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
Commentary | Websites
"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
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."
Another synopsis may be found in Masterplots, First
Series / PN 44 M2 REF
To read the the text of Henry V, see:
The Norton Facsimile First Folio of
Shakespeare, pp. 423+ / PR 2751 A15 1968 Oversize Collection
a full-size photographic facsimile of the play
The life of King Henry V
/ the Arden text edited by Herbert Arthur Evans / Shelmidine
PR2812.A2 E8 195
The complete works of William
Shakespeare; the plays edited from the folio of MDCXXIII,
v. 7 King Henry V / PR2753 .W5 1899
Internet Shakespeare Editions offer draft texts of the Folio and Quarto texts of Henry V.
Use these SIMON subject headings to find
library books about the historical period during which Henry V takes place:
In the reference collection, see William
Shakespeare: His World, His Work and His Life / PR 2976 W5354 1985
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.]
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 ]
Use the following databases to find reviews and commentary in
journals, magazines and newspapers.
Magill's bibliography of literary criticism : selected sources for the study of more than 2,500 outstanding works of Western literature / Z6511 .M3
Critical temper; a survey of modern criticism on English and American literature from the beginnings to the twentieth century
/ PR85 .C764 v.1 REF
Shakespearean criticism / PR2976 .C535
SIMON subject headings for books of criticism: