Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Character Analysis

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King Henry V

At the end of Henry IV, Part 2, Prince Henry V's father, who had deposed King Richard II and been plagued by doubts about his own right to the throne throughout his reign, dies. This leaves Henry V with the difficult task of proving—to himself and to the country—that his own kingship is approved by God. To achieve this he casts aside all of his former irresponsible ways and companions and, as the play begins, decides to assert his claim to the French throne. Throughout the play Henry V shows himself to be a capable wordsmith, using language to persuade both himself and others of his noble intent and kingly character. This talent also often disguises the uncomfortable realities of his invasion of France, as he feels compelled to sanitize the suffering and violence of war with talk of glory, honor, and necessity. But his strategic manipulations appear to work to his advantage. When Henry V's small army is successful against the French, he takes it as a sign that God has forgiven his father's usurping the throne from Richard II and given his favor to Henry V and his line. Henry V gains the hand of Katherine, Princess of France, by handling their courtship like a smooth business deal. However, he does employ some charm; their "dance of wits," despite Katherine's impediment of limited English, is one of the lighter moments of the drama. Henry V's success, however, is short-lived. According to the epilogue, Henry V dies not long after, leaving his infant son by Katherine as England's king; the son will go on to undo Henry V's victories.

The Dauphin

Heir to the throne of France, the Dauphin is disdainful of Henry V based on the English monarch's irresponsible behavior in his youth. While those who know Henry V see that he has made a change and left his former ways behind, the Dauphin finds such a change difficult to believe. His insulting gift of tennis balls, implying that Henry V should play games like a spoiled child rather than try to rule a kingdom, provides an extra incentive for Henry V to invade France—a course of action Henry V has been considering but has not decided upon until enraged by the Dauphin. Henry V's invasion does not reduce the Dauphin's arrogant attitude. When faced with the prospect of real battle, his boasting becomes ridiculous as he praises his horse and brags about his armor. He is quickly captured by the English despite his admirable horse and armor.

Katherine

Katherine only appears in two scenes but is an important figure in the play, since it is through marriage to her and their production of an heir that Henry V hopes to secure the power won in battle for the future of his descendants. Katherine is clever, witty, and word conscious. Although her role as princess of France causes her to be treated more as a chess piece than a person, she manages to come through as a woman who is passionately patriotic to France and isn't easily swayed by Henry V's wooing.

Captain Fluellen

Captain Fluellen is a loyal and brave captain in Henry V's army. Although he is frequently funny, especially in his fussy obsession with proper military procedures, he is also greatly respected by Henry V, who remarks, "There is much care and valour in this Welshman."

Duke of Exeter

Thomas, the Duke of Exeter, is Henry V's uncle as well as a loyal, trustworthy adviser and leader of the king's forces. Although he is left in charge of Harfleur, he follows Henry V's army and appears at the Battle of Agincourt; he later helps mediate a peace treaty between Henry V and the King of France.

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