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Henry V is Shakespeare’s most famous “war play”; it includes the storied English victory over the French at Agincourt. Some of it glorifies war, especially the choruses and Henry’s speeches urging his troops into battle. But we also hear bishops conniving for war to postpone a bill that would tax the church, and soldiers expecting to reap profits from the conflict. Even in the speeches of Henry and his nobles, there are many chilling references to the human cost of war.

The authoritative edition of Henry V from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

-Scene-by-scene plot summaries

-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases

-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language

-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books

-An annotated guide to further reading

294 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1599

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About the author

William Shakespeare

27.8k books42.2k followers
William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. Scholars believe that he died on his fifty-second birthday, coinciding with St George’s Day.

At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592 he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of the playing company the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. Next he wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest examples in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime, and in 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.

Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry". In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are consistently performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.

According to historians, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets throughout the span of his life. Shakespeare's writing average was 1.5 plays a year since he first started writing in 1589. There have been plays and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare that were not authentically written by the great master of language and literature.

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Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book932 followers
June 29, 2021
Henry V is indeed the grand finale of Shakespeare’s second historical tetralogy, right after Henry IV, Part 2. Here, exit Falstaff, whose death is recounted by Mistress Quickly in the first act, and we are now in the presence of a conquering and “warlike Harry”, who is like chalk and cheese when compared with his former self, the dissolute Prince Hal. A few of Falstaff and Hal’s companions remain however on the battlefield and provide some colourful moments.

Henry V is an incredibly dynamic play, performed at the very opening of the Globe (“this wooden O”), but feels, in retrospect, as if it had been written for the big screen: the action leaps in space from one act to the next, from London to Southampton, to Harfleur, to Paris, to Agincourt, back to England and back again to France. So much so that Shakespeare felt the need to add a Chorus, who, like the rolling billboards at the beginning of each Star Wars episode, provides some context and clarity to a possibly inattentive or disoriented audience. In fact, Shakespeare boldly tramples all the rules of Aristotle’s Poetics underfoot, just as Harry successfully rides roughshod over all rules of military strategy.

Then, there is this effervescence of languages, as the story of Henry V spans across most of Europe: Scotland (Jamy), Ireland (MacMorris), Wales (Fluellen), England (the court of Henry V), France (the court of Charles VI), Bavaria and Milan (the Queen of France), Burgundy (the Duke Philip the Good). The blending of accents and idioms and the misunderstandings that follow are absolutely toe-curling and quite often uproarious. (I guess that, if Shakespeare had lived in our time, he most probably would have drawn a great tragicomedy out of the Brexit situation!)

Finally, unlike most of Shakespeare's Histories, which are, in essence, tragedies, Henry V is fundamentally an epic poem. More than in any other play, there are moments in it of absolutely breathtaking heroic flight. There is the gripping scene before the walls of Harfleur, of course: “Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, / Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit / To his full height” (III,1). Above all, there is the famous St Crispin’s Day speech, just before the battlefield at Agincourt: “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by / From this day to the ending of the world” (IV,3). This text is indeed shorter, but entirely on the level, in my opinion, of even the Bhagavad Gita, another divine address ahead of an epic battle. Apparently, this sort of eve-of-battle-speech later became a prerequisite in epic stories, especially in movies: from Chaplin’s Great Dictator to The Return of the King, Braveheart, Gladiator, 300, The Deathly Hallows, Game of Thrones, and many others… not to mention the great military and political speeches recorded throughout recent history, from Winston Churchill, to Charles de Gaulle, to JFK.

Edit: Watched the cinematic adaptation of this play within the Hollow Crown series, with Tom Hiddleston (best known as Loki in the Avengers movies) as the title role. His performance is remarkable: he delivers the Azincourt “locker room” speech in the gentlest, simplest, almost hopeless manner, making it a real tear-jerker. Loved it.

Edit 2: Watched The King, the epic movie with Thimotée Chalamet, recently released on Netflix. The film covers the period between Hotspur’s rebellion (see King Henry IV, Part 1 in Shakespeare) and the Treaty of Troyes (in Shakespeare’s Henry V). Director David Michôd distances himself quite a bit from Shakespeare’s play, in the plot — case in point: Falstaff is one of Henry’s major strategists at Agincourt in the movie, whereas he was already long dead in Shakespeare’s play. The tone is quite different as well: when Henry V is, for the most part, a heroic play, The King feels like a dark conspiracy drama. Chalamet as a gloomy English King and Pattinson as a ridiculous French Dauphin are both outstanding. The visual depiction of the battle of Agincourt is a major highlight: the tactics are extremely well laid out, and the mayhem and horrific aspects of hand-to-hand battle and stampede in the bog (a sort of super gritty and bloody rugby scrum) are indeed awe-inspiring.

> Previous play in the Henriad: Henry IV, Part 2
> Next play in The War of the Roses: Henry VI, Part 1
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews37 followers
November 8, 2021
Henry V (Wars of the Roses #4), William Shakespeare

Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written near 1599.

It tells the story of King Henry V of England, focusing on events immediately before and after the Battle of Azincourt or Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دهم ماه ژانویه سال1993میلادی

عنوان: هنری پنجم؛ نویسنده: ویلیام شکسپیر؛ مترجم: احمد خزاعی؛ تهران، قطره، سال1371، در202ص، چاپ دوم سال1384، شابک9643415333؛ چاپ پنجم سال1393، شابک9789643415334؛ موضوع: نمایشنامه هنری پنجم شاه انگلستان از سال1387میلادی تا سال1422میلادی - نگارش سده 16م

هنری پنجم نمایشنامه‌ ای تاریخی اثر «ویلیام شکسپیر» است که در سال1599میلادی نوشته شده است؛ این نمایشنامه داستان «هنری پنجم» پادشاه «انگلستان» را، با تمرکز بر رخدادهای پیش، تا پس از نبرد «آزینکورت (آجینکورت)»، در سال1415میلادی، از سری جنگ‌های صد ساله، بین «انگلستان» و «فرانسه»، را بیان می‌کند؛ براساس دیدگاه جناب آقای «احمد خزاعی»، مترجم آثار «شکسپیر»، این نمایشنامه در واقع حسن ختامی، بر چهارگانه ی «شکسپیر»، که شامل نمایشنامه‌ های «ریچارد دوم»، «هنری چهارم: قسمت اول»، و «هنری چهارم: قسمت دوم»، می‌شود، است؛ دیگر مترجم آثار «شکسپیر»، جناب آقای «ابوالحسن تهامی»، باور دارند، که این نمایشنامه، اوج مهارت نمایشنامه‌ نویسی «شکسپیر»، در بخش نمایشنامه‌ های تاریخی است، به طوری که، «شکسپیر»، ده سال تمام، موضوع این نمایش را در ذهن می‌پرورانده، و با آن زندگی می‌کرده اند؛ از این نمایشنامه، تئاترها و فیلم‌های بسیاری تولید شده، که از بهترین و نام آشناترین آنها، می‌توان به فیلم‌های «هنری پنجم» در سال1944میلادی، ساخته ی «لارنس الیویه»، و «هنری پنجم» در سال1989میلادی، به کارگردانی «کنت برانا»، اشاره کرد

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 07/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 16/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
July 29, 2019

Sure, it's a jingoistic pageant, but it's a great jingoistic pageant, and--besides--it is the most melancholy,ironic, self-aware--and laugh-filled--jingoistic pageant ever staged.

In Act V, Henry tells Katherine that together they will produce a son, and that this warlike paragon of chivalry will march to the Holy Land and "take the Turk by the beard." Yet we should know--and Shakespeare's audience certainly knew--that this boy would grow up to be Henry VI, the sickly, prayerful unstable man who lost England's hold on France forever and precipitated the Wars of the Roses.

This play celebrates the wheel of time and the apotheosis of the golden warrior king whom that wheel's many revolutions--in the course if the preceding ten acts of Henry IV--has produced. And yet it never ceases to be conscious of the fact that success is always fleeting and that not even majesty itself, no matter how magnificent it may be, can last forever.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,254 followers
March 4, 2020
A young dynamic king, in his late twenties very ambitious wants and needs to become ruler of two significant nations, the King , Henry v , of England, by a dubious claim has come to conqueror France in the name of peace... he destroys. His father, Henry IV, an usurper murdered his own first cousin to gain the throne, a traitor for sure, however winners write the history books an are accepted as heroes, it will always be this. Nevertheless dies from a horrible disease soon after, justice maybe... But a conspiracy develops to assassinate the English sovereign before even leaving Southampton on his quest. The determined son must overcome; not a good looking man, (or as noble as he is portrayed here) in fact, no charmer... still a great military leader, the royal women aren't quite, let us be frank... pun intended...
attracted to, doesn't write poetry or dance well...requires respect some other way, but has a passion for greatness and by slaughter...
This can be achieved, only many will perish , as the past and unforeseen days to come relentlessly shows a few men's, dark dreams demolish the numerous other ones. The huge foreign army from across the nearby stormy channel, marches on victorious and unstoppable, relentlessly, bloodily, yet a little uncomfortable, what are they doing here...? One man's desire...the seemingly endless hundred years war continues ...forever. Charles v1, the mad, a very capable monarch of France, when not insane doesn't appear a lot in Shakespeare's play Henry V, not in best of shape in 1415. A great , famous , though brutal battle to determine the future of these two mighty nations is fast approaching, Agincourt, Henry's family gives him loyal support, brothers and uncles, cousins take a major role, he trusts them...with his life. The French are fatally overconfident, chiefly the Dauphin ( historically inaccurate ) and future ruler of his country , he believes, not technically in command of French forces, the Constable of France is , still very influential with a more numerous, powerful army on their own land, the people hate the invaders, how can they lose? And all because William the Conqueror of Normandy, a foreigner from ironically France, in 1066, stole the English crown from the rightful, native king. Soldiers not law, make everything possible... Or the beautiful daughter of King Charles, Catherine could marry Henry and settle the conflict... And Joan of Arc, "The Maid of Orleans," won't arrive on the scene for almost 15 years...The Bard of Avon , William Shakespeare's the magnificent, the peerless...better plays, written over 400 years ago, imagine ...What is moral ...the perennial question asked and probably the answer never entirely satisfies everyone, remember...people wear different shades of clothes...
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,629 followers
April 7, 2022
On my initial read, this was likely my least favorite of the long cycle of plays from Edward III to Richard III. But with time, my opinion has improved. It starts and ends with a chorus and is primarily about Henry V's short, violent reign, his defeat of the French at Agincourt, and his death. I realize the Harry was a mighty warrior, but his tendency to kill every man, woman, and child after a battle wore on me. The best moment for me was when he is disguised and circulating among his troops. He has become far more introspective than the brash, party animal he was with Falstaff by his side in Henry IV Part 1.

