full title The Life of King Henry the Fifth
author William Shakespeare
type of work Play
genre History play
time and place written Probably 1599, London
date of first publication 1600 (in quarto), 1623 (in folio)
tone Though there are moments of comedy, the overall tone of the play is elevated and serious, celebrating the intense personal charisma of Henry and the bloody military conflict between England and France.
setting (time) Around 1414–1415
settings (place) London, at the royal palace and the Boar’s Head Tavern; various locales in France, including the battlefields of Harfleur and Agincourt and Charles VI’s court
protagonist Henry V
major conflict Henry leads an English army to invade and conquer France. The outcome of this war will prove whether or not Henry has put aside his wild youth and become an effective ruler, and whether he has the moral authority of a legitimate king—in other words, whether or not God is on his side.
rising action Using Canterbury’s explanation of Salic law as justification, Henry lays claim to France, but the French mock Henry’s kingship and authority by sending him tennis balls as a token of his idle youth. Infuriated, Henry launches an invasion of France, putting his political aims above his personal ties and therefore showing no favoritism or leniency to his former friends.
climax Before the Battle of Agincourt, in Act IV, Henry’s delivers his impassioned St. Crispin’s Day speech, emphasizing his unity with his subjects and his total commitment to the glory of England and the justice of his cause.
falling action The English victory at Agincourt is so lopsided that it seems like an act of God, making Henry one of the most famous and successful kings in English history. Henry is betrothed to Catherine and becomes heir of the French throne.
themes The ruthlessness of the good king; the diversity of the English
motifs Male interaction; parallels between rulers and commoners; war imagery
symbols The tun of tennis balls; characters as cultural types
foreshadowing Henry’s grim comments to the French ambassador about the havoc he will wreak in France foreshadow the English slaughter of the French at Agincourt.