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Henry V

Henry V Summary


Here you will find a Henry V summary (William Shakespeare's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Henry V Summary Overview

England is in a state of political instability in the early fifteenth century as the newly crowned King Henry V ascends the throne after the death of his father, King Henry IV. The lingering restlessness and dissatisfaction of the English people, a result of numerous devastating civil wars, presents a challenging environment for the young king. The youthful monarch must also overcome his reckless past, marked by association with thieves and drunkards at a disreputable London tavern, to win the respect and trust of his subjects and court. Young Henry stakes his claim to parts of France, citing his distant lineage to the French royal family and relying on convoluted ancient land laws. When the Dauphin, the French prince, responds insultingly to his claims, an incensed Henry determines to wage war on France. The English nobles and clergy rally behind him as he marshals his forces. This decision impacts his subjects profoundly, including his former friends from the tavern - Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim - who, having been spurned after his ascension to the throne, now prepare to leave their homes and families for war. News of the death of Falstaff, an old knight and once the king's closest companion, reach them as they prepare for departure. As the English armada readies to set sail, Henry uncovers a plot on his life and has the conspirators, including a former friend named Scrope, executed. The English then embark on their campaign across France, winning battles against overwhelming odds, including the town of Harfleur where Henry delivers a rousing speech to his soldiers. When his men, including Nim and Bardolph, are found looting, they are executed on King Henry's orders. The war culminates in the famous Battle of Agincourt, where the English, heavily outnumbered, miraculously clinch victory. Post-battle, a peace agreement is reached where Henry agrees to marry Catherine, the French king's daughter, uniting the two crowns under their future son.

act 1 prologue

The narrative is launched by the Chorus, a lone figure who introduces each of the drama's five acts. He informs the audience that they're about to witness a tale filled with sprawling landscapes, epic battles, and warring monarchs. However, he cautions that the audience must engage their imagination to truly appreciate the story since the modest wooden platform must be envisioned as the vast French terrain, and the handful of performers on stage should be seen as mighty armies battling fiercely on these grounds.

act 1 scene 1

Two influential English clergymen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely, discuss their worries about a proposed bill. The bill, if passed by King Henry V, would allow the government to seize a significant portion of the church's wealth and lands. This wealth would then be used for army upkeep, poverty alleviation, and boosting the royal treasury. The churchmen, who have grown rich and powerful due to this wealth, naturally desire to retain it. The Archbishop of Canterbury has devised a shrewd political tactic to redirect the young King Henry V's attention. The king has been contemplating an invasion of France, believing he also has rights to the French throne. Canterbury presumes that a war would distract the king from the bill that threatens church property. Therefore, to steer Henry's focus toward the invasion, Canterbury pledges to rally a substantial donation from the church to support the king's military campaign. Canterbury and Ely also take time to express admiration for the king's moral strength and intellect. They remark that "The courses of his youth promised it not" (I.i.25)—meaning, his impressive disposition was unexpected considering his youthful indulgence in "riots, banquets, [and] sports" (I.i.57) and his common company. His transformation has been remarkable. The reformed Henry is preparing to meet with a delegation of French envoys that have arrived in England. Ely and Canterbury proceed to the throne room to join the meeting.

