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Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Act 1, Scene 2 of Henry V why does the archbishop of Canterbury compare the people of England to honeybees?

In the midst of the discussion about how many soldiers to take into France, the archbishop of Canterbury uses an extended simile comparing England to a hive of honeybees to explain how all the various ranks of men, from the king to the common soldiers, work together. As a religious teacher he makes the point that the example of nature can demonstrate how to order a kingdom, remarking that "a rule in nature teach/The act of order to a peopled kingdom." He notes that honeybees "have a king and officers of sorts" as well as those who act as merchants, magistrates, and soldiers. Ultimately, these functions are all tied together by obedience and "one purpose." As a practical matter the archbishop's simile serves to explain his idea that Henry V should take one-quarter of the English soldiers to France, while the rest should remain in England to defend it. As the bees divide the work, with some ranging far away from the hive and others staying nearby to defend it, so should Henry's forces divide their work.

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Henry V in what ways does Henry V fulfill or fail to fulfill his view of himself as a "Christian king"?

In Act 1, Scene 2 Henry describes himself as a "Christian king," in contrast with a tyrant, saying, "We are no tyrant, but a Christian king,/Unto whose grace our passion is as subject/As is our wretches fettered in our prisons." In contrasting these two types of rulers (Christian versus tyrant), he suggests that a tyrant rules by bending his people to his own passions, while a Christian king subjects his passions to grace, or virtue. According to Henry's metaphor a Christian king places his own passions in prison. Although Henry V claims he does not rule by giving in to his own passions, it certainly seems as though his personal outrage at the Dauphin's insult mixes with his outrage on behalf of the English people and propels him to initiate war with France, even though he was already entertaining that idea for other reasons. However, there are many instances where Henry could allow his personal feelings to guide his behavior, but he refrains from doing so. For example, he lets the drunken man who spoke against the king go free. He also doesn't hold Williams responsible for the challenge against Henry when Henry was disguised as a common soldier. When Henry does achieve victory, he gives credit to God rather than taking it for himself. Overall he appears to be trying to subject his own self-interest to the needs of the kingdom, though as a human he does this imperfectly.

How does the conflict between Pistol and Nym in Act 2, Scene 1 of Henry V provide a commentary on the coming invasion of France?

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Henry V, Pistol and Nym have an argument over Mistress Quickly, who had been engaged to Nym before Pistol married her. Their disagreement turns into an exchange of insults, which then leads to drawn swords and threats of violence. Like many incidents in Pistol's subplot, this one acts as a parallel to something in Henry's story line. Pistol and Nym argue, and draw swords, over Mistress Quickly, just as Henry V plans to fight the French over the right to rule it. Providing a crude parallel to Henry's seemingly noble quest suggests, in an unflattering way, that Henry's conflict with Charles VI and the Dauphin over France is akin to men scuffling over a love triangle in an undignified fashion.

In Henry V what does Henry's foreknowledge regarding the plot against his life suggest about him?

At the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2 the conversation between the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Bedford, and the Earl of Westmoreland reveals that Henry V already knows about the treachery of Lord Scroop, the Earl of Cambridge, and Sir Thomas Grey. It is not revealed how Henry found out about the plot, but his quick and certain knowledge of the conspiracy suggests that he has an active and efficient intelligence network. He may be a king newly crowned, but clearly he is a savvy and competent politician who is well versed in how to make use of spies and informants. It was said that Queen Elizabeth, too, had such an intricate spy network that a rat could not pass from one house to another without her knowledge. Henry's artful way of ensnaring the three traitors in a noose of their own making supports this characterization of Henry V.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Henry V, why does the Earl of Cambridge claim he did not plot against Henry V for France's gold?

In Act 2, Scene 2 the Earl of Cambridge makes a point of saying that he did not plot against Henry V for France's gold, which leaves the audience to consider what his motivation for plotting to assassinate Henry might be. Cambridge states that, "Never was monarch better feared and loved/Than is your Majesty. There's not, I think, a subject/That sits in heart-grief and uneasiness/Under the sweet shade of your government." However, Cambridge still believes that Henry IV should not have deposed Richard II, and likely believes that Henry V's death would allow Richard II's true heir to ascend the throne, especially since Henry V has no heir as of yet. The Earl of Cambridge's motivation for plotting against Henry is therefore a political, rather than financial, one.

