Henry V

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"This star of England..."

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge,

Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'"
King Henry V , Henry V III.i

Henry V (or to give its full original title, The Chronicle Historie of Henry the fift: with his battel fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auncient Pistoll.) is a play by William Shakespeare, in which Henry V (the former Prince Hal from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2) goes and beats the French. Then marries one of them.

Expect that speech to be quoted by someone when England has a major sporting match. Well, one of two:

  • There's "Once More Unto the Breach" (III.i), as quoted at the top of the page, in which Henry encourages his troops to make one more great effort to overwhelm the defences of Harfleur.
  • Then there's "Saint Crispin's Day" (IV.iii), Henry's big speech before the climactic Battle of Agincourt, at which he draws a Line in the Sand and calls his soldiers a Band of Brothers.

Expect varying interpretations when this play is performed -- it's debated whether it's pro- or anti-war.

Henry V has been adapted twice in film: the first in 1944 by Laurence Olivier, the second in 1989 by Kenneth Branagh (featuring Brian Blessed!).

The plot structure is the template for just about every war movie ever made.

Henry V is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Henry V include:
  • All for Nothing: The final lines remind us that Henry VI would undo all his father's accomplishments in gaining rule over France, however impressive they were.
  • All-Star Cast: The 1989 film reads rather like a "Who's Who of British Acting", with names like Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Ian Holm, Christian Bale and Robbie Coltrane on the list.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The French princess and her nurse have a long Double Entendre conversation in French based upon their misunderstandings of English. The best part is that the pun works (or at least makes sense -- foutre means "to fuck" with a heavy French accent), especially since the entire scene exists mostly as an excuse for that pun.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Henry has a glorious victory at Agincourt and it appears his marriage to Princess Catherine will be a happy one; yet two of the comic relief characters are dead and the remaining one has lost his wife, forcing him to become a pimp and thief. And then the chorus reminds us that all of Henry's accomplishments meant very little in a historical sense, as the Hundred Years' War would continue with his son losing the claim to France all over again.
  • Britain Is Only London: Averted -- significantly in that, historically, it was an English army that marched to Agincourt; Shakespeare ignores this to throw in the Scots, Welsh, and Irish contingents. At the time, Scotland was actually allied with France, and even more extremely, Ireland was in the middle of a very nasty rebellion, effectively making Macmorris a Token Enemy Minority.
    • Although it should be noted that Welshmen fought in English during much of the time period, and that many Irish and Scotsmen were mercenaries, so their inclusion, whilst historically inaccurate, is not historically implausible.
  • Composite Character: Some of the roles in the Branagh production, such as the French ambassador or an English herald, were given to the French herald Montjoy.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Fluellen's response to getting dissed is to smack Pistol around, and then make him eat a leek. Some performances have him smacked around with said leek.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: "Though it appear a little out of fashion, there is much care and valour in this Welshman."
  • Darker and Edgier: A whole bunch of comic characters from the previous two plays are brought in and killed off.
  • Determinator: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: Just how is Henry entitled to the French throne, again? Played as straight-up comedy in the Olivier version; the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Branagh version, by contrast, delivers the "clear as the summer's sun" line with considerable irony.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Henry uses the French prince's mocking gift of tennis balls as an excuse to declare war.
    • Well, not exactly. He already had given some reasons (one of them being an extremely convoluted explanation as to why he's the rightful heir to the French throne) and was considering doing it; the tennis balls were just the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Falstaff.
    • Falstaff's page offhandedly mentions that Nim has been hanged for theft sometime before Agincourt.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Catherine of Valois was actually rather attractive in real life.
  • A Father to His Men: Though Henry is specifically and significantly a brother rather than a father.
  • French Jerk: The Dauphin, quite possibly the Ur Example. Some productions, particularly modern ones wishing to undermine the play's jingoism, work against this characterization.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Irish, Scottish, and Welsh soldiers in the English forces, who also form a Five-Token Band.
  • Gender Neutral Narrator: The Chorus's gender is never specified, though in Elizabethan times a female version would have been very strange.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The scene in Act IV when Pistol tells the young interpreter that he will rape the French soldier named "Master Fer! I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret him". Of course, the word "firk" sounds like the other "F word", almost like a Precision F-Strike according to Cracked.com.
  • The Ghost: For a character who dies without ever appearing onstage, Falstaff comes up quite often.
  • Greek Chorus: The aptly named Chorus, whose function is to explain background historical context and plead for appropriate Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Indecisive Medium: Both film adaptations used this trope.