act 1 scene 2

Within the royal palace's throne room, King Henry V is surrounded by his advisors and younger siblings, Humphrey and Thomas. Awaiting a meeting with French ambassadors, he first summons the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely from the English Church. Henry asks Canterbury for a lucid explanation regarding his potential claim to the French throne, a matter he needs to confidently justify an upcoming invasion. Canterbury's explanation for Henry's claim to France is intricate, citing that unlike France, England does not possess the Salic law which prohibits inheritance of the throne through females. He states that Henry's great-great-grandmother, a French king's daughter, makes him a rightful heir under English law. However, Canterbury acknowledges that this claim isn't recognized by the French who consider their King, Charles VI, as the rightful ruler. Henry would need to fight for his claim. Encouragement for Henry's invasion pours in from both clergymen and his advisors, Exeter and Westmorland. A financial plan is proposed by Canterbury, who assures he can fund the war by raising funds amongst the clergy. Fears of a Scottish invasion during his absence are alleviated as Canterbury advises Henry to take only a portion of his army to France. Resolute, Henry decides to go ahead with the invasion. The French ambassadors, representing the Dauphin, arrive. They mock Henry's claim, belittling him for his youth and irresponsibility. An insulting gift of tennis balls further enrages Henry, symbolizing his frivolous past. Henry sternly warns the ambassadors of the Dauphin's grave misjudgment and asserts his plan to invade France. The Dauphin's mockery will be regretted, Henry claims, “[w]hen thousands weep more than did laugh at it”.

act 2 prologue

The Chorus kicks off the second act by revealing the high spirits and preparation across England for the impending war, as King Henry gears up to make his move against France. However, French spies have managed to infiltrate the English side by corrupting certain nobles. These include the Earl of Cambridge, Richard; Henry Lord Scrope of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey of Northumberland. They've been persuaded to act as covert operatives, with the mission to assassinate King Henry in Southampton, right before his departure for France.

act 2 scene 1

We now find ourselves in London, near an Eastcheap tavern, a disreputable neighborhood. Bardolph, a lieutenant and former criminal, and Corporal Nim are preparing to go to war. Nim is in a dispute with Ancient Pistol, a fellow soldier who recently married Mistress Quickly, the Boar’s Head Tavern hostess. Quickly had earlier promised to marry Nim, causing the two men to cross swords and needing to be calmed down by Bardolph and the hostess. A page boy, working for Sir John Falstaff, arrives. The boy reveals that Falstaff, a trusted friend to all there, is bedridden and his health is deteriorating. Quickly leaves to check on Falstaff and returns with the grim news of his worsening condition. This prompts the men to momentarily bury their feud and visit Falstaff. Nim and Pistol make ominous comments about King Henry's involvement in Falstaff’s health decline, suggesting that it is somehow the king's fault that Falstaff is on his deathbed.

act 2 scene 2

At Southampton port, King Henry is readying his forces for a voyage to France. Gloucester, Exeter, and Westmorland discuss Henry's discovery of Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey's treason, though the traitors are unaware of this knowledge. The King, in the company of the traitors, solicits their opinion on a case involving a drunken man who had publicly slandered him. Despite the traitors advising punishment, Henry intends to pardon him. Regardless, King Henry chooses to release the man and confronts Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey about their plot against him, presenting them with the incriminating document. The traitors plead for leniency, but Henry is unyielding. He questions their audacity in craving mercy for themselves but not for a common drunkard. The King is shocked they would trade his life for wealth, particularly Scrope, his trusted friend, and orders their execution. Seeing the exposure of the traitors as divine favor, Henry finally commands his fleet to set sail for France.

act 2 scene 3

Back in the city, Pistol, Bardolph, Nim, and the innkeeper mourn Sir John Falstaff's demise. They recall his last moments, noting his happy yet delirious state. His negative remarks about wine were memorable, but they have differing opinions about whether he also spoke ill of women. Despite their grief, the men have to depart for the war. Before leaving, Pistol shares some advice and guidance with his wife, the innkeeper, for his absence. He then departs with the others, including Falstaff's now master-less servant boy.

act 2 scene 4

In France, Charles VI and his council are discussing the impending arrival of King Henry V's English troops. The Dauphin, Charles's eldest son, underestimates Henry, thinking him as the same naive boy he used to be. He is keen to battle, a sentiment not shared by his father and the Constable of France, who after talking to ambassadors from England, are aware of Henry's strength. They also recall the victories of Henry's ancestors, Edward III of England and his son, Edward, Black Prince of Wales, over the French at the Battle of Crécy. An English nobleman, Exeter, delivers a message from King Henry, who has already set foot in France. The message demands Charles to surrender his crown and the riches and land that accompany it. If not, Henry threatens a full-scale invasion. Exeter urges Charles to contemplate and respond swiftly. Charles assures to send Exeter back to Henry with a reply the next day.

