(DISCLAIMER: the post is a bit thick today. If it’s too much, sorry. I just really like Henry V 8/ )
In case you haven’t noticed from the particular books and plays I have reviewed, I am a History nerd/dork. For my Early Shakespeare class this semester, we were charged with reading Henry V; we just finished it a week or two ago. And, I’m maybe a little obsessed? I bought myself, for an early birthday present, Jamie Parker’s Henry V, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, and the complete Hollow Crown cycle (the first one, not the War of the Roses cycle). I also rented Laurence Olivier’s version of Henry V. Again, a little obsessed.
Why am I obsessed with Henry V? I don’t really know. There are certain stories and types of stories that just seem to be really enjoyable for me. If we clump Henry V with Arthurian legend, maybe it will make a bit more sense. My professor bemoaned that we would not be able to read the whole Henry cycle, Henry IV through Henry V, because you really get Henry V’s whole story arc. But, semester’s have only a certain amount of time in them.
Henry V, unlike many of the plays I’ve read, first, has a chorus, and two, starts with the chorus. The chorus pretty much lies out what the story is going to be about, and then gives a disclaimer, saying ‘we ain’t got that big a budget, y’all, fill in the gaps. It’s gonna be great.’ More or less. We then see the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking with another clergyman about how great Henry is, despite the fact that he was a rascal as a youth. They go in to speak to the king and tell him that he has a legitimate claim to the French throne. The King decides to pursue this claim on French fields. We cut to some of the people Henry used to hang out with as a prince. They are the comic relief. Some interesting things happen in the context of Henry’s whole arc, but we won’t go into too much detail here. Henry punishes some traitors who were once friends of his, and everyone sails to France. We have the Battle of Harfluer, some intermediary scenes, then the night before the Battle of Agincourt.
Henry walked among his men to raise their spirits, but then he decides to go spend some time alone; “I and my bosom must debate awhile, and then I would no other company (4.1.31-32).” But that doesn’t last long. Some characters we have already met enter and have some interaction either with the king or simply before him, giving Henry an insight into what his men really think. Then, Henry talks with some new characters; Williams, Bates, and Court. They aren’t happy or excited about going to battle the next day and they don’t want to be there. They are critical of the King’s war, unbeknownst to themselves, in front of the king. These characters push Henry to give a refutation, and then to trade gloves with Williams; a promise to fight him later. After all exit, Henry gives some powerful monologues, and then the Battle of Agincourt begins. (We will skip the Battle of Agincourt, because this post is already turning out longer than I anticipated.)
After the Battle of Agincourt, we skip a year or so to the Treaty de Troyes and the wooing of Katherine, which, when played right (Jamie Parker’s version, specifically), is hysterical. Katherine and Henry do not speak each others’ language, so have a barrier they must converse through. In the end, Henry receives Katherine through the Treaty, and Henry and his future issue are made the heirs of France. But, the chorus reminds the audience that Henry died young, and his son, Henry VI loses the throne of France.
This play is just so good, especially depending on how it is performed. So. Good. The rating? 10/10, would read again (and again…. and again…..)
Have you read Henry V? What person from History are you obsessed with right now? Share your comments below! And, until next time, keep reading and be kind, folks!