The Rhetoric of War: Henry V, WWI poets, John Donne and the Falklands War

Il Tema

Rhetoric has always been put to the service of political causes, wars being no exception. And the works of the greatest writers have been used, or misused, every time a war has broken out. In Shakespeare’s Henry V we have a powerful example of this: the famous St. Crispin’s speech by King Henry is not only a great rhetorical piece in itself, but it has been used time and again in times of war – an important modern instance being the Henry V film by Laurence Olivier, commissioned by the Ministry of War during WWII. In the previous world war, poets had been called in to contribute to England’s war effort, at a time when war propaganda was already taking its modern form with the use of posters and films. The patriotic appeal of great English poetry was also exploited in the last war waged by the United Kingdom: the Falklands War of 1982. On that occasion, John Donne’s celebrated “For whom the bell tolls” piece was used as a rallying cry – though in fact Donne’s words were about universal brotherhood.


Arturo Cattaneo è Professore Ordinario di Letteratura Inglese presso l'Università Cattolica di Milano. Ha pubblicato libri e saggi in italiano e in inglese. Tra i libri, un lungo saggio creativo, Shakespeare e l'amore (Einaudi, Torino 2019). È autore di A Short History of English Literature (Mondadori, Milano 2019), e di una serie di storie antologiche della letteratura inglese per le scuole superiori (L & L l’ultima, edita da Signorelli, Milano). Ha pubblicato due romanzi: Ci vediamo a settembre (2010, Sedizioni) e La notte inglese (2012, Mondadori).