act 3 prologue

The Chorus paints a grand picture of King Henry's voyage from England to France. The tale unfolds as Henry arrives at Harfleur, a northern French port city, with a massive fleet of warships. The English forces besiege the city with immense power. In response, a worried King Charles proposes a settlement to Henry: he won't surrender the French crown, but he will present minor dukedoms within his kingdom and his daughter, Catherine's hand in marriage. However, Henry declines the proposition and the siege proceeds.

act 3 scene 1

As the siege continues, King Henry makes an appearance to uplift his troops. He gives an impactful oration, invoking the spirit of their warrior forefathers and reaching out to his army, aristocrats, and ordinary folk similarly.

act 3 scene 2

The narrative now focuses on Nim, Bardolph, Pistol, and a young boy. It becomes clear from their exchange that the reaction to the king's words varies widely. Bardolph is excited for battle, but the other three show reluctance, longing for the safety and comfort of London's alehouses. A high-ranking officer, who serves under King Henry, spots the group dawdling. This officer, a Welsh captain called Fluellen, uses his sword to goad the men back into action. The men scamper off, leaving the boy alone for a while. The boy seizes this moment to ponder on the cowardice and deceit of Nim, Bardolph, and Pistol. His time with them has shown him their true colors. They've been trying to teach him to steal, an idea that he finds offensive. Determined to avoid their path, he decides to part ways with them in search of a more respectable occupation.

act 3 scene 3

Captain Fluellen and his companion, Captain Gower, discuss the faulty construction of tunnels, referred to as "mines," under Harfleur's walls. Fluellen criticizes the work of the Irish officer, Captain MacMorris, responsible for the task, while he praises the Scottish officer, Captain Jamy. When MacMorris and Jamy join them, Fluellen advises MacMorris on tunnel construction, leading to a dispute. Despite their disagreement, they recognize their duty and, after pondering the dangers of war and the certainty of death, they return to battle. King Henry, with a grand trumpet entry, stands before Harfleur's gates. The town's inhabitants have requested a negotiation, symbolized by a parley. As the town's governor looks on, Henry urges him to surrender. He warns that if they resist, the English will resort to ruthless measures, including destruction, sexual violence, and murder. In response, the governor, lacking any hope of reinforcement, agrees to surrender. Henry then instructs Exeter to transform Harfleur into a stronghold against the French. He announces his plan to lead his forces towards Calais the following day.

act 3 scene 4

At the royal residence of King Charles, his daughter Catherine chats with her maid Alice. Catherine doesn't understand English, and the conversation happens mostly in French. Alice, having spent time in England, knows some English, so Catherine requests her to teach her English. It appears Catherine wisely foresees a need to converse with the English king soon. They start off learning body parts names in English, and Catherine humorously mispronounces them. Despite this, she is keen to learn, until she comes across the words "foot" and "cown" (gown), which resemble French vulgarities.

act 3 scene 5

Within the French monarchy, King Charles, the Dauphin, and his closest advisors, such as the Constable of France and the Duke of Bourbon, urgently convene to discuss King Henry's rapid progress in France. Their frantic French interjections within their English dialogues highlight their anxiety. They can't comprehend the bravery of the English, given their cold, overcast homeland. They believe their national pride has been offended by British victories, and they are resolute in their goal to retaliate. To make matters worse, their wives and lovers have started to ridicule them for losing to King Henry's army. King Charles, showing more wisdom and determination than his court, commands all his nobles to gather forces for war. He specifically names approximately twenty nobles, implying there could be many more. Charles and his compatriots are confident that with such a large force, they can intimidate King Henry, overpower his army and capture him as a prisoner of defeat.

