Leadership and the Humanities

Personating leadership: Shakespeare's Henry V and performative negotiation

Kristin M.S. Bezio *

Keywords: Elizabeth I, Henry V, kingship, leadership, literature, performance, Shakespeare, succession crisis, theater


This essay examines early modern notions of ideal and problematic leadership through the lens of Shakespeare's King Henry V. The piece argues that critical depictions of Henry as either charismatic or Machiavellian are reductive; Henry's success as a monarch derives from his ability to balance necessary authority with what I term ‘performative negotiation.’ In this model, Henry's publicly constructed persona serves as a means of ‘negotiating’ his sovereignty with his subjects, but also acts as an exemplum for the present and future monarchs of England.

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