Literature Spotlight: Shakespeare’s “Henry V”


The king is full of grace and fair regard.


And a true lover of the holy Church.


The courses of his youth promised it not.

The breath no sooner left his father’s body

But that his wildness, mortified in him,

Seemed to die too; yea, at that very moment

Consideration like an angel came

And whipped th’ offending Adam out of him,

Leaving his body as a paradise

T’ envelop and contain celestial spirits.

Never was such a sudden scholar made…

– From Act I Scene I of Henry V 

(The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely are speaking of Henry V’s transformation from the lewd “Prince Hal” to England’s new, matured king following the death of his father, Henry IV)

Hello everyone!

Happy fall! I might be a tad optimistic about fall’s arrival, and I may have worn jeans and a long-sleeved shirt last week when it was ninety degrees, but I think I’m finally settled upon one thing: fall is my favorite season. The season for tea, books, study, and all things wonderful.

Maybe I am a tad optimistic.

But, I digress. Today I am here, oh brave hearts, to discuss the wondrous work of William Shakespeare: Henry V. Yes, school has tried to dissuade me from this ultimate object quite a few times this week. It’s been a struggle to find time for this, but it comes at last. I might not even finish this in one sitting, but it’s worth a try.

So, here we go.

This time I will be going about this differently with the analysis portion. I’m still going to be analyzing, but I’m attacking this in a different manner. Instead of highlighting three themes, I want to highlight three moments within the play and search for goodies in each of them. This play has so many great moments, and the three I will be choosing to dissect are The Dauphin’s Gift/Insult, Henry’s speech in Act 3, Scene 1 (“once more unto the breach…”), and the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech.

Regrettably, I wanted to add the “Wooing of Catherine” scene in here as well, because Henry is indeed the “awkward lover,” and I laughed like a schoolgirl while reading his professions of love. Catherine was equally amused, and I think that’s why she liked him so much. I mean, she married him for goodness sake.

Also, I am fully aware that a lot of people label Henry a war criminal and criticize Henry saying that he engaged in warfare that could have been avoided or that he was simply an overly zealous religious king who wanted to rule France in God’s name. I think this could be true of the historical Henry, but as for the Shakespearean character, I would beg to differ.

Now, Shakespeare doesn’t get into this, so I did have to do a little extra research to figure out why Henry decided to just up and invade France. According to a source cited at the end of this post, “He [Henry] hoped that by fighting a popular foreign war, he would strengthen his position at home. He wanted to improve his finances by gaining revenue-producing lands. He also wanted to take nobles prisoner either for ransom or to extort money from the French king in exchange for their return. Evidence also suggests that several lords in the region of Normandy promised Henry their lands when they died, but the King of France confiscated their lands instead” (“Henry V of England”).

Now, the portion in bold is Shakespeare’s reason for Henry’s proclamation of war. He does not talk about the financial part of it or the extortion part. So, considering we are discussing Shakespeare’s play, not history itself, we will count that as the Shakespearean Henry’s reason for invading France.

Also, remember Henry IV’s dying words to his son: “Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out, may waste the memory of the former days.”

By going to war with France, Henry is obeying his father’s command. And he’s out to wipe clean from memory the disgusting past he had indulged in.

Maybe that was a bit overkill, but I wanted to make sure I was not praising a tyrant, murderous king as a hero. Just wanted to make sure I got my facts correct. Besides, after Henry IV, we are all rooting for this chap.

Let’s begin then, shall we?


  • #1. The Dauphin’s Gift/Insult

In Shakespeare’s previous play—the prequel, if you will—we see the image of a young, scandalous youth playing with the knaves of the land and forgetting the fact that he was indeed the royal “prince of Wales.” After his transformation in Henry IV, “Hal” is crowned king, takes responsibility, forsakes the old life, throws some of his closest partners-in-crime in prison, and advises his subjects to “think not that I am the thing I was.”

Sounds a lot like a full circle redemption story, and it is.

If you haven’t read the previous analysis post, please go do so now, and it will explain quite a bit for you coming in to this one. You can read that HERE.

So, we see our dear king: Henry V. He’s on the young side, full of life, vivacious: an excited and mature young man. Ready to rule with a firm and gentle hand, he is, early on in his reign, confronted by war. According to Shakespeare, Henry had a claim to the lands of France (by a treaty signed by his grandfather Edward III), and he demands the French for the lands (called “dukedoms” in the play) to be given into his possession. In reply, the French prince, the Dauphin, sends his ambassadors to reply with a mock.

First Ambassador:

Thus then, in few:

Your Highness, lately sending into France,

Did claim some certain dukedoms, in the right

Of your predecessor, King Edward the Third.

