The Famous Life of King Henry V
The play opens with the Chorus' introduction (which begins each act and concludes the play with an Epilogue.) He tells us that the play will be an unworthy presentation of King Henry V. The play opens with the appearance of two churchman, who plan to give King Henry legitimacy in his invasion of France, so they might not lose their lands. They give him the church's approval in the next scene. Henry V then is answered by the French ambassador, with a message from the Dauphin. The Dauphin gives him a box of tennis balls (mocking Henry's youth.) Henry announces that he will bring France to war. The next scene shows some of Henry's former friends whom with he spent many idle hours. They are in the army and will go to France. They soon hear word of Henry's greatest friend of the past, Sir John Falstaff, dying of a broken heart (probably because of Henry.) The King then exposes a plot to assassinate him and executes the traitors. He then leaves for France. In the next scene, Henry's friends also take ship for France after bemoaning Falstaff's death. Henry then leads his forces to battle at Harfleur. He is victorious and his troops are motivated (including the comic character, a Welsh soldier called Fluellen.) The French nobles prepare to bring up their powers against the English and crush King Henry's forces. The play continues as the soldiers prepare for battle, the French in overconfidence, the English in weariness. King Henry rouses his troops and motivates them with his famous Agincourt speech. The English win the battle and the French are miserable in defeat. The play then ends with the French giving Henry the throne and Henry's courtship of Catherine. He wins both and England and France are full of hope. However, the Chorus ends pointing out the future events that made England lose France and even fall into civil war.
King Henry V: The mighty monarch of England, who previously spent his time in idleness. He put it off and has the full confidence of England. He invades Frances and wins it along with the Princess of France.
Thomas, Duke of Clarence: The King's younger brother (a non-speaking part).
John, Duke of Bedford: The King's brother, a warrior and his friend.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: Another of the King's brother's.
Thomas, Duke of Exeter: Uncle to the King and one of Henry's most trusted nobles.
Edward, Duke of York: The redoubted cousin to the King. He is a minor character, but the highest ranking noble killed.
Earls of Salisbury, Westmoreland and Warwick: The king's nobles and earls, who all aid him in his conquest of France.
Archbishop of Canterbury: The leading churchman, who approves of Henry's claim in France. His motives are questionable for a churchman.
Richard, Earl of Cambridge: Cousin to the King, and a traitor bribed by France. He is caught and summarily executed.
Lord Scroop: One of the King's closest counsellors, and a traitor also bribed by France. He causes Henry much sorrow at his treachery and execution.
Sir Thomas Erpingham: An old General in the King's army, who delights to serve Henry in his invasion of France.
Gower: A General in Henry's army. He is often seen with Fluellen.
Fluellen: Another officer in Henry's army. He is Welsh and is the comedic character in the play.
MacMorris: An Irish officer in Henry's army, particularly to thank for Harfleur's siege.
Jamy: An Scottish officer in Henry's army.
Bates, Court, and Williams: Three soldiers who Henry meets on the night before Agincourt. Williams challenges Henry to a fight leading to several comical scenes.
Pistol: An old soldier, who was a friend of Falstaff. He has married Mistress Quickly and is an over-tempered fool. He quarrels with Nym at the beginning. He loses all he has, his friend, Falstaff, his wife, and his other friends.
Bardolf: A close friend of Henry, from his youth. He seems a drunkard, but one of the bravest of his old friends. Pistol mentions he is hanged for stealing from a church.
Nym: Another close friend of Bardolf and a rival of Pistol. He goes into France, but is hanged for stealing.
Boy: Former page to Falstaff. He fights in France, but is killed guarding luggage.
King Charles of France: The French King. He is not a warrior, but orders French nobles to confront Henry's forces. He makes Henry his heir, at the close of the play.
Lewis the Dauphin: The prince of France and braggart. He is not brave or skillful in war. He flees the battle of Agincourt in loss.
Dukes of Bourbon and Orleans: Over-confident nobles of France, who brag about their armor before battle, secure that with their greater numbers they will defeat the English.
Duke of Burgundy: A French noble who appears at the end of the play. It is he who arranges the treaty at the end and hopes for future peace.
Montjoy: A French herald, who asks for King Henry's ransom. He is shocked to see Henry's great victory in battle.
Queen Isabel: The French Queen, who blesses her daughter's marriage to Henry.
Katherine: The princess of France, who Henry courts and weds at the end of the play.
Hostess: Pistol's new-married wife, who was Mistress Quickly in two earlier plays. She is said to have died.
Shakespeare's Henry V has been adapted for film on many occasions. In 1945, Laurence Olivier directed and starred in a film adaptation of this play titled, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France. Olivier won an honorary award and the film was nominated for three Oscars. More recently in 1989, Kenneth Branagh also directed and starred in a highly popular film version, (more simply titled Henry V) which won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. It was also nominated for best Actor in a leading role and best director.
Both films edit certain portions of the play. Olivier's film was made during World War II, just before the invasion into France. The film was designed to invoke patriotism, which resulted in the changing of Henry's threats before the city of Harfleur and other instances. The battle at Agincourt was neat, without blood and shot in bright colors. Branagh's film was made after America and Britain had been disheartened by wars such as in Vietnam and the Falkland Islands. While Branagh still portrayed Henry positively, the battle scenes are drastically different. The soldiers march through mud and rain and encounter a bloody battle at Agincourt (earning the film a PG-13 rating.)
Lines and Quotes
O for a Muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention
A Kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Once more unto the breach, dear friends once more;
-King Henry (Act III, Scene 1)
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 a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhood's cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
-King Henry (Act IV, Scene 3)
- Great Books: Shakespeare, Vol. 1, edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pp. 532-567.
Open Source Shakespeare - Henry V