Interpersonal Relationships Of The Elite And Their Impact On Society: The Famous Histories Of Henry V And Edward II

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Comparing the depictions of parental relationships in The Famous Histories of Henry V and Edward II in an effort to determine how these plays in turn implant ideas about patriotism within Elizabethan society.

Within most Elizabethan plays, one finds that for the characters within historical plays, nothing ever comes in the way of national pride and one’s religious beliefs. However, it is curious to note that certain interpersonal relationships depicted within these plays are more fluid. They often shift between what best suits the national interest and the desires of the individual. This is especially true in the elites found in the societies depicted in Elizabethan history plays. One finds that one’s devotion to their country and their religion is often the linchpin that determines a character’s categorization as either a hero or a villain. It seems, however, that interpersonal relationships are often determined in a similar manner. A relationship within such plays is justified by determining if falls in line with patriotic ideals or religious beliefs of the period. As such, only relationships that served the purpose of putting forward ideas deemed acceptable to the public were allowed to be performed. As such, it is inconceivable that the depictions of interpersonal relations shown within these plays sometimes while problematic for the image of the monarchy were still allowed to be performed, without a hidden agenda. As such, within history plays, the audience is forced to view all interpersonal relationships shown within the criterion we are provided with. We are given the illusion of choice within a scenario in which a choice seems already to be apparent. We as a society have by now determined what are acceptable behaviors for the society we live in, and we, in turn, have these choices reflected back to us within these history plays.

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The relationships of these elites in these plays have been taken in certain ways to implant certain ideas into the minds of its audience. The objective of this essay is to examine how history plays implant certain ideas about patriotism through the manipulation of the interpersonal relationships within the play’s elite. In order to properly go about this examination, we must look at the most vital interpersonal relationships found within the historical plays of the Elizabethan era and determine how certain relational practices are utilized in order to present a patriotic message. An argument can be made that there exists no greater relationship than the relationship between a parent and their child. The importance of this relationship cannot be understated as it determines how the future of the child would be and their interactions with others going forward. It is, however, important to note that the idea of “Patriotism” is being used here to describe one’s duty to God, their King, and Country.[footnoteRef:1] The notion that one has a duty to emulate, or at least recognize the actions their monarch and their fore fathers have done for their country as its head. That is not to say that some of these actions are not questionable. Instead, the focus is on determining if they were justifiable in the interest of the country they swore to steward. [1: Andrea Baumeister, Patriotism, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, inc.,July 10, 2017,, Access Date: November 27, 2019]

There exists no greater relationship within a society that the interpersonal relationships that exist within a family setting. After all, a nation is to be treated like a family, one in which the king is the Father, the Queen its mother and the Princes and other Elites the elder Siblings who have been given special liberties to take care of us younger children. The relationship between any family, even the royal family is a very intricate one. Therefore, it is only natural to expect that any relationship within a family would be complicated at best. However, with the added responsibilities that come with being a part of the royal family, one can expect what would be complicated to easily escalate to turbulent.

In the Famous Victories of Henry V, one is presented with the life of Prince Henry and his evolution into the famous King that would become well-known by the Elizabethan era for his valor and patriotism. However, his interpersonal relationships leave much to be desired within this play. Here it seems that one’s duty and their love for their country often end up overtaking their love for their family. Prince Harry and his father have a relationship that can be described to be at best one in which they hold each other to high esteem. They seem to recognize each other more for what they have or can accomplish more than for their genuine affection for each other. For the longest time, Prince Henry seems to be eager for his father’s death so that he may elevate to his position as King.[footnoteRef:2] The reference of the cloak of needles leads to the assumption being made that Henry V believed could not wait for this to become reality. King Henry IV is less eager to see his son ascend the throne. As such, when Prince Henry comes to his father’s chamber, he does so seemingly ready to kill him with a knife. It is only handed over after his father calls attention to the dagger in the room with his son.[footnoteRef:3] “The playwright adds the rowdy company that the king twice bars from the room, adds both Hal’s entering the room alone and his carrying a drawn dagger and omits his offering the dagger to the king in a sacrificial posture.”[footnoteRef:4]Some believe that Henry V might not have relented the idea to kill his father. They even go as far as to call it “a sudden and entirely unprepared-for reformation.”[footnoteRef:5] Rather, the truth might have been that he might have stated his repentance for political reasons only to persuade the King that this occurrence was a harmless incident. However, this seemed to have failed to convince many of his innocence. Why else would he repeat himself so much, as if not prove his innocence.[footnoteRef:6] While King Henry IV may seem to lament his elevation, he does so because of the possible ruin Prince Henry’s ascension might have on those who he would rule over. [2: Anonymous, Edited by Mathew Martin, Famous Victories of Henry V,, line 600-621] [3: Ibid, 616] [4: Larry S Champion, The noise of threatening drum: dramatic strategy and political ideology in Shakespeare and the English chronicle plays / Larry S. Champion .1990. pg.21] [5: Irving Ribner, The English Play in the Age of Shakepeare (Princeton: Princeton Unversity Press, 1957), 72] [6: Anonymous, Edited by Mathew Martin, Famous Victories of Henry V,, line 630]