act 3 scene 6

Following the conquest of Harfleur by the English, Welsh Captain Fluellen and English Captain Gower discuss the ongoing battle for a bridge. Ancient Pistol approaches Fluellen with a request, concerning his friend Bardolph who has been convicted of theft from the defeated French town. Bardolph stole a religious artifact known as a “pax” and now faces hanging, as decreed by King Henry for such crimes. Pistol urges Fluellen to appeal to the Duke of Exeter for Bardolph's life, but Fluellen declines, emphasizing the importance of discipline. Pistol, upset by Fluellen's refusal, curses him and storms off. Gower, who observed the entire interaction, informs Fluellen that he has encountered Pistol before. He characterizes Pistol as a part-time soldier who feigns full-time military service when not at war. Fluellen vows to monitor Pistol and expose his pretenses. King Henry arrives amidst drums and fanfares, inquiring about the ongoing battle and the English casualties. Fluellen reports that the English have secured the bridge thanks to Duke of Exeter’s tactical prowess, with no lives lost except for the condemned thief Bardolph. Upon hearing about Bardolph's sentence, King Henry, despite their past friendship, expresses approval, underscoring the need for respectful treatment of the conquered French and their property. The French messenger Montjoy brings a threatening message from King Charles, challenging Henry's pride and hinting at a potential “ransom” after his anticipated defeat. However, Henry responds calmly, admitting his army’s fatigue. He expresses his preference to avoid battle, but commits to continue marching, confident of his righteousness and eventual victory. After Montjoy leaves, the English camp settles down for the night.

act 3 scene 7

Within the French establishment, a few distinguished men, such as the Duke of Orléans, the Constable of France, and Lord Rambures, are preoccupied with the imminent conflict. The Duke of Orléans takes pride in his steed, inviting playful banter from his comrades. Eventually, a courier breaks the banter to announce the close proximity of the English forces. Following this, the French aristocrats begin to ridicule King Henry and his English troops.

act 4 prologue

The Chorus paints a picture of the silent evening in the French and English camps before the battle: the peaceful night, the glowing watch fires, and the knights preparing their armor for battle. In the French camp, the overly assured officers are already planning the division of the English loot, as they have five times the number of soldiers. On the other hand, the English soldiers are resigned to their fate, expecting to meet their end in the morning, yet they calmly await it. King Henry, in an inspiring gesture, mingles among his soldiers at night, offering words of encouragement, reminding them they are all brothers in arms. This boosts their spirits significantly, making each soldier feel special with what the Chorus refers to as "[a] little touch of Harry in the night".

act 4 scene 1

In the English camp at Agincourt, King Henry interacts with his brothers and Sir Thomas Erpingham. He borrows Erpingham’s worn cloak and proceeds to send them away, desiring solitude. Covered by the dirty cloak, Henry hides his identity and mingles with his men. He appears as a simple soldier, unrecognized by his subjects. Pistol is the first one he talks to. Henry mentions the king and receives odd compliments from Pistol. As he is pretending to be a kin of Fluellen, Pistol makes an inappropriate gesture and leaves. Fluellen and Gower come by next, completely occupied in their conversation to notice Henry. Fluellen tells Gower to speak softly because of the enemy's proximity. Henry appreciates Fluellen’s wisdom and caution. Three soldiers - John Bates, Alexander Court, and Michael Williams – join him next. They discuss the forthcoming battle’s prospects. Henry defends the king when the soldiers question his courage and intentions. Williams remains stubborn and a quarrel is set up. They exchange gloves as a symbol of their future duel. After the soldiers leave, Henry reflects on the burdens of a king. He expresses distaste for the grandeur associated with the position, suggesting that a slave's life, free from worry for a nation, is preferable. As dawn breaks, it’s time for the battle. Alone, Henry prays for his soldiers’ courage and requests God not to punish him for the bloodshed his father caused to seize the English throne.

