ENGL 339: Shakespeare
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University
 
 

Henry V: Study Questions

1) What is the function of the Chorus? Why would such a figure appear in Henry V but not in MND or AYLI?

2) Note the characterization of King Henry. If you are familiar with the Henry IV plays, you may be surprised at the change in the fun-loving prince Hal, who hung out with "low-life" characters (Falstaff, Bardolph, Mistress Quickly, etc.) in 1&2 Henry IV and seemed unlikely to develop into a responsible ruler. Look for references to the king's past in the text of Henry V (e.g. the conversation between Canterbury and Ely in I.i.; his interactions with and the comments and behavior of his old friends Falstaff, Bardolph and Mistress Quickly; the French Dauphin's low opinion of him, etc.) While Henry's past may seem to be in stark contrast to his present role as King, is such a wild youth necessarily an impediment to effectiveness as a ruler? What advantages does Henry gain from his close association with the common people? How does it help him later, for example in his interactions with his soldiers?

3) Consider the political dimensions of the play, which not only spans a war and a peace treaty between England and France, but also alludes to a number of domestic political conflicts (the conflict between the Church and the Parliament, which wants to pass a bill confiscating much of the Church's wealth, alluded to in I.i; the treachery of Scroop, Grey and Cambridge; the bickering between the officers Gower, Fluellan, MacMorris and Jamy, who represent England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, respectively -- the four lands united under Henry's crown). In your opinion, to what extent is Henry a political animal? Is he a Machiavellian ruler who knows how to manipulate people to achieve his ends? Or an idealist who must sacrifice personal desires to public duty? Consider in this regard e.g. his questioning of Canterbury and Ely concerning the legitimacy of his claims to France; his treatment of the traitors; his speech before the walls of Harfleur; the hanging of Bardolph; his soliloquies the night before the Battle of Agincourt; his interactions with the common soldier Williams; his prayer before and thanks to God after the Battle of Agincourt; his marriage negotiations and wooing of Catherine. (To get you started: do you think that Henry would truly renounce his claims to France if Ely and Cambridge were to tell him they were not well founded, or is he simply asking them to give him an excuse to pursue those claims? Can they be trusted to tell him the truth, or are they just saying what he wants in exchange for his support in the conflict with Parliament?)

4) Consider the conflict between the public and the private in Henry V. In becoming king, did Henry lose all affection for the companions of his youth? Or does he simply feel that, as king, he must sacrifice private inclinations to public duty? Consider in this regard his rejection of Falstaff (which according to Mistress Quickly causes the death of the old knight); his statements to and treatment of the traitors; the hanging of Bardolph; his interactions with Bates, Court and Williams the night before the battle of Agincourt; his "Ceremony" soliloquy; his famous speech to the troops before the battle of Agincourt; and his wooing of Catherine. (She's his as part of the peace settlement. Why woo her?)

5) Note the symbolism and themes that connect Henry V to MND and AYLI, e.g. a movement from conflict to harmony (war to peace); the devastating effects of that conflict on nature, sterile as a result of the war (see Burgundy's speech in V.ii.23-67); a marriage (and the implication of fertility) which resolves the conflict and symbolizes harmony and the promise of fertility. Consider also the role of language, a persuasive force which, as in AYLI, is not necessarily to be trusted. Henry is clearly a mastery of rhetoric (see his inspirational speeches to the troops; his pronouncements at court and in Southhampton; his wooing of Catherine). Can we take him seriously when he tells Katherine that he has no eloquence and speaks to her as would a "plain soldier"? Is she right to think "the tongues of men are full of deceits" (V.ii.120)? To what extent is this play about the disjunction between appearance and reality and the related theme of deception? (consider e.g. the French dauphin's misjudgment of Henry; the "unnatural" treachery of Cambridge, Scroop and Grey; the common soldiers' perception of their leader and his motives; the Ceremony soliloquy; Henry's wooing of Katherine).

6) What is the purpose of the scenes dealing with the common people (Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Mistress Quickly, and the Boy; Bates, Court and Williams; the captains Gower, Fluellan, MacMorris and Jamy)? To what extent are they analogous to the Rude Mechanicals in MND or the "country copulatives" in AYLI? By analogy with those plays, the common folk may indeed serve for comic relief (consider e.g. the potential for horseplay between Nym and Pistol, both of whom were in love with Mistress Quickly; the contrast between Henry's inspirational words about his soldiers and the cowardice of Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol; the comical bickering between the captains; the scene in which Fluellan makes Pistol eat his leek; etc.) What other purposes do they serve? How do the scenes with the common people serve to underscore the more serious themes explored in the play? Can they be considered foils to other characters in the work? Does the scene of the French lesson between Katherine and Alice serve a similar purpose?

7) Compare/contrast the French rulers and court with the English ones. How would you characterize each? What does this characterization imply about the relative claims of Henry and the Dauphin (the French Crown Prince) to the throne of France? Why might Henry want to avoid unnecessarily humiliating or mistreating the French? (consider e.g. III.iii. 54; III.vi.112-119; V.ii.174-182). Who among the French appear laughable? Are all Frenchman depicted as being ridiculous? Why or why not? What does it symbolize? (Why is Katherine intent on learning English?)

8) Be sure to have the details of the Battle of Agincourt straight. How many French and English forces are there? What is the relative condition of the English and French armies? What are the odds? What two obstacles must Henry overcome, as dramatized in IV.i and IV.iii, and how (by what methods or talents) does he do so?

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