Henry V’s evolution becomes a tale of a man accepting responsibility for the good of his kingdom instead of his growth coming about due to the influence of his father. This lack of affection between the father and son is bothersome and the fact this is displayed to an audience like the Elizabethan one suggests many ideas to an audience. The first being that to that Henry V originally was a tyrant who believed nothing was more important than power. Henry IV had wrestled power from the previous leader Edward II and was still trying to maintain his hold on it. His son’s desire to take over so quickly is deemed an acceptable one by his father, and he seems to want to propagate this desire.[footnoteRef:7] The affections of the King seem to truly make an appearance after this event.” [7: Ibid, line 735- 740]


God give thee joy, my son. God bless thee and make thee His servant and send thee a prosperous reign, for God knows, my son, how hardly I came by it and how hardly I have maintained it.


Howsoever you came by it, I know not, but now I have it from you, and from you I will keep it. And he that seeks to take the crown from my head, let him look that his armor be thicker than mine, or I will pierce him to the heart were it harder than brass or bullion.


Nobly spoken, and like a king. Now trust me, my lords, I fear not but me son will be as warlike and victorious a prince as ever reigned in England.”[footnoteRef:8] [8: Ibid, line 745-758]

King Henry IV is a melancholic king that has little to no interest in the education of his son in matters outside of kingship. As such, the image presented to the audience of this play is that while the King was a terrible father, he at least could instruct his son to be a capable ruler.


Why, how now, my son? I had thought the last time I had you in schooling I had given you a lesson for all, and do you now begin again? Why tell me, my son, dost thou think the time so long that thou wouldst have it before the breath be out of my mouth?[footnoteRef:9] [9: Ibid, 717-721]

This served to reassure the audience that above all else, the prosperity of the nation is secure even at the expense of the personal relationship between the King and his boy.

Another example of interpersonal relationships being utilized to push forward patriotic ideas can be found in Edward II and it is displayed by Queen Isabella of France and her son Edward III. These are true examples of love for family being shown within Elizabethan history plays. They both display fierce loyalty for the members of their family that appears to be lacked by King Henry IV and Prince Henry in the Famous Histories.

Queen Isabella within the play is presented as a schemer. One with a personality that is unusual for the female character of the time. Kent describes her best,

“Dissemble, or thou diest; for Mortimer

And Isabel do kiss, while they conspire;

And yet she bears a face of love forsooth.

Fie on that love that hatcheth death and hate!”[footnoteRef:10] [10: Christopher Marlowe, EDWARD II, 1592, ACT IV, SCENE V]

Isabella is a woman who presents herself in any manner to outsiders in order to secure her goals. The only people who know her are those she truly loves, and these are limited within the play to Mortimer and her son Edward III. She openly showcases her affection for her son during mosts of their interaction within the play.

“Edw. III.

What safety may I look for at his hands,

If that my uncle shall be murdered thus?

Q. Isab.

Fear not, sweet boy, I’ll guard thee from thy foes;

Had Edmund lived, he would have sought thy death.

Come, son, we’ll ride a-hunting in the park”[footnoteRef:11] [11: Christopher Marlowe, EDWARD II, 1592, ACT V, SCENE IV]

Mortimer seems to recognize her devotion to her son as a weak point for the Queen and takes advantage of this to elevate himself to a higher position. Queen Isabella’s devotion to her son and lover over the well-being of the state leads her to be persuaded in this play to remove Edward II from his throne.

“Q. Isab. Sweet Mortimer, the life of Isabel,

Be thou persuaded that I love thee well,

And therefore, so the prince my son be safe,

Whom I esteem as dear as these mine eyes,

Conclude against his father what thou wilt,

And I myself will willingly subscribe.”[footnoteRef:12] [12: Ibid, ACT V, SCENE II]

Here the maternal instinct is shown as both a benefit as well as a hindrance to the well-being of the state. It benefits the state in that it removes a bad monarch from his position of power over the nation. This should hopefully lead to a better monarch assuming the power for the good of the country. This could be a subtle nod to the fact that Elizabeth is like a mother as well and as such understands the implications of her rebellion for both her child and more importantly the people, she has been given stewardship over. The country is her child since she is its Queen and as such her protective nature is put on full display to show how fiercely she would fight for it. Her child discovering her conspiracy to murder his father breaks the Queen in a way Edward II” s infidelity does not. She takes his dismissal of her from his presence extremely hard.

“Q. Isab. He hath forgotten me; stay, I am his mother.

