Henry V - "The play's aim is to celebrate heroic actions under a heroic King"

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Henry V

Henry V is a play written by William Shakespeare around the year 1591.

Henry V is based on the real campaign that King Henry V of England led into France in 1415 for the French crown, Henry accomplished some great victories during this campaign, the most notable being the Siege of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt. The siege lasted around a month until the French surrendered, and then came the Battle of Agincourt. This is well documented in Shakespeare’s Henry V, although dramatised. It was such an astonishing feat because the English were outnumbered somewhere between 2-1 and 5-1.

Something that is generally forgotten these days is that in the times Shakespeare wrote the play, it was always performed on stage in front of a large audience. Going to the theatre to watch plays, cockfights and bear baiting were considered to be the main forms of entertainment in those days. People of all different classes went to see Shakespeare’s plays, and they were performed at The Globe Theatre in London. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt several years ago after being burned down centuries ago. Shakespeare’s plays were a lot more famous in the days of Shakespeare.

The play of Henry V is divided into 5 acts with several scenes in each, as was the traditional style. It begins with Henry deliberating on whether to attack France in Act 1. In this act he receives an insulting gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin of France, Henry believes this to mean that the Dauphin does not consider Henry as a challenge in battle. This is an insult to Henry’s pride, and he decides to go to war. This shows us that Henry is headstrong and proud; he refuses to let someone insult him and get away with it.  Act 2 is about Henry showing up traitors in his army, and some other characters called Bardolph, Nym and Pistol. They are poor, thieving lowlifes that decide to join the army to profit from the war. The French organise their defences. Act 3 is the Siege of Harfleur, Act 4 the Battle of Agincourt and it’s build-up. Nym and Bardolph are hanged. Act 5 is about Henry asking for Katherine’s hand in marriage and a brief scene with Fluellen, an English Captain, and Pistol.

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Chorus is a vital part of the play, at the beginning of each Act there is an ‘iambic pentameter’ of writing to introduce you to what’s going on. Iambic pentameter was a popular style of writing at the time, it is complicated but the basic principle is that it is written with weak and strong syllables following each other alternately for a certain length of writing. This is an example taken from Wikipedia.com:

da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM

(weak STRONG / weak STRONG / weak STRONG / weak STRONG / weak STRONG)

Shall I com - PARE thee TO a SUM mer's ...

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