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Henry V

by William Shakespeare

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Henry V is a study of kinship, patriotism, and heroic determination, tempered by tender comedy as Henry courts Katherine, Princess of France.



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Yeah, yeah, I'm supposed to be reading King Lear, but the BBC broadcast Brannagh's Henry V film and I thought I'd catch it on iPlayer before it disappears.

Now generally speaking I'm not in favour of invading your neighbour because everything's a bit fraught at home and you need to create a distraction and a bit of nationalistic fervour to make people forget about it and think you're a hero, but when Shakespeare's Henry V does it, I'm on board for plenty of gung-ho Jingoism leavened with comedic scenes and tragic loss of youth's friendships as Kingly responsibility makes its demands.

Why? Because Shakespeare's Chorus calls on a muse of fire in the Prologue - and was answered! There are so many great speeches and great scenes in this play that it would be easier to point out the bits that aren't unalloyed genius. I'm not going to do that because it would be boring. I'm also going to pass over Henry's numerous justly famous speeches in favour of the insufficiently praised Chorus. In all the Shakespeare (or any other drama for that matter) I've witnessed only Romeo and Juliet with it's "Two Houses, both alike in dignity" comes close to having such a truly awe-inspiring scene setting Prologue as this play does, calling upon the audience to supply with imagination the vasty fields of Agincourt whilst verbally rendering the necessary image in all the necessary technicolor 3-D surround-sound iMax glory. The Chorus goes on to further feats of hyperbolic scene-setting that are just amazing - all the more so if you are smart enough to get Derek Jacobi to deliver them for you.

There is of course another reason why I love Henry V so much - because he's a self-declared Welshman. The whole Ffluellyn as butt of Welsh stereotyping jokes tempered by Henry's proud acceptance of Welsh ancestry is great - makes Shakespeare feel more British and less purely English. (On the other hand, Flagon points out that Harry likes St. George who is a Dragon slayer and therefore not his favourite bloke.)

The play is also the culmination of a trilogy and at its best when taken straight after it's two preceding parts so that the transformation from Harry, jack-the-lad, to Henry, respected King and conqueror via a bloody rite-of-passage, assailed by doubts and overwhelming odds against him. Brannagh cleverly incorporates flashbacks to scenes from Henry IV in order to remind the viewer of this.

People don't talk much about the comedy of the play, either, despite there being plenty of it, some of it typically of the era. Where else but the Elizabethan/Jacobean stage would you find an English boy playing a French Princess learning English from her maid who is being played by another English boy? Must have been hilarious - still is when Emma Thompson does it. ANd talking of boys, the Boy is played by Christian Bale!

Anyway, it would take a muse of fusing plasma to inspire me to sufficient praise of this play. Go see it. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
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.wordpress.com/2017/02/25/henry-v-man-and-monarch-b... ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
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*

( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
William Shakespeare

King Henry V

Routledge, Hardback, 1995.

8vo. xxi+419 pp. Arden Shakespeare: Third Series. Edited by T. W. Craik. General editors’ preface [xi-xv]. Preface [xvii-xxi] and Introduction [1-111] by the editor.

Written, c. 1599.
First Quarto, 1600.
First Folio, 1623.
This edition first published, 1995.


List of Illustrations
General editors’ preface

- Date
- Sources
- Henry V: The Quarto and Folio texts
- ‘Bad quartos’, ‘foul papers’ and ‘performance-based texts’
- The play
- Critical opinions of the play and its hero
- Henry V in performance
- Text

The Life of King Henry the Fifth
Act I, Prologue and Scenes 1-2
Act II, Prologue and Scenes 1-4
Act III, Prologue and Scenes 1-7
Act IV, Prologue and Scenes 1-8
Act V, Prologue and Scenes 1-2

1. The First Quarto (1600)
2. Map of France and the South of England
3. Map of the route of Henry V’s army, from 18 June to 23 November 1415
4. Genealogical table
5. Doubling chart
Abbreviations and references
- Abbreviations used in notes
- Shakespeare’s works
- Editions of Shakespeare collated
- Other works


Larry and Ken brought me here. I am always willing to break my rule “first the book and then the movie”, but in the case of Shakespeare I dare not. I wouldn’t get much out of the movie, not even with subtitles. So, wanting to see those two legendary Shakespearean adaptations for the screen, the play had to be experienced on paper first.

My only previous experience with Shakespeare’s so-called “histories” was Richard III, which I read years ago but still have a vivid impression of the title character and his semi-tragic essence. It’s a pointless but harmless exercise to compare the plays a little. Both of them have a wealth of scenes (25-30) and speaking parts (more than 40 in both cases, I think) but are surprisingly easy to read and follow. Henry V is a later and shorter play, certainly no tragedy, but more varied, more complex and more ambiguous. More than one third of it is in prose, as opposed to less than two percent of Richard III. Henry V is less dominated by the title character, however, and for that very reason it is less effective.

