Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Quotes


O, for a muse of fire that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention! A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Chorus, Act 1, Prologue

These famous opening lines are spoken by the chorus, who, in classical fashion, invokes a muse to help the actors tell the story. He introduces the idea that historical events are similar to a play in a theater: there is a setting, some actors, and an audience. It is fitting, then, that the historical events in Henry V are depicted on a stage, with actors and an audience.


The breath no sooner left his father's body But that his wildness, mortified in him, Seemed to die too.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Act 1, Scene 1

These lines refer to the sudden transformation of irresponsible Prince Hal into noble King Henry V upon the death of his father. The bishop of Canterbury observes that the Prince's "wildness" among his tavern companions seemed to die with his father.


Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us. And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his Hath turned his balls to gun-stones.

King Henry V, Act 1, Scene 2

After the Dauphin's insulting gift of tennis balls, Henry V becomes angry, vowing to repay the mockery of the Dauphin with war. Henry says that he will change the tennis balls to gun-stones when he invades France and engages in the "game" of war.


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, Or close the wall up with our English dead! In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility, But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger.

King Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

Henry V inspires his men in this speech as they fight before the town of Harfleur. He appeals to them as "dear friends," then asks them to leave behind their peaceful ways for the more warlike ways of a tiger. He points out that different attitudes and behaviors are called for in peacetime and in war, asking them to mimic his own ability to shed one persona for another.


On, on, you noblest English, Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof, Fathers that, like so many Alexanders, Have in these parts from morn till even fought, And sheathed their swords for lack of argument. Dishonor not your mothers.

King Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

As he inspires his men, Henry V's language is loaded with references to the glorious nature of war and the honor to be found in acts of war. He tells his men they are the "noblest Englishmen," whose ancestors were like Alexander the Great. He reminds them that they can achieve either honor or dishonor based on how they fight.


Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.

Boy, Act 3, Scene 2

The longing the boy feels for home, safety, and simple comforts is in stark contrast to Henry V's desire for conquest. The boy's sentiments are echoed by other common soldiers and form an important contrast to the depiction of war as glorious and honorable.


If I begin the batt'ry once again, I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur Till in her ashes she lie burièd. The gates of mercy shall be all shut up, And the fleshed soldier, rough and hard of heart, In liberty of bloody hand, shall range With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass Your fresh fair virgins and your flow'ring infants.

King Henry V, Act 3, Scene 3

In these words spoken by Henry V to the governor and citizens of Harfleur, the king describes in detail what terrible things will happen if the people of the town do not surrender. The violent imagery he uses persuades the governor to give in.

In addition Henry V describes two of his characteristics—characteristics he believes are necessary in a king: finishing a job rather than leaving it half done, and dispensing mercy when appropriate but not at all times.


I think the King is but a man as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me ... His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man.

King Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1

These words spoken by Henry V as he is disguised by the cloak of Sir Thomas Erpingham mark a change in Henry's understanding of what it means to be a king. He has been focused on living up to what constitutes an ideal king, but now begins to explore his more human side as he converses with his soldiers.


We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now abed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

King Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

Before the Battle of Agincourt Henry must give his soldiers an inspirational speech to motivate them to fight, especially since there are far more French than English soldiers. He characterizes their small numbers as a family, or "band of brothers," rather than an army. He tells them that their glory will be so great after the deeds of this day, that every man in England who did not fight with them will feel less of a man.


Thus far with rough and all-unable pen Our bending author hath pursued the story, In little room confining mighty men, Mangling by starts the full course of their glory. Small time, but in that small most greatly lived This star of England.

Chorus, Epilogue

The chorus ends the play by referring directly to the author of the play, Shakespeare, whose "rough and all-unable pen" has tried to tell the story of Henry V. He suggests that the play was inadequate to give a full depiction of the mighty men who lived this story, particularly Henry V, who lived a short time but was a "star."

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