The Life of King Henry V
February 24, 2010
• Key Concepts
• Genre of the History Play
• Shakespeare's history plays offer modern readers a challenge that tragedy and comedy
• The audience of this type would have also been unfamiliar with the history genre
because it was invented at the time that Shakespeare was writing
• His history plays are a dramatic experience
• Unlike in comedy when we're supposed to recognize the comic conclusion and in
tragedy where we must empathize with the hero, it's unclear what our moral response
should be to history
• History plays bring in both tragic and comic elements
• Non-dramatic History was not new to Shakespeare's age
• One source of Henry V was the Holinshed Chronicles (1587) which underlies the whole
historical acion that underlies Henry V
• This was a huge historical work written by many authors, anndeach added diff sections
of English history. People were just adding to it. The 2 Edition was used as an
encyclopedia and travel guide about the history of England. It became an important
source of information for poets and writers at the time.
• From the beginning of Shakespeare until 1599, he wrote 8 plays about the reign of
• Other of his history plays tell the story of a long story of “the war of the roses” -
• Red and white roses are united – during the reign of Elizabeth?
• We consider the ways in which the plays (Henry V) offer a glorified vision of England's
past. It also looks at England's failure to claim France.
• This play tells the story of the final attempt of this failure.
• The play is being staged in the era of relative peace (after civil war?)After 30 yrs into
Elizabeth's reign, there was some peace.And so this play was may be to teach a lesson
because the play depicts soemthing that took place in the distant past.
• Hybrid genre(tragedy and comedy within)
• History plays are to retell England's distant past in its staging of political figures rather
than comic figures
• Henry V opens with a problem of rights
• Henry is to claim the title to the throne.
• Themes of Henry V
• Rights of inheritance & rights of custom or law
• By not reading the earlier plays in this sequence, what we've missed is that in the
other plays is that there is a problem with his claim of the throne.
• To understand where we are: Henry is king because he acquired his heritage thru the
throne from a man who himself stole the thrown.
• Through the use of force, Henry requires for the king of France to recognize him as a legitimate heir of the thrown
• What's the difference between one who inherits the throne, and another who by
power and force inherits the throne?
• Plot: Henry IV: Henry's father asks him to seek foreign quarrels. So Henry in this
play, Henry tries to take back land that previously belonged to England. The only
thing that holds back the red army from taking France land is this relationship
between Catherine and Henry.
• Tension between achievement & failure
• Truth of memory & reliability of History
• Justifiable war & war of self-interest
• Portrait of a Great Leader
• Issues of Representation
• Rank & Kind (“King is but a man”)
Internal strife (the Scots & sedition) v. External strive (national battle)
• 1) Chorus. Theatricality of History.
• One of the most reflective prologues in Shakespeare's
• Asks for the audience to suppose with them what the audience is supposed to see
• The theatricality of history is being emphasized throughout the prologues
• Very basic props on the stage.
• One man comes and speaks to the audience
• It has a history dating back to Greek tragedies (usually more than 1 person does it, with
• The come out and enact and they tell the audience what their moral and ethical responses
• Line 18 - He's saying that audience has to play a role. There's an activity between the
audience and the stage in order for the play to unfold.
• Decades of history will be staged in a few hours.
• The audience is part of the action because we provide the imagination which cr