Henry V summary



Henry V summary


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Henry V summary



The play opens with the Chorus, a single character, who opens all five acts.  He tells the audience to use their imagination and to think of the stage as the fields in France.
In the opening scenes, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely, both powerful men of the Church, are talking about a bill the young King Henry V wants to pass.  The bill, although getting more money for the army and for the poor, would be cutting funds from the Church.  Naturally, then, these two bishops don’t want it to pass and think of a plan to divert Henry’s attention away from the bill.  The bishops know that Henry feels he has a claim to the French throne as well; therefore, they think if they can get Henry to start a war, then he would concentrate of the invasion of France over the bill. Canterbury helps to instigate this plan by offering the King a “donation” from the church to help fund the King’s war efforts.  In addition both bishops flatter the king saying he has changed dramatically since his youth.  During his youth he had hung out with “low lifes” and was wild and reckless.
King Henry goes to talk to the ambassadors from France.  His advisors and two of his younger brothers (the Princes Humphrey of Gloucester and Thomas of Clarence) are with him and he sends for the bishops.  King Henry asks Canterbury to explain why the King of England should have claim to the throne in France.  The explanation is complicated, but Henry is adamant that he wants full justification for starting a war.  Canterbury tells him that in France, the throne can’t be inherited through a mother.  Therefore, daughters have no claim to the throne.  This is the “Salic law” in France and England has no such law.  Since King Henry’s great-great-grandmother was a daughter of the King of France, under English law, than Henry would be the rightful heir to the French throne.  The French obviously don’t agree and they already have a king, King Charles VI.  All of the Kings advisors are now pressuring him to invade France.  The King is worried since the Scottish rebels might invade while he is away.  Canterbury then says that Henry should only take one quarter of his army with France, and the rest stay to defend England.  King Henry agrees to the invasion of France.
King Henry goes to talk to the ambassadors and they laugh at King Henry’s claim to the throne.  They call the King too young to be responsible and then further insult him by offering him a gift of a barrel of tennis balls.  Henry is enraged and declares his intent to invade and conquer France.

           The Chorus introduces the second act informing the audience that England is preparing for war.  Unfortunately the French have found some corrupt Englishman, Richard, Henry Lord Scroop, and Sir Thomas Grey, to agree to kill Henry in Southampton before he leaves for France.
In London, Lieutenant Bardolph and Corporal Nym are two “vulgar” commoners preparing for war.  Before they leave, Nym gets into a quarrel with Pistol.  Pistol has married Mistress Quickly, who previously promised to marry Nym.  Pistol and Nym draw their swords and are quieted down by the Mistress and Bardolph.  A boy, who is Sir John Falstaff’s page comes to tell everyone Falstaff is very sick.  The quarrel is then put aside and they all go to visit him.  The men claim that King Henry has done something to cause, in some way, Falstaff’s illness.
In Southampton, King Henry is preparing to sail to France and the conversation amongst the King’s advisors reveals the planned murder.  The traitors don’t know yet.  King Henry asks the traitors their advice on case in which a drunk man spoke badly of the King.  King Henry says he wants to free him, but Cambridge, Scroop and Grey tell him to execute the man instead.  King Henry decides to free the man and then tells the traitors he knows of their betrayal.  They beg for forgiveness, but Henry reminds them that they would not pardon a drunkard.  He executes all of them but is exceptionally upset that his lifelong friends would betray him for money.  Nevertheless, he sees the events as a sign that God is on the side of the English.

           In London, Pistol, Bardolph, Nym, and Hostess are grieving over the death of Sir John Falstaff.  Before he died, in a delirious state, Sir John Falstaff said bad things about wine and no one can agree on whether he also cried out against women.  The men are sad but still go off to war.
In France, the Charles VI and his nobles discuss Henry’s might.  Some feel he is strong; others think he is young and weak.  Yet, they adequately prepare for the invasion especially considering the strength of Henry’s predecessors.  Exeter, an English nobleman, arrives to tell Charles that Henry is in France and will invade it if the throne is not handed over.  Charles tells Exeter he will have an answer by the morning.