In answer of which claim, the Prince our master

Says that you savor too much of your youth

And bids you  be advised there’s naught in France

That can be with a nimble galliard won;

You cannot revel into dukedomes there.

He therefore sends you, meeter, for your spirit.

This tun of treasure, and in lieu of this

Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim

Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.

King Henry: What treasure, uncle?

[A casket is presented; Exeter examines its contents.]

Exeter: Tennis balls, my liege.

From Act I, Scene II

So, to clear up the muddy Shakespearean “feels,” if you will, of this passage. Firstly, the Dauphin is letting King Henry know that he is very much aware of his past as a ridiculous, irresponsible young man. He plainly tells Henry that he “savors” too much of his youth. To make the meaning plainer, just say this: “You have a taste of too much of your youth.”

In a sentence: “you don’t know what you’re asking for, little boy.”

He then goes on to insult Henry further by telling him that he cannot “with nimble galliard” win France, and that he cannot “revel” into dukedoms. Now, this is more of Shakespeare’s jargon. A galliard is a dance, as is the action of reveling. In conclusion then, the French prince is insulting the English king’s roguish past by letting him know that he can’t win the war by being an immature, dancing fool.

To top it all off, instead of giving Henry the dukedoms he requested, the Dauphin “therefore sends you, meeter, for your spirit:” Something that’ll suit your personality better: tennis balls.

Let me begin by first acknowledging something: if Hal in Henry IV is about finding who he is and understanding his identity, then Hal (King Henry) in Henry V is about defending who he believes himself to be.

In everyone’s life, there is a point where we understand who we are. We live in it, we walk in it, and we are confident in it. The building of an identity is based on the three below:

  1. The understanding
  2. The challenge
  3. The victory

The understanding of one’s identity is what we see Hal figuring out in Henry IV. In Henry V, his identity is being challenged, openly, arrogantly, and boldly by the French prince. Keep in mind, the French king is not the one mocking our good Henry, it’s the French prince. All the more insulting…being mocked by someone of a lesser rank than yourself.

The challenge, oftentimes, is the stage in which identity is broken. Many fall short of pressing into the truth of who they are and understanding it better. When identity is challenged, that is when decisions are made, either for good or ill.

Henry responds to the French ambassador with gusto, and instead of cowering under the shame of his former past, he rises to his present state and addresses the Dauphin as per below (it’s a lot longer, but I’m quoting the highlight of the argument):

King Henry: But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state,

Be like a king and show my sail of greatness

When I do rouse me in my throne of France.

For that I have laid by my majesty

And plodded like a man for working days,

But I will rise there with so full a glory

That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,

Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us….

But this all lies within the will of God,

To whom I do appeal, and in whose name

Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on

To venge me as I may and to put forth

My rightful hand in a well-hallowed cause.

So get you hence in peace, and tell the Dauphin

His jest will savor but of shallow wit

When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.

– From Act I, Scene II

Henry’s declaration of war on France is a pivotal moment in the play. Ultimately, the reader begins Henry V still having the taste of Hal’s coronation from Henry IV in their mouth. They understand the boy has matured and the prince has changed, but will he remain loyal to his resolution of kingly-ness? This scene eliminates every thought of doubt the reader ever had about Hal’s fidelity. He understands in full what is being challenged, and he is fully ready to defend his authority with war.

While this can be quite different in everyday application, our identities are challenged on a daily basis just like our dear King Henry’s. The moment we step out of bed we are confronted with a certain thing called “the real world” which asks us questions and presents to our courts the doubts and mocks of fate.

I touched on this in my Henry IV analysis post, which you can read HERE, and it is so with us. Our blood, although we may not be the stuff of legend, we are royal in spirit. Our identity is rooted in the death and redemption of Christ, and as His lovers and children, we are his kings and queens. Our identity is not to be mocked by the Dauphins of this world.

To war with the accusations! To death with the doubts!

For we all know that the “one who doubts is like a like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind,” as it says in James. Had Henry doubted his identity in this situation, England may not have won the war. Oops! Spoiler.

  • #2. – Henry’s speech in Act 3, Scene 1

England has invaded France. The war has begun. There is a tremendous amount of courage in Henry’s little army, but they aren’t large. They aren’t military geniuses. They are simple men, farmers, fathers, husbands, some even grandfathers. Unlike the skilled French, the English soldiers are not trained, arrayed in battle splendor, nor are their camps full of the rich food, splendid music, and pomp present within the French camp.

The king of France makes Henry an offer: he can have some, but not all of France, and he can also have his daughter, the princess Katherine.

Naturally, Henry does not want to settle. He wants the whole deal, the entire nation of France.The offer “likes not” and he decides to attack the French settlement of Harfleur, and his soldiers begin to scale the wall with their ladders. Due to gunfire, a breach has been made in Harfleur’s walls, making a way for the English to come through.

