The first part of the Henry V play begins in early fifteenth-century England during the reign of King Henry V (1413-1422) and then shifts to France. The action centers in and around the Battle of Agincourt.
Date written: 1599
Genre classification: Henry V is a History Play
Main characters in Henry V: The play has a huge cast with King Henry V of England as the central character. At the beginning of the play he is about to set out on a military venture in France.
The King of France, Charles VI, does not think he can defeat the English but his son, Louis, the Dauphin, thinks otherwise and is keen to take the English on. Charles’ daughter Katherine is given to Henry as part of the peace treaty but he also woos her and wins her heart. Isobel, the Queen, supports the union.
The Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Bedford are King Henry’s younger brothers. The Duke of Exeter, a soldier and statesman, is Henry’s uncle and The Duke of York, killed in the Battle of Agincourt, is Henry’s cousin. The Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Westmoreland and the Earl of Warwick are three of Henry’s advisors. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely support Henry’s French campaign because it will mean money for the church. The Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scroop of Masham and Sir Thomas Gray of Northumberland plot with the French against Henry and are executed for their treachery.
Fluellen is a valiant Welsh officer who is an avid supporter of the king. Gower, an English officer, is his friend. Macmorris is a volatile Irishman who is offended by Fluellen. Jamy is an almost silent Scot who performs heroically in the Battle.
John Bates and Alexander Cour, who argue about the role of the King are soldiers to whom the King speaks on the night before the Battle. Michael Williams argues with the disguised Henry about the King’s right to wage war and offers to duel with the King if they both survive. They exchange gloves. See all characters in Henry V.
Henry V Themes: The play is mainly about King Henry himself. Shakespeare is interested in kingship and what makes a good king. This play is about what Shakespeare regards as good kingship. We see Henry conducting himself impeccably, both as a man and as a king. He is compassionate, ordered, and fair. He rewards the good and punishes the bad. He takes responsibility and exercises authority fairly and compassionately. He is a superb political strategist and a fierce warrior. Shakespeare contrasts him with the French king and the Dauphin who run an inefficient, corrupt and ineffective war.
Patriotism is a major concern of the play, which explores the concept. The play has become the main commentary on patriotism in our culture. It is an exposition of the English national spirit.
Courage and cowardice is another theme.