act 4 scene 2

At the French encampment, they ready themselves for the upcoming skirmish. Figures such as the constable, Lord Rambures, and the Earl of Grandpré are seen donning their armors and mounting their steeds. Both the constable and Grandpré rally their troops with speeches brimming with assurance and high spirits. The disheveled and sparse ranks of the English army do not go unnoticed, leading the French to anticipate a straightforward triumph.

act 4 scene 3

Before the Battle of Agincourt, the English lords realize they are greatly outnumbered by the French forces. Westmorland wishes more men from England could join them. However, King Henry, overhearing this, has a different viewpoint. In his renowned St. Crispin’s Day speech, he tells his troops they should be grateful for their small numbers as this means each can claim a larger portion of glory. Continuing, King Henry states he only wants men who are eager to fight for England by his side. He gives any soldiers who want to leave permission to do so and even offers to pay their way home. However, those who stay and fight will have a tale of bravery to tell for their lifetime. He asserts that every ordinary man who fights with him that day will be considered a kinsman. Moreover, those who chose to stay in England will regret missing the chance to earn honor on this glorious battle day. This raises the spirits of the soldiers and the nobility, lifting morale significantly. The French forces are prepared for the battle. Montjoy, the French envoy, approaches the English camp once more. He offers King Henry a chance to surrender and spare his life by paying a ransom instead of facing an almost guaranteed defeat. Henry declines the offer politely yet firmly. The English troops then get organized and proceed towards the battlefield.

act 4 scene 4

In the midst of battle, Pistol captures a French combatant. The scene is humorous as neither can understand the other's language. Luckily, a bilingual boy can interpret, despite Pistol's heated temper making the exchange challenging. The frightened French soldier, convinced Pistol is a high-ranking warrior, surrenders. Identifying himself as Monsieur le Fer, the captive promises that his esteemed family would provide a substantial ransom for his release. Intrigued by the prospect of wealth, Pistol agrees, making the Frenchman a willing prisoner. As they exit, the boy expresses disdain over Pistol's hollow bragging, asserting that both Bardolph and Nim showed far more genuine bravery than Pistol. He then discloses a shocking revelation: Nim, like Bardolph, has been executed for thievery.

act 4 scene 5

The French soldiers' camp is in chaos, their anguished shouts bearing witness to the unexpected victory of the English. The French forces are in retreat and disarray. The French nobility, taken aback and distraught, regard their immense disgrace and consider ending their lives. However, instead of conceding to the humiliation of surrender, they resolve to face the battle once more for a last stand.

act 4 scene 6

At the Agincourt war front, the English seem to have the upper hand, capturing numerous French fighters and nobility. Nevertheless, the fight is far from over with many French still resisting. King Henry learns from Exeter about the state of the battle, including the death of two aristocratic relatives, the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk. Exeter shares a poignant tale of York's death next to his dear cousin Suffolk, stirring both him and the King to tears. The sudden noise and outcry indicates a possible French resurgence. In response to this, King Henry hastily commands his men to execute their French captives, a decision that marks a particularly violent turn.

act 4 scene 7

During the intense battle, Fluellen and Gower converse. A handful of French soldiers, escaping the main battle, have ambushed the English camp. They've pillaged their supplies and cruelly killed the young pages left behind. Fluellen is furious at this French brutality, which goes against the honorable rules of combat. He and Gower both commend King Henry's choice to execute the French captives, comparing the brave king to Alexander the Great. Suddenly, King Henry appears with the captive Duke of Bourbon. Upon hearing about the gruesome murder of the boys, he becomes enraged and orders for the immediate execution of the French prisoners. Montjoy, the once arrogant French messenger, returns, humbled. He has a message from the French king, requesting for the French to be permitted to enter the battlefield safely to find and bury their deceased. When King Henry asks about the outcome of the battle, Montjoy confirms their victory. King Henry gratefully thanks God for their win. King Henry then notices Michael Williams, a soldier he had a disagreement with the previous night. Deciding to play a prank, he hands over Williams's glove to Fluellen and instructs him to display it, claiming it was taken from a French nobleman, and that any assault on Fluellen because of it would be considered treason. Amused, King Henry watches the ensuing chaos from a distance.