           The Chorus appears to open the third act and describes how Henry landed with a large fleet of warships in France and has begun to attack the French city of Harfleur.  Charles has offered the King a compromise: he will give Henry small dukedoms, but not the crown, and the hand of his daughter in marriage.  Henry rejects this offer.
King Henry delivers a powerful speech in the midst of the fighting and the speech, the Chorus claims, effectively motivates the soldiers although Nym, Pistol, and the boy do voice that they would rather be in London.  They are caught not fighting and an officer, the Welsh captain Fluellen beats them with a sword until they go back to fight.  They boy remains back and reflects that these men are all cowards and he will look for a better job after the war.
Fluellen and Gower, another officer, discuss the strategy of the “mines” or tunnels that the English side is digging.  Fluellen, who is well read in Roman war tactics, thinks they are being dug wrong.
Captain Macmorris and Captain Jamy enter and Fluellen offers Macmorris (whom he scorns) advice.  They get into a quarrel, but end it since they realize there is a real battle going on.

           The French town of Harfluer is under siege.  King Henry tells the governor that if they surrender everyone will live.  Otherwise they will destroy the town, rape the woman and kill the children. The governor does not want to surrender, but since he was heard from the Dauphin (the prince of France) that no army can be raised, he opens the gates.

           In the next scene we meet Katherine, the King’s daughter and her maid Alice for the first time. Much of this scene is in French since Katherine cannot speak English; Alice does know some. Katherine asks Alice to teach her English and she begins to learn the parts of the body.  She mispronounces them and wants to learn until the two final words because they sound like obscenities in French.
The King of France is discussing the English victories with his nobles.  Everyone is very upset and the French are shown as arrogant in this scene.  They don’t understand how people from such a cold climate (England) could be so hot-tempered and courageous.  They are especially mad since their wives and mistresses have begun to make fun of them for losing.  The king finally calls upon over 20 troops to be raised.   He is now confident again that they will win.

Fluellen and another English captain, Gower discuss the right way to strengthen bridges.  Ancient Pistol comes in and asks Fluellen to help him: Bardolph has been caught stealing a “pax” a tablet made out of valuable material for religious rites. Bardolph is sentenced to hanging.  Fluellen won’t help Pistol free Bardolph and Pistol curses Fluellen, gives him the finger and walks away.  Gower tells Fluellen that Pistol is not even a real soldier, he just goes off to war when he wants to.
King Henry enters and learns that the English have won the bridge they were fighting for and that they have lost very few soldiers.  He does not seem that upset that his friend, Bardolph will be executed, but he responds by saying that it is important to respect the French.
Montjoy is a French messenger and he comes to tell King Henry that King Charles will eventually punish him and he should start thinking about his “ransom”.
King Henry replies in a surprisingly humble and even-tempered way.  He claims his army is tired and he wants to avoid fighting, but will continue to march on.
At the French camp the Dauphin is bragging about his horse while the others teases him.  Once they learn the English are close, they make fun of Henry.

           The Chorus appears again to introduce Act IV.  The French are over-confident since they outnumber the English 5 to 1.  The English all believe they will die in battle but are pleased since King Henry went around during the night talking to each of them called, “a little touch of harry in the night”.  King Henry also talks to his brothers and asks to borrow Erpinghams’s dirty cloak and then tells them to leave him alone.
Henry wraps himself in the cloak and pretends to be a soldier talking to anyone and they don’t know he is the King.  He firsts talks to Pistol who praises the King and gives him the fico.  Next Fluellen and Gower walk by but they don’t even see him.  Fluellen scolds Gower for talking too loudly near the enemy camp and the King is proud of his intelligence.  Three common soldiers: John Bates, Alexander court and Michael Williams all sit by Henry at the campfire and they talk about how they doubt the motives and courage of the King.  Henry tries to defend the “king” but Williams won’t back down and they quarrel.  They exchange gloves to signify their intent to fight.  Henry is now alone, it is almost daybreak, and he thinks about the responsibilities of being a king.  He then prays for a victory and repents the bloody way in which his father got the crown. 
All the while the French are looking forward to an easy victory.

