Henry V: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      The Life of Henry V last in the series of history plays by William Shakespeare, first performed 1599 and first published in a corrupt Quarto in 1600. The text in the First Folio of 1623 is probably from Q2 (1602). Shakespeare’s main source was Holinshed’s Chronicles, though he seems also to have consulted Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Families of Lancaster and York. This most obviously patriotic of the English history, plays is the only one that openly celebrates the achievements of a successful king. Mocked by the French, who revive memories of his frivolous youth, Henry displays his political astuteness by quelling a rebellion at home before going on to demonstrate his military prowess in a French campaign of which the Battle of Agincourt is the highlight. Magnanimous in victory, he cunningly woos the French princess, Katharine, and the play ends with their marriage plans scaled with a kiss. A low-life sub-plot involves, first, the reported death of Falstaff and then the unruly conduct of various of his old associates, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. Symbolizing the bonds of loyalty that hold Henry’s united kingdom, but oddly ill at ease in both main and sub-plot, are four English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish commanders, Gower, Fluellen, Macmorris and Jamie.

      Henry V is a slightly disappointing sequel to the splendid achievements of Henry IV. The formula is similar, but the absence of Falstaff leaves Henry, even on his disguised trip around the Agincourt camp-fires, awkwardly isolated from the people he inspires and rules. Shakespeare seems sometimes overstretched in his attempt to win his audience’s admiration for ‘the mirror of all Christian kings’.

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