Henry V by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is widely considered the greatest playwright of all time. He lived in England from 1564-1616, and in his lifetime is believed to have written 38 plays, as well as several long poems and sonnets (short poems). Shakespeare wrote in a particular kind of poetry called iambic pentameter, which means that there is a very specific rhythm to each line. Shakespeare’s plays fall into several categories: Comedies, Tragedies, Histories and romances. Henry V is one of the histories, and is believed to have been written in 1599. It is a violent, bloody play about King Henry V (who really lived and ruled in England in the 1500’s) and his war on the French to take over the French throne, to which he believed he was the rightful heir.
Henry V: King of England, this is one dude you don’t want to mess with. He’s full of rage and is very ruthless.
Duke of Exeter: Uncle to the King.
The King of France: Ummm… the King of France.
The Prince: Also called the Dauphin, he’s the French King’s son.
Princess Katherine: The French King’s daughter.
Alice: Katherine’s maid.
Bishop of Canterbur: English Bishop.
Bishop of Ely: English Bishop.
Nym, Bardolph, Pistol: Old friends of Henry’s, now in his army.
Dukes of Gloucestor, Bedford and Clarence: Henry’s brothers.
Montjoy: A French Herald (guy who spreads news).
Henry, a young man who has recently inherited the English crown, is angry because The French King refuses to honor his claim to the French throne. The French King insults him by offering Henry his daughter’s hand in marriage and some lesser titles.
Henry in his anger makes war on the French. Despite being a much smaller and weakened army, the English defeat the French and Henry is given the French crown.
The plot is pretty simple. The play is more about a man’s struggle for power and respect, and the issues of loyalty, betrayal, greed, honor, and deceit.
ACT BY ACT/SCENE BY SCENE
- The Prologue is spoken by the chorus (one person who acts as an observer).
- The chorus apologizes for the fact that they are only actors on a stage and begs the audience to use its imagination and see the fields of France and monarchies instead of a stage, to see a thousand men and horses on a battlefield instead of a few actors.
- In this way the audience is recruited to create the play in their minds as the actors present it before them.
- In the London at Henry V’s palace, the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely talk about how they are afraid that the House of Commons (like American Congress) will pass a bill that will take away the lands and gifts that the people have given to the church over the years.
- They are unsure how the king feels about this bill, and Canturbury says that he offered to give the king a larger percentage of these gifts than the clergy ever has to any other monarch in the past (this is, of course, a bribe so that the king will not pass the bill).
- They then talk about how Henry has transformed himself from the roughhousing, boozing, whoring bar fly he used to be (Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, parts I & II), to the kingly, wise, sober diplomatic person that he is. They talk about his way of talking, and how he moves people with his words.
- King Henry and several of his lords get together and prepare to meet the ambassador of France
- Canterbury and Ely enter and Henry asks Canterbury to explain something called the Salique law, and what impact this law may or may not have on Henry’s claim to France.
- This law says "No woman shall succeed (inherit money or land) in Salique land". Canturbury goes on for a while, going through ancestors and orders of events and who did what; and proves that the French have been claiming rights through women’s lines for years, and so Henry can, too.
- In the end, Canturbury says that there is nothing to prevent the king from claiming the French throne.
- The lords all encourage Henry to raise an army to invade France and claim his title to France.
- Henry says he also has to protect England from the Scottish, who attack England every time the English army is away. Canterbury tells him to divide his forces into four parts; one which will invade France, and the other three which will stay in England and defend England from the Scots.
- The French ambassador then comes in with a message from the Dauphin, the prince of France. The message is basically that if Henry thinks he can just waltz into France and take over, he’s got another thing coming. The ambassador then presents henry with a "gift" from the Dauphin: a chest of tennis balls the Dauphin gives him these because Henry used to only joke around and play games all day in the tavern with his friends).
- This pisses Henry off, and he tells the ambassador to let the Dauphin know that this means war.
- Henry kicks out the French ambassador, and tells his lords to prepare England to go to war.
The chorus says that England and France are preparing to go to war, that England is psyched and France is scared, and that the French King has bribed three English nobles: Richard, Earl of Cambridge; Henry, Lord of Masham, and Thomas, Lord of Northumberland to kill King Henry in Southhampton, before he can sail for France.
- In Southampton, England, Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym (drinking buddies of King Henry’s in the good old days) mess around in the tavern of Mistress Quickly.
- Nym and Pistol fight over Mistress Quickly.
- Everyone gets ready to go fight in the English army.
- A boy comes and tells them that Falstaff (a fat old drunk, who was a father figure to King Henry) is sick and dying.
- At Henry’s castle in Southampton.
