“O England! model to thy inward greatness,
Like little body with a mighty heart”
(Henry V, chorus, second act)
Comments. As we know, Shakespeare was what today we would call a strong nationalist. Foreign characters perform poorly, be they French, Italians, Spanish, Roman or Latin.
That the chorus make such a gratifying statement about England is, therefore, no surprise – Henry V, being the quintessential nationalist play.
It’s perhaps instructive to think about these lines today when, in England, it has been discovered that one of the most popular TV-radio DJ and personality was a pedophile. Nor apparently he was the only one. The director of the very august BBC was called to testify in front of a parliamentary panel about what he knew, knows or did not know. It is almost a re-play of the events surrounding another august institution that shall remain nameless.
Shakespeare wrote his play when Elizabeth I was queen and England and Spain jostled for imperial world domination. Causing people to believe that they will derive personal benefits if their country achieves imperial status was at the time the task of poetry. And when evidence for the belief is lacking, flattery is the next best medium, in the instance, combined with poetry – poetical flattery. No doubt, the lines would have had the audience be proud of itself.
Tips for Use. Suggest that greatness does not depend on size or power.
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In the Play. The chorus fills the gaps of time in the play and the absence of special effects technology. And it takes the occasion for some nationalist and imperialist propaganda. Henry V was getting ready to cross the Channel to bring freedom and democracy to France.