Henry V plot

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ACT 1: PROLOGUE

The Chorus invokes the “Muse of fire” to help the play do justice to its subject and to rise above the physical limitations of the stage.  It then calls upon the audience to use its imagination to visualize the great scenes suggested by the author.  Finally, the audience is asked to judge the play kindly.

ACT 1: Scene 1

The play begins in London, in the palace of Henry V.  The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely discuss a proposed parliamentary bill designed to confiscate many of the church’s possessions.  To prevent this, the Church has offered the King generous monetary support to wage a war against France in order to claim the French throne.  We also learn of the King’s wild youth (as Prince Hal), then of his transformation, on the death of his father, into a responsible sovereign.  Canterbury has prepared evidence to show Henry V that his claim to the French throne is legal.

ACT 1: Scene 2

In another chamber in the palace, Henry V asks Canterbury to explain truthfully whether his claims to France are just.  The Archbishop refutes the French argument that under the Salique Law Henry V has no claim to the French throne and, together with the King’s counsellors, urges the King to attack France.  Together, they assure him that his nobles and subjects are eager to serve his cause.

Henry V is concerned however, that the Scots will invade England whilst he is fighting in France.  Canterbury recommends that Henry V take one quarter of his forces to fight in France and leave the remainder at home to defend England.  On hearing this, the King decides to attack France.
Henry V next receives the French ambassador.  The ambassador delivers a French rejection of Henry V’s claim to several Dukedoms in France.  He also delivers a barrel of tennis balls and a message from the Dauphin (the French Prince) in which he insults Henry V.  The King now uses the Dauphin’s insult as a means of shifting the blame for the war onto France.


ACT 2: PROLOGUE

The Chorus prepares the audience for Act 2 by describing how the youths of the country are eagerly preparing for war and how the French, fearful of what is to come, have bribed three Englishmen to kill Henry V at Southampton.  It assures the audience that as they will be transported to France in imagination only, none shall be made seasick by the crossing the Channel.

ACT 2: Scene 1

Now in London, we meet Nym, Bardolph and Pistol who are preparing to go to the war as profiteers.  Bardolph and Pistol were once Prince Hal’s drinking companions, as was Falstaff, who lies in another room gravely ill. Also in this scene we meet the characters of Hostess Quickly and the Boy, a young servant of Falstaff.

ACT 2: Scene 2

In Southampton, while Bedford, Westmoreland and Exeter wait for the arrival of the King, it is revealed that he has learnt of the assassination plot.  The King enters, accompanied by Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge (the conspirators) and others.  Henry V orders Exeter to set free a man who has been imprisoned for speaking ill of him while drunk.  The three conspirators comment that the King is too lenient.  Henry V gives his three friends their commissions.  As they read their documents they realize their treachery has been discovered.  In response to their requests for mercy, the King says they have condemned themselves by their own words and sentences them to death. Henry V now prepares his expedition to leave for France.  The discovery of the plot he sees as a sign of God’s favour.

ACT 2: Scene 3

In London, Pistol, Bardolph, Nym and the Boy take their leave of Hostess Quickly and go off to the war.  Falstaff is dead.

ACT 2: Scene 4

In France, in the French King’s palace, the French King exhorts his Dukes and the Dauphin to fortify towns that may be affected by the war.  Although agreeing that it is right to be prepared for war, the Dauphin believes that Henry V is too foolish to be a serious threat.  Both the King and Constable disagree, saying Henry V is a strong leader whose lineage must not be forgotten.

The Duke of Exeter arrives bearing a message from Henry V demanding the French crown and a note of contempt for the Dauphin.  The Duke says that the demands must be met quickly as Henry V and his army have already landed in France.

 ACT 3: PROLOGUE

The Chorus urges the audience to imagine the voyage of Henry V and his army to France and the siege of Harfleur, which commences following Exeter’s return with the French King’s response; a response which Henry finds unacceptable.

ACT 3: Scene 1

In this scene Henry V rallies his men as they commence the siege of Harfleur.  In this famous soliloquy, Henry inspires his men to be united and to fight courageously.

ACT 3: Scene 2

The scene opens with Nym, Pistol and Bardolph (accompanied by the Boy), who are reluctant to join the fighting.   Bardolph parodies Henry’s previous soliloquy.  Fluellen appears and forces the men to enter the fray.