All in all, it must be said that this is a very patriotic play. Framed by Chorus, it plays out like a Greek tragedy for the French and ends with a mariage. The opening and closing were very memorable, as was the off-stage death of Falstaff.

Of the various Shakespearean kings, Henry V is probably the most idealized as a warrior. Before the battle in Act 3, scene i, we get the famous pep talk:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

He disguises himself to walk among the soldiers and gauge the moral before the battle. Here is is reflecting on his thoughts of being a king and yet still a man:

I think the King is but a man as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me ... His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man.
Henry V, Act 4 scene i

He gives another good (and incredibly famous) pep talk before the battle as well:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now abed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Henry V, Act 4, scene iii

One thing that was particularly curious about this play was the off-color humor and the jabs at the French accent. The most famous part is Act 3, scene iv where Alice, a servant, is teaching English to Princess Katharine and they use some rude expressions:

Ainsi dis-je, d’elbow, de nick, et de sin. Comment appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
De foot, madame; et de coun.
De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ils sont les mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user. Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh! le foot et le coun! Néanmoins, je réciterai une autre fois ma leçon ensemble: d’hand, de fingres, de nails, d’arm, d’elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.

Note that in French slang, "foot" is pronounced "foutre" and means "sperm" or the sexual act and "coun" is equivalent to "cunt." More details on this blog: https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2016...

There is a later section that is pretty funny which makes fun of the French accent:
I said so, dear Katharine; and I must not blush to affirm it.
O bon Dieu! les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies.
What says she, fair one? That the tongues of men are full of deceits?
Oui, dat de tongues of de mans is be full of deceits: dat is de Princess.

Henry V, Act 5, scene iii

I found it entertaining to see that even old Will, albeit early in his career, was poking fun at the French accent! And, in retrospect, it lets us see, ever briefly, the charming, fun-loving Harry in a playful mood after the brutality of the battlefield.

The Hollow Crown from 2012-2013 ended their first season with a marvelous 2h18m rendition which truly shone light on the text for me. Hiddleston was an excellent Henry V and all the characters were well-cast. The battle-scene was impressive. Before moving on to Henry VI, I am watching both Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version as well as Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version. The Laurence Olivier version had some great moments - particularly playing the initial scene as an Elizabethan tongue in cheek comedy. Contrasted with the serious as a heartattack version by Kenneth Branaugh which feels almost overly serious. I think that the Hollow Crown in this case did the most justice and showed the most balance between the serious and farcical aspects of this play.

Fino's Reviews of Shakespeare and Shakespearean Criticism
The Comedy of Errors (1592-1593
The Taming of the Shrew (1593-1594)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594-1595)
Love's Labour's Lost (1594-1595)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-1596)
The Merchant of Venice (1596-1597)
Much Ado About Nothing (1598-1599)
As You Like It (1599-1600)
Twelfth Night (1599-1600)
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600-1601)
All's Well That Ends Well (1602-1603)
Measure for Measure (1604-1605)
Cymbeline (1609-1610)
A Winter's Tale (1610-1611)
The Tempest (1611-1612)
Two Noble Kinsmen (1612-1613)

Henry VI Part I (1589-1590)
Henry VI Part II (1590-1591)
Henry VI Part III (1590-1591)
Richard III (1593-1594)
Richard II (1595-1596)
King John (1596-1597)
Edward III (1596-1597)
Henry IV Part I (1597-1598)
Henry IV Part II (1597-1598)
Henry V (1598-1599)
Henry VIII (1612-1612)

Titus Andronicus (1592-1593)
Romeo and Juliet (1594-1595)
Julius Caesar (1599-1600)
Hamlet (1600-1601)
Troilus and Cressida (1601-1602)
Othello (1604-1605)
King Lear (1605-1606)
Macbeth (1605-1606)
Anthony and Cleopatra (1606-1607)
Coriolanus (1607-1608)
Timon of Athens (1607-1608)
Pericles (1608-1609)

Shakespearean Criticism
The Wheel of Fire by Wilson Knight
A Natural Perspective by Northrop Frye
Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber
Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background by M W MacCallum
Shakespearean Criticism 1919-1935 compiled by Anne Ridler
Shakespearean Tragedy by A.C. Bradley
Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy by Hugh M. Richmond
Shakespeare: The Comedies by R.P. Draper
Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro

Collections of Shakespeare
Venus and Adonis, the Rape of Lucrece and Other Poems
Shakespeare's Sonnets and a Lover's Complaint
The Complete Oxford Shakespeare
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
416 reviews365 followers
August 5, 2021
Henry V by William Shakespeare is the fourth instalment of the Plantagenet tetralogy. This play follows on nicely on from the rise of Prince Hal/Harry to the throne to become King Henry V. We remember Henry V as the young beer swilling drinking mate of Sir John Falstaff – a regular at the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap. However, upon his ascension to the throne he discarded his wild ways to become a more sober King, exhibiting the gravitas as one would expect. The play is essentially about Henry V’s desire and calling to invade France.

I don’t know did he really have to do it. This Warrior King certainly had a penchant for war methinks.

This play reads so easily. However, I’m not sure if this is due to my learning curve – or because of the writing, but I found it easy to read and understand. Shakespeare distinguishes between the language of the elite to the working class as you’d expect. He even introduces some passages in French (entirely) – such as when the beautiful Princess Katherine was trying to learn English when she realised, she might be bethroned to the English King to avert, what seemed to be, an inevitable war.

There are many memorable scenes in this play such as the gift of tennis balls from the French Prince, the Dauphin, to King Henry V. Henry’s reaction is superb. I also loved the time Henry went undercover to see how his troops were thinking, feeling and what they were saying (sometimes it’s best not to know) on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. But I was so to the core that Falstaff only occupied a minor scene when he was dying – MASSIVELY disappointed.

On Agincourt, it was a battle where the English were totally outnumbered by the French, but they prevailed and suffered far less casualties than the French – it’s one of England’s greatest victories. But it was brutal. Henry was brutal too – this really struck home when he ordered his men to slaughter French Prisoners of War, even his officers shirked at that.

One theme that struck me in this play was the incredible power and responsibility a King (such as Henry V) possessed, he had the power to initiate a war that caused the loss of life and limb of many thousands. I believe this wore on the young King but not enough. There is obviously some feeling amongst these Kings that God is on their side. Amazing – as they were both devout Christians.

Needless to say I followed my usual formula (see I am like a Hamster on a wheel, I have an aversion to change) of reading the play, reading study notes and watching the BBC’s Hollow Crown series with the Gorgeous (let’s not deny it) Tom Hiddleston as Henry V – he is brilliant. I even watched a play on YouTube by what must be a US Theatre Company, from California – it is watchable too – the link is here:

(139) Shakespeare's Henry V | 2019 - YouTube

Now I can’t wait for Richard III and I reckon I might be ready for a live play – they are scarce though here in Far North Queensland. Maybe I should start my own Puppet Shakespeare Company – coming to a pub near you!!!

5 stars

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,098 followers
February 9, 2017
Do I hear the drums of war? Hal has drawn all the attention away from divided England with a time-honored ploy of kings of any unsure stripe... Let's kick the shit out of France!

Even though Henry V is a bright light and his fortunes burn ever brighter, it's hard to go through this story without feeling a lot of heavy sorrow for how he burned up his friends in his rise and how he shed no tears as he learned of all his youthful adventurer's deaths, save one, and he was only a boy in a skirmish after the war had been won.

Truly, this play is the rock-star legend played in blood, honor, and glory. He burns so bright that he snuffs himself out in practically no time. Who knows what kind of king he would have been had he lived to know his son. *shiver* What kinds of tragedies might have been avoided, such as losing France, sending England into a 30 year civil strife, and so much grief and poverty, besides?

And yet, this is the story of the greatest King of England, the one that captures all our hearts and minds, and me, I'm not even English and I don't particularly care a whiff for royalty at all! :)

Henry IV part 1:
"Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him."

The sun shook off the base clouds, indeed, to clothed the world in his naked splendor, seeing Falstaff dead by hanging and nearly all his chums in the ground.

