David Sarkies's Reviews > Henry V

Henry V by William Shakespeare
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's review
Jul 22, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: historical
Recommended to David by: University
Recommended for: People who love
Read 3 times. Last read August 10, 1996 to August 13, 1996.

An English Hero
13 January 2011

I originally read this play because it was set during the Hundred Years War and I wanted to use it as a primary source. Unfortunately it is not a primary source since it was written 150 years after the events depicted and the essay was about the English Parliament's influence on the war, which this play has nothing to do with. This is another example of why I would love to go back and redo those classes to see how well my essays come out now that I know a lot more. I am still surprised that I managed to pass.

This play is a piece of propaganda - it depicts Henry V as a hero. Well, to the English he is a hero as he revived the flagging war against France with a number of decisive victories, the greatest being Agnincourt, the battle upon which the play is focused. The play forms part of Shakespeare's War of the Roses cycle which begins with Richard II and ends with Richard III.

I won't go into too many details about whether Henry V deserves his title as a hero, because, as mentioned, to the English he is a hero. He defeated the French and almost conquered France (though this was really an extension of the Norman Conquest, because when the Normans conquered England they retained their capital at Rouen, and as the nation developed, the Norman lands became part of England). Further, this play focuses only on Agincourt, the lead up to the battle, the battle itself, and it's aftermath. Also in this play we see Shakespeare's rather crude humour with the French Princess attempting to learn English (and failing). The play ends with Henry taking his prize: the French Princess.

Really, there isn't all that much to this play. It is simply a retelling of history by the victors, and even though the French did end up kicking the English out of France, England still ended up as the victors, and were able to write the history of the war to suit their own purposes. It was only because of the rise of Joan of Arc that the English lost, though it is interesting to note that England probably could never have controlled France simply because every bit of France that they took there would always be more France to take, and the further they move the more dispersed their forces became and thus the more difficult it become to put down rebellions.

I recently saw a performance of Henry V (twice) and you can read more about this play here. I've also written a second blog post on a version that I saw in period costume (and all the characters were played by men).
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Finished Reading
August 10, 1996 – Started Reading
August 13, 1996 – Finished Reading
July 22, 2011 – Shelved
November 4, 2011 – Shelved as: historical

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Moten "This play is a piece of propaganda..."

That goes for all of Shakespeare's English history plays. Shakespeare was patronized by the Tudors and Stuarts who aligned themselves with the House of Lancaster during the Wars of The Roses. This means that any time that you see a Lancasteian (e.g. Henry V) he will be depicted as always the apex of righteousness. When you see a Yorkian (e.g. Richard III) he will be depicted the anti-Christ.

David Sarkies I agree with you to an extent. Shakespeare certainly paints Richard III as a monster, and that was intentional, however the other history plays don't actually work out that way. Remember that Henry IV steals the crown from Richard II, and the Henry V steals the crown from the head of his dying father. The Henry VI plays focus more on the effects of an unstable government as opposed to promoting the Lancastrians. As for Henry V, what we have is an English king taking an army across the channel and basically kicking French butt. While the English ended up losing the Hundred Years War, this play seems to focus much more on their finest hour.

Johnny Kennedy Whilst Henry V definitely appears as to be a glorification of the English Monarchy and the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth, I think there is definitely an argument that Shakespeare is providing a nuanced exploration under the guise of a patriotic romp.

Under the disguise as a normal soldier on the eve of Agincourt Hal says defends the King stating:
Henry V: "methinks I could not die any where so
contented as in the king's company; his cause being
just and his quarrel honourable"
Williams: "That's more than we know".

What was Henry's cause for his invasion of France.
It was a result of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely's scheme to distract Henry from a tax upon the church by forcing him to wage war.
Does this not undermine the glory and "honourable" quarrel of Henry in his claim to the throne?
The complexity of this question surely begs a more sensitive consideration of the patriotism and glorification of war throughout the play. It also notably brings Harry's character into question.
Is Harry a great King? Is Harry a great man?
If so, why? and what has developed within him since his days with Falstaff?

I think in film Kenneth Branagh's performance of the play draws out the fascination of Henry V's character, although, perhaps he gives the character a dimension that was not written by Shakespeare.
Nonetheless, I also find some of the most fiery and masterly crafted poetry to be in this play.


David Sarkies Johnny wrote: "Whilst Henry V definitely appears as to be a glorification of the English Monarchy and the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth, I think there is definitely an argument that Shakespeare is providing a nuan..."

Thankyou for your comment Johnny. You do raise some quite interesting points. Shakespeare is one of those writers that always challenges me, and everytime I see play, or read one, I see something different, or change a previous opinion. These are certainly some ideas that I will look at if I do revisit the play, particularly since there are some BBC videos that I still need to watch.

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