Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Henry V how does each man's memory of the past affect the action of Henry V, the Dauphin, and the king of France?

Ties to the past are unusually strong in Henry V, since it is the culmination of a tetralogy, or set of four interconnected plays, which portrays an important span of England's history. Henry V himself is haunted by the fact that his father usurped the throne from Richard II. His memory of his father's dying words strongly influences his own actions as king. His father advised Henry to seek foreign quarrels as a way to unite the country and told him of his sense that he never fully gained God's favor. Both statements become powerful motivators for Henry V's invasion of France. The Dauphin's memory of Henry's past behavior when he spent time in taverns with low-life characters like Falstaff affects how he views the new king, causing him to see Henry as still being a foolish youth. This error on the Dauphin's part leads to a lack of seriousness in the French military response to Henry's forces. Charles VI's ties to the past go back farther than Henry's youth, to the defeat of the French at the hands of Henry V's ancestors. This makes Charles VI take the young King Henry more seriously than his son does.

In Henry V, in what ways has Henry V left or not left his youthful ways behind him?

The archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely begin Henry V by discussing the newly crowned Henry V. Their opinion is that he has indeed, quite suddenly, left his wild behavior of his youth behind, changing miraculously into a noble king: "The breath no sooner left his father's body/But that his wildness, mortified in him,/Seemed to die too." Yet the question of how much Henry V has actually changed versus how much he has appeared to change is an important one. On one hand, Henry V's behavior in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 suggests that Henry was always serious, and only acted wild in order to make his eventual transformation into a noble king seem the more miraculous. In Henry V he may be continuing this strategy. The play demonstrates repeatedly that Henry is very aware of how he appears to others and works hard to manipulate appearances to his advantage, a skill he was unlikely to acquire overnight. In Henry V the trick Henry plays on Williams seems to have a little of Prince Hal in it. It involves mistaken identity as Henry hides who he really is from Williams, and is orchestrated by Henry primarily for his own amusement; there is little to gain otherwise as a result of his trick. Furthermore, the obvious glee with which Henry allows the trick to continue and develop over a long time has more than a hint of the shenanigans of Henry and Falstaff during Henry's tavern days.

How do the first lines of Act 1, Scene 1 in Henry V serve to establish tone and character motivation in the play?

The first lines of Act 1, Scene 1 set the tone for the action later in the play, specifically Henry V's invasion of France. The archbishop of Canterbury opens the play by discussing a financial problem with the bishop of Ely: "My lord, I'll tell you that self bill is urged ... If it pass against us,/We lose the better half of our possession." The bill in question would allow the king to take land that was given to the Church to pay for his additional expenses. Although Henry's other motives for invading France take center stage later in the play—his desire to appear as a unifier and ideal king before his people, for example—it should not be forgotten that the motivation of the churchmen in suggesting taking over France was originally to protect their own financial assets. Based on the way the play opens, Henry's invasion of France seems motivated by his need to take what is not his own in order to gain more wealth. This serves to provide conflicting and complex motives for the war that throw Henry's true motives into question. Henry's outrage at the insulting tennis balls sent by the Dauphin in the next scene appears to cement his desire to invade France, for example, but perhaps the incident merely provides a convenient excuse for Henry to invade France for exactly the reasons the churchmen proposed. This also allows the petty thievery of Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym to provide commentary on Henry's war, suggesting it is simply thievery on a larger scale.

Why does the chorus characterize England as a "little body with a mighty heart" in Act 2, Prologue in Henry V?

In Henry V the chorus always characterizes England and its king in the most flattering way possible. This image of England as a "little body with a mighty heart" is also a flattering one, suggesting that England is both stronger than it might seem and that its mighty heart makes it superior to other nations larger than it is. Also if as a "boy" England has this might, then what might be said of England when it grows up to be a "man," suggesting the biblical parallel of David and Goliath? There are two specific ways that the description "little body with a mighty heart" applies to England in this play. First, it is a small island nation, yet wields military strength that seems disproportionate to its size. Its king is ambitious, and its soldiers fight valiantly. Second, England, despite its "little body" does attempt to, and succeeds at, conquering France with only one-quarter of its available soldiers fighting against the much larger French army. The chorus's simile suggests that appearances are deceiving, and that England's "mighty heart," in the form of the nation's bravery, strength, and determination, is responsible for this victory.

Why does Shakespeare include multiple references to dogs in Act 1, Scene 2 of Henry V?

