Henry V

This web site supplements the University of Puget Sound's theatre production of Henry V by William Shakespeare.  

Contents: Synopsis | Historical Background | Production History | Critical CommentaryWebsites

Synopsis

"It is the early 1400s. Henry IV has died, and his son--the young King Henry V--has just taken over the throne. The situation is tense.  Several bitter civil wars have left the people of England restless and dissatisfied. Furthermore, in order to gain the respect of the English people and the court, Henry must live down his wild adolescent past.

Because Henry has distant roots in the French royal family, and because the interpretation of ancient land laws varies from country to country, Henry lays claim to certain parts of France. When the young prince, or Dauphin, of France sends Henry an insulting message in response to these claims, Henry decides to invade France. Supported by the English noblemen, as well as the clergy, Henry gathers his troops for war.

Henry's decision trickles down to affect the "little people" he rules.  On the seedy side of London, some of the king's old friends--whom he rejected when he rose to the throne--prepare to leave their homes and families. Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym are common lowlifes and part-time criminals, on the opposite end of society from their royal former companion. As they get ready, they remark on the death of Falstaff, an elderly roustabout who was once King Henry's closest friend.

Just before his fleet sets sail, King Henry learns of a conspiracy against his life and executes three agents for the French, including a former friend, Scroop. The English sail for France, where they fight their way across the country, continuing to win against incredible odds. Among the officers in King Henry's army are men from all parts of Britain, such as Fluellen, a Welsh captain. As the English advance, Nym and Bardolph are caught looting and are hanged at the stern king's command.

The final showdown of the war comes at the famous Battle of Agincourt, at which the English are outnumbered by the French five to one.  The night before the battle, King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier and talks to many of the soldiers in his camp, learning who they are and what they think of the great battle they have been swept up in. In the morning, he prays to God and gives a powerful, inspiring speech to his soldiers. Miraculously, the English win the battle, and the proud French must surrender at last. Some time later, peace negotiations are finally worked out: Henry will marry Katherine, the daughter of the French King, and the two kingdoms will be united." [Source: SparkNotes]

Another synopsis may be found in Masterplots, First Series / PN 44 M2 REF

To read the the text of Henry V, see: 

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The Norton Facsimile First Folio of Shakespeare, pp. 423+ / PR 2751 A15 1968  Oversize Collection (3d floor) 
a full-size photographic facsimile of the play

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The life of King Henry V / the Arden text edited by Herbert Arthur Evans / Shelmidine 
PR2812.A2 E8 195

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The complete works of William Shakespeare; the plays edited from the folio of MDCXXIII, v. 7 King Henry V / PR2753 .W5 1899

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Henry V
Internet Shakespeare Editions offer draft texts of the Folio and Quarto texts of Henry V. 

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Historical Background 

Use these SIMON subject headings to find library books about the historical period during which Henry V takes place:

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Great Britain Politics and Government 1066-1458

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Great Britain Kings and Rulers

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Monarchy Great Britain History

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France -- Social Life and Customs -- 1328-1600

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France Politics and Government 1328-1589

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Hundred Years War 1339 1453 

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Agincourt France Battle Of 1415

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England -- Social Life and Customs -- 1066-1458

In the reference collection, see William Shakespeare: His World, His Work and His Life / PR 2976 W5354 1985 v.2 REF 
Includes an essay on Shakespeare's treatment of English History

Sources of the Play

Shakespeare's chief source for the historical material in Henry V was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (2nd ed., 1587), supplemented by The Union of the Two noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548) by Edward Hall.  Other historical details may have come from the chronicles of Robert Fabyan (1516) and John Stow (1592).  Shakespeare may also have read several Latin biographies of King Henry, written during the monarch's lifetime or shortly thereafter; the Henrici Quinti Angliae Regis Gesta; Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti; and The First English Life of King Henry the Fifth (1513). [source: Shakespeare A to Z, p. 267.]

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See also Sources for Henry V

Production History

The earliest known performance of Henry V was held at the court of King James I on January 7, 1605. No other 17th century production is known, and the play has been popular only intermittently since then. Nineteenth century producers were inclined to extraordinary effects; in 1859 Charles Kean staged a triumphal march after Agincourt that employed 550 actors.

In the 20th century, its patriotic aspect made it successful during both world wars.  Henry V has also been performed as an anti-war play in Britain and America since the 1950s, as the nuclear age and its series of small but vicious conflicts have generated strong pacifist sentiments in Western society. Among the most notable productions was that of Peter Hall at Stratford in 1960. [Excerpted from Shakespeare A to Z, p. 268 /PR 2829 .B69 REF ]

See also:

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Shakespeare William 1564 1616 Stage History 

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Shakespeare William 1564 1616 Dramatic Production 

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Critical Commentary and Reviews

Use the following databases to find reviews and commentary in journals, magazines and newspapers.

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Academic Search Premier  
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Use keywords "Henry V" and "review"

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Arts and Humanities Search  
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Use keywords "Henry V" and category "theatre review"

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Lexis Nexis Academic
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Click on News, then Arts & Entertainment. Use the keywords "Henry V" and limit to "Book, movie, music & play reviews. Choose all available dates.

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Humanities International Complete
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Use keywords "Henry V"

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Research Library
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Use keywords "Henry V" and limit category "performance review"

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Magill's bibliography of literary criticism : selected sources for the study of more than 2,500 outstanding works of Western literature / Z6511 .M3 REF

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Critical temper; a survey of modern criticism on English and American literature from the beginnings to the twentieth century / PR85 .C764 v.1 REF

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Shakespearean criticism / PR2976 .C535 REF

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SIMON subject headings for books of criticism:
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Shakespeare, William Henry V 

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Shakespeare, William Criticism and Interpretation

Websites about Henry V

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Notes on Shakespeare's Henry V 
This page is part of a unit in Linguistics 114, A World of Words, a freshman etymology course at The University of Michigan. It includes notes, historical background, text of the play and links.

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The Ironies of Success in Politics: An Introduction to Shakespeare's Henry V
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A lecture prepared for English 366: Studies in Shakespeare, by Ian Johnston of Malaspina-University College, Nanaimo, BC.

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Henry V
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Brief commentary with links.

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Historical Comments on Shakespeare's Henry V
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Includes historical facts about the play.

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Links to a page about The Battle of Agincourt

 

 

 

University of Puget Sound
Contact: Lori Ricigliano
Designed by: Jessica Berry
Created 10.01