The English hear that they are outnumbered 5 to 1 and are intimidated and upset.  Henry then gives his famous, “St. Crispins’s Day Speech” in which he claims they should be happy there are less of them, since there is a greater share of honor.  He also tells them that if they don’t want to fight, then they should leave – he will even give them money to go home.  In addition, he goes as far to claim that any commoner who fights  today will symbolically become the King’s brother.  The soldiers are greatly inspired.
Montjoy comes to the English camp to see if they will surrender instead of facing defeat.  Henry rejects him courteously and the battle begins.  Pistol takes a French prisoner and they humorously try to communicate; Pistol is mistaken for a nobleman.  The Frenchmen, who calls himself Monsieur le Fer says he is from a respected house and will give Pistol a lot of money if he frees him and Pistol accepts.  The boy, seeing all of this is every upset, especially since Nym, like Bardolph was just executed for stealing.
The English have, unexpectedly won the battle, and the French troops are shocked.  The French debate suicide but end up continuing to fight in the Battle of Agincourt.
Exeter reports that the English are winning but both the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk are dead.   They died side by side together. Henry is moved by the story are cries.
The French have looted the English camp and killed their pages.  Henry orders all the French prisoners to now be killed.  Fluellen and Gower discuss this action by the French and are extremely upset with them for acting so unchivalrous.  They both approve of Henry’s decision.  Henry is compared to Alexander the Great.
Montjoy comes in to report that the French want to bury their dead and Henry asks him if the English have won.  Montjoy says they have.  Henry sees Williams (the soldier with whom he exchanged gloves) and plays a practical joke. He gives the glove to Fluellen and has him wear it and say it came from a Frenchmen on the field and that anyone who attacks Fluellen must be a traitor to the English.  Williams sees Fluellen and strikes him and Fluellen orders his arrest.  Henry innocently asks what happened and then he reveals the truth to Williams about his disguise the night before. Williams says that he cannot be blamed for the trick and the King rewards his bravery by filling the glove with gold coins.  10,000 French are dead while only 29 Englishmen have been killed.  The English praise God.

           The Chorus introduces Act V, the last act.  We learn Henry had returned to Calais in France and then sailed back to England.  People flock to him once he returns, yet the humble King does not march in a triumphant procession.  The King must return to France soon and with him he brings Gower and Fluellen.  Gower asks Fluellen why he wears a leek in his hat and he claims St. Davy’s Day was the previous day and that Welsh people wore a leek in their hats to show pride. A leek is a large scallion like vegetable.  Pistol, Fluellen explains, had insulted him for wearing the leek and sent him bread and salt and told him to eat his leek.  Fluellen begins to beat up Pistol and finally tells him he has to eat the leek.  Pistol does, but vows for revenge.  Gower reminds Pistol it was his own fault for making fun of him for being from a different culture.  Once alone, Pistol tells the audience his wife has died of a venereal disease, he no longer has a home, and he will become a “bawd”, pimp, and a thief in London to survive.

           In France, King Henry comes to meet Charles and the Queen of France, Isabel.  Even though he won, Henry will let Charles keep his throne.  In addition he wants to marry Katherine. 
Henry and Katherine are now alone in the room together and Alice comes to translate.  This is a comic scene in which Henry courts Katherine using bad French and mostly English.  Katherine agrees, everyone else comes back in (Henry and the Duke of Burgundy talk about what Katherine would be like in bed) and the treaty is signed.

           The Chorus appears to end the play.  We learn of the birth of Katherine and Henry’s son, King Henry VI of England who loses the French lands and brings England to war.