    • The Laurence Olivier version looks like an Elizabethan-era performance of Henry V; at the beginning, we get to see some glimpses of the backstage. As the film goes on, it gets less and less theatrical, presumably corresponding to the audience's increased immersion in the plot.
    • The Kenneth Branagh version has The Prologue - which is about making theater magic by suspending your disbelief over the people prancing about on stage are pretending to be the real Henry V etc. - is said in an empty soundstage. Then at the very end: "Who, Prologue-like, your humble patience pray / Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play!" and he throws open some doors showing a production utilizing the hyperrealism of film.
  • Informed Deformity: Henry goes out of his way to apologize to Catherine for his looks, as if he's some sort of gargoyle. Yet he's generally depicted as good-looking (if perhaps dressed more plainly than the French).
  • King Incognito: Henry disguises himself as a common soldier.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Spectacularly done in the prologue, as the Chorus relates the impossibility of properly representing a battle on stage, then attempts to inspire the audience to fill in the gaps itself.
    • Subverted in the two film versions - the prologue is left in place, and then the Battle of Agincourt is shown in all its glory...or horror
    • After a tangled explanation of Henry's claim to the French throne, the Archbishop of Canterbury says, "So that, as clear as is the summer's sun."
      • Lampshaded still further in the Olivier film, when the actor playing the Archbishop tries to read the explanation off a mass of papers, inevitably gets lost, and the papers somehow end up all over the stage with at least a third of actors searching for the right one on their knees so they can finish the damn thing. When the archbishop beatifically declares "clear as the summer sun" line, they all look at each other in an "are you kidding me" way.
      • What makes it even more ironic is that (as Henry alludes to in his soliloquoy before the Battle of Agincourt where he's wracked with guilt about poor King Richard II) he's actually the son of an usurper - far from being the rightful king of France, he's not even the rightful king of England.
  • Line in the Sand: Albeit rhetoric rather than a genuine offer: Henry offers any of his soldiers who are afraid safe conduct home and back pay; he would not wish to die in the company of cowards. Then he winds up for "Saint Crispin's Day" and nobody moves.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Possibly Harry.
  • Numbered Sequels: To Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2
  • Oireland: With Macmorris, perhaps the Ur Example.
  • Original Position Gambit: Henry asks the nobles plotting against him what he should do to someone who's committed treason. When they say he should execute traitors, he agrees -- and executes them.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Henry as common soldier again.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation: This is how Oliver makes his transition from the filmed-play portion to the cinematic story.
  • Real Life Relative: Branagh cast wife Emma Thompson as Catherine.
  • Rule of Funny: In real life Henry would have been able (at the very least) to speak that era's version of French, since it was still the offical language for many aspects of the king's rule, including the language of government and the king's personal correspondance - but it's much funnier to watch him attempt to court Katherine in the broken forms of both their languages. This is slightly Truth in Television -- while Henry V spoke French, yes, he and his father were the first English kings since the Norman Conquest that didn't speak French as their native tongue.
  • Rousing Speech: "Once more into the breach" and "St. Crispin's Day". Boy, did Shakespeare deliver.
  • Sad Battle Music: Used during the Battle of Agincourt in the Branagh version.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Archbishop of Canterbury, when explaining the validity of Henry's claim to the French throne. It's often played solely for comedy, but Shakespeare was also reminding his audience that Henry's claim to the English throne was almost as weak (Henry's father had been an usurper). It is entirely possible that Shakespeare took Henry’s claim absolutely seriously; after all, Elizabeth still quartered the arms of France on the royal escutcheon.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Falstaff again.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: Lampshaded in The Prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V in the trope pages title quote.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: "I was not angry since I came to France/Until this instant" from King Henry, after he sees English horsemen hanging back from the battle at Agincourt.
  • Tranquil Fury: Henry's reaction to receiving the tennis balls.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking: Henry plays this rhetorical card while wooing Katherine. Though he does have a point -- he is more soldier than diplomat and the Rousing Speech is an entirely different rhetorical animal than wooing a lady. If done well. Henry's awkward in such a cute way.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The scene between Katherine and her maid, where the dialogue is entirely in French. No important information is conveyed in the scene, at least, but many unilingual audience-members won't know that.
  • War Is Hell/War Is Glorious: Depending on the interpretation - modern adaptations tend to go with the former, though a notable exception was Olivier in 1944, in which the play was presented as a glorious British resistance against an evil foreign empire. No prizes for guessing why.
  • Warrior Prince: Henry himself, of course.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Williams points out the king's responsibility for the horrors of war; when Henry confronts him later and threatens to punish his sedition, Williams points out that he shouldn't have been wandering around in disguise if he didn't want to hear the truth from his soldiers.