That is the chief problem with Henry V. It is very uneven. When Harry isn’t around, the play degenerates from a fine drama into a mediocre farce. One must give Shakespeare some credit for trying to give a comprehensive picture of the people behind the glorious massacre of Agincourt. From the King to the common soldier, everybody has their say. Even the French side is solidly represented by the King, the Dauphin, the Constable, Montjoy (the French herald), and “fair Katherine” (V.2.98). None of these gentlemen and ladies is very interesting, though. The English lesson in French between Katherine and Alice (III.4) is positively puerile. And I can have enough of the Dauphin’s equine fantasies (III.7).

The comic scenes are even worse. Falstaff’s cronies, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym, are crashing bores. The last two are not much heard, and my thanks to Will for this small mercy. Pistol is more prominent, but I found little to amuse me in his boorish tirades. I suppose a great actor can make him bearable. I agree with Hazlitt that Fluellen is “good-natured, brave, choleric, and pedantic”, but I disagree he is “the most entertaining character” in the play[1]. I admit his discourse on “Alexander the Pig” who was “porn” in Macedon (IV.7) is slightly amusing. Falstaff does not appear in this play, and I have yet to make his acquaintance. I hope he is more memorable than this bunch of goofy nobodies, “satellites without a sun” in the memorable phrase of Hazlitt[2]. Falstaff’s backstage death has a brief scene on its own (II.3), just for the sake of completeness, I suppose. Will wisely made it short, but neither Olivier nor Branagh resisted making too much of it on the screen.

The title character saves this play. More than that, he makes it rather compelling.

Harry is a charming fellow. It’s impossible to call him Henry[3]. After his apparently wild youth, Harry has grown, much to the surprise of everybody, into something of a scholar and a philosopher. He is also a warrior and a conqueror, a French lover and a practical joker, and a gifted orator with a fine, rather sarcastic when he talks to the French, sense of humour. Most charmingly, he is an ardent tennis fan almost five centuries before Wimbledon, or at least he was before he became king. “Tennis-balls, my liege.” (I.2.259) is a justly famous line, and a successful way to make Harry angry. The tennis imagery is worth a quote. Harry also predicted Roland Garros five centuries before it became reality (I.2.260-7):

We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us.
His present and your pains we thank you for.
When we have marched 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.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chases.

Though he is not a diabolical jester like Richard (you can’t really call that guy “Ricky”, can you?), Harry has his own darker side. He is the father of British imperialism. This unfortunate mentality, always resting on military power if not always racist in nature, obviously dates back at least to 1415 and, of all places, France. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s verbose interpretation of the Salic Law (I.2.35-95) is a brilliant piece of diplomatic balderdash to justify invasion, sadly as relevant five or twenty-five centuries ago as it is today. Harry hardly makes any secret of his ambitions. He has made up his mind and is now looking for an official confirmation from Canterbury: “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” (I.2.96). Once granted this by the Church, he becomes bolder and bolder: “No king of England, if not king of France!” (II.2.194). One can’t be any blunter than that!

Harry’s warlike effusions have become the stuff of legend. “Once more unto the breach” (III.1.1-34) and the Saint Crispin speech (IV.3.20-67) have been used generation after generation for patriotic propaganda, in other words for foolish old people to send young people to their death. Atrocities like war and parochial notions like patriotism have seldom been praised more magnificently. Whatever your opinion of the sentiments expressed, both speeches, when delivered well (which is seldom the case), are undeniably stirring. To Harry’s credit, he denounces pillage and promises to punish those who indulge in it (III.6.106-12):

We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge, that in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.

To Harry’s discredit, when the French kill the boys in the English camp, he responds with another massacre, this time of the French war prisoners. Note, however, that we only hear of this second-hand from Gower (IV.7.5-10) who, of course, praises Harry: “O, ‘tis a gallant king!” Indeed, repaying cruelty with cruelty is nothing short of gallant. Such is war! That Shakespeare himself was probably not a great fan of the second greatest lunacy in human history (after religion) is suggested by the words of Michael Williams, a common soldier and a very minor character who argues with the King in disguise (IV.1.134-46):

But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in 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, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

Harry’s reply to this is lengthy, confused and evasive. It amounts to nothing more, and nothing less, than a refusal to take responsibility. The King is “not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers”, Harry says, sententiously. True enough, but incomplete. Soldiers are compelled to serve, and if they find the King’s cause to be unworthy, they might have a problem with their conscience in this world or in the Next One. It is true that kings “purpose not their [soldiers’] death, when they purpose their services”, but that hardly justifies a suicide on the breach. Last and most disturbing of all, Harry’s idea that war is God’s “beadle” and “vengeance” is simply perverse, and the most sickening expression of his religious side. He has learned something from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Yes, Harry is a charmer, a fascinating and contradictory human being who remains the most popular character from Shakespeare’s “histories” except for Richard III and Falstaff. Even Hazlitt, who demolished the historical Henry as a rake “fond of war and low company [...] careless, dissolute, and ambitious” who tried to conquer another kingdom because he couldn’t rule his own, was impressed by Harry, “a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant”[4], purveyor of some of Shakespeare’s finest dramatic verse. I would add Harry’s two long replies to Montjoy’s offers for ransom (III.6.138-65; IV.3.90-125) to the already long list of thrilling passages. I don’t agree with Harry’s martial recklessness anymore than I do with his urging his men to commit a suicide on the breach or in the field of Agincourt, but the verse (spoken well!) is something really special to hear.

