Article Title

The Common Good and the Necessity of War: Emergent Republican Ideals in Shakespeare's Henry V and Coriolanus


Rita Banerjee


This essay seeks to read Henry V, the last play of the second tetralogy, in conjunction with Coriolanus, which is based on the early years of the Roman republic. That Shakespeare turned to Roman history immediately after the English history plays suggests an attempt to review the objectives and ideals of government through the perspective of republican Rome. In each play, the phenomenon of war is judged with respect to the republican ideal of common good, and is seen to serve only sectional, that is, absolutist, oligarchical or ecclesiastical interests. The common people, who are the most exploited by the practice of war, appear as its most articulate critics. An intertextual reading suggests the emergence of republican values even in the earlier play and allows for the appearance of a republican vision of history in Henry V, which undermines the orthodox ideology of the Tudor historiography the play only nominally subscribes to. Both plays suggest that war, when not undertaken for defense, is not conducive to the common good and demonstrate the need for popular participation in the general weal.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.