The Ethics of Disobedience in Shakespeare’s Henry V

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Author: Jason Gleckman, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Published: October 2015

Citation: Gleckman, J. (2015). The Ethics of Disobedience in Shakespeare’s Henry V. IAFOR Journal of Ethics, Religion & Philosophy, 2(1).


As we know, one important component of the methodology of deconstruction involves analyzing the logic of binary oppositions, particularly those binaries wielding great cultural and ideological influence, such as presence/absence, speech/writing, male/female, etc. A deconstructive methodology approaches such binaries from a variety of perspectives, including identifying them and explicating the structure in which they mutually function; this structure usually means that one element of the binary pair largely defines the structure of the whole, dominating and marginalizing the other. Deconstruction also incorporates historical processes and does so in at least two ways; first, by what Jacques Derrida in Positions calls "a phase of overturning", an effort to reverse "the hierarchy at a given moment". Perhaps more importantly, however, is the second mode of this Derridean "double science", transcending the very structure of a given binary opposition by articulating "the irruptive emergence of a new 'concept', a concept that can no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime" (41–2). In examining the processes of historical change as they relate to binary oppositions, we might look at one of the most powerful binary oppositions characterizing the early modern period: that between obedience and disobedience. In particular, this paper argues that Shakespeare’s Henry V offers a demonstration of the complex interactions between these terms and also outlines ways in which their dynamic was being transformed in the early modern period. Specifically, I argue that in this play, we can observe disobedience becoming a virtue in its own right, an essential quality of the ambitious English individual. In effect, Henry V offers a new pedagogy of obedience and disobedience wherein it becomes less and less possible to distinguish the two traits.


disobedience, Henry V, William Shakespeare, Jacques Derrida