In Henry V what is the significance of the imagery Exeter uses to explain what will happen if the king of France refuses to give in to Henry?

In Act 2, Scene 4 when Charles VI asks Exeter what will happen if he doesn't simply hand over the crown to Henry V, Exeter replies that violence will be the consequence: "if you hide the crown/Even in your hearts, there will he rake for it./Therefore in fierce tempest is he coming,/In thunder and in earthquake like a Jove,....And bids you, in the bowels of the Lord,/Deliver up the crown." This imagery is violent, but also loaded with allusions to the Bible and classical mythology. Biblical passages often depict God as being able to find or see what is hidden in the hearts of humans, and God's power and presence are often associated with storms and earthquakes. In Roman mythology Jove was the ruler of the gods, and commanded thunderbolts as weapons. This imagery is terrifying and serves to depict Henry V as godlike and overwhelmingly powerful.

In what ways does Henry V's speech in Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry V especially appeal to the common soldiers among his men?

This speech is, in some ways, the antidote to the archbishop of Canterbury's "honeybee" simile, which describes Englishmen in terms of their ranks and functions. Instead, its language seems to erase boundaries of class and breeding among the soldiers. Henry V begins by calling his men "dear friends." This remarkable phrase invites all the men, even the common soldiers, to consider themselves friends of the king. Later in the speech, Henry refers to the men as "noblest English," says that their fathers are like Alexander the Great, a famous king and military leader, and appeals to the men's sense of honor. Then he suggests that even the most common man in the army has some nobleness in him: "for there is none of you so mean and base/That hath not noble luster in your eyes." The idea that by fighting bravely one might show a more noble self, such as Falstaff's attempt at soldiering in Henry IV, would be very appealing and persuasive to the common soldiers in Henry's army.

How does Act 3, Scene 1 relate to Act 3, Scene 2 of Henry V?

Act 3, Scene 2 occurs directly after Henry V's famous "once more unto the breach" speech, but its focus shifts from Henry to some of the common soldiers he was trying to persuade. Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy have heard Henry V speak, and although Bardolph seems, at first, to be persuaded, the four of them end up stepping aside from the fighting rather than rushing toward it. They commiserate about the danger they are in, and how much they miss home. It takes Captain Fluellen's reprimanding them to get them back in the fight. This reaction to Henry's speech shows that, despite his eloquent words about achieving nobility by fighting well, and how they are all his friends, those who actually were his friends in the past are unmoved. Henry's past actions still speak louder than his eloquent words.

How does Shakespeare use humor in the scene between Alice and Katherine in Act 3, Scene 4 of Henry V?

As Alice teaches Katherine, who is French, the English words for various parts of the body, Katherine makes fun of the way they sound. When Alice comes to the words foot and gown (which she mispronounces "count"), Katherine claims that they sound like impolite words that she should not say aloud. There are several layers of humor in this scene. Katherine's amusement at the silly-sounding words as her gentlewoman Alice patiently instructs her is evident. There is also humor in the fact that Alice's English is heavily accented, and so her teaching of English words is flawed. In addition, to point out that foot and "count" should not be said aloud, Katherine must say them several times: "Le foot, et le count. Ô Seigneur Dieu! .... Foh! Le foot et le count!"

In Act 3, Scene 6 of Henry V what does Montjoy mean when he says "though we seemed dead, we did but sleep"?

In Act 3, Scene 6 Montjoy has been sent from Charles VI with a message for Henry V. Part of the message is "though we seemed dead, we did but sleep." This refers to the fact that, so far, the French forces have been completely unprepared for the English invasion. At Harfleur part of the reason that the governor surrendered is that Charles VI had not sent sufficient military help. The implication is that, now that the French have waked from sleep, they will be a formidable enemy, capturing Henry and demanding ransom that will repay the French for all the destruction and loss they have suffered.

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