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12 days of Christmas ‘Heresies’ in Shakespeare

DAY NINE: HENRY V: STAR OF WONDER

The opening chorus of Henry V is rarely heralded as an epiphany, per se, but is closer perhaps to the prayer of the common man begging God for the messiah to come and liberate us from the tyranny of Satan – oft parodied as the tyranny of the priesthood.

‘O for a muse of fire to ascend the brightest heaven of invention’, entreats the Chorus. Well, who might this be? Jesus Christ disguised as Henry V? Who, we are told in the final scene over his dead body ‘did attain the world’s greatest garden’ – i.e. reopened the access to the tree of life – i.e. the way back to heaven cut off by Satan in the beginning.

So often the evidence for a heavily disguised heretical allusion only shows up later in the play. While Hamlet’s ‘Jesus’ breached the seven seals by piercing the arras with the sword that kills Polonius, Henry V’s ‘Jesus’ breached them thar darn pesky seals by breaching the wall to Harfleur, gateway to France.

‘Once more unto the breach dear friends. Once more…cry God for Harry, England, and St. George.’ Notice the subtle way he puts God’s name first in the same way David did when he confronted Goliath. The Bard never stops with those allusions – it can be quite wearing for us mere mortals!

Christmas allusion? Gets my vote. Let me know what you think.

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