Is his early death his fate for having dishonored the dishonorable? *sigh*

Profile Image for Luís.
1,939 reviews602 followers
November 30, 2022
In the last part of Shakespeare's historical Tetralogy, the play Henry V tells of the seizure of power by the young sovereign through the dismantling of a plot against his person and the claim of the Throne of France, which he wants to be the legitimate heir. This last action thus led Henry V to invade France and face the King of France in Azincourt in 1415, a battle in which he would emerge victoriously.
I know that Shakespeare's Henry V is very different from the absolute sovereign who ruled England from 1413 to 1422. Indeed, from his adolescence, the young Prince was associated with power by his father: we are far away from the playwright's irresponsible and immature Prince Hal. Nevertheless, this piece confirms my impression of the young king in the last works: I find him detestable! Head to slap in the two parts of Henry IV, he passes from a fiery young king to reckless, proud, and even violent. Moreover, he is an ambitious king who does not hesitate to seek quarrels (not to say relaunch the Hundred Years War) to satisfy his thirst for power.
I was not too fond of the way Shakespeare treats the evolution of his character in his play: because from a violent and reckless king in the first four acts, we pass too quickly, in the last, to a calm and enchanted sovereign who comes to court the daughter of the King of France, Catherine de Valois, and ask for her in marriage. Each time, the transition is done too quickly and lacks nuance. I realize that the theatrical format requires a few shortcuts, but that bothered me.
Profile Image for Trish.
2,014 reviews3,433 followers
September 3, 2016
If ever I had to have a crush on an actual English King, it might have been Henry V. It probably would have been in vain since he doesn't seem to have had much affection for anyone but who cares. The scandalous youth vanished some time before Henry IV died and when Henry V was crowned king, he showed the world.

Hal has become a stern but fair ruler who apparently didn't smile (or only slightly and not very often) and was a cunning politician who made sure England's treasury was refilled. But this play is not about the whole history of Henry V. Instead, we begin when his fleet sets out to France. You see, His Majesty (a term introduced by Richard II by the way) wanted to "grab the Turks by their beards" but conquering lands in France was a more pressing matter (and probably cheaper too, although the re-opening of the Hundred Years' War was costly enough). Right at the beginning the play deals with an assassination attempt that actually took place.

Some of you might know the phrase "Once more unto the breach, dear friends..." - it's from this play.

There are quite a few battles Henry has to fight, but none as remarkable as Agincourt that immortalized Henry V. The English were vastly outnumbered but Henry proved to be a fantastic fighter himself but also a brilliant strategist. The play also shows how the king, the night before the battle at Agincourt, walks amongst his soldiers to ensure their motivation (according to historical records, Henry V really did care about his people, the soldiers as much as the noblemen and even the poor).

The battle is won and what does a happy victor do afterwards? Right, wooing a girl. In this case Catherine de Valois. The play funnily illustrates the difficulty of courtship even for a victorious king by playing the neither-spoke-the-other's-language card. Not very realistic but it was good fun.
Since Charles VI (the then French king) is quite weak, it doesn't take long until Henry V is proclaimed his heir. The play almost ends here, were it not for a sort of epilogue foreshadowing what will happen after Henry V's death (the loss of French territory and bad reign of his infant son).
More of that in my reviews about Henry VI (3 parts in total) however.

This is definitely my favourite of Shakespeare's histories (so far). Probably because Henry V is such a great character. The real-life king must have been a sight to behold. An impeccable knight with wonderful manners, very intelligent, stern but just, ... *swoons*
This play brings out the best im him, naturally, and only focuses on what went right in Henry's campaign in France - which was quite a lot, the number of territories he conquered is staggering! Too bad the end sort of diminished that (but only almost). As for the play itself: all is well that ends well. ;)
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,732 followers
July 6, 2017
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he to day that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3


It is hard to find fault with Henry V. It isn't Shakespeare's BEST, but his best are almost mythicly high and unassailable. But Henry V is pretty damn good and it owns one of the greatsest and most memorable monologues ever (Hal's St. Crispin's Day speech). It also has more French imbeded into it than any other Shakespeare play than I can think of. So, while I applaud the Tennis diplomacy scene, I'm not a huge fan of the Katherine learning English from Alice. Meh. Not every serve goes over the net Will. But still, taken as a whole it is a great play. The Battle of Agincourt is high drama and seems to match the drum of the audiences' heart with the drum beat of war. Everytime I read Act 4 I feel moved, inspired, transfixed. Shakespeare might not have caught Livy as the world's greatest composer of fictionalized historical speeches, but he was definitely a gifted second to Livy.

Some of my favorite lines:

“...for coward dogs
Most spend their mouths when what they seem to threaten
runs far before them.”
(Act 2, Scene 3)

“In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;”
(Act 3, Scene 1)

“I am afeard there are few die
well that die in battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of anything when blood is their
(Act 4, Scene 1)

“There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distill it out.”
(Act 4, Scene 1)

“Let life be short, else shame will be too long.” (Act 4, Scene 5)

“Nice customs curtsy to great kings.” (Act 5, Scene 2)
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,342 followers
November 29, 2016
This is probably my favourite Shakespeare play. As always the language and poetry is amazing. I love reading Shakespeare as I often find my head swaying in time to the rhythm of the verse. I sometime speak it out loud too and hope I don't wake up my sleeping father lol. This is one of the longest Shakespeare plays I have read however; he is presenting an important period in the history of Britain. A key point in the War of the Roses.

Henry V, with his great-granddad Edward III are my favourite British monarchs for their patriotism, warrior like rule and the need to expand this great nation of ours.

This mainly depicts the build up to, the battle of; and the aftermath of Agincourt - 1415. I have read some of his plays where he despises his main characters such as Richard III in the play of the same name and Achilles in Trolius and Cressida. I think Henry V Shakespeare truly respected for his great legacy and it shows in the writing - I don't think he has written such an honourable character. It is mainly about the royals of England and there counterparts in France but also follows different soldier ranks to to see the battle from numerous perspectives. It also contains a few comedy moments, such as Henry dressing up as a soldier to see what the army really think of him.

Some of the monologues are amazing and motivational regarding the war which really heightens the legendary status that Shakespeare is presenting.

I might now watch the BBC version of this featuring Tom Hiddlestone as the titular character to see how it compares to how I envisaged it in my mind - & of course I want to see this at the Royal Shakespeare society in Stratford as soon as possible.

Once more unto the breach my friend, once more. James x www.youandi.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Oguz Akturk.
280 reviews500 followers
September 11, 2022
YouTube kanalımda Shakespeare'in hayatı, mutlaka okunması gereken kitapları ve kronolojik okuma sırası hakkında bilgi edinebilirsiniz: https://youtu.be/rGxh2RVjmNU

Ya kafan mı güzel otur oturduğun yerde V. Henry, işin gücün yok Fransa'ya sataşıyorsun diye düşündüğüm, Shakespeare'den okuduğum 17. kitabın ve geriye kalan 24 kitabının heyecanını daha çok yaşadığım bir diğer incelemeden merhaba.

Şimdi öncelikle Shakespeare'den dolayı oluşan bir sorundan bahsetmem gerek, adam tarihsel oyunlarını o kadar karışık bir sırada yazmış ki, eğer siz benim okuduğum sırada okursanız İngiliz siyasi tarihini ve İngiliz ailesi soyağacını muhtemelen çok karıştırırsınız. Kitapların Shakespeare tarafından kronolojik olarak yazım sırası tam olarak aşağıdaki gibi:
Kral VI. Henry-2
Kral VI. Henry-3
Kral VI. Henry-1
III. Richard
II. Richard
Kral IV. Henry-1
Kral IV. Henry-2
Kral V. Henry

E şimdi size burada yan okumalar yaptığım Shakespeare Kitabı'ndan gördüğüm harika soyağacını vermeden olmaz diye düşündüm, onu da eğer bir gün Shakespeare okumayı düşünürseniz diye burada vereyim: https://i.ibb.co/2NdghJf/soya-ac.jpg

Bu soyağacı bu tarihsel oyunları zaman kaybetmeden okumanız açısından çok önemli çünkü görüldüğü gibi Shakespeare Bey bu soyağacındaki kralları allak bullak edip istediği tarihte istediği yerdeki bir kralı alıp anlatmak istemiş. Hal böyle olunca benim size önerdiğim Güller Savaşı tarihi oyunlarını okuma sırası şöyle olacak:
II. Richard
Kral IV. Henry-1
Kral IV. Henry-2
Kral V. Henry
Kral VI. Henry-1
Kral VI. Henry-2
Kral VI. Henry-3
III. Richard

Şu sıralamayı elde edene kadar kaç site dolaşıp kaç kitaba baktığımı bilseniz... :(

Görüldüğü gibi Shakespeare'in yazdığı kronolojik sırayla uzaktan yakından alakası olmayan bir sıra önerdim. Ama devrilen kralları, hangi Richard'ın yerine hangi Henry'nin geçtiğini öğrenmek için ve savaşlarda işleyen doğal seçilim sürecini görmek için bu sırayı izlemeniz sizin açınızdan çok daha iyi olur. Güller Savaşı (Wars of the Roses) serisinde en sevdiğim kitaplar Falstaff karakterini içeren Kral IV. Henry ve gelişiminin içine bizi çok iyi dahil eden Kral V. Henry olduğu için bu sıralamaya bu incelemede yer vermek istedim.

Geriye kalan 24 kitabı okuduğum zaman Shakespeare hakkında bir okuma rehberi hazırlayacağım ve Shakespeare'in bütün kitaplarını okumak istemeyenler için mutlaka okunması gereken kitaplardan bahsedeceğim. Maalesef ki yukarıda yazdığım tarihsel oyunların dünyada okunma sayısı çok fazla iken Türkiye'deki okunma sayısı çok çok az fakat Shakespeare'in hiçbir tarafın tarihi propagandasını yapmadan tarafsız bir tarih anlatıcısı olması benim çok hoşuma gitti. Hatta Puşkin'in Erzurum Yolculuğu kitabında ölmüş bir Türk askerin yanından geçerken demiş olduğu; "Yolda yanlamasına uzanmış yatan genç bir Türk'ün cesedi önünde durdum. 18 yaşlarında bir delikanlıydı bu. Bir kızınkini andıran solgun yüzü henüz tazeliğini yitirmemişti. Sarığı tozlar içinde, yatıyordu. Tıraşlı ensesinde bir kurşun yarası vardı..." cümlelerinden de belki Puşkin'in de yakaladığı bu objektif epik anlatıcılığını, çok tutkulu bir Shakespeare okuru olmasına borçlu olduğunu söyleyebiliriz.

