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Free Study Guide-Henry V by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Online
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Major Themes


Henry V has been aptly described as a "National Anthem in Five Acts." Indeed, the play is one sustained chorus in praise of England, Englishmen and especially Henry V himself. "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England" rings clearly throughout the play. Its fiery patriotism dominates all other Themes. Henry V is the one central figure who looms above all others and many characters such as the Dauphin are developed to accentuate Henry's dignified character to an even higher level. He is clearly intended by Shakespeare to embody the greatness of England and her national spirit.

During the age of Elizabeth, the Queen had rejuvenated the English people's faith in their country. She had inspired them with the fire of vigor and activity, both at home and abroad. In Henry V, the very enthusiasm of Shakespeare's own time is being enacted. In Henry V himself, the Elizabethans witnessed for themselves the greatest monarch the country had ever had up to the time of their own Queen. All the characters in the play sing Henry's praise, the eulogistic compliments running like a broad thread throughout.

At the same time, it is a blind, prejudiced patriotism that can see no good in another nation. Henry V says that "upon one pair of English legs did march three Frenchmen." When his army is laid low in sickness he claims that "those few I have are almost no better than so many French." The French are revealed as incompetent and self-absorbed, prone to folly and disdain. Whenever Shakespeare introduces the French into a scene, his main purpose is for comic relief.


Henry's duty as heir to the throne is never far from Shakespeare's mind. Certainly the playful side of his personality is not much in evidence in Henry V. Although Prince Hal and King Henry are basically the same men, the change is forced on him by his new responsibility as ruler. It is not the sudden reformation suggested by Canterbury. The miraculous conversion that seems to Canterbury to have occurred is in fact a manifestation of Henry's remarkable self-control. From the moment of his father's death Henry is able to sacrifice his personal feelings to his public duty. One sees this in trait in Henry's disdain of Falstaff, (at the end of Henry IV, Part II), in the execution of Scroop and Bardolph and the ruthless slaying of the French prisoners after the boys have been killed. The night before Agincourt, he manages to pull himself together so well that he appears positively upbeat in his inspiring speech in the morning.

A quality for which Canterbury gives him full credit is his religious devotion. His expedition to France has God's blessing. His last words before the great battle are: "And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the Day!." When he hears the full details of French and English losses his cry of "O God, thy arm was here!" comes from his heart. He will not allow himself to take any credit for the victory. He will not even allow himself a triumphal return to London. He is free from vainness and self-glorious pride. He is determined that God shall have all the glory. This modesty makes the audience more willing to give him credit for his contribution. The audience may accept that God came to the aid of the English. However, there is something Christ-like about the young King himself.

Minor Theme


The order and control that Henry displays in his own personality are reflected in the country as a whole. There is discipline in the army and swift justice is meted out to offenders. Apart from this, there is a general impression throughout the play that this England, under King Henry, is a well-organized kingdom. It is based on trust, mutual respect and sound common sense. There are no doubt unsatisfactory elements on the English side such as sin and vice and corruption, but as a ruler, Henry adheres only to behavoir that is right and just. There is squabbling like the Welsh-Irish feud exemplified by Fluellen and Macmorris. However, they are petty and often this scene is cut out of productions to reinforce the solidarity amongst the nations of England during the war against France. All the four captains do their duty wholeheartedly. Fluellen, for all his peculiarities and quarrelsomeness, is the epitome of valor and devotion to the cause. The audience feels that all the people of the country, comprising many varied elements, are a successful working unit, like their army in the field.

To reinforce this fact, Shakespeare uses the French as a contrast. They lack harmony and order, and consequently they are unsuccessful. The moral framework of the play is a simple one. The French and English are 'bad' and 'good.' God intervenes to exalt one at the cost of the other. Bardolph, Nym and the conspirators are executed for disobedience and treachery. Pistol is beaten up for mocking national pride as symbolized by Fluellen's leek. War, too, although a very complex subject when one tries to work out the rights and wrongs of it, is given a fairly simple treatment. The King himself dwells repeatedly on the horrors of it. He makes every effort to avoid it. Moreover, he has to be fully convinced of the justice of his cause before he embarks on it. However, once that point has been cleared up, the horror of the war is accepted simply as something that has to be suffered in order to achieve justice.

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Free Study Guide-Henry V by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Notes Summary


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