Henry V: A Guide to the Play

Henry V: A Guide to the Play

Henry V: A Guide to the Play

Henry V: A Guide to the Play


Henry V is a complex and challenging Shakespearean play that rewards detailed study. Following Kenneth Branagh's critically acclaimed 1989 film, the play's popularity has increased among both general readers and students. This comprehensive introductory guide provides a full overview of all aspects of the work.


Image patterns are often a clue to a play's underlying concerns. In Henry V the garden metaphor sets ordered fertility against disorderly chaos; images of blood (symbolizing both familial ties and violent destruction) project a multifaceted concept of war; and the extended personification of "ceremony" in the King's troubled soliloquy before Agincourt expands on the key issue of kingship. These three central themes--the importance of order in the nation, the ambivalence of war, and the challenging nature of kingship--emerge from the play's development of plot and character as well as its language.

As might be predicted in a play that Shakespeare wrote only a year or two before Hamlet, the treatment of these themes is complex; Henry V offers no straightforward celebration of the King and his military mission. The play raises questions rather than providing clear answers. Is it possible to achieve lasting unity in the state of England, or do currents of disorder inevitably destabilize this society? Can war against another nation ever be justified, and is it always a mixture of the vile and the heroic? What is the nature of kingship? Must the successful monarch combine the expediency of a Machiavel with the virtues of a Christian? These issues develop in dialectical fashion.


While the key dramatic topics are clear enough--order, war, and kingship--readers or directors of the play may differ in their interpretation of how these topics are handled in the drama, and thus how they build into fully articulated themes. "Order" is a case in point. The topic is introduced . . .

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