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Theatre: Henry V
"This star of England..."

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
[...]
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge,
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'"
King Henry V , Henry V III.i

Henry V (or to give its full original title, The Chronicle Historie of Henry the fift: with his battel fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auncient Pistoll.) is a play by William Shakespeare, in which Henry V (the former Prince Hal from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2) goes and beats the French. Then marries one of them.

Expect that speech to be quoted by someone when England has a major sporting match. Well, one of two:
  • There's "Once More Unto the Breach" (III.i), as quoted at the top of the page, in which Henry encourages his troops to make one more great effort to overwhelm the defences of Harfleur.
  • Then there's "Saint Crispin's Day" (IV.iii), Henry's big speech before the climactic Battle of Agincourt, at which he draws a Line in the Sand and calls his soldiers a Band of Brothers.

Expect varying interpretations when this play is performed — it's debated whether it's pro- or anti-war...or a character study.

Henry V has been adapted twice in film: the first in 1944 by Laurence Olivier, the second in 1989 by Kenneth Branagh (featuring BRIAN BLESSED). There is also the 2012 BBC version with Tom Hiddleston as Henry as part of The Hollow Crown series.

The plot structure is the template for just about every war movie ever made.


This play and the filmed productions contain examples of:

  • Adorkable: Harry, when he's with Katherine. He goes from eloquent battle commander and king to stammering schoolboy in her presence.
  • All for Nothing: The final lines remind us that Henry VI would undo all his father's accomplishments in gaining rule over France, however impressive they were.
  • All-Star Cast: The 1989 film reads rather like a "Who's Who of British Acting", with names like Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, BRIAN BLESSED, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Ian Holm, Christian Bale and Robbie Coltrane on the list.
  • Back for the Dead: The play kills off all the low-life characters from Henry IV except Poins (who does not appear) and Pistol (the Sole Survivor). Falstaff's Page may survive, but some productions make him a victim of the baggage train massacre.
  • Band of Brothers: Trope Namer
  • Bilingual Bonus: The French princess and her nurse have a lengthy conversation in untranslated French in which the princess tries to find out the English words for different parts of the body. The sole point of this is to set up two extremely dirty puns: the resemblance in pronunciation of "foot" to "foutre" ("fuck" in French) and "gown" to "con" (French for "cunt").
  • Bittersweet Ending: Henry has a glorious victory at Agincourt and it appears his marriage to Princess Catherine will be a happy one; yet two of the comic relief characters are dead and the remaining one has lost his wife, forcing him to become a pimp and thief. And then the chorus reminds us that in only a few short years after the play's conclusion, Henry would be dead and all his accomplishments would be undone: the Hundred Years' War would continue with his son losing the claim to France, and the civil war that marred Henry IV's reign would return as the Wars of the Roses.
  • Breather Episode: In a way. Richard II and the two Henry IVs are full of internal strife and civil war. The three Henry VIs and Richard III are about internal strife and civil war. In between them is Henry V's triumphant romp in France with his "band of brothers."
  • Britain Is Only London: Averted — significantly in that, historically, it was an English army that marched to Agincourt; Shakespeare ignores this to throw in the Scots, Welsh, and Irish contingents. At the time, Scotland was actually allied with France, and even more extremely, Ireland was in the middle of a very nasty rebellion, effectively making Macmorris a Token Enemy Minority.
    • Although it should be noted that Welshmen fought on the side of England during this time period, and that many Irish and Scotsmen were mercenaries, so their inclusion, whilst historically inaccurate, is not historically implausible.
    • And also that the strength of the Welsh bowman is famously given as part of the reason for the victory at Agincourt.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Henry feels the weight of his responsibility, particularly after going King Incognito and hearing what his soldiers really think about his French campaign.
  • Composite Character: Some of the roles in the Branagh production, such as the French ambassador or an English herald, were given to the French herald Montjoy.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Fluellen's response to getting dissed is to smack Pistol around, and then make him eat a leek. Some performances have him smacked around with said leek.
    • To explain: earlier in the play, Fluellen wears a leek in his hat in observance of St. Davy's Day, apparently a Welsh tradition at the time. Pistol had - along with other insults - suggested that Fluellen eat his leek. Later, when St. Davy's Day is past, it's Pistol who ends up eating the leek.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: "Though it appear a little out of fashion, there is much care and valour in this Welshman."
  • Darker and Edgier: A whole bunch of comic characters from the previous two plays are brought in and killed off.