King Henry V- This is the central character of the play.  He is the young King of England who decides, under the influence of Canterbury, to invade France.  During his youth, the play alludes that he was wild and hung out with low-lifes.  However, as the play develops it becomes apparent that although he is the youngest of major characters, he is by far the most mature.  King Henry is humble, thoughtful and inspiring.  He is a religious man and this insinuates that “God is on his side”.  He thinks about problems, actually listens to the commoners concerns (he even dresses up like a commoner to learn what they say about him), and his bravery and pride make him the majestic hero of the play. In the end of the play he marries the French daughter of King Charles, Katherine.

History: 1387-1442
King Henry V undoubtly won the French lands for the English.  Yet Shakespeare dramatizes his role and compresses events.  For example, the Battle of Agincourt, is the central battle in the play which ultimately leads to the surrender of France.  Historically, this battle was actually fought in 1415 and France did not surrender until five years later!  In addition Shakespeare never mentions that the English naval warfare and their alliance with Burgundy also greatly contributed to the English’s success.  The King’s role is also over exaggerated in the battle itself and Shakespeare omits the devastation wrought by the English low bowmen.  Shakespeare wants to portray King Henry as the ultimate hero: noble, humble, and strong.  Therefore, he omits events and focuses on certain aspects to highlight Henry’s strengths, ignore his weaknesses, and create the archetype for heroic Kings.

Advisor to the King.  Exeter was also the King’s uncle and carries messages to the French King, like when Henry sent the message that he would not surrender 2.4.  Also he tells Henry the story of how Suffolk and York died.

History: 1337-1427
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter. 
The historical Exeter was born a bastard and granted his titles even before his father legitimized him at age 40.  He was a military commander under Henry V although it is unclear whether or not he actually fought at Agincourt. In addition, he was not named the Duke of Exeter until after most of the events that occurred in Henry V.


He is noted for expressing a wish for reinforcements just before the battle of Agincourt.
History:  Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland (1364-1425).
Ironically, Westmoreland was not even at the Battle of Agincourt since he was placed in command on the Scottish border.

Only notable line is before the Battle of Agincourt when he claims, “If we no more meet till we meet in heaven, then, joyfully, …adieu!”(3.3.7-10)
History: (1388-1428)  Thomas Montague, Earl of Salisbury
Served under King Henry V as a diplomat and administrator.  Under King Henry VI he was a very successful general.

Warwick- Minor character that speaks only one line as a member of King Henry’s court.
History: (1382-1439) Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick
He was a highly successful general and governed the French towns of Calais and Rouen at times under Henry V’s rule.  He was also the caretaker of Henry V’s son.

Henry’s younger brother and advisor.  He receives a command from the King in 5.2.84, but he does not reply.

Historical: Clarence, Thomas, Duke of (1388-1421)
He was actually a very important advisor to both his father and brother.  Clarence was the governor of Ireland in the first years of Henry IV’s reign.  Late in Henry V’s reign he was killed in a battle in France.

Henry V’s younger brother.  He is a member of the King’s entourage but is a rather minor character.

Historical:  Duke of Bedford, John Plantagenet (1389-1435)
Although he is a rather inconsequential character in the play, Bedford actually played an important role in England’s acquisition of France.  In the play, Bedford is at the Battle of Agincourt.  However, Bedford was ruling in place of Henry during his absence and he won a crucial naval battle.  This battle was during Henry’s second campaign for France.  This campaign is ignored entirely by Shakespeare even though it was more important than even Agincourt in rendering the French surrender.

The youngest brother of King Henry V.  He plays a minor role and is almost an anonymous character.

Historical: Gloucester, Duke of Humphrey (1390-1447)
The historical Gloucester was a crucial figure during the reign of Henry VI. (highlight that).
Archbishop of Canterbury
He gives Henry the rationale for going to war with France.  The King was thinking about seizing Church property.  Canterbury hopes his persuading word, and a large donation from the Church, will urge Henry to go to war with France and thus forgetting about the bill.

Historical: Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury (1362-1443)
Henry Chichele actually did not even become the Archbishop until some time after the war began.  Originally, he was Henry’s ambassador to France.  It is thought that one of Shakespeare’s sources, Hall, was actually the source for this error.  The church, then, was not instrumental in influencing the campaign to conquer France. 

