History, mourning and memory in Henry V
in Shakespeare’s histories and counter-histories
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Henry V may well extol the potential of English or 'British' nationhood especially as it is inspired by charismatic kingship; an audience's enthralment at this spectacle is undoubtedly sustained by influential acts of memory. Any attempt to develop a unifying tradition of remembrance is shattered in the mourning play by the melancholy recollection of loss, unfulfilled promises and the unappeased wants that follow in the wake of historical endeavour. For Walter Benjamin, the mourning play was a form of historical drama: 'the historical subject was particularly suited to the Trauerspiel,' although it was equally committed to a free handling of plot. One specific aspect of Benjamin's analysis of Trauerspiel lies in the distinction between 'first' and 'second nature'. This has a crucial bearing on the vision of history disclosed within The Life of Henry the Fift and within other Shakespearean histories especially in terms of their treatment of memory.

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