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Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does dramatic irony affect the interaction between Henry V and Pistol in Act 4, Scene 1 of Henry V?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows information that one or more characters in the play do not. In this case Henry V has put on Erpingham's cloak and is in disguise when Pistol approaches him. So the audience knows that the man in the cloak is Henry, but Pistol does not. This adds drama to the interaction, because a king walking among his men incognito is dramatic, and having anyone in disguise anticipates the reveal that will come later when Henry's true identity is disclosed, which builds suspense. The dramatic irony also results in humor, as Pistol speaks glowingly of the king ("a heart of gold, a lad/of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most/valiant") while insulting the man in front of him, who, unbeknownst to Pistol, happens to be the king ("The figo for thee then!").

How does Henry V, who is in disguise, identify himself to his men when they approach him in Act 4, Scene 1 of Henry V, and why is this significant?

Both times Henry is approached by his men while in disguise (first by Pistol and then by John Bates, Alexander Court, and Michael Williams) he tells them he is "a friend." This is significant because it mirrors his words in his "once unto the breach" speech, in which he addressed his men as "friends." Though in disguise, he employs the same tactic to gain the confidence of his soldiers, suggesting that Henry is crafty in his use of language. In addition it reminds the audience that Henry V once was friends with common men such as these, and in Pistol's case, was an actual friend, or at least drinking buddy.

In Act 4, Scene 1 of Henry V, of all the things Williams says about the king, which one seems to bother Henry V the most, and why?

Michael Williams speaks his mind about the war, the king, and the king's responsibility for others. First he seems to suggest—by responding "that's more than we know"—that the war is not "just" and "honorable," as the disguised Henry says. Williams also gives a list of all the things that might be left in disarray when a soldier dies in battle, such as debts unpaid, wives and children destitute, and the like. Then Williams notes that if the men "do not die well," that is, die in God's favor so they can go to heaven rather than hell, it is the king's fault. And it is this last point that bothers Henry the most, because he immediately argues back strongly that "the King is not bound/to answer the particular endings of his soldiers." The idea that the king causes suffering or that his war might not be honorable does not bother Henry nearly as much as this idea that he might be personally responsible for whether his own men go to heaven or hell.

What is the role of Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry V?

Falstaff is never seen in the play, nor heard. Yet he is a very important character in the previous plays, where he is a father figure, friend, and mentor to young Prince Hal. When Hal becomes Henry V, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking his fortunes will also rise because he is a special friend of the new king. But Henry rejects Falstaff's friendship. In Henry V this rejection has weighed heavily on Falstaff, so that when he becomes ill, his friends blame it on Henry's treatment of him, saying that "the King has killed his heart" (Act 2, Scene 1). Falstaff later dies, but his death is described by his friends, not seen onstage. His treatment of Falstaff shows what a cold character Henry V can be, and perhaps helps Henry show that he has indeed subjugated his own passions to his need to be a strong ruler. Falstaff's death also emphasizes the fact that Henry V really has no friends anymore, and is far more isolated from human warmth now that he is king.

How would the ending of Henry V change if the epilogue were not included?

If Shakespeare had not included the epilogue, the play would end with Henry V's successful negotiations with the king of France and Henry's words about the future shared prosperity of Henry and Katherine. This would be a triumphant ending, full of promise for the future and for a long, happy, successful life. The epilogue calls all of this into question, because it reveals that Henry V dies young, leaving an infant heir to take his place as king, who then grows up to lose the gains his father had made in France. Having the epilogue gives a darker view of the consequences while leaving it out would leave the play at a high point. It might be that Shakespeare wanted his audiences to discuss these ideas after the play. Despite Henry V's efforts, his rule is short and his conquest of France vulnerable.

How is the idea that imagination is powerful developed in Shakespeare's Henry V?

