Full title   The Life of King Henry the Fifth

Author  William Shakespeare

Type of work  Play

Genre  History play

Language  English

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 14141415

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.