Play Of the Month: Henry V

Movie pitch

“The Game’s Afoot.” One man’s quest to prove himself a great king! King Henry starts his career

Rated PG for some violence, suggestive language, and scary images.

My two cents

Famous Lines

” O, for a muse of fire.” Act I, Scene i

“This wooden O.”

“Once More Unto the Breach.” Act III, Scene I.

“The game’s afoot!”

“We few, we happy few. We band of brothers.”

“This star of England.”


General Data

Title: Henry V

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Year Written: approx. 1599

Source: Hollingshead’s Chronicles

Genre: Elizabethan History

Play Data

Structure: Five Acts,

Setting: London 1413-1415

Character Notes

Play Summary

Before the Play

For nearly 100 years, the English have been at war with France. The English king Edward III claimed he has a claim to the French crown because of a distant blood relative. Ever since, the English kings have fought to conquer France once and for all.
King Henry IV, (Henry V’s father), stole the crown from his predecessor Richard II in 1399. Throughout his reign, Henry IV feared losing his crown to rebellion, and losing his soul to damnation after his death.
As Prince of Wales, Henry V, (then known as Hal), was a good-for nothing party animal, never showing the skills to run a country. Now that he’s king, everyone worries that he will ruin the kingdom.
During the Play

  1. King Henry takes the throne in 1413 after his father dies. No one thinks he will run the country effectively.
  2. The Dauphin (the French Prince) provokes Henry into declaring war with France, (thus allowing him to claim the right of his predecessor, King Edward III).
  3. Henry fends off the French at Harfleur, despite the fact that they are shooting at him with cannons.
  4. Henry’s army starts getting sick. Henry decides to start heading back to Calais
  5. The French raise a massive army and march towards Agincourt. Mountjoy the French herald warns Henry he will be annihilated, and urges him to pay the French a ransom if he is captured. Henry refuses and marches his troops to battle the French at Agincourt.
  6. Against all odds, Henry’s army defeats the French at Agincourt, with only about 30 English deaths, and over 10,000 French.
  7. Henry successfully woos Katherine, the French
  8. Henry and the French King make peace, and the play ends on a joyous celebration of peace, though the Chorus also mentions that once King Henry dies, his son will lose France and England will be torn apart by civil war.

Modern Inspirations

  1. The King- the Netflix movie is very much the same as the story of King Henry
  2. Game of Thrones The bloody intrigue of the House of Westeros has Shakespeare’s DNA flowing through it. In some ways you can trace all four plays of Shakespeare’s War Of the Roses cycle; families tearing each other down to obtain the throne.
  3. Every Sports Movie Ever Made- The Mighty Ducks, Coach Carter, Friday Night Lights, Rudy. All these stories are about plucky misfits who defeat the bigger, stronger, and snooty opponents through the inspiring speeches of their coach at halftime:

Concerns for Teachers

  1. Explaining Henry’s claim to the throne is a challenge. The Archbishop takes about 10 minutes to explain it to Henry himself:

Historical Context

“War without fire, is as bland as sausage without mustard,” -King Henry V.

  • Who: King Of England from 1413-1421
  • Significance To the Play: Title character and chief protagonist.
  • Parallel Characters: President Barack Obama, King Leonidis from 300, Mel Gibson in The Patriot, and Braveheart

Interesting Historical Facts
Henry ruled for only 9 and one half years.
His father usurped the crown from Richard II in 1399, when Henry was twelve.
Almost immediately after his father usurped the throne, Henry held a place in his government- fighting Welsh and Scottish rebellions, helping with the royal finance, and helping his father with foreign policy (Saccio 66). Based on the evidence, Henry seems to have been incredibly loyal to his father.
Although he was not a wastrel or a madcap, Henry did sometimes clash with his father, and there were rumors at court that he intended to usurp the throne in advance from his father (66)
In 1411, King Henry IV removed his son from his council!
Henry V ascended the throne in March of 1413, and died in August of 1422. By all accounts, he astounded the country with his skill with diplomacy, his piety, and his energy in controlling the reigns of power, while at the same time expanding England into an empire (67)
To try and appease the supporters of Richard II, Henry moved the dead king’s body from King’s Langley to Westminster Abby, the traditional burial tomb of English kings. He also restored some of their noble titles after his father condemned them as traitors (68)

Richard and contemporary politics. In addition to being an icon of villainy, Richard is also the classic corrupt politician, who manipulates people’s hate and fear to get their political support. Discuss how

Discussion Questions:

  • While Henry fights for the throne, he also performs many parts- soldier, king, wooer, statesman, etc. Former president Reagan was also an Hollywood actor, Donald Trump was a reality TV star turned President. How does play-acting relate to elections and what tactics does Henry share with actors and politicians of today?

Concerns for Directors

  1. To cut or not to cut? As I mentioned before, this is a very long play, and few people have seen the three plays that preceede it. It is the director’s job to decide what parts of the story on which to focus: Henry, or the rise of the House Of Lancaster
  2. Pro war or anti war?
  3. Period- Civil War? 15th century? 19th Century? Now?
  4. Henry’s journey

Lesson plans for teachers

Royal Shakespeare Company

American Shakespeare Center

Folger and DC