Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Male Interaction

There are almost no women in Henry V. Catherine is the only female character to be given many lines or presented in the domestic sphere, and most of her lines are in French. With this absence of women and the play’s focus on the all-male activity of medieval warfare, the play presents many types of male relationships. The relationships between various groups of men—Fluellen and Gower; Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym; and the French lords—mirror and echo one another in various ways. The cowardice of the Eastcheap group is echoed in the cowardice of the French lords, for instance. Perhaps more important, these male friendships all draw attention to another aspect of Henry’s character: his isolation from other people. Unlike most of the play’s other male characters, Henry seems to have no close friends, another characteristic that makes the life of a king fundamentally different from the life of a common citizen.


Henry V is a play that features characters from many different national and social backgrounds, and the various linguistic, cultural, and class differences frequently lead to mockery. In most cases, mockery serves to exacerbate tensions between different groups of people. We see this in action in the many scenes among the French nobles, when they make fun of the English for their dreary weather, rusted armor, and haggard horses. The French mock the English as a way of establishing their own superiority. Yet their mockery also contributes to their overconfidence, which in turn leads to their defeat at the Battle of Agincourt. In this way, mockery can easily turn against the mocker, as predicted by King Henry after he receives the chest of tennis balls the Dauphin sent to mock him. He warns the French ambassador that “for many a thousand widows / Shall this [the Dauphin’s] mock mock out of their dear husbands, / Mock mothers from their sons, [and] mock castles down” (1.2.297–300). Whereas mockery amplifies tensions throughout the play’s first four acts, the final act—and especially the wooing scene between Henry and Catherine—features many examples of gentle mockery that serve to calm tensions and work toward peace.

Animal References

References to animals abound throughout Henry V. Characters frequently rely on animal images as metaphors for describing people from other social classes of national groups. For instance, the Bishop of Ely refers the English as an “eagle,” whose nest the “weasel Scot” will attempt to pillage while their armies are in France, thus “playing the mouse in absence of the cat” (1.2.176–79). Elsewhere, other characters speak at length about crows, honeybees, horses, lions, tigers, and so on. But no animal is more omnipresent in Henry V than dogs, references to which typically appear in insults. For instance, the Bishop of Canterbury refers to the Scots as “dogs” against whom the English must defend themselves (1.2.226). Later, Pistol insults Nym, first by calling him an “Iceland dog,” and later by referring to him as the “hound of Crete” (2.1.42, 73). Henry likens traitors to “dogs [loosed] upon their masters” (2.2.89). The Dauphin refers to the English as “coward dogs” (2.4.74). These and many other references demonstrate various ways in which people dehumanize others by associating them with the behaviors of supposedly base animals.