Shakespeare's Henry V: A guide for teaching leadership


Looking at leadership and warfare through the lens of classic literature, this semester students and faculty dug deeply into William Shakespeare’s historical play Henry V. They examined the work through lectures on leadership and interpretations of the play, including a student production on the stage of Johns Auditorium.

Dr. Steele Nowlin of the English Department lectured on popular film adaptations of Henry V, including Kenneth Branagh’s version of the play on film and selections from the World War II epic Band of Brothers, surveying how several big-budget film and television programs have borrowed and transformed aspects of the play—especially the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech.

Members of the American Shakespeare Center led a workshop on how the models of good and bad leadership are expressed in the play. Then students in the stage production trained with actors from the Center while others worked on public speaking in leadership.

Lt. Col. L. Rucker Snead III ’81, the director of career development at the College, tapped into his experience in the military and working with business executives to present a discussion on leadership styles.

The stage production of Henry V is particularly appropriate for Hampden-Sydney, as Theatre Professor and Director Shirley Kagan says, “In the play, we see a boy grow to a man and that man grapple with the question of citizenship in the attempt to become a great leader.”

She adds, “We are going through an age which seems increasingly obsessed with the virtues of standing out from the crowd, individualizing ourselves, starring in the realty shows of our own lives. Being just a citizen is somehow not distinguished enough. But as Henry himself (portrayed by Beau Bryan ’13) indicates in this passage, being a citizen carries an awesome responsibility: ‘Every subject’s soul is his own.’ It is not a leader, or at least not a good one, who will tell us who we should be, what we should think, how we should feel, in what we should believe. We need to learn how to do these things for ourselves so we can live well but also so that we can figure out which leader is worthy of our trust.”