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Title page of the first quarto (1600)

Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. It is based on the life of King Henry V of England, and focuses on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War.

The play is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II, Henry IV, part 1 and Henry IV, part 2. The original audiences would thus have already been familiar with the title character, who was depicted in the Henry IV plays as a wild, undisciplined lad known as "Prince Hal." In Henry V, the young prince has become a mature man and embarks on an attempted conquest of France.


Dramatis personae


Henry V

Elizabethan stages did not use scenery. Acknowledging the difficulty of conveying great battles and shifts of location on a bare stage, the Chorus (a single actor) calls for a "Muse of fire" so that the actor playing King Henry can "Assume the port [i.e. "the bearing"] of Mars." He asks, "Can this cockpit [i.e. the theatre] hold / The vasty fields of France?" and encourages the audience to use their imaginations to overcome the stage's limitations: "Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts."

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" - and tells the audience "We'll not offend one stomach with our play."

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 one time friend (although their relationship is fraught) from the Henry IV plays.

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 / Katharine his daughter."

At the siege of Harfleur, Henry utters one of Shakespeare's best-known speeches, beginning "Once more unto the breach, dear friends..."

Katharine learns English from her gentlewoman Alice in an 1888 lithograph by Laura Alma-Tadema. Act III, Scene iv.

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 find out what they really think of him. Before the battle begins, Henry rallies his troops with the famous speech:

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Following the victory at Agincourt, Henry attempts to woo the French princess, Catherine of Valois. 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 that 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.


Shakespeare's primary source for Henry IV, as for most of his chronicle histories, was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles; the publication of the second edition in 1587 provides a terminus ad quem for the play. Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York appears also to have been consulted, and scholars have supposed that Shakespeare was familiar with Samuel Daniel's poem on the civil wars.

Date and text

Facsimile of the first page of The Life of Henry the Fifth from the First Folio, published in 1623

On the basis of an apparent allusion to Essex's failed mission to quell Tyrone's Rebellion, the play is thought to date from early 1599.[1]The Chronicle History of Henry the fifth was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on August 14, 1600 by the bookseller Thomas Pavier; the first quarto was published before the end of the year—though by Thomas Millington and John Busby rather than Pavier. (Thomas Creede did the printing.)

Q1 of Henry V is a "bad quarto," a shortened version of the play that might be a pirated copy or reported text. A second quarto, a reprint of Q1, was published in 1602 by Pavier; another reprint was issued as Q3 in 1619, with a false date of 1608—part of William Jaggard's False Folio. The superior text first saw print in the First Folio in 1623.

Performance history

A tradition, impossible to verify, holds that Henry V was the first play performed at the new Globe Theatre in the spring of 1599;[2] the Globe would have been the "wooden O" mentioned in the Prologue. In 1600 the first printed text states that the play had been played "sundry times." The earliest performance known for certain, however, occurred on January 7, 1605, at Court.

Samuel Pepys saw a Henry V in 1664—but it was written by Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, not by Shakespeare. Shakespeare's play returned to the stage in 1723, in an adaptation by Aaron Hill.[3]

The longest running production of the play in Broadway history was the staging starring Richard Mansfield in 1900 which ran for 54 performances. Other notable stage performances of Henry V include Charles Kean (1859), Charles Alexander Calvert (1872) and Walter Hampden (1928).

Major revivals in London during the twentieth century include:

  • 1900 Lyceum Theatre, Lewis Waller as Henry
  • 1914 Shaftesbury Theatre, F.R.Benson as Henry
  • 1916 His Majesty's Theatre, Martin Harvey as Henry
  • 1920 Strand Theatre, Murray Carrington as Henry
  • 1926 Old Vic Theatre, Baliol Holloway as Henry
  • 1928 Lyric, Hammersmith, Lewis Casson as Henry (Old Vic Company)
  • 1931 Old Vic Theatre, Ralph Richardson as Henry
  • 1934 Alhambra Theatre, Godfrey Tearle as Henry
  • 1936 Ring, Blackfriars, Hubert Gregg as Henry
  • 1937 Old Vic Theatre, Laurence Olivier as Henry
  • 1938 Drury Lane Theatre, Ivor Novello as Henry
  • 1951 Old Vic Theatre, Alec Clunes as Henry
  • 1955 Old Vic Theatre, Richard Burton as Henry
  • 1960 Mermaid Theatre, William Peacock as Henry
  • 1960 Old Vic Theatre, Donald Houston as Henry
  • 1965 Aldwych Theatre, Ian Holm as Henry (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • 1976 Aldwych Theatre, Alan Howard as Henry (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • 1985 Barbican Theatre, Kenneth Branagh as Henry (Royal Shakespeare Company)

On British television the play has been performed as follows:

Views on warfare

The Battle of Agincourt from a contemporary miniature.

