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Critical Analysis of Henry V

Henry V is informed by two sources, an earlier play entitled, “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth” and Raphael Hollinshed’s chronicles, celebrating the greatness of England.

In Henry IV part two, Henry V formerly known as Prince Hal was advised by his father to become aggressive to foreign lands. In this play, King Henry V in support of the church and his noblemen, decides to invade France like his ancestors did, in order to take back French lands previously acquired by England, but which France won back. After a trade of words with the Dauphin of France, King Henry mobilised English forces to realise his dream in concrete terms. In spite of the boastings of the Dauphin and French large army, the English with small but determined soldiers were able to overrun France. France paid stipulated tributes to England, including the French Princess Katherine being taken as King Henry’s wife.

The play shows that victory is not easily won. This informs the high level preparation by the two countries. In fact, as part of the military stratagems, the English king has to disguise in order to know how prepared his soldiers are, what their problems are and how to address them.

Henry V is full of nationalistic feelings. Indeed, it is a drama aimed at imbuing the English people with high spirit of nationalism. In the play, Shakespeare shows what an ideal hero – king should be. In his disguise, King Henry inspires the English soldiers with the feeling of togetherness, unity and brotherhood. He possesses a very charming personality and vast knowledge of military stratagems. He is interested in justice and does not break agreements.

A very prominent quality of King Henry V is that he is a powerful and motivational speaker. As an inspirational speaker:

Henry V utilises his uncanny rhetorical skill to manipulate friends and foes alike with ruthless determination, yet a compassionate nature to successfully portray a good king as well as a good man. King Henry V comes across as a dependable young man whose commanding qualities of leadership were necessary to stabilize the nation (From bookrags).

The king has a great sense of human worth and value for life. He is loved by his troops for identifying with them individually and collectively. He is willing to fight alone; even willing to fight unto death than bring shame on England. He is able to conquer France with small and weather-beaten soldiers through deft military stratagem and especially through motivational speeches and encouragement. In fact, the emphasis is on Henry V as an ideal king. Downer (1950) in describing the total effect of the play states that:

The effect is that of a kind of patriotic hymn to the power of a victoriously united country. If the Dauphin taunts Henry with his gift of tennis – balls, Henry’s equally taunting reply is followed by the more effective gift of cannon-balls. If the French can outnumber the English on the field, the English cannot outfight them; nor does Shakespeare hesitate to appeal to nationalistic sentiments by quoting at length comparative casualty lists.


Shakespeare’s chronicle plays examine the nature of leadership with emphasis on English historical past. They portray both the negative and the positive characteristics of leadership using various English kings for illustration. In this thematic antithesis, Shakespeare illuminates the concept of degree and order which has so much occupied him throughout his career.

This article examines the nature of historical or chronicle play. It specifically explains Shakespeare’s chronicle play and its characteristics. The play, Henry V is analysed as an example of Shakespeare’s concept of an ideal and democratic ruler.


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