In Act 1, Scene 2 Pistol calls Nym an "Iceland dog," which is a breed known for its bad temper; a "prick-eared cur"; an "egregious dog"; and a "hound of Crete," a type of hunting dog. These references are intended as insults, for dogs are not considered noble and dignified when compared to other animals, such as horses. Dogs are scruffy scavengers and fighters. These references, though directed at Nym, are used by Shakespeare to characterize all of the Eastcheap tavern men as low-life scavengers and thieves. They, like dogs, are quick to quarrel and fight, as demonstrated in the scene. The references to dogs in this scene are recalled in the next one, as Henry V compares the three traitors to dogs that would turn on their master and bite him.

Why does Henry V use words such as "inhuman," "devils," and "demon" to accuse the three traitors in Act 2, Scene 2 of Henry V?

At the time, a powerful political doctrine called the Divine Right of Kings taught that the king of England was specifically chosen by God to rule over the people. This made every offense against the king also an offense directly against God's will for the nation. Lord Scroop, Sir Thomas Grey, and the Earl of Cambridge have plotted secretly to assassinate Henry V. So in Act 2, Scene 2 he accuses the three traitors not just of being traitors to the nation, or against himself, but actually inhuman monsters who were sent by the devil to do harm to England and oppose God's will. In fact Henry likens their treachery to the biblical "fall of man," in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This disobedience became the root of all human sin.

In Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry V, how do Charles VI's words about Henry V differ from Charles VI's actions toward Henry V?

Charles VI seems to take Henry V seriously, advising that they should "fear/The native mightiness and fate of him." This suggests that the king will mount a strong defense, and quickly, if Henry makes any move. Yet Charles VI's actions in response to Henry V are not quick nor do they form a powerful defense. Even after the threats that the Duke of Exeter brings from Henry V, and the revelation that Henry V is already on French soil, Charles VI opts to delay, saying that he will think about the situation, then give his answer. Later at Harfleur, we learn that the king and the Dauphin have not sent adequate help to defend the town. So while Charles VI seems to consider Henry a real threat, he fails to take action against him, proving to be a weak and indecisive king. In contrast Henry seems to be decisive and strong.

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry V how does Henry V's victory at Harfleur reflect his military tactics?

The surrender of the town of Harfleur reveals that Henry V's military success is part physical might and part verbal might. Henry's speech to his own men in Act 3, Scene 1, shows his mastery over language and his ability to use words, images, and ideas to motivate people to do what he asks. His siege of the town and breach of its walls demonstrate that he is able to use the traditional physical methods of wearing down an enemy. His verbal intimidation, through terrible images of what the consequences of resisting the English would be (including rape and slaughter), shows again that words are as much a part of Henry's toolbox as bows, arrows, and swords. Through the scene at Harfleur, Shakespeare shows Henry's combination of brute strength and verbal skill and how he applies them to the "game" of war. In this the Italian Renaissance is reflected in English monarchy, as the city-states of Italy were ruled by ruthless Signori well-versed not only in the arts of war but also in the arts of negotiation and diplomacy, which requires a solid education and literacy.

Of what significance is the French princess, Katherine, in Henry V?

Women are few and far between in Henry V, but of the four who have a role, Katherine is the most important to the plot. She is first introduced as part of the negotiations between the French and Henry V, and later becomes part of Henry's demands after his victory. Her role seems primarily to give Henry a tidy ending, with a marriage that unites France and England and provides an heir for Henry V. Despite the fact that she is treated more as property and the means to an heir than as a person, Shakespeare manages to make her likable, funny, and strong in her own way. Her scenes with Alice are playful and funny, providing needed comic relief in the midst of a serious and violent play. Her use of good French and poor English develops the important theme of language, and allows Shakespeare to work in a few dirty jokes in the process. And her refusal to fall for Henry's romantic wooing in the final scene shows her to be a practical yet assertive young woman. This portrayal contrasts with the far more tragic Katherine who violently rejects the murderer of her husband in Richard III only to become a hollow representation of a queen as completely corrupted by Richard.

In Act 3, Scene 5 of Henry V how do images of heat and cold characterize the two armies and help explain the mocking attitude of the French women?

The Constable begins using imagery of temperature and weather by wondering how the English, who are from such a chilly, sunless climate, are able to "decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat." In contrast he describes the French as "frosty" and "roping icicles." This suggests that the French fight sluggishly, like the elderly, while the English fight with youthful passion and fire. This imagery of hot versus cold also lends itself to a sexual interpretation, and so it gives rise to the Dauphin's complaint that the French women are threatening to sleep with the "hot" English soldiers in order to make sure their children are valiant warriors.

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