The Boy, alone, reflects on the three cowardly thieves he has been journeying with and decides that it is against his nature to be involved with such villains.  He decides to leave them and seek better service.

ACT 3: Scene 3

At the gates of Harfleur, Henry V urges the Governor of the city to surrender for the sake of the city and its citizens.  The Governor surrenders because the Dauphin, to whom he appealed for help, has not yet arrived to protect them.  Henry V entrusts the city to Exeter and because of the approaching winter and sickness amongst his men, takes his army back to Calais.

ACT 3: Scene 4

In a room in the palace at Rouen, Princess Katherine tells her maid, Alice, that it is necessary for her to learn to speak English.  She then asks Alice, who knows a little English, to teach her some.

ACT 3: Scene 5

This scene is also in Rouen, in another room in the palace.  The King and his noblemen discuss Henry V’s progress.  The King orders his nobles to fight Henry V, capture him and bring him to Rouen.  The Constable comments that because Henry V’s army is so sick and small when Henry V sees the assembled French army he will want to offer a ransom.  The French King seizes upon this notion and sends the Herald, Montjoy, to ask Henry V what he is willing to offer as ransom.

ACT 3: Scene 6

At the English camp in Picardy, France, Fluellen tells Gower that they have saved the bridge for which they had been fighting.  He praises the Duke of Exeter for his bravery and leadership and also talks of Pistol’s courage in the battle.  At this point Pistol enters and asks Fluellen to intercede with Exeter to save the life of Bardolph who is to be hanged for stealing a pax from a French church.  Fluellen says he won’t intercede because discipline must maintained.  As he leaves Pistol verbally abuses Fluellen.  At this point Gower warns Fluellen that Pistol is a rogue.  Fluellen decides to deal with Pistol at another time.

Henry V arrives with his army.  Fluellen tells him of Exeter’s heroism.  When Henry V asks what losses they have suffered Fluellen tells him of Bardolph’s proposed fate.  The King replies that this should indeed occur as it is necessary to gain the loyalty and respect of the French people.

The French Herald Montjoy arrives at the English camp with a message from the French King demanding Henry V consider a ransom.  In response, Henry V rewards the Herald and instructs him to tell his King that he  intends to proceed to Calais peacefully, but if attacked, he will fight, despite his sick and depleted army.  When Montjoy leaves, Gloucester says he hopes that the French do not attack.  Henry V responds that they are in the hands of God, not the French.

ACT 3: Scene 7

In the French camp, the night before the battle, the Dauphin, Constable and others are in high spirits.  The Dauphin is particularly confident and boastful.  On the Dauphin’s departure, however, the Constable casts some doubt over his bravery.

A messenger brings news that the English camp is nearby.  The Constable and Orleans discuss the foolhardiness of the English continuing to fight in the face of such overwhelming odds.  Rambures warns that the English are courageous and should not be underestimated.


ACT 4: PROLOGUE

The Chorus now describes the scene in both camps: the French donning their armour and throwing dice for the English they plan to overwhelm; the English soldiers, sitting quietly around their fires contemplating their small numbers and the dangers they face; Henry V moving amongst his men, inspiring them with his calm courage.  Finally, the Chorus apologises for the inadequacy of what is about to be presented as the great Battle of Agincourt.

ACT 4: Scene 1

In the English camp at Agincourt, Henry V moves amongst his men in disguise.  He meets three soldiers: Bates, Court and Williams.  After some discussion, Henry V and Williams argue.  Henry V says he has heard that the King will not allow himself to be ransomed.  Williams responds that it won’t matter to his men anyway once they are dead. This angers Henry V.  Williams challenges him to a fight should they both survive the battle and meet again.  The two exchange gloves to wear in their caps so that they will recognise each other in the future.

On the departure of the soldiers, Henry V muses on the lot of a King who is blamed for everything and who must bear the concerns of state alone.

Sir Thomas Erpingham enters and tells Henry V that his nobles seek him.  The King asks him to gather them so that he may address them. When alone again, Henry V prays to God that his soldiers be full of courage.  He also asks that God not hold the deeds of his father (with his removal of Richard II from the throne and his subsequent murder) against him as he has already made many reparations for this and intends to make more in the future.

ACT 4: Scene 2

The scene takes place in the French camp as the nobles ready for battle.  The Constable and Grandpré make speeches of encouragement.  The French are still supremely confident.

ACT 4: Scene 3

In the English camp at the battlefield the English nobles discuss the odds they are facing; five French soldiers for every one English soldier.