- In an offstage SCENE, Henry learns that the three nobles are planning to kill him.
- The three men are brought before Henry. They don’t know that Henry knows about their plan to kill him. Henry sets them up by telling Exeter, another Lord, to pardon a man that was arrested for badmouthing the King in public. The three nobles all tell Henry that that is a bad idea, that this traitor should be punished.
- Henry then lets them know that he knows all about their plan -- of course the three weasels fall on their knees and beg for mercy, but Henry laughs in their faces, and yells at them for a page about how they have betrayed him, and has them arrested for high treason and sentenced to death (no trials for these guys!).
- Henry then sets sail for France.
- Back in Southampton at Mistress Quickly’s tavern.
- Falstaff has died, and the boys, Nym, Bardolph and Pistol tell stories about him, and mourn him and then say goodbye to Mistress Quickly and head off to fight in France.
- In France, in the French king’s chamber, the King and the Prince talk about how to defend themselves against the English.
- The Prince tells the French king that King Henry is not a very good king – he’s vain and shallow, and no one fears him. But the king of France tells him to watch it, that Henry is strong and comes from fierce stock and is to be feared.
- Exeter comes in and gives the King of France a message from King Henry. He explains why Henry is rightful heir to the French throne, giving him a family tree that Henry himself has drawn, and tells the French King to step down and give the throne to Henry. If he doesn’t, Henry will wage war on the French people.
- The King of France says that he’ll give Henry his decision tomorrow.
- Exeter then tells the Prince that King Henry says he is going to make the Dauphin sorry that he ever gave him those stupid tennis balls.
The chorus again urges the audience to use its imagination and picture the English ships leaving England and landing in the French town of Harfleur. Also to imagine that the French King has offered King Henry some measly lands and Dukedoms, as well as Katherine, the Princess of France’s hand in marriage, if he will just go away. And finally to imagine that Henry has said fat chance and is preparing to attack Harfleur.
- This SCENE is on the battlefield at Harfleur. Henry gives a big speech to pump up the soldiers for their attack on Harfleur, telling them to fight like fierce animals and to do their parents proud.
- In Harfleur, Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy run away from the battle, wishing they were back in England.
- Fluellen, a captain in the English army, enters and screams at them to get back in the fight. They all do, except the boy, who stands and talks to the audience about how Bardolph, Pistol and Nym are cowards, thieves, drunks and liars, and make him sick to his stomach.
- The Welsh Captain Fluellen, the Scottish Captain Jamy, the Irish Captain MacMorris, and the English Captain Gower talk military strategies in their various accents.
- King Henry speaks to governors of Harfleur to demand that they surrender the town to him, and that if they do not, his soldiers will burn the city to the ground, rape all its young women, bash the men’s heads against the walls and skewer the babies on pikes (long sticks). The speech is incredibly violent and disgusting.
- The governors decide (surprise, surprise) to surrender the city to Henry and they open the city gates.
- Henry decides that the army will spend the night there, and in the morning go to Calais, since winter is coming and his soldiers are getting sick.
- At the Castle in France, Katherine, the princess of France, has an English lesson from her maid, Alice.
- At the castle, the French King, the Prince, and other French nobles talk about Henry’s success so far in the war and how ashamed they are that the English are doing so well.
- The French King sends an army to stop Henry on his march to Calais, and sends Montjoy, the herald, to ask Henry how much ransom Henry will pay if he is captured by the French. (This is supposed to be intimidating. At this time in history, prisoners of war could be ransomed for sums that had been decided upon before a battle had even begun. The French King is sending someone to say to Henry: "We’re going to catch you, so how much are you willing to pay to get yourself released when we do?")
- Somewhere on the road to Calais the Captains Fluellen and Gower meet up with Pistol who begs them to plead to the Duke for the life of Bardolph, who has been sentenced to hang for stealing. Fluellen refuses and a pissed off Pistol leaves.
- King Henry comes in with Gloucester and soldiers. Henry asks Fluellen for the number of English soldiers killed, and Fluellen says none, except for Bardolph who is about to be killed for stealing. Henry approves of the killing of Bardolph, saying that during the soldiers’ march to Calais, nothing must be stolen from the French citizen’s homes.
- Monjoy comes in to give King Henry the threat from King of France and to ask what ransom he will pay for his freedom if he’s captured by the French. Henry says that his body will be his only ransom.
- At the French palace a bunch of French nobles and the Prince sit around and joke, each one trying to prove that he’s better than the other; they also talk about how they’re going to kick some British butt in tomorrow’s battle.