act 4 scene 8

Upon encountering Fluellen, Williams is convinced that he is the individual he had a dispute with the previous night due to a recognisable glove. He attacks Fluellen, who assumes that Williams is a traitor from France and commands his arrest. King Henry then arrives on the scene, feigning ignorance about the scuffle, only to disclose that the actual person Williams had a disagreement with was King Henry himself. Williams defends himself, stating that he cannot be blamed for instigating a fight with the king, as Henry had intentionally hidden his true identity the night before. Henry, amused by the situation and appreciating Williams's bravery, decides to reward him by filling his glove with coins. Exeter, accompanied by a herald, brings news of the death toll. Ten thousand French soldiers have perished, while the English side has only suffered twenty-nine casualties. Astonished by their incredible fortune, the Englishmen express their gratitude to God. Henry directs his soldiers towards the seized village, but instructs them to avoid any acts of arrogance or boasting.

act 5 prologue

King Henry is back in the coastal town of Calais in France, and from this point, he sails back to England. The females and youngsters of England are thrilled to have their male folks back, including their beloved King Henry. As Henry reaches London, people gather to witness his return and rejoice. However, the humble king dismisses the idea of a grand procession to commemorate his victory. Subsequently, Henry goes back to France. The Chorus encourages the spectators to imagine themselves back in France, signifying the passage of some time.

act 5 scene 1

Fluellen and Gower chat at a military site in France, with Gower questioning Fluellen's decision to keep a leek in his cap even after St. Davy’s Day has passed. Fluellen clarifies that this is a reaction to an insult from the soldier Pistol, who mocked him with bread, salt, and a suggestion to eat his leek. Upon encountering Pistol, Fluellen thrashes him with his cudgel until he agrees to apologize by consuming the leek Fluellen proudly carries in his hat. After Pistol does so, Fluellen hands him some cash for his injuries. As Fluellen departs, Pistol swears to take revenge, but Gower maintains it was Pistol’s own wrongdoing for ridiculing Fluellen and for underestimating him because of his Welsh accent. Left alone, Pistol shifts from his comic persona, revealing that his wife has passed away from a sexually transmitted disease and he is now homeless. He decides to return to England to turn to a life of hustling and theft.

act 5 scene 2

At the French royal palace, King Henry meets with Charles VI and his wife, Isabel, with the intention of creating lasting peace between France and England. Despite his military triumph, King Henry allows Charles to keep his crown. However, Henry has a few conditions, the foremost being his desire to wed his distant relative, Princess Catherine of France. This marriage would grant Henry and his descendants the right to the French throne, in addition to England. The others tactfully exit, leaving Henry alone with Catherine and her maid, Alice, who serves as an interpreter. The atmosphere lightens as Henry humorously woos Catherine, convincing her of the merits of their marriage. Despite the language barrier and Henry's heavy use of English, Catherine understands his intentions and agrees, acknowledging that her father, "de roi mon père [of the king my father]," holds the final say. When the nobles return, Henry and the Duke of Burgundy engage in some playful banter over Catherine's anticipated performance as a wife. All parties then put their signatures on the agreements that will grant Henry and his offspring the French throne upon the French king's demise.

act 5 epilogue

The final appearance of the Chorus takes place in the Epilogue. The short speech given involves a mention of the arrival of King Henry VI, the offspring of Catherine and Henry. This king was infamous for causing England to lose France and instigating warfare. As a last request, the Chorus implores the viewers' indulgence pertaining to the performance before wrapping up the play.

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