Bishop of Ely
Ely supports Canterbury in convincing the King to go to war with France.  Ely and Canterbury both hope the King will forget about a bill to seize the Church’s property.

Historical: Bishop of Ely, John Fordham (d. 1435)
The historical John Fordham was a bishop.  However, the legislation to seize Church property was introduced under Henry IV (as observed by the Archbishop) but not reintroduced by Henry V.  The church did give Henry a donation, however, this was customary.

Cambridge is a traitor who plans to kill Henry V. In 2.2 Henry, who knows of the plan, asks him what he would do to a drunken man who has spoken disloyal.  Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge reply that he should be executed.  Henry V applies this advice to each of them.  Henry is especially upset with Scroop because he had been his friend for many years,  Henry calls his treason “a fall of man”.

Historical: Earl of Cambridge, Richard York (1376-1415)
The historical Cambridge was given his earldom by Henry V. In the play Cambridge commits treason for French gold, yet historically Cambridge did it for another reason.  Cambridge never agreed with Henry IV usurpation of the throne and he wanted to kill Henry V and replace the throne with Edmund Mortimer.  Mortimer himself was loyal and actually turned in the traitors.

A traitor who plans to assassinate Henry V.  In 2.2 Henry, who knows of the plan, asks him what he would do to a drunken man who has spoken disloyal.  Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge reply that he should be executed.  Henry V applies this advice to each of them.  Henry is especially upset with Scroop because he had been his friend for many years,  Henry calls his treason “a fall of man”.

Historical: Henry Scroop (Le Scroop, Scroope, Scrope) (c. 1376-1415)
Scroop was a close friend of Henry.  But his treason is not that surprising considering Scroop’s father was a supporter of Richard II (who was deposed of by Henry IV).  Scroop’s uncle led two revolts against Henry IV.  Grey and Cambridge were beheaded; Scroop was drawn and quartered.


A minor character who plots, along with Cambridge and Scroop, to assassinate King Henry V. In 2.2 Henry, who knows of the plan, asks him what he would do to a drunken man who has spoken disloyal.  Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge reply that he should be executed.  Henry V applies this advice to each of them.

Historical: Thomas Grey (d. 1415)
Grey was a landowner in Northumberland and was thought to be allied with the Percy family.  A family who rebelled against Henry IV. 

A noble cousin who dies in the Battle of Agincourt.  His brave death is related to Henry by Exeter in a warm speech.

Historical: Edward, Duke of York (c. 1373-1415)
York’s father had rebelled against Henry IV, and Henry V pardoned York.  York remained loyal to him, unlike his younger brother.  Since York died childless, his title went on to the Earl of Cambridge who was executed for treason and then passed onto the Earl’s son.  The historical York did die at Agincourt, but not in the courageous was Shakespeare makes up.  He was quite fat and died of a heart attack after falling from his horse.

He was killed at Agincourt.  A minor character in this play.

Historical: Michael de la Pole Earl of Suffolk (1394-1415)
The historical Suffolk did die at Agincourt.  He is not to be confused with his son, William de la Pole a major character in the Henry VI’s plays.

Charles VI
The King of France, Charles VI plays a small role.  He claims he will not lose to such  a young King, he encourages his men before Agincourt, and accepts a treaty at Troyes.  There he surrenders France and the hand of his daughter, Princess Katherine.

Historical: French King, Charles VI of France (1368-1422)
Shakespeare did not mention some important facts about this King.  Charles VI was completely insane.  Shakespeare may have not wanted to point out that this illness was within their own Queen’s, Queen Elizabeth’s, blood.  He also did not mention that there was a civil war going on in France which made the English conquest a lot easier.


Isabel is the French Queen.  She only appears in 5.2 when she blesses the marriage of King Henry V and her daughter Katherine.

Historical: Isabel, Queen of France (1370-1435)
The historical Isabel played a much greater role that depicted within the play.  She married Charles VI at age 14 and was extremely self-indulgent.  When it became known of her husband’s illness, she led a factional strife that most likely led to Henry’s victories.  She even claimed her son, the heir to the throne, was illegitimate.  He still became the French King and appears in the Henry VI plays.

