A William Shakespeare Read! HENRY V

I am finally trying to read Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and poems.  The result of my efforts you can see here.

Henry V (1599)

Audio (Librivox)

From Wikipedia: The early scenes deal with the embarkation of Henry’s fleet for France, and include a real-life incident in which the Earl of Cambridge and two others plotted to assassinate Henry at Southampton. Henry’s clever uncovering of the plot and ruthless treatment of the plotters is one indication that he has changed from the earlier plays in which he appeared.

When the Chorus reappears, he describes the country’s dedication to the war effort – “They sell the pasture now to buy the horse.” The chorus tells the audience “We’ll not offend one stomach with our play,” a humorous reference to the fact that the scene of the play crosses the English Channel.

The Chorus appears again, seeking support for the English navy: “Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy” he says, and notes that “the ambassador from the French comes back / Tells Harry that the king doth offer him / Katherine his daughter.”

At the siege of Harfleur, Henry utters one of Shakespeare’s best-known speeches, beginning “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”

Before the Battle of Agincourt, victory looks uncertain, and the young king’s heroic character is shown by his decision to wander around the English camp at night, in disguise, so as to comfort his soldiers and determine what they really think of him. He agonizes about the moral burden of being king, noting that a king is only a man. Before the battle, Henry rallies his troops with the famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech, referring to “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

Following the victory at Agincourt, Henry attempts to woo the French princess, Catherine of Valois. This is difficult because he does not speak French well and she does not speak English well, but the humour of each others’ mistakes actually helps him to achieve this. The action ends with the French king adopting Henry as his heir to the French throne and the prayer of the French queen “that English may as French, French Englishmen, receive each other, God speak this Amen.”

But before the curtain descends, the Chorus re-appears one more time and ruefully notes, of Henry’s own heir’s “state, so many had the managing, that they lost France, and made his England bleed” – a reminder of the tumultuous reign of Henry VI of England, which Shakespeare had previously brought to the stage in a trilogy of plays: Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2 and Henry VI, Part 3.

As with all of Shakespeare’s serious plays, there are also a number of minor comic characters whose activities contrast with and sometimes comment on the main plot. In this case, they are mostly common soldiers in Henry’s army, and they include Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph from the Henry IV plays. The army also includes a Scot, an Irishman, an Englishman and Fluellen, a comically stereotyped Welsh soldier, whose name is an attempt at a phonetic rendition of “Llywelyn”.

The play also deals briefly with the death of Falstaff, Henry’s estranged friend from the Henry IV plays whom Henry remembers fondly.

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