Review: Henry V

Posted 22 May, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 5 Comments

Henry V
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

“Henry V” is based on the life of King Henry V of England, and focuses on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years’ War. The play is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by “Richard II”, “Henry IV”, part 1 and “Henry IV”, part 2. The plot follows the young prince (a reckless and undisciplined character in “Henry IV”) as he matures into a man and embarks on an attempted conquest of France.

And here we are, at the final play of Shakespeare’s tetralogy. Technically this isn’t the last for me per se as I still have to go back and finish reading “Richard II”, but it was nice to read this before I got around to watching the final episode of The Hollow Crown (*tear*) But anyway, here I am reviewing this play 🙂

This book is part of the William Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

I found “Henry V” to be quite different compared to the previous plays in this tetralogy: there is a chorus at the beginning of each act, which set the stage for what was going to happen in the act. It took some getting used to, but it was a good bridge between acts. The plot is pretty straightforward: the Henry V that we are introduced to in this play is nowhere near the guy he was at the start of Henry IV. He carries himself with a sense of regal authority and he is focused on waging war against France. Thematically it’s not as interesting as some of the other plays, but unlike Henry IV, part 2 (review) it didn’t bore me so much as well.

The St. Crispin’s Day speech, as many have probably read elsewhere, is quite a moving, rallying speech, and it was nice to finally read the play in its entirety to know where this speech came from. I first read a small portion of this speech from the beginning page of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers but the entire speech is quite a rousing and memorable one (the following is just the latter portion of the whole oration):

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
– Act IV, Scene iii, 18 – 67

Overall, my reading of Henry V fared better than the previous play in this tetralogy. As I said, it’s pretty straightforward story-wise. I look forward to watching the adaptation as I think it will probably be better to see the play as opposed to just reading it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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5 Responses to “Review: Henry V”

  1. I’ve seen the Kenneth Branaugh version of this, which is really good. I haven’t seen The Hollow Crown productions yet but I’m betting they’re really great also. I’ve always enjoyed the Crispian’s day speech and the opening chorus. The conversation between the princess and her maid is hilarious as well as the conversation between Henry and the princess. I actually haven’t read this one yet… soon. 🙂

    • I never knew that Kenneth Branaugh made an adaptation of this play! Will have to check that out.

      lol, how could I have forgotten the conversation between the princess and her maid? That was a nice break from all of the serious battle preparation scenes 🙂

  2. I know that the St. Crispin’s Day speech seems to be the most famous part of this play, but I can’t help but have a special fondness for the final act when Henry proposes. It’s too funny for words. You absolutely must see the Kenneth Brannagh version–I thought I was going to fall out of my chair laughing when I watched him act that scene. It’s just, poor Henry is so good on the battlefield, so eloquent in getting his men to follow him and then he faces a woman and he’s supposed to speech the language of love and he’s at a total loss. He’s all, um, well, can’t we just shake hands on it then? Partners? And the princess? “That is not how you propose, Henry! Try again! (Though secretly I think you are adorable).” ;b

  3. I really like Henry V; I think this is partly because I saw an amazing production of it ages ago with Adrian Lester as Henry. It was during or just after the Iraq War and in modern dress so it all felt very relevant. I think it’s one of the better of the histories; I like how Shakespeare shows Henry wrestling with the public and private, and the whole “feared or loved” thing. And his rubbish French.

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