  • Darwinist Desire: Hal tells Catherine "thou must therefore needs prove a good soldier breeder."
  • Determinator: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: Just how is Henry entitled to the French throne, again? Played as straight-up comedy in the Olivier version; the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Branagh version, by contrast, delivers the "clear as the summer's sun" line with considerable irony. (The line is technically meant to introduce the Archbishop's summary of the preceding speech, which actually is pretty clear.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Henry uses the French prince's mocking gift of tennis balls as an excuse to declare war.
    • Well, not exactly. He already had given some reasons (one of them being an extremely convoluted explanation as to why he's the rightful heir to the French throne) and was considering doing it; the tennis balls were just the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Dork Knight: Depending on how the actor plays it, Henry becomes this when wooing Katherine. Especially when he tries to speak French.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Falstaff.
    • Falstaff's page offhandedly mentions that Nim has been hanged for theft sometime before Agincourt.
    • Mistress Quickly and Bardolph also die offstage.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Catherine of Valois was actually rather attractive in real life.
  • A Father to His Men: Though Henry is specifically and significantly a brother rather than a father.
  • French Jerk: The Dauphin, quite possibly the Ur Example. Some productions, particularly modern ones wishing to undermine the play's jingoism, work against this characterization.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Irish, Scottish, and Welsh soldiers in the English forces, who also form a Five-Token Band.
  • Gender-Neutral Narrator: The Chorus's gender is never specified, though in Elizabethan times women weren't allowed onstage.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The scene in Act IV when Pistol tells the young interpreter that he will rape the French soldier named "Master Fer! I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret him". Of course, the word "firk" sounds like the other "F word", almost like a Precision F-Strike according to Cracked.com. Also, the example given under Bilingual Bonus counts as this as well.
  • The Ghost: For a character who dies without ever appearing onstage, Falstaff comes up quite often. This is largely because he was a major reason for the popularity of the Henry IV plays; the epilogue to 2 Henry IV even promises he'll appear in the sequel.
  • Greek Chorus: The aptly named Chorus, whose function is to explain background historical context and plead for appropriate Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Hollywood Darkness: How the King Incognito scenes are usually shot, with varying believability.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: After working quite hard to woo the non-English-speaking Katherine, Henry finally seems to get some agreement out of her upon which he tries to kiss her hand and actually says "I kiss your hand." When she doesn't let him do that, he lets loose another volley of charm that does the trick: she lets him kiss her lips.
  • Indecisive Medium: Both film adaptations used this trope.
    • The Laurence Olivier version looks like an Elizabethan-era performance of Henry V; at the beginning, we get to see some glimpses of the backstage. As the film goes on, it gets less and less theatrical, presumably corresponding to the audience's increased immersion in the plot.
    • The Kenneth Branagh version has The Prologue - which is about making theater magic by suspending your disbelief over the people prancing about on stage are pretending to be the real Henry V etc. - is said in an empty soundstage. Then at the very end: "Who, Prologue-like, your humble patience pray / Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play!" and he throws open some doors showing a production utilizing the hyperrealism of film.
  • Informed Deformity / Historical Beauty Update: Henry goes out of his way to apologize to Catherine for his looks, as if he's some sort of gargoyle. Yet he's generally depicted as good-looking (if perhaps dressed more plainly than the French). This is what he looked like on film/tv: 1944, 1989, and 2012. Clearly, a "face not worth sunburning."
    • In real life, he did have facial scars from the battle of Shrewsbury, where he (not even joking) took an arrow to the face. It's the reason his royal portrait is one of the few (or possibly only) in profile.
  • Its Pronounced Tropay: In the French of Shakespeare's time, oi was pronounced "way" rather than "wah", and in the time the play is set, the French had yet to start dropping the final vowels.
  • King Incognito: Henry disguises himself as a common soldier.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Spectacularly done in the prologue, as the Chorus relates the impossibility of properly representing a battle on stage, then attempts to inspire the audience to fill in the gaps itself.
    • Subverted in the two film versions - the prologue is left in place, and then the Battle of Agincourt is shown in all its glory...or horror
    • After a tangled explanation of Henry's claim to the French throne, the Archbishop of Canterbury says, "So that, as clear as is the summer's sun."