In a speech of encouragement Henry V says that from this day on this coming battle will be remembered every St. Crispian’s day.  Salisbury enters to warn them that the French are ready to charge.  Montjoy again returns to offer Henry V the opportunity to surrender.  Impatiently,

Henry V responds that they will either defeat the French troops or die, but there shall be no ransom.  As Montjoy exits the Duke of York asks the King for the privilege of leading the vanguard.  They leave for the battle.

ACT 4: Scene 4

On the battlefield Pistol captures a French soldier who offers Pistol two hundred crowns for his freedom.  As the two leave the Boy ponders on the empty bravery of Pistol, he also reveals that only the boys are guarding the camp and its equipment.

ACT 4: Scene 5

On another part of the battlefield the Dauphin, Constable, Orleans, Bourbon and Rambures realise that they are being defeated, for though they have the greater numbers, there is great confusion amongst their troops.  They then return to the battle as it is better to die fighting than live in shame.

ACT 4: Scene 6

On yet another part of the battlefield Henry V praises his men as they appear to be winning.  He learns of the deaths of York and Suffolk.  An alarm sounds, Henry V realises that the French are regrouping and orders his men to kill the prisoners.

ACT 4: Scene 7

Also on the battlefield we learn from Fluellen and Gower that, although it is against accepted practice of war, the French have killed all the boys.    Montjoy enters to say that the French are defeated and they wish to list and bury their dead.  Henry V declares that this battle be known as the Battle of Agincourt.

Williams enters, the King sees the glove in his cap.  Williams explains that he is to fight the man who wears the other glove.  When Williams leaves Henry V gives the glove he possesses to Fluellen.  He tells Fluellen that if any man should challenge him for wearing it, then that man is a traitor and should be arrested.  Henry V then sends Warwick and Gloucester to follow Fluellen to see that no harm comes to either man when they meet.

ACT 4: Scene 8

On another part of the battlefield, Williams and Fluellen meet.  Williams strikes Fluellen, who accuses him of treason.  Warwick and Gloucester stop the fight.  Henry V enters and reveals that it was he who had quarrelled with Williams.  Williams stoutly defends his actions saying that because the King was in disguise it was his fault that he was spoken to in such a manner.  The King rewards Williams for his honesty and courage by filling his glove with coins.

The English Herald returns with news of the numbers of dead.  Ten thousand Frenchmen have died, while the English have lost only twenty nine.  Henry V says that the credit for this victory belongs to God and orders that a mass be given for the dead.
ACT 5: PROLOGUE

The Chorus asks the audience to use its imagination to picture Henry V’s departure from Calais and triumphant return to London where he disclaims the honours being accorded him, saying instead that they belong to God.  It then informs the audience that Henry V has now returned to France so that a peace treaty can be finalised.

ACT 5: Scene 1

This scene is set in the English camp, in France.  Fluellen is wearing a leek in his cap although it is not St. David’s day.  Fluellen explains to Gower that he is going to teach Pistol a lesson because Pistol has mocked this tradition in the past.  As Pistol enters Fluellen berates him and beats him until he eats the leek.  After Fluellen and Gower leave, Pistol decides that he will return to England and be a thief.

ACT 5: Scene 2

In an apartment in the French King’s palace, the Kings of England and France and their courts meet to discuss the peace settlement.  Henry V maintains that peace will be possible if all his demands are met.  He appoints Exeter, Gloucester, Clarence, Warwick and Huntingdon to negotiate with the French.  They withdraw to do this.

Henry V and Princess Katherine remain on stage.  The King proceeds to court Katherine: he tells her that he is a soldier, not an eloquent man; that he loves her and wants her to rule both countries with him; and that together they will have a son.  Katherine responds that if her father agrees to the marriage then, she will be content to marry Henry V.

The negotiators return.  Henry V is informed that all of his terms for peace have been met, in particular his marriage to Katherine and the recognition of him as heir to the French throne.  As a sign of his agreement to the treaty Henry V kisses Katherine before all and preparations begin for their wedding.

ACT 5: Epilogue

The Chorus addresses the audience for the final time, once again asking that the playwright’s attempts to deal with these great events be accepted.  It then informs the audience that Henry V and Katherine did have a son who lived to rule both England and France.  However, because so many interfered with his rule, France was lost to England and England itself was plunged into the Wars of the Roses.

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