Sir Henry Wotton’s definition of an ambassador as “an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country” should be confronted with his later assessment that the ambassador “should alwayes, and upon all occasions speak the truth … ’twill also put [his] Adversaries (who will still hunt counter) to a loss in all their disquisitions, and undertakings.” Wotton’s contrasting views point to the early modern concern with true, bold, and plain speech, known as parrhesia, and its importance in diplomatic practice. Combining Quentin Skinner’s rhetorical approach to political language and Timothy Hampton’s literary analysis of diplomacy, this essay examines Shakespeare’s mirror of diplomatic speech featured in Henry V (ca. 1599) in light of Jean Hotman’s reflections on parrhesia in The Ambassador (1603). Analyzing theoretical and dramatic views of parrhesiastic speech in early modern diplomacy, the essay argues for diplomatic parrhesia as a matter of trustworthiness rather than sincerity. Shakespeare introduces a new perspective on the ambassador’s speech and its function and on the capacity of authorities to hear truthful speech, while reasserting the political necessity of good parrhesia.

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