      • Lampshaded still further in the Olivier film, when the actor playing the Archbishop tries to read the explanation off a mass of papers, inevitably gets lost, and the papers somehow end up all over the stage with at least a third of actors searching for the right one on their knees so they can finish the damn thing. When the archbishop beatifically declares "clear as the summer sun" line, they all look at each other in an "are you kidding me" way.
      • What makes it even more ironic is that (as Henry alludes to in his soliloquy before the Battle of Agincourt where he's wracked with guilt about poor King Richard II) he's actually the son of a usurper - far from being the rightful king of France, he's not even the rightful king of England.
  • Large Ham: King Henry.
  • Line in the Sand: Albeit rhetoric rather than a genuine offer: Henry offers any of his soldiers who are afraid safe conduct home and back pay; he would not wish to die in the company of cowards. Then he winds up for "Saint Crispin's Day" and nobody moves.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Possibly Harry.
  • Moment Killer: The re-entrance of the French king is often played as this at the end of the wooing scene.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the battle at Harfleur and Henry's savage threat, which gets the governor to surrender, the audience is treated to the French princess Katherine in her dressing room happily chatting with her lady-in-waiting about the English language since she will probably be married to the English king. She learns super important vocabulary like "elbow" and ultimately, the entire sequence is a set up for a dirty pun. In Branagh's version the scene whiplashes again as Katherine, in high spirits and gleeful giggles at saying a naughty word, throws open her door to see the French king and the dauphin on their way to a war council. If she truly is to marry the English king, it will be because he has defeated her father and brother. Emma Thompson's face says it all.
    • The happy scene of Henry and Katherine's betrothal is followed by the Chorus' reminder that Henry would die young, and his son would lose France and "make his England bleed." The BBC version underscores this by going straight from betrothal to funeral.
    • Captain Fluellen and Gower return to find the baggage train raided and all the boys in the camp slaughtered. They talk about how horrible this is for about half a minute, then launch into a debate about whether Henry is like Alexander the Great. Also about how he turned Falstaff away. Then Henry comes in with his 'I was not angry since I came to France until this instant'. Both film productions understandably cut the part between discovering the boys had been killed and Henry's anger, as there is a time and a place for discussing Alexander, and mourning over slaughtered children is not it.
  • Moral Dissonance: Before the final attack on Harfleur, Henry delivers the rousing "Once more unto the breach" speech. Yay! But after the battle, he threatens the governor of Harfleur with what he and his soldiers will do if the governor doesn't surrender, including the (graphically described) rape of virgins, the bashing of elderly fathers' heads against the walls and "your naked infants spitted upon pikes." Not exactly "on, on you noblest English." Olivier omits this speech entirely, and Branagh leaves out huge chunks and then makes it obvious it was all an empty threat- The Hollow Crown version with Hiddleston, on the other hand, says the whole thing word for word.
    • Also, after the adorkable wooing scene with Katherine, Henry and Burgundy exchange some mildly dirty Double Entendre remarks about her, while she is still standing right there, and Henry knows very well she doesn't understand what he's saying. Some productions leave this out entirely.
  • Numbered Sequels: To Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2
  • Oh Crap: Williams when he realizes who he challenged to fight. Luckily the king appreciated his true opinions, and gives him gold for his troubles
  • Oireland: With Macmorris, perhaps the Ur Example.
  • The Oner: Both Oliver and Branagh feature an impressive long single shot: the charge of the French cavalry to begin the battle of Agincourt in Olivier's, and the king's slow walk through death and mud at the end of the same battle in Branagh's.
    • Also both films feature the scene at Eastcheap where Mistress Quickly tells of Falstaff's death as one long shot. They're both quite touching.
  • Original Position Gambit: Henry asks the nobles plotting against him what he should do to someone who's committed treason. When they say he should execute traitors, he agrees — and executes them.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Henry as common soldier again.
  • Picture Perfect Presentation: This is how Olivier makes his transition from the filmed-play portion to the cinematic story.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: A scene before Agincourt has some French soldiers bickering in proverbs.
  • Real-Life Relative: Branagh cast wife (at the time) Emma Thompson as Catherine.
  • Rule of Funny: In real life Henry would have been able (at the very least) to speak that era's version of French, since it was still the offical language for many aspects of the king's rule, including the language of government and the king's personal correspondance - but it's much funnier to watch him attempt to court Katherine in the broken forms of both their languages.
    • This is actually slightly Truth in Television — while Henry V spoke French, yes, he and his father were the first English kings since the Norman Conquest that didn't speak French as their native tongue.