For some reason which Shakespeare does not specify, the men have grown afraid to charge through the breach. Some adaptations have proposed acid being thrown over the walls by the French, others have different ideas. For whatever reason, they are afraid.

The King, seeing their fear, rallies his troops with a noble speech once again harping on their identity, their strength, and their ability:

King Henry:

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:

Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage.

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let it pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon…

Be copy now to men of grosser blood

And teach them how to war. And you, good yeomen,

Whose limps were made in England, show us here

The mettle of your pasture. Let us swear

That you are worth your bleeding, which I doubt not,

For there is none of you so mean and base

That hath not noble luster in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot!

Follow your spirit and, upon this charge,

Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

Alarum, and chambers go off. [They exit]

From Act III, Scene I, Henry V

Firstly, I want to talk about Harry’s comparison of his soldiers and the greyhounds. In literature universally, dogs represent loyalty and strength. They further represent endurance (particularly greyhounds) and friendship. In art, dogs were painted on the tombs of dead women as a sign of their loyalty and fidelity to their husbands.

As he likens his soldiers to the greyhounds, he instills in them a spirit of hope. He shows them he believes in them, and he gives them something worth fighting for: his love. Harry understands the bond between soldier and king, and that in order to win this war, his soldiers must be like his brothers. As he goes on to say in the Crispin’s day speech, whoever sheds blood with him in battle is his brother, whether he is a peasant or of noble descent.

I’m not planning on following any English kings into battle, but I am following a God King into war daily. The breach is there in the wall, but there is no strength in me to walk through it. I fear the acid pouring down from the demons on the wall. I fear the pain I will endure and the risk I take as I plunge headfirst into battle. My life is at risk, I pant to turn back, perhaps I ought to mutiny. Then, on my arm, I feel the grasp of my king.

He looks me in the eye and says with gentleness, ferocity, and reassurance alike, “once more unto that breach, dear girl, once more.” He reminds me of the pains by which he obtained his crown, and he reminds me of the bond between us, of my loyalty to him and he to me, and he leads me “unto the breach” to conquer my enemies and slay my mind’s foes.

Sorry if I got a little allegorical there. I just love Jesus and Henry.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33 NIV

  • #3. – The Agincourt Speech / St. Crispin’s Day Speech

Ah, friends, we have arrived! This is the part of the play I have been waiting for! This is the big kahuna, so to speak, of the play. I love this part.

The army is run down, they are tired, exhausted, ready to turn back. Many of the English camp have died due to disease and battlefield dysentery. The odds are bleak, and yet the young king presses on with his band of soldiers sticking loyally to his side (like dogs to their masters, which is another hint at what we just discussed).

Finally, St. Crispin’s Day comes, and the French have prepared themselves for battle. The English see it coming, and are about to go out and fight their enemies. The soldiers fear, they tremble, and Westmoreland makes a comment about wishing they had more men.

Who can blame him?

In response to Westmoreland’s comment, King Henry begins a speech. He starts with a question to Westmoreland, asking who is the man that wishes for a larger army? Who is he? Bring him forward if he even exists. He is certainly not the king.

Let me just quote Henry’s monoloque here so you can read it – it really is such a moving and passionate piece – I’m not quoting the whole thing, there are about twenty lines before the start here, but this is the main chunk that makes my heart sing:

King Henry:

This day is called the Feast of Crispian.

He that outlives this day and comes safe home

Will stand a-tiptoe when the day is named

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall see this day and live old age

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors

And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars

And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day.”

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day. Then shall our names

Familiar in his mouth as household words—

Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—

Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.

This story shall the good man teach his son,

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be rememberèd,

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.

From Act IV, Scene III

Just because of Henry V, I am celebrating St. Crispin’s Day this year on October 25th. Like he said, they will remember until the end of the world what was done on Crispin’s Day.

*raises hand* I remember, Henry!


So, I just want to emphasize the main theme of the Crispin speech: brotherhood. Family. As Henry delivers this speech, he is speaking to his closest friends and to his army. In some adaptations of the play, Henry yells this speech aloud to his soldiers much like Aragorn does at the Black Gate of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings (and there are similar themes…remember “men of Rohan, my brothers?”). In other adaptations he simply gushes with calm passion before his closest friends and family members York, Westmoreland, Exeter, and co.

In any case, Henry puts aside class and rank to help his men understand just how much they mean to him. Just as in the “once more unto the breach” moment, he rallies them as his friends, not as his servants.

It is interesting to note how he scorns the gentleman in England who will wish, once they return, that he had been present at the battle on Crispin’s Day. The lowly, simpleton, the peasant, the plebeian, if you will, that sheds his blood for the cause of the King is his brother.

