Henry V: Synopsis

Remembering the advice of his father, King Henry IV, the new king, Henry V, decides to divert his subjects from domestic rebellion by engaging them in a foreign war. With the collusion of the archbishop of Canterbury, he lays what he considers to be a legitimate claim to the French crown. The dauphin recalls Henry’s past life as a worthless libertine and replies to his claim with a contemptuous gift of tennis balls. Henry’s answer to this insult is to prepare for war. In fear of an invasion, the French make an unsuccessful attempt on Henry’s life.

Sir John Falstaff, Henry’s former drinking buddy, dies as his heart is broken by Henry’s rejection of him. Falstaff’s bar mates Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph join the kings forces in France, where Nym and Bardolph are hung as thieves. Only Pistol returns safely to England.

Henry successfully attacks Harfleur and Calais and prepares to meet the main French force at Agincourt. He and his troops realize they are heavily outnumbered. The night before the battle, he visits his men disguised as a common soldier in order to test their loyalty. In the morning, dressed again as the king, he delivers a rousing speech to his troops.

The French, led by the boastful dauphin, predict an easy victory, but it is Henry’s leadership and careful battle strategy that prevail. The French are dressed in heavy armor and are no match for their lighter and more agile opponents on a field that is deep in mud. The battle of Agincourt is fought with great loss of French life but almost no casualties to the British. The French are forced to sue for peace through the Duke of Burgundy, who is sympathetic to the British cause. As the unarguable victor, Henry woos Katherine, the daughter of the French king. With the marriage, the dauphin is disinherited and Henry is made heir to the throne of France.


From Shakespeare Genealogies by Vanessa James