As the chorus in Henry V continually points out, the human imagination is powerful. Describing sights and sounds makes people and their actions come alive in the mind, and can instantaneously transport a person from one setting to the next: "Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies/In motion of no less celerity/Than that of thought." For example, the chorus calls upon the audience to imagine several scenes in the play that would be impossible to present as effectively if they were staged, making imagination a crucial ingredient in the audience's experience of the play and the play's success. The power of imagination is also demonstrated in other ways within the play. Henry motivates his troops through his use of language, for example, inspiring them to imagine themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. The imagination of the governor and townspeople of Harfleur surely played a part in their surrender to Henry, as his words evoked frightening sights that they found too terrifying to risk experiencing. The imagination of the Dauphin, as he envisions the silly young Henry V as a weak opponent, leads him astray, since Henry doesn't meet these expectations.

Why is the boy's statement at the end of Act 4, Scene 5 of Henry V significant?

At the end of Act 4, Scene 5 the boy observes that "I must stay with the lackeys with the luggage of our camp. The French might have a good prey of us if he knew of it, for there is none to guard it but boys." This foreshadows the actual attack on the boys by the French, which is not revealed to the audience until Scene 7. It also serves to demonstrate that in the desire for victory, Henry V and the other leaders have pulled all the soldiers into the battle's front lines, without a thought for how this might leave the boys remaining in the camp unprotected. It might also be reflective of compromises Queen Elizabeth herself made in order to secure her rule against a wide variety of threats. Henry's action undercuts the notion that the war is entirely honorable and reveals a flaw in Henry's strategy.

To what does the play attribute the amazing victory of the English in Henry V, and what other factors might have been involved in this victory historically?

The play seems to attribute the miraculous victory to several factors. First the overconfidence of the French, who are constantly seen as boasting far beyond their ability to act, is evident throughout the play. Their arrogance results in poor preparation, and all of their claims of strength are shown to be simply bragging, not based in reality. Another factor that comes through clearly is the gritty determination of Henry V and his men, and, of course, Henry's inspiring leadership. The play also suggests that the English had God on their side, and was assisted in the victory by God. Since the English victory against the French, despite the English being outnumbered, is a matter of history, there may be truth in the claims made by the play. Certainly poor leadership on the part of the French played a role. Differences in weaponry and strategy also certainly played a role. Scholars believe that the large number of archers in Henry's army may have also contributed to the victory and to the low number of English casualties.

In Act 4, Scene 6 of Henry V how does the Duke of Exeter's account of York's and Suffolk's deaths challenge the traditional idea men in battle must be emotionless?

The Duke of Exeter describes, in great detail, how the Earl of Suffolk and the Duke of York die near each other on the battlefield. While the story certainly emphasizes the notion of a manly death in battle, it also suggests a more emotional experience. The fact that Exeter cries and Henry nearly does in response to the story challenges the stereotype of the tough, unemotional soldier. The affectionate death scene of these two men moves Exeter to tears, prompting him to describe his reaction as "the pretty and sweet manner of it forced/Those waters from which I would have stopped,/But I had not so much of man in me." Henry, too, says his eyes are full of tears at the story. The Duke of Exeter describes the death scene, a Greco-Roman device designed to evoke fear and pity in the audience according to the Aristotelian classic form of tragedy, as having a "pretty and sweet manner," as York takes Suffolk "by the beard" and "kisses the gashes/That bloodily did yawn upon his face." This description is unusual because it shows a moment of closeness and warmth between men rather than one of bloodless determination and stalwart heroism.

In Henry V what strategies does Henry V use to woo a reluctant Katherine?

Katherine seems lukewarm to Henry's wooing, asking him "Is it possible dat I sould love de enemy of/France?" and resisting giving anything stronger than her compliance with her father's wishes as her motivation for agreeing to marry Henry. However, he employs a similar strategy with her as he used on his men when he sought to appeal to their sense of being united in some common cause: "you and I cannot be confined/within the weak list of a country's fashion." Just as he called his men "friends," he sets her apart and brings her into his special regard by saying "you and I." At the same time Henry points out the political benefits that marrying him would bring to Katherine as if he is in a military negotiation, reminding her that he is already the conqueror of France: "When France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine."

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