Leadership Ideals in Henry V and The Prince
A comparison of leadership ideals in Shakespeare’s Henry V and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.
This paper looks at the similarities between Shakespeare’s Henry V and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, and the concept of the perfect king. The two plays are discussed, and the concept that either Shakespeare is drawing his inspiration for his dramatization from Machiavelli or that both Machiavelli and Shakespeare have similar ideas of what the ideal ruler would be.
“In Henry V, Shakespeare presents Henry as the ultimate ideal of kingship. The only question is where does this idea of a perfect king come from, and after reading Machiavelli’s Prince and Henry V one begins to note similarities. Not the least of which is the passage quoted above, a true Machiavellian manoeuvre. In this passage, the governor of Harfleur, the French city under siege by Henry’s troops, has refused entrance to the army of Henry. As Machiavelli says, “it is wiser to have a reputation for meanness which brings reproach without hatred, than to be compelled through seeking a reputation for liberality”. Therefore, Henry, following this advice of Machiavelli, does exactly that, and frightens the innocent people of Harfleur into opening their city gates through the sheer grotesqueness of his command. We frequently see these similarities between the actions of Henry, at least through Shakespeare’s portrayal, and the recommended actions of a good prince, as documented in Machiavelli’s The Prince. Therefore, one might draw the conclusion that either Shakespeare is drawing his inspiration for his dramatization from Machiavelli or that both Machiavelli and Shakespeare have similar ideas of what the ideal ruler would be.”