Shakespeare'i neden çok sevdiğim kısmına gelecek olursak, bir yandan ülkesinde o dönemde geçen siyasi karışıklıklara seyirci kalmamış ve onları oyunlaştırmış, bizim dönemimizde çok az olan bir şey artık bu, o kadar Gezi Parkı, 15 Temmuz falan filan yaşadık fakat bunları edebi ürüne döken yazar sayısı yok denecek kadar az. Bir yandan da siyasi olaylar içerisindeki insanların erkek-kadın ilişkilerini bu kadar iyi yansıtabilen başka bir yazar tanımamıştım. İzlediğim pek çok filmde Shakespeare'e bir gönderme olması, dış görünüşlere takılmadan insanların iç dünyalarına ayna tutabilecek bir yetenekte olan bu adamın tarihsel oyunlarının da mutlaka okunması gerektiğini öneriyorum.
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
376 reviews1,696 followers
July 22, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

'We few. We happy few. We band of brothers.'

My favourite speech of all time, the Saint Crispin's Day speech, is in this play, and it truly is wonderful. The scenes with King Henry and his numerous inspiring and goosebumps incurring talks were definitely the highlight of this Shakespearian original.

The period of history is a portion of The Hundred Year War between the French and English that includes the Battle of Agincourt. This is obviously a part of history I am very interested in, and I loved the archaic language that accompanies the medieval atmosphere.

I think that whilst this play gives rise to some of the best moments in Shakespeare, I'd say that on the whole the cast was not as interesting as say Othello, Macbeth or Richard III. But, despite this, the concept is awesome and there is so much to linger and mould over.

'Once more unto the breach, dear friends'

If you enjoy Shakespeare I would definitely read this! I plan on watching the film adaptation in which Kenneth Branagh stars as the king himself very soon. I prefer Macbeth on the whole, but the scenes that include the main character can match up to any scene in Macbeth, in my opinion anyway.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 6 books302 followers
December 13, 2019
I have said, with support from a couple of my senior Shakespeareans at SAA (like Ralph Berry), that Henry V is the comedy Shakespeare promised at the end of 2 Henry 4, epilog: "to continue the story, with Sir John [Falstaff] in it. " But after the actor who played Falstaff disappeared (Will Kemp--probably to tour Germany), Shakespeare created a very different kind of comedy, a reconciliation of conflicting nationalities in the usual comic resolution, however preposterous: marriage. And in a thoroughly modern (even modernist) touch, the spirit of comic reconciliation pervades the play through its linguistic playfulness. This is Shakespeare's only play using national accents: French, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and of course English.

I would speculate that the "Great Britain" only enshrined around a century later (1705?) was initiated under James I, and here in Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, previewed. The comic interlude of Fluellen and Jamy, and of Gower and Macmorris, features the strong Scottish and Welsh accent, where for instance Fluellen says, "Alexander the Pig." He is corrected, "Don't you mean Alexander the Great?" F, "The great, or the pig, are all one reckonings..." (Welsh "b" unvoiced, "p.")
Later in the play, the King "claims kin" with Fluellen's despised Welsh minority; "For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman" (4.7.105). And Fluellen may speak English "funny," but he is an excellent soldier, and very knowledgeable about the history of warfare, especially Roman.
By the way, a neighbor of mine went to a British prep/"public" school in the 60's, where the English kids would not even sit at lunch with the still-despised Welsh kids. (I may be just the opposite, where my favorite freshman teacher, besides Armour Craig, was Rolfe Humphries, trans. of the Aeneid every colege used back then; moreover, when my own translation of G Bruno's comedy, Candelaio, was staged at the Bridewell Theatre, London, half of the eight actors/tresses were Welsh, great with various vocal accents and inflections--Yorkshire, Cornwall, West Country, Cockney. (Youtube, "Candelaio Final Edit" for 14 min, a couple scenes.)

My article HV: see Fran Teague, "Acting Funny in Shakespeare," which I heartily recommend with self-interest. She ran the Philadelphia seminar at the Shakespeare Association national convention there (1990), where I recall seeing Mets outfielder Daryl Strawberry (in town to play the Phillies?) in the Society Hill hotel--looking thinner than I imagined from TV.
My article in her book got quoted in Maley's books on Shakespeare and Wales, and Scotland, and another scholar's books on International Shakespeare.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,032 reviews1,185 followers
February 26, 2017
If you go to the Holden St theatres one of the things they have on during the 2017 Fringe Festival in Adelaide is Macbeth with zombies. As you may do, but I don't. My faith in the resilience of Shakespeare goes so far and no further.

I suspect this on its own put me off Henry V Man and Monarch, mashup of Henry IV, V and VI. How wrong was I to judge the one on the back of the other. It's a one man show by Australian RADA graduate Brett Brown and it's a wondrous thing to behold, this young man being so consummately and maturely Shakespearean.

It is a very dense show, we are thrown straight into the lion's den of that bloody warring period. I wanted to see it again, which we did the next night, and indeed if I could see it again I would. Why oh why am I going to Eric Bogle tonight??? I do hope he is good, I don't want to resent another chance to have seen Henry.

As it happens, in this particular presentation of Henry V, a member of the audience stands in for Catherine (or as Shakepeare has it, Katharine) of France. She is to be married to him....

Rest, as usual, is here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpre...
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 21 books2,143 followers
November 16, 2017
Following on the heels of Much Ado we can see that Shakespeare's powers are at their zenith during this time period. I love Henry V and have read it several times out loud to the children and we have watched several versions. It is also a wonderful play for boys who love the St. Crispin's Day Speech on the fields of Agincourt.

One of my favorite cinematic scenes of all time is Kenneth Brannagh's Dona Nobis scene after the battle where he carries the little boy killed by the French. Perhaps it is the music which makes it so powerful.

We also like to recite The St. Crispin's Day speech with Amy Grant's Highland Cathedral playing in the background.

The rich layering of the play-the class and race relationships, the humor and pathos, the love story, the underdog victory, all make this play one of Shakespeare's best.
Profile Image for Eva B..
1,320 reviews323 followers
January 10, 2021
Upon further reflection, I really have to say that this is my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. This is a play that I can open and dive into whenever I'm feeling down, and it gives me a sense of home that I don't get with any others. I spent three weeks learning this show in July, three weeks living in a different state with my grandparents being the only people I knew, and it really did change me as a person. Even half a year later, I can still remember so much of my experience learning the parts of Montjoy and Hostess Quickly, the surprising puzzle-like quality of scansion, and the friends I made on-set. This play also contains some of my favorite speeches, from the Prologue to "once more unto the breach" to "save for ceremony" to, of course, Saint Crispin's Day.
Though I enjoy all of the characters, my favorites would have to be Pistol, Montjoy, and Henry himself.
This is also the only table-read I've been to where I've gotten emotional over a plot beat; I'll never forget how my instructors stopped the read at the end of act four to slowly explain to us what happened with the luggage boys, and how silent everyone was upon hearing of their slaughter.
All in all, this play is undoubtedly one of my favorites, and my favorite show I've been in.

Reread January 2021:
Yeah, my thoughts are pretty much the same. This is still my favorite Shakespeare play, and it still feels like home.
Profile Image for Ben.
155 reviews65 followers
May 11, 2013
As I finish the second tetralogy's finale, King Henry V , I contemplate Shakespeare's effect on the presentation of history. He devotes nearly half of his theatrical contributions to stories plotted in reality rather than born of his imagination. I have argued before that Shakespeare, blessed with a genius' perspective, sees art not only in the creative arena but in reality. The presentation of the human condition happens among humans and not within the faculties of one's mind. Yet in order to present these conditions to his audience, he carefully embellishes, contrasts and juxtaposes the characters and circumstances that best display them. If we want to know the events and scenarios in which these kings lived and acted, we can read school text books. If we want to know the people, the conditions of their lives, the reasons for their choices, we must turn to Shakespeare and decide if his character interpretations best suit history. Perhaps while in school as a boy in Stratford Upon Avon, he studied his textbooks and imagined the joys, sorrows, regrets, ambitions and malicious conceits in each of these kings which best helped him understand and learn the history of his native land.

In King Henry V, we see the clergy, sparked to cunning by a present bill which would strip much of their wealth, manipulate a king into a conquest of France in order to protect their assets. The king would depend on their funding and would never dream of undermining his own enterprise by passing a bill which would rob his benefactors. Yet Henry V transforms the bitterness of such purposes, born of deceipt and cunning, into a resulting eden of unity and equality, love and justice. If John Falstaff truly ascended to Arthur's bosom, he must feel right at home, as if in Prince Henry's good graces again.

Outside the royal court, Shakespeare presents microchosmic examples of this unity. Almost immediately after the nobles resolve for France, Bardolph mediates between Pistol and Nym and begs of their friendship with his sword. And, most apparently, he devotes Act V to the wooing of Princess Katharine, an effort equalled to that of conquering France on the battlefield. Yet the union of England and France comes with their marriage rather than with Henry's sword. Such a union signifies love and peace rather than dictatorship and enslavement. A marriage of love and justice constitutes a unity and differs from a marriage of dominion enforced by a heavy hand - only the former resounds with true unity as both parties maintain a semblance of themselves whereas the marriage of the heavy hand leaves only one party truly alive. How can one unite with nothing?

