Henry V by William Shakespeare

Henry V is a historical play by William Shakespeare that was part of a tetralogy that also included Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. It's believed Shakespeare wrote Henry V in approximately 1599, and it is the second chapter on the events that befall upon King Henry V of England.

Original audiences of these historical works would have been familiar with the characters, particularly the title character, who Shakespeare depicts in "Henry IV" as a free-spirited young man known as Prince Harry. This work focuses on Henry V's journey as a mature man with a successful conquest of France under his belt.

The beginning of the play finds a single actor asking the audience to have some liberty with their imagination and to place themselves in the midst of the action. This will allow the actor playing King Henry to properly emulate his role and place the audience in the battlefields of France, or wherever the story leads.

In the early scenes King Henry's fleet is preparing to leave for France, and Henry cleverly avoids assassination from the Earl of Cambridge and two others. King Henry commits the entire country of England, asking the Navy for their support as well. He notes that the French ambassador has offered him his daughter.

The Battle of Agincourt rages on with victory uncertain. King Henry again shows his evolved and heroic character, very changed from the boyish man from Henry IV. He disguises himself and wanders through the English camp to determine how they view him as a King. He also offers them comfort and observes that a king is only a man, though his moral burden is heavy. Showing solidarity he rallies the troops before battle with the St. Crispin's Day Speech, proclaiming "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

After victory in the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry tries to win the affections of Catherine of Valois, the French princess. They have a language barrier, inviting in humor, which aids his goal to woo her. The French King ends up adopting King Henry as his heir to the French throne and speaks the unification of their two countries.

Before the ending of the play however, the Chorus, acting again as a narrator, tells the audience that the work of managing two states has caused them to lose France and make England bleed.

Shakespeare used numerous historical sources for his work, the primary one for Henry V being Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles. As with many of his works, there are multiple different versions or "quartos," some that appeared to be shortened of censored. It's difficult to establish without original manuscripts the timeline of their edits.

Henry V has been studied extensively for its interpretation of warfare. Though is paints Henry as heroic for his invasion of France and calls attention to the strength of his military, it also can be characterized as an anti-war portrayal. Historians and critics draw a connection between the English nationalistic pride in the text to their conquests in Spain and Ireland.

Henry too, as a character seems to be balanced between that of a sincere ruler and a forceful and violent King. His past indiscretions as a young man are referenced though interpreted as helping the now grown King have a sense of adventure in his rule. Indeed it is the duplicity of Henry's character and his actions throughout the play that have made it one of the most interesting historical works Shakespeare produced, with multiple contradictions between different stanzas of his monologues throughout the work.