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The Core Skill of Execution, quite literally

Watch the dramatic scene unfold as King Henry hesitates to ponder–or does he?–whether to hang his friend Bardolph, which is given dramatic treatment in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film. 

“We would have all such offenders so cut off” proclaims King Henry, as he orders his childhood friend and drinking buddy Bardolph to be executed–an order consistent with his own orders for punishing discretions in his army. 

The justice of this action has been the subject of debate among scholars and sited as a leadership lesson by Nancy Koehn here on Big Think. As King Henry explains his admonition against stealing from his French adversaries:

“When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”

This hanging appears in Act III, scene vi of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and given dramatic treatment here in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film version:

Without the hint of hesitation–although it is cleverly expressed through a cinematic flashback in the Branagh film–Henry’s judgment is quite swift in Shakespeare’s text:


What men have you lost, Fluellen?


The perdition of th’ athversary hath been very great, reasonable great: marry, for my part, I think the duke hath lost never a man, but one that is like to be executed for robbing a church, one Bardolph, if your majesty know the man: his face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames o’fire: and his lips blows at his nose, and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes plue and sometimes red; but his nose is executed and his fire’s out.


We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge, that in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.


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