Hazlitt rightly notes, though sometimes for the wrong reasons, the weak spots. “We like them both exceedingly”, he says about the King’s charade with the soldiers (IV.1) and the French romance with Katherine (V.2), “though the first savours perhaps too much of the king, and the last too little of the lover.”[5] But he also notes, and quotes at length, Harry’s long soliloquy after the Disguise Scene (i.e. on the night before Agincourt). This is indeed a remarkable passage (IV.1.227-81) that should be better known. For once, the King is keenly aware that the kingly crown is heavy indeed. This is the closest Harry ever comes to being a tragic character. Even his piety, which is not as hypocritical as Hazlitt claims, is shaken. It’s a long soliloquy, but worth quoting in toto by way of conclusion:

Upon the King! ‘Let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the King!’
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! 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 what art thou, thou idle ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents, what are thy comings-in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul, O adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men,
Wherein thou art less happy, being feared
Than they in fearing?
What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison’d flattery? O be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream
That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose,
I am a king that find thee, and I know
‘Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running ‘fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body filled and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful bread:
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But like a lackey from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus, and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year
With profitable labour to his grave.
And but for ceremony such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country’s peace,
Enjoys it, but in gross brain little wots
What watch the King keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.

If only the play had been as good as Harry! But no, it’s not even close to that level. For my part, the Harry-less parts are much less interesting; easy and pleasant to read, but very forgettable. On the whole, however, Henry V was entertaining enough to put on my relatively short-term to-be-read list the Penguin Classics omnibus in which Harry’s kingly adventures are reprinted together with the three plays that precede them. I am curious to see if Falstaff will live up to his mythical fame.

Note on the Edition

I have had the same rather negative experience with it as with the one of Antony and Cleopatra. At least half of each page, often enough two thirds, is occupied by footnotes. The tragic record is reached on page 187 which contains exactly five lines of the play. This makes for a hard read. All those kilometric quotes from Holinshed or OED, painstaking cross-references where and how Shakespeare used this word or that phrase, to say nothing of the textual variants printed in microscopic font at the bottom of each page – all that belongs to the end of the book. Only the minimum of annotation is needed as running commentary to the play.

In my purely personal opinion, the Arden editions would be a lot better if 90 percent of their footnotes were converted into endnotes. Thus nothing of the mighty scholarship would be lost, but the play would be made much easier to read and enjoy.

The Introduction is very informative and very dull. I read it with much impatience, little benefit and no pleasure at all. More than one third of it is dedicated to retelling the play with minimum of editorial comment, mostly noting the most obvious things. Much space is spent on retelling the First Quarto and hunting down every difference with the First Folio. This is doubly tedious, all the more so because this edition contains the complete First Quarto in a reduced photographic facsimile (two pages per one, small but still readable). You’d better read that instead of Mr Craik’s analysis. You’ll spot the major missing parts immediately (e.g. no Chorus and no “Once more unto the breach”). The critical opinions and the performance history were somewhat more interesting, but nothing to rave about. Here a lot of space is wasted on the movies by Olivier and Branagh which are certainly better seen than read about.

[1] William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespear’s Plays [1818], J. M. Dent & Sons / E. P. Dutton, 1921, p. 164
[2] Ibid.
[3] This is gratefully borrowed from Somerset Maugham, Caesar’s Wife (1919), Act I: “Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.” King Harry, by the way, is never referred to or even addressed as “Henry” in the play.
[4] Hazlitt, ibid., p. 158.
[5] Ibid., p. 164. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | May 1, 2020 |
A fascinating, deeply flawed yet marvelously constructed play. This Arden edition is a bit unusual in that the introduction and notes are both less academic (in the sense that they rely less on niche knowledge and arcane references that the reader is expected to instantly remember from his leather-bound armchair in the smoking room) but also more specific. That is, this introduction works best in a close-study context. I suppose it's that the editor comes across as one of those wonderful old teachers who really engages his students. His close reading of the text and emotional discussion of early performance practices are particularly engaging. Good read. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (92 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craik, T. W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gollancz, IsraelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, G. B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaegi, AnnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kittredge, George LymanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamar, Virginia A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muhammad, Muhammad AwdTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neilson, William AllanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tonkin, HumphreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verity, A. W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walter, J. H.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, Louis B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Henry V is Shakespeare's ninth and last English historial play, apart from King Lear and Cymbeline, which treat of pseudo-history, and the late Henry VIII, in which he collaborated with John Fletcher.

Introduction, New Penguin Shakespeare.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This work is for the complete Henry V only. Do not combine this work with abridgements, adaptations or simplifications (such as "Shakespeare Made Easy"), Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, or anything else that does not contain the full text. Do not include any video recordings. Additionally, do not combine this with other plays.
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Henry V is a study of kinship, patriotism, and heroic determination, tempered by tender comedy as Henry courts Katherine, Princess of France.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140707085, 0141013796

Recorded Books

2 editions of this book were published by Recorded Books.

Editions: 1456100041, 1449889654

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