Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic plays — yes, comparable even to The Taming of the Shrew. In some ways the former is even more dangerous than the latter, since The Taming of the Shrew brings out its misogyny in such a way as to be laughable and over the top, while misogyny in Henry V is more subtle.

I was revisiting Henry V recently, and exploring the way in which women are equated to land. Consider, for example, the manner in which Henry equates Katherine to the several small cities he’s willing to exchange for her in the final scene; the manner in which he Anglicizes her by calling her “Kate,” an English nickname; or the way she tries to learn English by asking for words for parts of the body, as if she were becoming English herself: “This is my English arm/hand/neck.”

But in my last reading, I stumbled upon a pun that reinforces this image. Henry gives two speeches before Harfleur. In the second of the two, he tells the governor that should Harfleur not surrender, even he (Henry) won’t be able to stop his men from coming in and raping all the women (III.iii.13-14). Rape is a key to conquest. But the first of the two speeches is where I picked up on something I hadn’t seen before. It is one of the two very famous speeches of the play, and because the lines are so famous, they’re not very often heard: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more / Or close the wall up with our English dead!” (III.i.1-2) For the first time, I payed attention to what was being said here: There is a hole in the walls of Harfleur that Henry is encouraging his men to forcibly penetrate. Harfleur doesn’t just have women to be raped; it is a woman to be raped.