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Shakespeare on Leadership

King Henry V and Charismatic Leadership

Several attempts to bring Shakespeare's Henry V to the screen have been made. Only the 1989 version, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh has been commercially successful. It is a marvelous and stirring film with a strong anti-war sentiment.

This synopsis focuses on parts of the story related to leadership. It omits various sub-plots and other themes.

Leadership Synopsis

In the opening scenes, a young King Henry has recently ascended to the throne of England. He has reason to believe there is a lawful reason to unite England and France under one ruler, himself.

Henry's youthful escapades have brought him a reputation as a lightweight playboy. The Dauphin of France sends a scornful joke-gift in the form of tennis balls. Henry responds:

When we have march'd our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard...

...So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin
His jest will savour but of shallow wit,
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.

A plan is conceived to invade France. After a minor sub-plot involving traitors, action proceeds to the small town of Harfleur in France.

Henry leads his forces "from the front" and takes the town. He orders his men to treat the residents as English-- there is to be no pillaging or stealing. A boyhood friend is caught stealing and Henry hangs him for the offense.

Dysentery plagues the town and Henry marches his main force towards Calais with the intent of returning to England.

The French forces intercept Henry at Agincourt. The English are heavily outnumbered, sick, tired and despondent. The French call for a surrender and ransom. Henry responds:

We are but warriors for the working-day;...
...But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim.

...We would not seek a battle, as we are;
Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it:

Westmoreland laments that "If we had just 10,000 of those men who do no work in England." Henry responds: "... the fewer the men the greater the share of honor."  Truly the greatest inspirational speech in any medium ensues.


Kenneth BragnaughThe battle engages and the French are defeated by English archers, mud and their own indiscipline. After the battle, the French and English carry their dead and wounded to the nearby castle of Agincourt.

KING HENRY V

Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this or take the praise from God
Which is his only.

FLUELLEN

Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?

KING HENRY V

Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.


For a more complete analysis, see "Henry V and Charismatic Leadership" . This page gives specific examples taken from Shakespeare's play. 

The Leadership Series

This page is one part of a series. "Leadership for Lean Manufacturing" begins the series with an overview and summaries of leadership style and the Charismatic Leadership Model. "Tales From Twelve O'clock High" is an excellent article from Major Attila Bognar of the U.S. Army. Major Bognar describes the model and relates it to the classic 1948 film about the Eighth Air Force.Next Page


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