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Henry V


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A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1598–9, London Pb: 1623 (‘bad’ 1st quarto, 1600) G: Hist. drama in 5 acts; blank verse and prose S: England and France, 1413–20 C: 38m, 4f, extrasThe young Henry V makes a legally founded claim to the throne of France. When the French respond with an impertinent gift of tennis balls, Henry resolves to invade France. Before embarking, he arrests three traitors and has them executed. The English army, both common men and officers, and the French court are seen preparing for battle. After gallantly taking Harfleur, Henry's vastly outnumbered forces march towards a confrontation with the French at Agincourt. On the eve of battle, Henry, disguised as a common soldier, goes amongst his troops. The bloody battle is fought, and the English triumph. To seal his victory and the right to the throne when the French king dies, Henry woos and wins the French princess Katharine.

A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1598–9, London Pb: 1623 (‘bad’ 1st quarto, 1600) G: Hist. drama in 5 acts; blank verse and prose S: England and France, 1413–20 C: 38m, 4f, extras

The main thrust of Henry V is a patriotic celebration of the valour and determination of the British (not only English, but also Scots, Welsh, and Irish soldiers are portrayed with affection) under the leadership of ‘the mirror of all Christian kings’. This heroic portrayal characterized Laurence Olivier's film treatment of 1944, which served as a rallying cry to the beleaguered British in the Second World War. However, Shakespeare is not presenting an uncomplicated historical pageant: on the eve of Agincourt, Henry is revealed to be full of self-doubt, and his slaughter of the French prisoners is a possibly necessary but nevertheless brutal act. While celebrating the glorious victory, Shakespeare also recognizes the ugliness of warfare. The Chorus's apology for attempting to present a massive battle ‘Within this wooden O’ may suggest that Shakespeare was chafing at the limitations of Elizabethan staging; or he may have been ironically celebrating the power of the human imagination.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.


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Authors

William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet


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