Alas, with master craftsmanship, King Henry V guides the circumstances under which he administers his justice and promotes equality. He manipultes Cambridge, Scroop and Grey to pronounce the severity of their own sentence rather than condemn them as one higher and of more import. He allows justice to decide the matter and in so doing thinks himself below justice and equal in human value to the defendant. Consider also how he and Williams, under false pretense, exchange gloves to don in their caps as a mark of their violent bet. Then compare this to the feud between Bardolph and Fluellen over the cultural mark of the leek in Fluellen's cap. Both scenarios pit two men, of social, economic and cultural differences, against each other only to resolve in a sense of equality. Whereas the king's disguise, possibly more appropriate for his character, allows Williams to see him as a social equal, the king again allows mercy and justice to waylay the promised violence rather than crush him as a man with more power. And in this action, Williams feels worthy and of equal import himself. Then Fluellen, a Welshman like the king, not only revels in this common ground, but displays his cultural heritage proudly and feels empowered to squabble with Pistol who would rebuke it.

The king not only preaches lofty poetics to inspire his soldiers to war, but acts equally valiant and just which inspires his soldiers to a level of respect and brotherhood. By disgarding signs of distinction and leaving only their common bonds as men, they find their unity amongst themselves and their equality. On the eve of battle, Henry, once again, wallows among the likes of Bardolph, Poins and Falstaff. Even now the pomp of majesty has failed to intoxicate his spirit. He calls ceremony a pitiable reward for the strains of kingly duty when compared to the simple happiness enjoyed by peasants. He does not abandon that strain and revel in ceremony as Richard II had. He carries the soldier's lives on his shoulders and his father's guilt for Richard's fall on his brow. And all the while he finds a way to disrobe himself of all such pomp and unite himself with his countrymen under common banners of honor, bloodshed and English spirit - inspiring in them a feeling of worth and in him a share in the peasant's simple happiness.

We can call this war an imperial conquest, and surely the history books describe it thus. But like a parent reading a storybook aloud to their children, enacting the voices and characters from the page, Shakespeare resurrects a character, the man behind the historical events, and therefore lends meaning and empathy to those long dead. King Henry V may have inspired a renewed sense of worth in us and revived our sense of humanity within the monarchs.

I miss Falstaff. But in closing my reading of the second tetralogy, I credit him for this king. Their times together cultivated a benign monarch who never forgot his naturally common bonds with his base countrymen.
Profile Image for Paul Haspel.
563 reviews83 followers
July 12, 2021
Henry the Fifth of England won, at Agincourt in the year 1415, a great victory over numerically superior French forces – a victory that seemed singularly improbable, and one that, for a time, turned the tide of an already 80-year-old war in England’s favour. It has become customary to view Henry V as one of England’s greatest military heroes; but in the history play that bears Henry’s name, William Shakespeare cloaks Henry and his actions in ambiguity. Read Henry V, or watch a performance of the play, and you can view Henry V as a hero – or not. The choice is up to you.

By the time he wrote The Life of Henry V (the play’s official title), sometime around 1599, William Shakespeare had already written a series of plays dealing with Henry V’s predecessors and successor. The royal timeline, in Shakespeare’s telling of this part of medieval and early modern English history, goes about as follows:

• Richard II (reigned 1377-99) was a weak and irresolute king who, in Shakespeare’s play, pretty much deserved to lose the powers of royal government, so that he could slink away from the English throne and say self-pitying things like “For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings!”
• Henry IV (reigned 1399-1413) successfully took the throne from Richard, but – as presented in two Shakespeare plays – spent his 14 years as king alternately (a) guarding the throne from one would-be usurper after another, (b) wrestling with his conscience over his deposition of Richard II, and (c) worrying about the bad behaviour of his son, the Prince of Wales — “Prince Hal,” the future Henry V.
• Henry VI (reigned 1422-61, 1470-71), a devout king who generally can’t be troubled to take time off from religion and attend to his royal duties, takes 3 plays (!) to lose all the French territories that his father, Henry V, had won.

Given that timeline, it should be no surprise that Shakespeare wanted to fill in that history-play gap between his two Henry IV plays and his three Henry VI plays by chronicling the noteworthy military success of Henry V, who reigned from 1413 to 1422 and brought England some of its greatest victories from the Hundred Years’ War with France.

As The Life of Henry V (the play’s official title) begins, the young King Henry V is an assured and confident leader. The French have rejected Henry’s frankly questionable claim to the throne of France, and the French Dauphin (or Prince) contemptuously sends Henry a chest of tennis balls – as if to say, “You’re nothing but a little boy. Go play with your toys.” But Henry has grown up from his wild and riotous Prince Hal days that were dramatized in the two Henry IV plays; and his quietly menacing response to the Dauphin’s jest – “When we have matched our rackets to these balls,/We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set/Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard” – foreshadows the violence of war that is to come.

At the French court, the Dauphin remains scornful of Henry’s character and potential; but the King of France warns his son against that sort of idle trash-talk, saying of Henry that “The kindred of him hath been fleshed upon us,/And he is bred out of that bloody strain/That haunted us in our familiar paths” – recalling English leaders like Edward the Black Prince, who inflicted many a defeat upon the French forces at battles like Crécy in 1346.

And Henry soon proves that the Lancastrian apple has not fallen far from the Plantagenet tree. Landing on the Norman coast, Henry besieges the coastal town of Harfleur, encouraging his troops to bravery through personal example; pointing out a breach that the English forces have made in the besieged town’s walls, Henry cries out, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,/Or close the walls up with our English dead!” He subsequently shows his ability to work his will upon others when, through threats of the violence that the people of Harfleur will suffer if the town is taken by force, he induces the town leaders to surrender without further resistance.

And yet, the initial English success at Harfleur notwithstanding, it soon becomes clear that Henry’s English forces, who are steadily growing weaker and sicker from the strains of campaigning in a foreign country, will have to battle a numerically superior, well-rested, well-supplied French force near the town of Agincourt in northern France.

As the time for battle draws near, King Henry borrows a cloak from Sir Thomas Erpingham, one of his officers, thus disguising himself as an ordinary gentleman of the English expeditionary force. His identity thus concealed, Henry goes amongst his soldiers in order to get a sense of their morale, so that, without knowing it, “mean and gentle [men] all/Behold…A little touch of Harry in the night.” Some men speak supportively of the burden that the King faces in leading this force, while others say things that they would not have said, had they but known that they were speaking to their king.

With his soldiers’ various testimonies fresh in his memory, King Henry reflects upon how a king carries the weight of responsibility from which ordinary men are free, and receives precious little in return: “What infinite heart’s ease/Must kings neglect that private men enjoy?/And what have kings that privates have not too,/Save ceremony, save general ceremony?”

And the hearing of his soldiers’ frank opinions regarding the English prospects for success may encourage the famous speech that Henry gives to his troops just before the battle of Agincourt. This is not just a speech; it is the speech. Think of Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart (1995) shouting to his Scottish troops before the battle of Stirling, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take – our freedom!” Remember Bill Pullman as U.S. President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day (1996) telling a group of pilots that “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not surrender without a fight!” Recall Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) proclaiming to an allied army at the gates of Mordor that “A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship – but it is not this day!” Did you like those scenes? Then you can thank William Shakespeare, who laid the groundwork for inspiring cinematic pre-battle speeches 300 years before a movie camera ever shot a frame of film.

What all of these scenes have in common, of course, is that all show a courageous leader rallying, through the power of his rhetoric, an outnumbered and dispirited group of soldiers who nevertheless are on the right side of history (or fantasy). Whether the enemy consists of English soldiers from the late 13th century, or extraterrestrials bent upon exterminating humankind so they can harvest the Earth’s resources, or Orcs in the service of the Dark Lord Sauron, is almost immaterial. The point is for the viewers to go into a climactic scene of battle drama feeling inspired – and Shakespeare more than fulfills that goal in Act IV, scene iii, of Henry V.

Henry starts off with a surprising response to the Earl of Westmoreland, who expresses a pre-battle wish that the English army had 10,000 more soldiers. “What’s he that wishes so?” Henry asks jocularly. “My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin./If we are marked to die, we are enough/To do our country loss; and if to live,/The fewer men, the greater share of honour.” He takes their disadvantage in numbers and makes it an advantage in terms of the opportunity to win glory, stating openly that “if it be a sin to covet honour,/I am the most offending soul alive.”

Offering to pay the passage home of any soldier who does not wish to fight with him that day, Henry points out that the day, 25 October, is the feast of the saints Crispin and Crispinian, the patrons of shoemakers – ordinary people like Henry’s soldiers. And Henry makes a point of linking himself with his shoemaker-soldiers when he states that “he today that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,/This day shall gentle his condition”. That same egalitarian message is re-emphasized once again when Henry tells the French herald Montjoy that “We are but warriors for the working day”. He’s not interested, as many of the French nobles are, in using the battlefield as a stage on which to display one’s noble status and breeding; he’s there to win.

And he asserts that the very smallness and cohesion of this army of ordinary men, fighting together as brothers on a day dedicated to shoemakers, will ensure not only their victory but also a form of immortality:

He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand on tiptoe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day, and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours
And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words –
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.

The speech is so inspiring that it should be no surprise that Henry’s English forces win the battle of Agincourt, demolishing the French army with virtually no loss of their own – or that Henry wins not only the hand but also the love of the French princess Katherine, thus ostensibly assuring that their children, being of both French and English blood, will unite the two kingdoms forever. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen that way, and it is left to the Chorus to remind the viewer, at play’s end, that Henry VI lost all those French lands that his father had won – and that Henry V’s time was a “Small time, but in that small most greatly lived/This star of England.”

