Henry V…Love and Neglect

“Take up the English short, and let them know
Of what a monarchy you are the head.
Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin
As self-neglecting.”

Henry V II.iv.72–75

Whenever I hear the phrase, my liege, I can’t help but think of Wormtongue from The Two Towers. But that’s another subject.In at least one way, I’m not sure the Dolphin is much different—hoping to turn the king to the Dolphin’s way of doing things.

But his words here are worth pondering. What is the difference between thinking highly of oneself versus thinking soberly of one’s limitations? The king of France is right to ponder the past as he thinks about the future and what war with England would mean. But the prince is not interested in thinking. He knows what Henry is like—at least he thinks he does—and he wants the king to act like a king, stand up to this worthless English monarch and fight.

The real danger in the Dolphin’s words are that his idea of self-neglecting and the king’s actual mood are two different things. The Dolphin sees nothing to worry about; he can’t imagine anything going wrong. The king is weighing the severity of the situation. In this case, the greater sin, indeed, is “self-love” for it fails to consider what could be lost. It fails to consider the men who will die in such a war. The Dolphin is heedless of these things. He is only interested in exalting self. In fact, in failing to consider others and the situation, he has already exalted self. And pride is the greatest sin, the first sin.

The Dolphin is the serpent to France’s Adam.


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