Henry V is the final part of a four part series of plays written by Shakespeare about English kings and which deals principally with the exploits of the great King Henry V particularly against the French.
The first scenes of the play are concerned with the embarkation of the English fleet towards France and there is also an incident where an assassination on Henry is foiled – this was apparently the mastermind of the earl of Cambridge. We also see a change of character from the homely Prince Hal of Henry IV in the king’s wily uncovering of the plot as well as the execution of the ringleaders showing that he has changed from the merry buffoon in the previous play.
Henry is much preoccupied with his country’s preparation and eventual dedication to the war effort and there are several allusions to this. A typical example would be farmers selling their land to purchase a horse so that they can go to war and other similarly grandiose statements. The navy is also an important part of Henry’s plans to invade France and comes to the fore several times.
An important part of the play is Henry’s speech before the Siege of Harfleur where he makes some passionate exhortations to motivate his soldiers into battle. Another classic example of his respect towards his fellow man is the way in which he scours the camps at night in disguise just to observe the men’s opinion of him and also to observe if anything is amiss or wrong so that he can help them. Shakespeare’s text is full of allusions and allegories which add to the sense of mystery and nobility created by the play.
However the focal point of the play has to be the Battle of Agincourt which demonstrates Henry’s tactical skill and sheer courage when he manages to overcome the enemy with alacrity and also a sense of togetherness. Henry then tries to seduce the French princess Catherine of Valois and a humorous element comes into the equation when Henry jokes about himself due to his not knowing French and Catherine ignorant of English. However this is not seen as a hindrance and they eventually marry with the play ending on a joyous note as France and England are joined together in marriage.
There is also a sense of foreboding as the play ends since it is revealed that England eventually loses France during the reign of the forthcoming king Henry VI. The play is also imbued with characters that are more comic in nature amongst which we may find Nym, Pistol and Bardolph who are throwbacks and carry ons from the Henry IV plays. One of the most touching moments in Henry V must be the death of Flastaff who feels that his old friend and understudy, Prince Hal has abandoned him since he has no further time for jokes once he has become King. The play is imbued with several diversifying characteristics, heroism, romance, comedy and wistful tragedy.
Shakespeare, William (2008). In Gary Taylor. Henry V. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-953651-1.