Henry V (unabridged)

Audio Sample

William Shakespeare

Henry V

Directed by David Timson

Performed by Samuel West, Timothy West, Cathy Sara, Hugh Dickson, Nigel Anthony, Stephen Thorne, Bernard Lloyd, Ian Masters, Auriol Smith, Roy Spencer, Roger May, Barrie Jaimeson, Jonathan Keeble, Nick Fletcher, David Timson, Peter Yapp & Dominic Kraemer


This widely-studied play is one of the best sellers of the Shakespeare canon. This production is the seventh Shakespeare play in the series undertaken by Naxos AudioBooks in conjunction with Cambridge University Press.

  • Running Time: 3 h 06 m

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    Digital ISBN:978-962-954-687-8
    Cat. no.:NA320512
    Download size:91 MB
    Produced by:Nicolas Soames
    Directed by:David Timson
    Released:October 2000
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Booklet Notes

Henry V, which dates from 1599, is the last in Shakespeare’s series of plays based on English history. It is also, of course, the sequel to the two Henry IV plays which had proved so successful with Elizabethan audiences and which, like Henry V itself, remain immensely popular today. Shakespeare was to move on to Julius Caesar – a kind of history play, to be sure, but safely remote from the difficult topical questions about royal succession and the justification of war which had to be handled carefully in a national (or nationalistic?) play like Henry V.

If we look at Henry V as the third in a trilogy of plays – discounting for the moment the likelihood that the trilogy was never planned as such – then we need briefly to examine the development of Henry’s character throughout the sequence. Henry IV had usurped the throne from Richard II and ordered his murder. A serious and responsible king, he remains tormented by guilt and is profoundly disappointed by the apparent failure of his son Henry (or Harry, or Hal) to become the honourable and dutiful heir he would wish. It seems as if Hal’s only purpose in life is to waste his time with the gross and disreputable Sir John Falstaff in taverns and brothels. Hal, however, is quick to confide in the audience: he is actually behaving in this manner so as to render his ‘reform’, when it comes, the more glorious and impressive. A further motive becomes apparent as the two Henry IV plays unfold: Hal is learning the trade of kingship by mixing with a variety of types and classes, and simultaneously acquiring the support of ordinary people – the ‘lads of Eastcheap’ and all whom they represent. This tactical approach may be seen as cold and scheming – especially when it becomes necessary to spurn old cronies (‘I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers…’) – or as the necessary wisdom of princes. Certainly it requires the ability to act, or pretend, and this kind of ambivalence in both character and audience response is going to remain an issue in the third play.

By the end of Henry IV Part 2 the old king is dead, having at last been reconciled with his son, who has defeated rebellion and demonstrated his filial loyalty. The new king is crowned, his old companions banished; church and state wait to see if Henry V will fulfil his promises or lapse into debauchery.


Shakespeare’s main source was once again Ralph Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587). Hall’s older Chronicle is apparent indirectly at moments where Shakespeare was influenced by earlier Henry V plays, but in general he is content to follow Holinshed quite closely. An example adduced by Andrew Gurr in his edition of the play is the way in which Shakespeare carefully avoids having to conflate the two successive Dauphins of history by keeping that character away from the closing scenes: to have to tell the audience that one Dauphin had died and been succeeded during the action of the play would be distracting and confusing.

It seems almost certain that Shakespeare knew and was influenced by the play The Famous Victories of Henry V: as Gurr states, ‘Shakespeare knew either The Famous Victories or a stage version from which it derived when he wrote his Henry V’. Key differences between the two texts include the truly wild and irresponsible behaviour of the young prince in the earlier play, and Shakespeare’s decision to establish Hal throughout the trilogy as choosing to seem morally errant, while all the time planning his moment of ‘reform’.


Act I, Prologue: The Chorus apologises for the technical limitations of theatrical production, especially in view of the heroic subject matter. Scene 1: The Bishops of Canterbury and Ely, anxious to avoid punitive taxation of the Church, express amazement at the piety and wisdom of the young king, who has listened sympathetically to their pleas. Scene 2: The French ambassador awaits audience with Henry, who wishes first to hear from Canterbury whether he has a legal and moral right to the throne of France. Canterbury expounds the complexities of the ‘law Salic’ and ends by confirming Henry’s claim. Having gained the support of his nobles, Henry calls in the ambassador, who delivers a mocking rejection of Henry’s French ambitions in the form of a ‘tun’ of tennis balls, but the king turns the jest against the French by explaining how he will ‘play a set’ that will ‘make [the Dauphin’s] jest… savour but of shallow wit’. Henry then orders immediate preparations for invasion.

Act II, Prologue: The scene shifts to Southampton, where the fleet’s departure is delayed by the discovery of a treacherous conspiracy: Cambridge, Scroop and Gray, in return for French money, have been plotting Henry’s death. Scene 1: Nym and Bardolph quarrel briefly with Pistol, who has recently married Mistress Quickly (the Hostess); their reconciliation is cemented by the prospect of Pistol’s profits selling food to the army. The Boy brings news of Sir John Falstaff’s mortal sickness. Scene 2: Henry makes a public demonstration of the traitors’ guilt, lamenting the taint it has cast upon his view of human nature, especially considering the intimate friendship he had enjoyed with Scroop. The traitors arrested, Henry orders the fleet to sail. Scene 3: The Hostess affectingly recounts the death of Falstaff. Scene 4: Exeter brings to the French court Henry’s formal claim to the French throne, and also delivers a scornful message to the Dauphin, who continues to hold the English king in slight regard. The French King asks for a day in which to consider Henry’s claim.