The audience cheers, and the actors return to take their bows. But is it really that simple? There have been two excellent film versions of Henry V that were made during the 20th century – Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film, financed in part by the British War Office and filmed in vivid, bright colours that were meant to remind the viewer of the Bayeux Tapestry, and Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film, with its muddy, Platoon-style battle scenes. And Branagh’s film in particular emphasizes Henry’s rage at finding that French raiders went behind the lines during the battle and killed the unarmed young pages who were standing by the army’s supplies: “I was not angry since I came to France/Until this instant.” But neither film dramatizes what Shakespeare subsequently shows – that Henry then orders the killing of the English army’s French prisoners, repeating an order he had already given once before.

And before you say, “But all the kings killed their prisoners back then!” – well, no, they didn’t. War has always been an expensive enterprise; and one of the best ways for a medieval army to recoup part of their country’s investment, in the aftermath of victory, was to hold the prisoners of the defeated side for ransom.

Is Shakespeare saying that “a king’s gotta do what a king’s gotta do”? Or is he suggesting, to the thoughtful playgoer, that this battle that killed a great many people a long time ago – and that did not permanently add French lands to the English crown – was a pointless exercise in bloodshed? It is the kind of ambiguity that gives a certain troubling richness to Henry V – perhaps the greatest of Shakespeare’s history plays.
Profile Image for Stuart Dean.
587 reviews3 followers
August 27, 2020
My favorite Shakespeare play, one of the most quoted after "Romeo and Juliet". Starting with "Muse of fire", moving on to "Once more unto the breach", and including one of the most inspirational speeches every made, the "Band of brothers." A play all about the action, moving quickly into France and the Battle of Agincourt.

King Henry wants to invade France and gets his priest/lawyers to come up with a convoluted excuse for him to claim the crown. The siege of a French town proves successful but leaves the English sick and spent, ready to take a break. The French gather every major character in the country to crush the English at Agincourt. Here we get a lesson in leadership. Despite outnumbering the English 5 to 1, the French are not enthused about the upcoming battle. The Dauphin spends the time talking about what a great horse he has, and dismisses the low morale of his troops with great disdain. Henry takes the time to go among his troops in disguise to see how things are, and encourages those he meets. Then he meets with his Barons and gives a rousing speech that fires them up. Next up, Victory.

Then the play takes a wild turn as Henry woos Princess Katherine. Turns out he's quite the romantic.

A really fast paced play, but with great depth.
Profile Image for Jesús De la Jara.
727 reviews89 followers
April 6, 2022
"Al mar con alegría, los estandartes de guerra al frente:
no hay rey de Inglaterra, si no es rey de Francia"

Leí esta obra de teatro luego de leer un libro de historia de la serie 50 minutos sobre la batalla de Azincourt que enfrentó a franceses e ingleses y terminó con una derrota catastrófica de los primeros.
Siempre me llama la atención la enorme cantidad de personajes en las obras de Shakespeare aunque tratándose de una obra lineal en la cual los actos corresponden a diversos momentos e incluso locaciones es relativamente fácil seguir a los distintos personajes.
Esta obra de Enrique V está diseñada para alabar las acciones del rey sobre todo del episodio de la batalla de Azincourt o Agincourt en la cual derrota al ejército francés. La acción empieza cuando el rey es convencido finalmente por el arzobispo de Canterbury y el obispo de Ely de su real derecho por la corona francesa. El delfín de Francia (Luis, que nunca llegó a ser rey) le manda una embajada injuriosa que ayuda aún más a justificar la actitud invasora del rey.
Luego ya se entra de lleno en el conflicto empezando por la toma de Harfleur donde se destacó el Duque de Exeter, tío del rey y finalmente con la batalla de Azincourt. En el bando inglés destacan además del tío del rey los duques de Gloucester y Clarence (hermanos), los condes Salisbury, Westomoreland y Warwick. También los capitanes Gower, Fluellen quienes tienen un poco de importancia a la hora de las reflexiones del rey sobre la guerra. En el francés están el Condestable de Francia, los duques Borbón, Orleans, Berri y también posteriormente el Duque de Borgoña.
Como es la guerra vista desde el punto de vista inglés se resalta la carencia y limitaciones del ejército inglés (que muchas fueron reales) contra la enorme superioridad francesa. Los comandantes como Borbón u Orleans son retratados como soberbios y bastante confiados en la victoria. Burlándose de los ingleses y de la paliza enorme que recibirían. Los ingleses en cambio muy aguerridos y liderados por Enrique V quien también se encomienda a Dios y va como para "el sacrificio" a la batalla presumiendo siempre de gran valor.

"¡A los caballos, príncipes valientes, a los caballos enseguida!
Bastará que miren a es pobre banda muerta de hambre
para que el espléndido aspecto de ustedes les sirva el alma
no dejando más que la cáscara y la corteza de los hombres"

Me llamó la atención la presencia del coro al inicio de cada acto como presentando lo que venía o disculpándose de la manera de retratar eventos tan importantes. No me pareció algo beneficioso.
La clase plebeya de Inglaterra está representada por Pistola, Nim y Bardolph quienes encarnan el oportunismo, la chabacanería y el pillaje de algunos soldados de clase baja. También se aprovecha Shakespeare de los sucesos históricos para burlarse de los prisioneros franceses o mostrar su gran perfidia.
El final llega a ser "feliz" si se le quiere llamar de alguna manera e inviste al rey con todos los beneficios y títulos nuevos adquiridos gracias al Duque de Borgoña quien logra el pacto entre ambas facciones.
Es una obra ordenada de los eventos históricos si bien es cierto resulta un poco corto la parte de la batalla y sus consecuencias o explicaciones. El autor aprovecha para tocar algunos temas que van más allá del mismo episodio histórico como es la responsabilidad del rey frente al sufrimiento del ejército, la camaradería del rey respecto a sus soldados (el hecho de que se rete con un soldados simple me pareció absurdo) y también las mentiras y jactancias de la clase villana que se aprovecha de las guerras para el pillaje y para contar hermosas historias de valor. Su inclinación hacia una versión de la historia también no me fue de mucho agrado. Pasando desde luego por la justificación de la matanza de prisioneros que desde luego debe tratarse al ser un hecho demasiado polémico.
Ahora sí con todo esto leído y sabiendo que esta obra sirvió para la película "El rey" de Netflix la veré con todo gusto.

"¿Donde está la lista de nuestros muertos ingleses?
Eduardo duque de York, el conde de Suffolk,
sir Ricardo Keighley y David Gam, escudero;
nadie más de nombre ilustre, y de todos los demás
solo veinticinco. Oh, Dios, tu brazo estuvo aquí"
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews315 followers
March 14, 2018
An English Hero
13 January 2011

I originally read this play because it was set during the Hundred Years War and I wanted to use it as a primary source. Unfortunately it is not a primary source since it was written 150 years after the events depicted and the essay was about the English Parliament's influence on the war, which this play has nothing to do with. This is another example of why I would love to go back and redo those classes to see how well my essays come out now that I know a lot more. I am still surprised that I managed to pass.

This play is a piece of propaganda - it depicts Henry V as a hero. Well, to the English he is a hero as he revived the flagging war against France with a number of decisive victories, the greatest being Agnincourt, the battle upon which the play is focused. The play forms part of Shakespeare's War of the Roses cycle which begins with Richard II and ends with Richard III.

I won't go into too many details about whether Henry V deserves his title as a hero, because, as mentioned, to the English he is a hero. He defeated the French and almost conquered France (though this was really an extension of the Norman Conquest, because when the Normans conquered England they retained their capital at Rouen, and as the nation developed, the Norman lands became part of England). Further, this play focuses only on Agincourt, the lead up to the battle, the battle itself, and it's aftermath. Also in this play we see Shakespeare's rather crude humour with the French Princess attempting to learn English (and failing). The play ends with Henry taking his prize: the French Princess.

Really, there isn't all that much to this play. It is simply a retelling of history by the victors, and even though the French did end up kicking the English out of France, England still ended up as the victors, and were able to write the history of the war to suit their own purposes. It was only because of the rise of Joan of Arc that the English lost, though it is interesting to note that England probably could never have controlled France simply because every bit of France that they took there would always be more France to take, and the further they move the more dispersed their forces became and thus the more difficult it become to put down rebellions.

I recently saw a performance of Henry V (twice) and you can read more about this play here. I've also written a second blog post on a version that I saw in period costume (and all the characters were played by men).
Profile Image for Z. F..
298 reviews93 followers
June 11, 2019
                                               . . . I think the King is but a
man as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me.
The element shows to him as it doth to me. All
his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies
laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man,
and though his affections are higher mounted than
ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop with the like

-act 4, scene 1

Henry V is a cynical war story about an illegitimate monarch who invades a sovereign country on blatantly false pretenses, threatens the enemy with rape and child murder if they don’t surrender, orders the killing of his prisoners of war, deceives and endangers his own men for sport, and—when the bloodshed is finally done—adds insult to injury by making the defeated king's daughter marry him.

Wait, no, surely that's not right. Let's try again:

Henry V is a rousing adventure tale about a kind and noble king determined to atone for his father's wrongs with feats of bravery on the battlefield. He treats his men like family, forgiving them even when they insult him to his face, and he commands them to handle the enemy with equal dignity. He's slow to anger, and goes to war only in the belief that ultimately his actions will bring together two rival nations in peaceful unity. And he's a romantic, too!

Or, um, maybe it's both? Or neither?