Yup, you guessed it; the chorus again, telling us that the night before the battle begins, the French are cocky, the English are exhausted and King Henry walks around the camp, encouraging each and every one of his soldiers.
- King Henry admits to two people that his army is in danger.
- He borrows Erpingham’s cloak and is disguised. He moves around the camp, listening in on his soldiers’ conversations.
- The king, disguised, speaks to three soldiers, telling them that the king is just a man like them, and he and soldier Michael Williams discuss whether or not a king is to be held responsible for the deaths of his soldiers in wartime.
- The talk turns to the honor of the king, and this turns to an argument, and the disguised Henry and Williams vow to continue the fight after the battle is over. They exchange gloves, so that they can find each other when the time comes.
- The soldiers leave and King Henry has a speech about how much responsibility lies on the King, and that nothing separates a king from a common man but "ceremony," or the title of King. He then begs God to let the battle go well.
- The morning of the battle, the French soldiers psych themselves up for battle by talking about how pathetic the English soldiers are and how easy they will be to defeat.
- King Henry gives a speech to his soldiers about how they are all brothers together in the war, and that someday they will look back on this battle and be proud of their bravery.
- Montjoy enters (AGAIN!) to ask about the ransom thing. (They all do an awful lot of talking before they fight, don’t they?) Henry, again, says the only ransom will be his body.
- The battle begins!
- Pistol is about to kill a French soldier, but the soldier begs and offers him two hundred crowns, and Pistol agrees to spare him.
- The English are destroying the French, and the Dauphin and other French nobles are so ashamed of this that they want to die, rather than live with the embarrassment.
- Exeter tells King Henry that York and Suffolk have been killed.
- The French sound an alarm which means that they are rallying for another battle.
- Henry orders that all his soldiers kill their French prisoners.
- Fluellen talks to Gower and compares Henry to Alexander the Great, saying both are alike in their rages, furies, wraths and moods. Fluellen clearly doesn’t like Henry.
- Henry enters with some lords and French prisoners.
- Montjoy enters to surrender on behalf of the French.
- Williams ( the one who exchanged gloves with the disguised king so they could fight later) comes in but the king doesn’t say anything about his being the one Williams was arguing with.
- Williams exits and the King gives Fluellen Williams’ glove and tells him to wear it in his hat. He also tells Fluellen that any man who challenges him for wearing the glove is England’s enemy and should be captured.
- He then sends Gloucestor and Warwick to follow Fluellen and make sure that Williams and he don’t actually fight. (I don’t know why, maybe this is how Kings have fun).
- Williams and Fluellen start fighting over the whole glove thing.
- Henry comes on and tells Williams that he was the one that Williams was arguing with that night. Williams begs for mercy and the king says ok.
- An English Herald comes on and tells Henry that the English have captured 1500 French soldiers and nobles, and that 10,000 French were killed, but only 25 English.
- Henry is psyched and cries out that God loves the English and not the French.
One last time, it’s the chorus who tells us about the ticker tape parade held for the English upon their return, and how Henry soon returns to France to make peace.
- Fluellen punishes Pistol for offending him in an earlier off-stage scene by making Pistol eat a leek (I know, whatever).
- At the King of France’s palace, King Henry and some English nobles and the King of France and some of his nobles meet to try and work out a peace agreement.
- King Henry sends his lords to go with the French king and his nobles to discuss King Henry’s demands, while Henry stays behind and hits on Katherine of France, who falls in love with him.
- The other nobles return and tell Henry that the king of France has agreed to all Henry’s terms, including letting Henry marry Princess Katherine and making him the heir to the throne of France.
- The chorus tells us that Henry V died young and his son Henry VI, was a useless king who lost France for England.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- Talk about the ideas of betrayal and loyalty. Henry in his younger days before this play was friends with a whole group of people: Falstaff, Pistol, Nym, Bardolph – but he turned his back on them when he became King. These men, though, are still loyal to him in this play, and are willing to go to battle and die for him. The three nobles are willing to betray King Henry and kill him for money, and Henry feels that betrayal very sharply.
- What does it mean to be honorable in this world? For many, it is to stand by Henry and fight until France is won; for Henry it is to be King of England and France; for many it is to win whatever argument they have started. There are a lot of examples in this play of people going to extremes to win an argument and emerge victorious. And as a King, Henry wonders aloud about his responsibilities, and what kind of behavior makes him an honorable king.
- Talk about the idea of "Play". This is a play, obviously, and the Chorus is always reminding us of that fact; the Dauphin gives the King tennis balls; and the war itself is often treated as a game, as play. The King disguises himself and talks to his men. Henry also talks about how he is, in a sense, "playing" at being the King, since in all other ways but title he is like any other man.