How the Hebrew Bible Shaped Shakespeare’s “Henry V”

August 27, 2021 | Paul Cantor
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Perhaps the best known of William Shakespeare’s histories, Henry V is based on the events of the titular monarch’s reign. But, as Paul Cantor—one of today’s leading authorities on Shakespeare—explains in conversation with Shaina Trapedo, the play draws heavily on the Tanakh, especially the books of Joshua and Deuteronomy. Cantor points out the biblical echoes in the play’s plot and language, and how its use of biblical tropes illuminates its political and religious subtexts. Even King Henry’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, in which he declares “This story shall the good man teach his son” evokes Exodus’s commandment for Passover: “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘Because of this that the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Audio, 33 minutes.)

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