As I'm sure you've guessed, the point of this exercise is to show that your reading of this play will depend almost entirely on your own predilections and biases. That's true of all books, of course, but most authors can't help holding your hand at least a little—you're still supposed to think Jane Eyre is a pretty cool lady in the end, whatever reservations you may have about her. If nothing else, you can usually tell who the author is rooting for.

But Henry V doesn't make it so easy. Shakespeare's got plenty of unequivocally good or bad characters in his repertoire, but the best of his plays are the ones which hold a mirror up to the reader/viewer/performer instead. (On balance I don't think Henry V actually is one of his best, but it does illustrate this principle perfectly.) If you like a stirring tale of wartime heroics—"we happy few, we band of brothers"—that's what Henry V will give you. If, like me, you're predisposed against kings and imperial endeavors no matter their optics, you'll get plenty of affirmation here as well. Henry is an undeniably magnetic character, and his deeds are presented as at least ostensibly good and just (as they'd pretty much have to be in Shakespeare's day), but there's too much of an emphasis on the king's hypocrisies and shady dealings for me to believe that Will didn't know exactly what he was implying. And anyway, if you've read enough Shakespeare you know that even in the best of cases his feelings about rulers and their legacies were. . . complicated.

For all its nuance, though, Henry V also sees Will indulging many of his most annoying mid-career vices. Even setting aside the fact that the histories are rarely his most compelling work—sorry, it's just the truth—this one manages somehow both to take on too much (the First Folio title of the play was The Life of Henry the Fifth, if that gives you any idea of the intended scope) and to waste page after page on dull comic relief and peripheral dramas. Henry himself is absent from the stage for scenes at a time, while the inclusion of Falstaff's sidekicks Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym feels pointless in the absence of Falstaff himself. (He dies offstage in one of the early scenes, purportedly because the actor who played him quit the company after a dispute.) The nationalistic stereotypes I noted in Merry Wives of Windsor are even more prevalent here, and the whole play is narrated by a Greek chorus whose main purpose, rather hilariously, is to apologize for the poor quality of the production. (Another bit of trivia: this is the only Shakespeare play to include an entire scene in a language other than English—and in typical Shakespearean fashion, the whole thing is basically a setup for a dirty pun en français.)

So I don't know. All in all, I think I'd actually like Henry V pretty well if it was just the scenes with Henry V. As is, I found it interesting to ponder but kind of a chore to read (which, come to think of it, is a sentiment I keep returning to with the histories). I imagine most productions probably do tighten up the script quite a bit, and judging by the predominately positive reviews here and the number of prestigious film adaptations the play's been treated to over the years my opinion is probably the minority one. I've just started The Hollow Crown, the BBC's recent take on the Henriad, so maybe Tom Hiddleston's performance in the title role will win me over.

For now though, I'm just glad to finally be done with the history plays (except for Henry VIII, which comes way later and barely counts) and on to Shakespeare's tragic period. It's been an illuminating and at times rewarding journey, to be sure, but my God will it be nice not to have to read about another Henry or Richard for a good long while.
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews255 followers
November 17, 2020
We are often told war is hell, in this play Shakespeare shows us it is cruel too. While you would do good to have some background info on the actual people being portrayed blah, blah, blah, you also would do good with a little guide of Shakespeare's last historical plays Henry IV, Part 1 & Henry IV, Part 2. But even without it you would never the less see how torturous a campaign as Henry V's into France was. This is one of the Bard's better war plays mainly because he is doing it for his patrons the court of Elizabeth I and because it was not as far past as it was now. It would be something akin to the American Civil War in distance and as Henry V of Lancaster was thought to be a direct (dynasty-wise) ancestor of the Tudors this put a real source of patriotic pride in the play.

Henry, who was unruly in his youth, was found to be a very determined, steely, and pragmatic commander-in-chief and he ruthlessly enforced discipline in his small, disorganized, but fanatically determined army.

The French had the advantage of a better organized and armed military, home-field advantage, and well earned degree of confidence. What they did not have was Henry V and they would pay dearly for that.

Like many a Shakespeare play if you do not pay attention closely you miss the subtle contemplations and debates on the ethics of such things as war, will, even if Henry truly has the right and divine grace to challenge for the French crown

"But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy
reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp'd
off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all,
"We died at such a place"; some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the
debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard
there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument?
Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter
for the King that led them to it; who to disobey were against
all proportion of subjection."

(And this is his own army asking these questions and making these statements. I never cease to admire a Shakespeare play for that.)

The Battle of Agincourt is the centerpiece of the play. After a soul-rousing speech reminding everyone that the day itself is a feast day (a day of commemoration of a particular saint i.e. St. Valentine, St. Patrick and is usually the day that person died) of saints Crispin and Crispinian and bringing home the point that if they die it will be for country, but he would not ask for even one more man to fight with him and if they DO survive generations will read (and watch) of their heroics on the day not to mention bragging rights and showing up those who were not there (truly awesome speech). He has the whole of the English Army ready for battle. The battle is a hellish and nasty one as per the rules of a 15th century battle and every violation of a rule of war and human rights is very meticulously broken,
"Kill the poys
[young boys who accompanied armies in those times] and the luggage! 'Tis expressly against the
law of arms. 'Tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now,
as can be offer't; in your conscience, now, is it not?"

They win miraculously, in part because of the over-powering use of long bows (something they can thank William Wallace for) and a peace treaty that gives the French king's daughter to Henry and makes his heir King of France (spoiler alert it doesn't happen that way thanks to his death, his son's folly, the War of The Roses, and a woman named Joan of Arc).

In hindsight this could be viewed as a tragedy because despite all this hard work, despite all the effort, in-the-end England will never conquer all of France, and the Norman conquest will always dwell in the collective unconscious of the English as the one time (okay second if you include the Romans...) a country subjugated Britain and they never avenged (and no, sports and singing contests do not count nor does D-Day). So, I couldn't help but feel a little bit of pity, as I'm sure the contemporary audience did, for the after knowledge that all of these gains will be wasted by the War Of The Roses, which Shakespeare covered in Henry VI, Part 1.

For reference the visual adaption I saw was Kenneth Branagh's 1989 version so yeah...the battle scene was quite brutal. This movie adaption is a pretty close second for most bloodiest and grittiest adaption of a Shakespeare play in my opinion (with Akira Kurosawa's Ran coming at number one).
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,275 followers
June 3, 2019
Men of few words are the best men.

This is a masterful play, likely one of Shakespeare’s most effortlessly enjoyable. Aided by the chorus, the story moves quickly; and there is none of the artificial machinery of Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies—mistaken identities, secret plots, and the like—but, instead, a story focused on one man’s glorious ascent. This is Henry; and his character is undoubtedly one of the greatest portrayals of a charismatic leader we have. He is the play. Just as he dominates everyone on the stage, so he dominates us, the audience.

The result is a mesmerizing patriotic spectacle. Even if you have grave reservations about the justice of invading France, and even if you can see through Henry’s rhetoric, it is impossible to resist his call to follow him. But how did Shakespeare himself feel about the hero king? One cannot be sure. Nevertheless, there is enough irony in the play to suggest that the playwright entertained his own doubts. Most telling, for me, was the conversation between the disguised Harry and the soldier Williams. After the soldier expands upon the horrors of war—limbs chopped off, men crying for a surgeon, wives and children left alone—he concludes that the king will be responsible for a great evil if the cause be not just. Harry then responds with a fine bit of extremely specious reasoning:
So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon the father that sent him. Or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, by assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation.

Anyone, I suspect, can see the clear difference between a misfortune befalling a servant and a wound suffered by a soldier sent into battle. And this is just one example of Henry’s refusal to consider the ethical ramifications of his decisions. Later on, when Henry discovers that the baggage train has been attacked, the noble king orders his soldiers to cut the throats of every prisoner. He is, in short, remorseless in the pursuit of what he considers his birthright.

The central question that the play asks, then, is whether Henry’s brilliant, charismatic leadership in some measure excuses all of the bloodshed that results from his choices. Now that the idea of monarchy has lost its hold on our imaginations, the argument that any land belongs to a king “by right” sounds barbaric. It thus seems difficult to justify the invasion of France on any reasonable ethical grounds. After all, France is not ruled by a cruel tyrant; and the people of France will likely be no happier under Henry than under Charles VI.

Nevertheless, it is difficult not to root for the young king. And this is true of many historic conquerors, from Alexander the Great to Napoleon. They cloak themselves in glory and promise to inaugurate a new world, if only you follow them through the breach. Indeed, Fluellen explicitly compares Henry to Alexander, noting how the latter killed one of his best friends while drunk, just as Henry rejected his friend and mentor Falstaff. (And Mistress Quickly’s narration of Falstaff’s lonely death is one of the more affecting moments of this play.)

It seems strange that these military conquerers have commanded so much praise throughout the ages. Plutarch’s Lives is little more than a compendium of so many Henrys. Yet as Voltaire said:
Not long since the trite and frivolous question was debated in a very polite and learned company, viz., Who was the greatest man, Caesar, Alexander, Tamerlane, Cromwell, etc.? Somebody answered that Sir Isaac Newton excelled them all. The gentleman’s assertion was very just; … those politicians and conquerors (and all ages produce some) were generally so many illustrious wicked men. That man claims respect who commands over the minds of the rest of the world by force of truth, not those who enslave their fellow-creatures: he who is acquainted with the universe, not they who deface it.

All this being said, it must be noted in favor of these conquerors that their less charismatic counterparts are not necessarily better in terms of the common good. In Richard II, the beginning of this tetralogy, Shakespeare gives us a portrait of just such an ineffectual king, a man who has the sensibility of a poet but not the strong will of a commander, and whose poor decisions result in a civil war. Historically, peace at home has often been kept at the cost of war abroad, and vice versa. Conquered land is seldom kept, but the state is strengthened in the meantime; and a country united against an enemy may be preferable to one divided by faction.