2nd Lord. That boots not; therefore, gentle madam, go.

Q. Isab. Then come, sweet death, and rid me of this grief”

One could liken this to a citizen dismissing his country for their actions taken against another without just cause. Back in the Elizabethan period when this play was made, many found some of the actions of their rulers suspicious and quickly dismissed some of their actions meant to be for the good of the nation. This can be seen in the public’s reactions to the war with Ireland and the food shortages during her rule.[footnoteRef:13] Elizabeth’s Echoes of this can be found today in how Americans became disillusioned with their government’s wars against Vietnam and Iraq. They dismissed their pleas of having justification of their actions and queried their governments on their justification for the war’s occurrence. [13: ‘The Last Years of Elizabeth’s Reign .’ Elizabethan World Reference Library . . Retrieved November 24, 2019 from]

The prince is equally receptive to the affections of his mother and reciprocates them in kind. As such he appears extremely filial to his mother in the play. Helps to accentuate to the audience that they can expect him to be just as filial to his country, regardless of her flaws, he would protect her from harm. Prince Edward III remains filial even though he must administer justice against his mother. He does not argue too much when she tells him that his Uncle Edmund was a traitor. This accusation turned out to be false, however, Edward III believes his mother and promptly ends all further line of questioning. This show of trust is one that presents Edward III as a young man who trusts his mother explicitly without fail. The only time he no longer listens to her is after finding out that she was complicit in his father’s death.

“Edw. III. Away with her, her words enforce these tears,

And I shall pity her if she speak again.”[footnoteRef:14] [14: Christopher Marlowe, EDWARD II, 1592, ACT V, SCENE VI 137-8]

This devotion to his mother also extends to other members of his family. After all, while he might not be a fan of his father, his position as King is one that needs to be given the respect that it deserves. As such Edward III pays his respects to his father by addressing him as “Sweet father”, a term of endearment, not for his role as his father but for his role as King of the nation.

“Sweet father, here unto thy murdered ghost

I offer up this wicked traitor’s head;

And let these tears, distilling from mine eyes,” [footnoteRef:15] [15: Ibid, 169-172]

Be witness of my grief and innocence.

This also absolves himself of the crime committed, as if to say I had no part of this and as such one should expect my rule to be better and ordained by God. His mother and her lover’s conspiracy to have his father killed is one that he must address lest it leads to others having similar notions about his incoming rule as King. The King was believed to have been chosen by God as such any attempt to murder him was deemed sacrilegious. This means that murdering the King needed to have consequences. After all, the Queen is held up to have much more stringent rules regarding fidelity within the eyes of the church and the nation. In order to reassure the nation that that rule of law prevails this issue needs to be addressed. By maintaining his mother in seclusion, King Edward III ends up saving his own piety in the eyes of God and men. Mortimer is executed as it should be for his crime of not only killing the King but also entering an illicit affair with the King’s wife.

When it comes notions about relationships are notions that we all have similar ideas regarding how they should work. The same can be said for ideas about what patriotism should be to be a citizen of a country. Historical plays help present these ideas to us in a way in which we as the audience find relatable and easy to understand. This is especially true for the portrayal of patriotism through depictions of parental relationships. One does not choose the country in which they are born in, just like they cannot choose the parents they are given. Each individual has a personal relationship with their country that while relatable to others, remains deeply personal to themselves and their parents in return. Likewise, a citizen’s relationship with their parent country is just as personal to them. Both treat you with preferential affection or seemingly none at all, sometimes they even expect you to prove yourself worthy of their notice in some form or another. History plays implant the notion that we are the children of our country. They use these relationships found in their characters’ interpersonal relationships especially the ones they have with their parents to justify the kind of relationship its audience should consider having with their country. One of ambition to be better than their forebearers. One of mutual respect for the accomplishments of those who came before us, while maintaining an objective eye to call them for the wrongful actions that occurred in the past. However, above all else, we must maintain a sense of duty to the country and those tasked with ensuring that the country remains whole. Again, one must remember that history plays also instill religious ideology in its audience. Amazingly, religion calls upon us to honor our parents and our elders. The monarchy and its councilors inhabit this position in our society and as such are deemed to divinely and naturally warranted of this respect from the audience.


  1. Andrea Baumeister, Patriotism, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., ,,July 10, 2017,
  2. Anonymous, Edited by Mathew Martin, Famous Victories of Henry V,
  3. Larry S Champion, The noise of threatening drum: dramatic strategy and political ideology in Shakespeare and the English chronicle plays / Larry S. Champion .1990.
  4. Ribner Irving, The English Play in the Age of Shakepeare Princeton: Princeton Unversity Press, 1957.
  5. Marlowe Christopher, EDWARD II, 1592, ACT IV, SCENE V
  6. ‘The Last Years of Elizabeth’s Reign.’ Elizabethan World Reference Library.


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