The Dauphin
The son of the King of France.  He leads the French into the battle of Agincourt.  He is overconfident and headstrong.  He is suicidal and hysterical in 4.5 and we learn he is captured in 4.8.78.

Historical:  Lewis, the Dauphin (1396-1415).
Shakespeare alters facts about the Dauphin.  In the play, the Dauphin makes fun of Henry’s youth, but he was actually nine years younger than him.  He was not even present at Agincourt.  He was too sick to fight and he died two months after the battle.

Katherine is the daughter of the French King.  She is portrayed in a comical way since she is so innocent and speaks little English.  She speaks mostly in French or broken English.  In the end, she married King Henry V

Historical: Princess Katherine (1401-1438)
Katherine of Valois was Charles youngest daughter.  She did marry Henry V as part of the treaty of Troyes.  After Henry died, she married a Welsh nobleman, Owen Tudor. Their grandchild was to become King Henry VII of England.

Duke of Burgundy
A French nobleman who survives to help with the peace negotiations.

Historical: Philip, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467)
Burgundy was not an ally of France at Troyes and he was much more powerful than Shakespeare portrays him.  He actually sided with England and assured Henry V’s victory. 
Sir Thomas Erpingham
Erpingham is a wise, aged veteran who serves under King Henry.  He rejects Henry’s assertation that he is too old to sleep on the hard ground and he claims, “Now I lay like a King”. 

Historical: Sir Thomas Erpingham (1357-1428)
Erpingham supporter Henry’s father when he deposed King Richard II.  He was one of the highest ranking officers at Agincourt.

Captain Gower
An officer in the army of King Henry V.  He is a foil to Fluellen and he announces his disproval of Pistol and his petty theirfs
***Most likely fictional


Captain Fluellen
A Welsch from Wales officer in the army of King Henry V who is open an honest.  Pistol makes fun of him for wearing a leek (a Welsch tradition) and he forces Pistol to eat it.

Captain Macmorris
An army captain from Ireland.  He gets made at Fluellen, thinking he is making fun of him for being Irish and they almost get into a fight.

Captain Jamy
A captain from Scotland in Henry’s army.

He proves himself to be a coward and a thief in France.  Pistol is in a comical scene in 4.4 in which he captures a French soldier.  They speak different languages and the boy acts as an interpreter.  They boy ends up saving the prisoner’s life.

Bardolph is a soldier in the army of King Henry V.  He stops the fued between Pistol and Nym.  The boy describes Bardolph as a coward.  He is executed for stealing a sacramental vessel from a French church. 

Nym feuds with Pistol since Pistol married the Hostess, whom Nym was originally engaged to. Nym is cowardly and is hung for theft.

The boy worked for Falstaff until he dies.  He then goes with Pistol, Nym and Bardolph to the war in France.  He consistently  comments, negatively, on the actions of these men.  He denounces their theft and even saves a prisoner from being killed by Pistol.  It is presumed that he dies at Agincourt, but not explicitly stated.

Michael Williams
Williams is a common soldier with whom Henry talks to disguised.  Henry gets into a fight with Williams and they exchange gloves to fight later.  After the battle, Henry plays a joke on him and has Fluellen wear the glove.  Eventually the joke is relayed to Williams and he is rewarded for his courage and honesty.

John Bates
Bates meets a disguised King Henry.  He tells the King he wishes he was at home, but he will still fight for him (he says this not knowing he is the King).  He represents a typical soldier.

Alexander Court
He is a soldier who meets King Henry.  He only has one line.


The Hostess is the proprietress of the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap.  She is married to Pistol.  She relays the news of Falstaff’s death in a comical, yet eloquent way.  We learn of her death in 4.1

Sir John Falstaff
He is not actually in the play, but we hear of his death from the Hostess.

Alice is Katherine’s maid and she teaches her some English.

Montjoy is the French messenger.


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