Clearly, a country at peace at home and abroad is preferable to either alternative. But historically speaking, this option has not often existed. I do not think this excuses the bloodshed of conquests, but perhaps it goes some way in explaining why these warlike men have so often been treated as heroes, when nowadays we are apt to see them as villains. That, and a play about Isaac Newton would likely not be as entertaining.
Profile Image for Zadignose.
254 reviews154 followers
April 25, 2016
A somewhat unexpected development at at the end of a four-play series ("The Henriad"). Shakespeare comes across as remarkably cynical in the first three plays, yet in this one he takes as mostly sincere the moral reformation of Henry V, and the superiority of English/British honor (while peppering the play with a bit of ethnic humor, Shakespeare upholds the honor of the Welsh, whose main defect is merely that they speak a bit funny). To a large extent the play seems most like a "history play" among this series of history plays: events from history are enacted on stage and offstage with a "chorus" to keep us updated--and speaking of "chorus," Shakespeare seems to exercise his wit here by employing a "chorus" of one person to illustrate his main function as a reminder that every man on stage is taken to represent dozens or thousands.

The play seems didactic and even propagandist in comparison to the other more ambiguous plays. But I was somewhat thankful to have put behind the silliness of Henry IV 1&2. And one rather large ambiguity seems to stand out dramatically to me, as the big riddle of the play which goes uncommented. Why do the English triumph at Agincourt? Here, Shakespeare leaves us to do our own philosophizing, and I believe that's entirely deliberate. He has encouraged us to entertain three theses which are not necessarily exclusive to one another:

-They triumph through the will of God.
-They triumph through the character of men (Henry's moral reformation and the honorable character of those who emerged from the earlier British civil wars being the deciding factors).
-They triumph through an accident of blind, inconstant fortune.

The epilogue mentions fortune, which was a theme oft repeated in the play cycle and an obsession to the medieval mind, but God's will and the reward of human virtue are also oft repeated themes so that on a philosophical level Shakespeare seems to have offered us three Henriads without any means to arrive at one True Henriad.

P.S., the theses which are entirely left off the table, perhaps even mildly ridiculed through the honorable foolishness of the character of Fluellin, are that the English may have triumphed through strategy or technological superiority (historians might point to the use of the longbows, for instance). To Shakespeare, such prosaic explanations of military victory are not to be taken seriously.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,110 reviews3,030 followers
July 27, 2018
Henry V is a history play written by Shakespeare in 1599. It tells the story of Henry V of House Lancaster who ruled England from 1413 to 1422. The play focuses on the events before and after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, which marked a major English victory in the Hundred Years' War against France.

It is also the final part of Shakespeare's tetralogy consisting of Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. In the previous installments (which I haven't read) Henry has been depicted as a wild and undisciplined young prince who slowly but surely matured into a respectable and responsible man.

I can't say I am surprised that this is my least favorite Shakespeare play. I really love the Bard's comedies and tragedies, but the histories never woed me. I thought that Henry V was an extremely boring play. I didn't connect to any of the characters, I didn't care for the fighting, and even the infamous speeches couldn't lure me in – no, not even the St. Crispin's Day Speech. I found the plot very hard to follow and through huge chunks of this I didn't really know what was going on.

The only part of Henry V which I thoroughly enjoyed were the introductions before each act by the Chorus. I loved how witty the prose was, and how metatextual. In the prologue the Chorus delivers a formal apology for the low production value of the play (I mean how awesome is that?), and also hints at the fact that the world, too, is a stage nested in the larger structure of imitation.

My favorite lines of the Chorus were the ones in which he initiated a change in location making humorous references to getting seasick (see: We'll not offend one stomach with our play.) or the ones in which he prompted the audience to use their own imagination and to fill in the gaps (and in the literal sense the ranks of the depicted armies):
And let us, ciphers to this great account,
On your imaginary forces work.

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.

Turning th'accomplishments of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history,
Who Prologue-like you humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
The first Act opens up with Henry's lords advising him to invade France. They welcome the herald from France who brings them a box of treasure for the new king, however, the treasure is nothing but a box of tennis balls that Dauphin, the Prince of France, sent them as a joke about Henry's wild days as a prince, taunting Henry that he is unfit to rule even England, let alone France.

Henry, naturally, is super pissed at this and vows that he'll change the tennis balls for cannon balls, and is ready for shit to go down: So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin / His jest will savour but of shallow wit / When thousands weep more than did laugh at it. Oh my!

What then ensues is everything you'd expect from a bloody war: bitches get ready to fight, some bitches die, some bitches turn out to be snitches (I'm looking at you, Cambridge!), the main bitches don't shy away from letting the lowlier bitches do the dirty work (I'm looking at you, Fluellen!), and bitches get their throats cut.

I didn't care for any of that stuff, and so the only subplot that I found remotely interesting was the one of Katherine, the Princess of France. She knows that if Henry will win the war, she'll have to marry him, and so she asks her maid Alice to teach her some English. What then ensues is comedy on a high philological level, because some of the words Katherine is learning have quite a different meaning in her mother tongue. It was a treat to read for someone who is both fluent in English and in French.

I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with the Battle of Agincourt – it didn't feel epic at all. Henry's encouraging speeches felt super cheap to me, and even him spying on his own soldiers in disguise wasn't as entertaining as I thought it would be.

On the morning of the battle, the sheer numbers of the French army dampen the English moral, but when Henry gives his infamous St. Crispin's Day Speech about honor and brotherhood and English pride, his soldiers are electrified and decide to stay. And so they fight.

Shit goes down and the French, having lost the battle, ask to recover their dead. Henry said that God fought for the English that day and forbids anyone to baost about this victory.

The play ends with Henry and the King of France discussing the details of the peace, and Henry admitting that Katherine is his greatest desire in the treaty. While the King of France and Henry's officials discuss the agreement, Katherine and Henry banter about love – which was pretty fucking ridiculous by the way. Henry, for example, tells her that he loves France so much he 'will not part with a village of it – I will have it all mine'. Alrighty!

The short epilogue was also one of the few brilliant things this play had to offer. In it the Chorus narrates that the peace only lasted for a short time because Henry soon dies, and his child, Henry VI, will lose everything his father has won. [insert Beethoven's 5th here] ;)

In conclusion, I can say that there were some funny and clever bits scattered throughout this play, but overall the fighting scenes, and all the overblown speeches bored me to death.
Profile Image for Jake.
509 reviews39 followers
April 14, 2010
Thanks to Kenneth Branagh, this Henry history play was the cool Shakespeare movie when I was in high school. Eat your heart out Franco Zeffirelli. Mr. Branagh acted and directed his butt off. There were lots of arrows flying between England and France. The French were portrayed as snobs, a testament to the Bard’s high research standards. The original score was majestic. Did I mention the cool arrows?

Honestly, I’m still not sure why England and France were fighting—something about tennis balls being very tacky gifts. So I make it a rule never to invite a British person to play tennis if he is holding a longbow. Oh, yeah, and having now also seen a good stage production, I find myself not the least bit bothered that a whole section of the play is done in French. It involves Henry’s bride-to-be chatting it up with a girlfriend, I think. At any rate, the deep symbolism for me in that scene is that whenever I find myself surrounded by chatting women, I can’t follow what they’re saying. But if I pay attention to their mood, things generally turn out okay.

Anyhoooo, having read it and seen it on stage and screen, Henry V remains for me a cool, exciting Shakespeare play. I had to dock a star because I made the mistake of attending college and becoming a critical thinker. So now the war sections don’t have the same pizzazz that they did in high school. And I’ve also realized that the love story has no pizzazz. “Hi, lovely French lady. I’m Henry. I killed more of your relatives than your country killed of my relatives. I love your eyes. Let’s consummate.” Yup, pretty sure that’s the final act in a nutshell.

Bottom line: Whatever literary gripes may exist about this play, the St. Crispin’s Day speech is rightfully one of the greatest moments in all of dramatic literature. Don’t miss this Shakespearean history play.
Profile Image for Elena.
792 reviews61 followers
January 13, 2019
Well, I have my absolute Shakespeare's favourite, and it's Much Ado About Nothing.
But! As far as that one is a great comedy, I think Henry V has become my favourite historical play by the Great Bard.

This time there was no Falstaff to steal the show (only a few appearances of his companions, Bardolph and Pistol) so we could really see Henry V growing to be the King, the soldier and the politician England needs.

I liked the "war speeches", especially around the battle of Azincourt, and the whole concept of "brotherhood" among all of the fighting Englishmen (and Welshmen of course).

I also liked the emphasis on the church's role in warmongering and the general costs of fighting - the visible, tangible, financial one and also the one that taints people's souls, their conscience and personalities.

Generally, a great read! Now to the First Tetralogy ;)
Profile Image for Melanti.
1,256 reviews117 followers
December 23, 2016
My first of Shakespeare's histories, and a comparatively straightforward one to read compared to some of his others - in part because the plot is so straightforward.

Rather than a complicated plot, the majority of the time is taken up bragging about how great England is, how silly and overconfident the French were. The rest of the time is spent with King Henry giving some really great and inspiring pre-battle speeches.

There's a couple odd things about the play that make me wonder if it was originally commissioned by or performed specially for a more noble audience than the general public.

About half the time, the chorus is only there to talk about how great England is and I'm sure that Jingoistic aspect would play well to a noble crowd. And there's a huge amount of French (including a whole scene of nothing but French) with jokes that are funniest if you do speak French - which, I assume, would have been more common in well-to-do households.

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