.F. 2000, Introduction: Ovid, Golding, and the Craft of Poetry, in J.F. Nims, ed., Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation 1567, rpt. Paul Dry Books, Philadelphia, pp. xiii–xxxv.

Nuttall, A.D. 2007, Shakespeare the Thinker, Yale University Press, New Haven (CT).

Ostashevsky, E. 2004, Crooked Figures: Zero and Hindu-Arabic Notation in Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, in Arts of Calculation: Quantifying Thought in Early Modern Europe, eds D. Glimp and M.R. Warren, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 205–28.

Pugliatti, P. 1993, The Strange Tongues of Henry V, “The Yearbook of English Studies” 23, pp. 235–53.

Rabkin, N. 1981, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (IL).

Shakespeare, W. 2001, The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, eds R. Proudfoot, A. Thompson and D.S. Kas-

tan, Thomson Learning, London.

Shakespeare, W. 2006, The Complete Works, eds S. Wells & G. Taylor, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Ox-ford.

Shakespeare, W. 1993, King Henry V, ed. J.H. Walter, Routledge, London.

Shapiro, J. 2005, 1599, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Faber, London.

Siemon, J.R. 2002, Word Against Word: Shakespearean Utterance, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst (MA).

Steinsaltz, D. 2002, The Politics of French Language in Shakespeare’s History Plays, “Studies in English Liter-ature 1500–1900” 42, pp. 317–34.

Watson, G. 1990, Shakespeare and the Norman Conquest: English in the Elizabethan Theatre, “Virginia Quar-terly Review” 66, pp. 613–28.

Full Text: pdf


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.