  • Rousing Speech: "Once more into the breach" and "St. Crispin's Day". Boy, did Shakespeare deliver.
  • Sad Battle Music: Used during the Battle of Agincourt in the Branagh version.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Archbishop of Canterbury, when explaining the validity of Henry's claim to the French throne. It's often played solely for comedy, but Shakespeare was also reminding his audience that Henry's claim to the English throne was almost as weak (Henry's father had been a usurper). It is entirely possible that Shakespeare took Henry’s claim absolutely seriously; after all, Elizabeth still quartered the arms of France on the royal escutcheon.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Falstaff again.
  • Sue Donym: While Henry's going King Incognito:
    Pistol: What is thy name?
    Henry: Harry Le Roy.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: Lampshaded in The Prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V in the trope pages title quote.
  • Take Our Word for It: The Chorus in the prologue asks the audience to imagine Lord of the Rings style battles when they only see two dudes duking it out on stage.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: "I was not angry since I came to France/Until this instant" from King Henry, after he sees English horsemen hanging back from the battle at Agincourt. Note that Shakespeare was notorious for this; he had to make it obvious so the audience would know what was going on, thanks to the theatrical style of the day.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Played with and somewhat averted. Henry goes wandering about camp hooded and cloaked—effectively in disguise—to figure out not just the morale of his men, but more or less whether or not they feel his cause his a just one and therefore worth all the trouble and bloodshed that has occurred, and will occur in the future. While his dialogue held with Pistol is one held at length from each other, it's easy to let this mild facade slide. A modern audience might have a few more questions when it comes to the fact that, after drawing attention to himself in trying to pass unnoticed (and failing utterly), he sits down with several foot soldiers and no one seems to recognize his voice, or even the outline of his face. Hooded cloak aside, you'd think they'd recognize him and just play along or bow down immediately. But considering the poor capability of communications even in Shakespeare's time, to say nothing of the actual Henry V's, the scene still makes perfect sense; the soldiers present have only seen Henry on horseback, in full armor and regalia, and only heard his voice as he was screaming at the top of his lungs. In both Shakespearean and Medieval times, you were LUCKY if you ever even HEARD the monarch's real, "I'm talking normally now" voice, much less one held quietly in a military camp, and even MORE lucky if you even know what the monarch really looked like at face value up close. The only other possible modern nitpick is that Henry could walk about the camp hooded and cloaked without impediment, and is given allowance simply by being able to say who he's lead by in the army when asked, without being asked further questions or given due skepticism. This is historical accuracy of the time integrated into (relatively speaking) fiction of the time at work: back then, only a man in that army would be able to speak English that well, on demand and under pressure, and have such immediate knowledge of those in commanding positions at the same time. Hooded cloak or not, even creeping about reality would have such a man more likely be a: a deserter, b: a thief wandering about camp for goods to snatch, or c: someone looking for a private place to "do business." Medieval armies were horribly insecure by modern standards, and this play shows it well.
  • Those Two Guys: Fluellen and Gower.
  • Tranquil Fury: Henry's reaction to receiving the tennis balls.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: Henry plays this rhetorical card while wooing Katherine. Though he does have a point — he is (in this play anyway) more soldier than diplomat and the Rousing Speech is an entirely different rhetorical animal than wooing a lady. If done well, Henry's awkward in such a cute way.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The scene between Katherine and her maid, where the dialogue is entirely in French. No important information is conveyed in the scene, at least, but many unilingual audience-members won't know that.
  • War Is Hell / War Is Glorious: Depending on the interpretation - modern adaptations tend to go with the former, though a notable exception was Olivier in 1944, in which the play was presented as a glorious British resistance against an evil foreign empire. No prizes for guessing why.
  • Warrior Prince: Henry himself, of course.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Williams points out the king's responsibility for the horrors of war; when Henry confronts him later and threatens to punish his sedition, Williams points out that he shouldn't have been wandering around in disguise if he didn't want to hear the truth from his soldiers.

Henry IV Part 2Classic TheatreHenry VI
Henry IVHistorical FictionHenry VI
Henry IV Part 2Theatrical ProductionsHenry VI
The Best Years of Our LivesAcademy AwardIt's a Wonderful Life
Henry IV Part 2Creator/William ShakespeareHenry VI

alternative title(s): Henry V; Henry V
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