Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 2 Prologue Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 2, Prologue | Summary

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Summary

The chorus explains that the youth of England are excited about going to war. Expectations of great deeds and glory are in the air. France, on the other hand, is dreading war. To avoid it France has found three Englishmen who are willing to conspire against Henry V and assassinate him before he has a chance to invade France. The traitors have been paid, and the assassination is set to occur in Southampton.

Analysis

To introduce the next act, the chorus contrasts England's glad anticipation of the coming war with France's fear and dread. The chorus, obviously, is not an unbiased reporter who simply narrates events and describes a shift in the setting. He is in favor of England and England's king. Whenever this chorus appears onstage he is likely accompanied by a small group of silent common soldiers, as he is speaking on behalf of those who will lay down their lives for Henry's sake. It was not unusual in Shakespeare's time that brave young women appeared onstage as nonspeaking extras in male attire. Women themselves did not appear onstage until nearly 100 years later. The chorus therefore romanticizes the coming invasion: "honor's thought/Reigns solely in the breast of every man." Henry V is said to be following in the tradition of "all Christian kings," that is, England's kings, who were believed to have the authority of kingship conferred on them by God, a political doctrine is known as the Divine Right of Kings. Thus the chorus, in this patriotic prologue to Act 2, paints England's glory in idealized terms while France's desperation is described as a physical and moral weakness that leads them to the cowardly plot of assassination: the French "shake in their fear, and with pale policies/Seek to divert the English purposes."

The chorus continues to break the fourth wall, now asking the audience to imagine shifting to a new setting: Southampton. (Although the chorus seems to have forgotten that the next scene takes place in London.)

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