Forgetting nobility, stature, honor, and reputation, Henry simply says that he who sheds his blood with and for me is my brother. “We happy few, we band of brothers…”

It is so real, so vivid, and such a beautiful picture of a man who, in the middle of bleak odds and strained hopes, brings together his soldiers as a family unit and urges them to fight as one.

The King I serve rallies me in the same way. He cries out to me, urging me to join Him in His cause, for when I do, I become His sister. His brother, if you’re a guy. 😛

And not just His brothers and sisters, but His friends. We choose, as the apostle Paul did, to join Him in His conquest, and we become bondservants, servants by choice. And Christ himself refuses to call us His servants, but He chooses to call us His friends, for He has shown us His plan, just as Henry has shown his weary band of brethren soldiers.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15 NIV

Now, this second half of the Crispin’s speech gets really interesting. The King is just about to set off to battle, and his soldiers have gone on ahead, when again comes Montjoy, the French messenger who was visited Henry’s camp more than once asking on France’s behalf for ransom.

As this is not the first time Henry has seen Montjoy, he is a little ticked and goes on a rant about how he would rather “sell his bones” than give in to the offers of the enemy. His passion and insistence to press on and show his men the reward that accompanies courage is highly inspirational and motivating.

I would quote the monologue here, but it is super long, so I figured you might enjoy seeing his retaliation as seen in BBC’s The Hollow Crown. Oh my word this moment gives me chills and is probably one of the most passionate monologues in the play apart from the heartfelt St. Crispin’s Day speech. “No Surrender” is the scene’s title, and I think it is fitting. Montjoy is exactly how I pictured him; annoying and arrogant, but also with a reverence and respect for this warrior king. I love York and Exeter, too; Paterson Joseph’s Duke of York is fantastic. He is one of my favorite characters. York is such a hero and a favorite of mine within the play’s characters. Exeter is my ideal of an awesome grandpa, and Anton Lesser was superb for the role. And, as always, Tom Hiddleston is a truly marvelous King Henry. Check it out:

Wow. Isn’t that some seriously great stuff?

I just wanted to also point out: did you hear Henry start talking about the plumes of the French soldiers hats? He was speaking about the array of the Frenchmen. Many of them wore fancy hats, habits, and their horses were splendidly adorned for battle.

As was seen in the clip above, the English soldiers were modestly arrayed for war, not parading in their riches for all to see. Just look at Montjoy and now look at Henry or at the soldiers.

You can see a difference, I hope.

As Henry himself said, “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.”

And, in conclusion, the French lost and the English won.

Let me end this beautiful post by quoting the words of the Chorus in the play’s Epilogue.


Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,

Our bending author hath pursued the story.

In little room confining mighty men,

Mangling by the starts the full course of their glory.

Small time, but in that small most greatly lived

This star of England. Fortune made his sword

By which the world’s best garden be achieved,

And of it left his son imperial lord.

Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned King

Of France and England, did this King succeed,

Whose state so many had the managing

That they lost France and made his England bleed,

Which oft our stage hath shown; and for their sake,

In your fair minds let this acceptance take.

The Epilogue of Henry V

Yes, Henry died shortly after marrying the adorable princess Katharine of France. While he was away at battle, he died of a battlefield disease. For a while, a lot of people thought it was battlefield dysentery, but now historians are starting to think he actually died of cancer.

I mean, honestly, you think dysentery killed Henry V? Are we reading the same play?

Katharine gave birth to their son while he was away, so he never actually was able to see the heir to England’s throne. It’s actually quite a sad story after his victory. He was only thirty-six years old when he died. If I ever make it to England, I want to go to Westminster Abbey, which is where he was buried in 1422.

Well, everyone, there it is! Another spotlight post! I am going to archive this in the story spotlight page so you can go check it out whenever you want to – I hope you enjoyed this! Please feel free to like, share, comment, and subscribe – it means a lot.

If you have any further thoughts to share, please do so! Oh, and here is the link to the website I quoted earlier:

There was honestly so much more I wanted to talk about in this play, but I just couldn’t. I mean, the current word count is 4,303! Wow, I think this might be the longest post I’ve ever written. Definitely longer than my end of term Othello essay I had to write in the spring.

And that was looooooong.

In short, my friends, take up the challenge put before us by our King. Let us follow Him bravely into all of the challenges He faces with us – for He always proves victorious. In a way, Harry’s soldiers faced more of a risk than we do: they were not guaranteed victory…we are. Our King has already defeated our enemy.

In your fair minds let this acceptance take!!!

Emily the First 😛 (thought I’d get a little Tudorish on you)

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