The Duke of Burgundy asks the Kings of France and England why “gentle peace” should not be allowed to return France to its former prosperity (1599)

William Shakespeare

In Henry V, Shakespeare (1564-1616) has the Duke of Burgundy make an impassioned speech to the Kings of France and England, whose war for control of northern France has so devastated the countryside, in which he asks them why “the naked, poor, and mangled Peace” should not be restored in order to “expel these inconveniences, And bless us with her former qualities”:

I demand before this royal view,

What rub or what impediment there is,

Why that the naked, poor, and mangled Peace,

Dear nurse of arts, plenties, and joyful births,

Should not in this best garden of the world,

Our fertile France, put up her lovely visage?

Alas! she hath from France too long been chas’d,

And all her husbandry doth lie on heaps,

Corrupting in its own fertility…

And as our vineyards, fallows, meads, and hedges,

Defective in their natures, grow to wildness,

Even so our houses and ourselves and children

Have lost, or do not learn for want of time,

The sciences that should become our country,

But grow like savages,—as soldiers will,

That nothing do but meditate on blood,..

my speech entreats

That I may know the let why gentle Peace

Should not expel these inconveniences,

And bless us with her former qualities.

What William Shakespeare thought about war is hard to determine precisely. Many of his protagonists are kings or warriors and their behaviour on the battle field often has important consequences within the play. In Henry V (1599), Shakespeare has a number of rousing “patriotic” speeches such as Henry’s famous “Once more into the breech” speech but counters these with anti-war speeches such as this one by the Duke of Burgundy. Here, Burgundy lists the deltrerious consequences war has had on the French countryside: the withering of the French “garden”, crops left to rot on vine, fields left untended, the neglect of education and the study of science, and the savagery of the soldiers. At the end of the play the Chorus reminds the audience that all of Henry’s military campaigns to control northern France were in vane, suggesting that Shakespeare may have had more of an Erasmian view of war than a Machiavellian one.