Readers and audiences have interpreted the play’s attitude to warfare in several different ways. On the one hand, it seems to celebrate Henry's invasion of France and valorises military might. Alternatively, it can be read as an anti-war allegory.

Some critics connect the glorification of nationalistic pride and conquest with contemporary English military ventures in Spain and Ireland. The Chorus directly refers to the military triumphs of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in the fifth act. Henry V himself is sometimes seen as an ambivalent representation of the stage machiavel, combining apparent sincerity with a willingness to use deceit and force to attain his ends.[4]

Other commentators see the play as looking critically at the motivation for Henry's violent cause.[5] The noble words of the Chorus and Henry are consistently undermined by the actions of Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. Pistol talks in a bombastic blank verse that seems to parody Henry's own style of speech. Pistol and his friends thus show up the actions of their rulers.[6] Indeed the presence of the Eastcheap characters from Henry IV has been said to underscore the element of adventurer in Henry's character as monarch.[7]

The American critic Norman Rabkin described the play as a picture with two simultaneous meanings.[8] Rabkin argues that the play never settles on one viewpoint towards warfare, Henry himself switching his style of speech constantly, talking of "rape and pillage" during Harfleur but of patriotic glory in his St. Crispin's Day speech.

The play's ambiguity has led to diverse interpretations in performance. Laurence Olivier's 1944 film, made during the Second World War, emphasises the patriotic side, while Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film stresses the horrors of war. A 2003 Royal National Theatre production featured Henry as a modern war general, ridiculing the Iraq invasion.

Poster of Olivier's 1944 Henry V.

St. Crispin's Day Speech

The St. Crispin's Day Speech is a famous motivational speech from the play, delivered by Henry V before the battle (act IV scene iii). It is so called because 25 October is the feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian. The speech itself names the day Crispin Crispian, in the passage

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

Film adaptations

There have been two major film adaptations. The first, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier in 1944, is a colourful and highly stylised version which begins in the Globe Theatre and then gradually shifts to a realistic evocation of the Battle of Agincourt. Olivier's film was made during the Second World War and was intended as a patriotic rallying cry at the time of the invasion of Normandy.

The second major film, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh in 1989, attempts to give a more realistic evocation of the period and lays more emphasis on the horrors of war. It features a mud-spattered and gruesome Battle of Agincourt.


  1. ^ Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Gary Taylor, editor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982: 5
  2. ^ Staff. Henry V opens the new Globe theatre, website of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Accessed 29 June 2008
  3. ^ F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  4. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen. "Invisible Bullets." Glyph 8 (1981): 40-61.
  5. ^ Foakes, R. A. Shakespeare and Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003: 105.
  6. ^ Watts, Cedric and John Sutherland, Henry V, War Criminal?: And Other Shakespeare Puzzles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 200: 117
  7. ^ Spenser, Janet M. "Princes, Pirates, and Pigs: Criminalizing Wars of Conquest in Henry V." Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 168.
  8. ^ Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981: 62.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.

Henry V is a play by William Shakespeare based on the life of King Henry V of England. It deals with the events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War. The play is thought to date from the first few months of 1599 and is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II.



  • O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention!
    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
  • Chorus

Act I

  • Consideration, like an angel, came
    And whipp'd the offending Adam out of him.
    • Archbishop of Canterbury, scene i
  • Turn him to any cause of policy,
    The Gordian knot of it he will unloose,
    Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
    The air, a charter'd libertine, is still.
    • Archbishop of Canterbury, scene i
  • We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
    His present and your pains we thank you for:
    When we have match'd our rackets to these balls,
    We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
    Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.
    • King Henry, scene ii

Act II

  • Base is the slave that pays.
    • Pistol, scene i
  • Sure, he's not in hell; he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. 'A made a finer end, and went away, an it had been any christom child; 'a parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields.
    • Mistress Quickly, scene iii
  • As cold as any stone.
    • Mistress Quickly, scene iii
  • Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin,
    As self-neglecting.
    • Dauphin, scene iv


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
  • Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
    Or close the wall up with our English dead!

    In peace, there ’s nothing so becomes a man,
    As modest stillness and humility:
    But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
    Then imitate the action of the tiger;
    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • And sheath'd their swords for lack of argument.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
    Straining upon the start. The game's afoot;
    Follow your spirit: and upon this charge,
    Cry — God for Harry! England and Saint George!
    • King Henry, scene i
  • I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.
    • Boy, scene ii
  • Men of few words are the best men.
    • Boy, scene ii
  • This is the latest parle we will admit:
    Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves,
    Or, like to men proud of destruction,
    Defy us to our worst:
    for, as I am a soldier,
    (A name, that, in my thoughts, becomes me best,)
    If I begin the battery once again,
    I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur,
    Till in her ashes she lie buried.
    The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
    And the flesh'd soldier, rough and hard of heart,
    In liberty of bloody hand, shall range
    With conscience wide as hell; mowing like grass
    Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.

    What is it then to me, if impious War,
    Array'd in flames, like to the prince of fiends,
    Do, with his smirch'd complexion, all fell feats
    Enlink'd to waste and desolation?
    What is't to me, when you yourselves are cause,
    If your pure maidens fall into the hand
    Of hot and forcing violation?
    What rein can hold licentious wickedness,
    When down the hill he holds his fierce career?
    We may as bootless spend our vain command
    Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil,
    As send precepts to the Leviathan
    To come ashore. Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
    Take pity of your town, and of your people,
    Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
    Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
    O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
    Of deadly murder, spoil, and villainy.

    If not, why, in a moment, look to see
    The blind and bloody soldier, with foul hand,
    Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
    Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
    And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls;
    Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
    Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confus'd
    Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
    At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
    What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?
    Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?
    • King Henry, scene iii
  • For when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.
    • King Henry, scene vi
  • I thought, upon one pair of English legs
    Did march three Frenchmen.
    • King Henry, scene vi
  • You may as well say, — that’s a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.
    • Orleans, scene vii

Act IV

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd, —
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition…
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd, they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
  • The hum of either army stilly sounds,
    That the fix'd sentinels almost receive
    The secret whispers of each other’s watch.

    Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
    Each battle sees the other’s umber'd face:
    Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
    Piercing the night’s dull ear; and from the tents,
    The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
    With busy hammers closing rivets up,
    Give dreadful note of preparation.
    • Chorus, prologue
  • There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
    Would men observingly distil it out.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • That’s a perilous shot out of an elder-gun.
    • Williams, scene i
  • The wretched slave,
    Who, with a body fill'd, and vacant mind,
    Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • Such a wretch,
    Winding up days with toil, and nights with sleep,
    Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
    • King Henry, scene i
  • If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I, who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not, if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
    But, if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
    • King Henry, scene iii
  • O, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
    We would not die in that man's company,
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    • King Henry, scene iii
  • This day is call'd — the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and sees old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his friends,
    And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian;"
    Then will he strip his sleeve, and show his scars,
    And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words, —
    Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remember'd, —
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,
    Shall be my brother;
    be he ne'er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition:
    And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
    Shall think themselves accurs'd, they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks,
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
    • King Henry, scene iii
  • There is a river in Macedon; and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth;... and there is salmons in poth.
    • Fluellen, scene vii
  • An arrant traitor, as any's in the universal 'orld, or in France, or in England.
    • Fluellen, scene viii

Act V

Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate.
  • There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in all things.
    • Fluellen, scene i
  • By this leek, I will most horribly revenge; I eat, and eat, — I swear.
    • Pistol, scene i
  • All hell shall stir for this!
    • Pistol, scene i
  • A fair face will wither; a full eye will wax hollow: but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon; or, rather, the sun and not the moon; for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly. If thou would have such a one, take me: and take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king: and what say'st thou then to my love? Speak, my fair, and fairly, I pray thee.
    • King Henry, scene ii
  • If he be not fellow with the best king, thou shalt find the best king of good fellows.
    • King Henry, scene ii
  • Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate.
    • King Henry, scene ii

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