Act III, Prologue: The Chorus urges the audience to imagine the English fleet sailing from Southampton to Harfleur, which is then besieged. Scene 1: Henry exhorts his troops to greater efforts, asking them to adopt the animal ferocity required for success in war, and appealing to their sense of family honour: ‘Now attest/That those whom you called fathers did beget you…’ Scene 2: The cowardly parody of Henry’s speech offered by Nym, Pistol and Bardolph arouses the contempt of the Boy who follows them: he will ‘seek some better service’. Scene 3: Four captains, representing the four British nations, meet in the heat of battle. The Welsh Llewellyn and Irish MacMorris begin an angry dispute based on a misunderstanding: they are interrupted by a trumpet call sounding a truce. Scene 4: The Governor of Harfleur, despairing of relief, yields to Henry’s terrifying threats. Scene 5: Written in French. Alice, an old gentlewoman, gives a beginner’s English lesson to Katherine, the French princess. Scene 6: The King of France takes counsel. The valour and success of the English has taken the French by surprise, but the king urges a devastating response, encouraged by reports of the small number of able- bodied troops available to Henry, in whose army sickness is rife. Montjoy the herald is to discuss terms of ransom with Henry; the French king, together with the Dauphin, will await developments in Rouen. Scene 7: Exeter, following the express orders of the king, has condemned Bardolph to be hanged for stealing from a church. When Henry hears of this from Llewellyn he has no hesitation in confirming the order: even an old drinking companion cannot be exempt from justice. Montjoy arrives to demand surrender and ‘bid [Henry] consider of his ransom’. Henry confesses that he would prefer to avoid battle and march unimpeded back to Calais, but ‘if we be hindered,/We shall your tawny ground with your red blood/Discolour’. Battle seems inevitable next day. Scene 8: In the French camp the nobility, longing for the morning and the expected victory, exchange boasts about their horses and their armour, laying bets on who will capture the most Englishmen.

Act IV, Prologue: The Chorus vividly evokes the night scene in which the two armies can see each other by the light of their watchfires as they prepare for the coming battle. The weakened English forces are encouraged by the cheerful presence of their king, who offers ‘a little touch of Harry in the night’. Scene 1: Henry will meet ‘the princes in [his] camp’ shortly: meanwhile he wishes to spend some time on his own. Borrowing Sir Thomas Erpingham’s cloak, he moves, disguised, around the English camp, encountering first Pistol and then three soldiers: Bates, Court and Williams. He encourages them to consider the morality or otherwise of the war and the king’s responsibilities, seeking to make them aware of the latter’s common humanity – he ‘is but a man’ – and arguing the need for every individual to make his own peace with God rather than seeking to lay his sins upon the king’s head. Williams, questioning the king’s integrity a little too roundly, declares that he will give his unknown disputant a ‘box on the ear’ after the battle. Henry accepts the challenge. Alone, he laments the essential loneliness of kingship, arguing that only ‘ceremony’ separates a king from a peasant. Before returning to his nobles, Henry prays that God will ‘steel his soldiers’ hearts’ and that his ‘father’s fault in compassing the crown’ may be set aside, if only for the day. Scene 2: The French comment contemptuously on the reduced state of the English and look forward to an easy victory. Scene 3: In the English camp, Westmorland wishes for ten thousand more men. Henry uses this as a cue for his St Crispin’s Day speech, inviting his troops to see themselves as a ‘band of brothers’ whose glory will be the greater if their small number overcomes the enemy. Henry rejects a last opportunity to make terms offered by Montjoy, and battle is joined. Scene 4: The Boy watches as Pistol greedily bargains with his French prisoner for ransom money. He then expresses anxiety about the defenceless ‘lackeys’ who are the only guardians of the baggage. Scene 5: French nobles express anguish at the disorderly defeat which seems imminent. Scene 6: Henry, aware that victory is almost assured, hears news of the gallant deaths of Suffolk and York. An alarm signifies that the French are regrouping. Ruthlessly, Henry orders that ‘every soldier [should] kill his prisoners’. Scene 7: Llewellyn and Gower lament the treacherous murder of the boys left guarding the baggage. An angry Henry appears, seeking clarification from the French as to their intentions. Montjoy arrives to admit defeat and beg leave to bury the dead. Henry despatches Llewellyn and others to bring the dispute with Williams to a peaceful conclusion. Scene 8: Henry, witnessing the beginning of a fight between Williams and his deputy Llewellyn, intervenes, rewarding Williams with money after the latter has apologised. Exeter then reads ‘the number of the slaughtered French’. When Henry has heard of the tiny losses incurred by the English, he gives thanks to God and orders the departure for home.

Act V, Prologue: The Chorus speeds the audience over intervening events, including Henry’s triumphant return to England, and brings us back to France for the peace negotiations. Scene 1: Pistol, who has insulted Llewellyn as a Welshman, is given a deserved cudgelling. Scene 2: Burgundy, acting as mediator, paints a grim picture of economic and social disorder in France. The French king asks for a little more time to consider the terms of the peace treaty. Henry, having appointed representatives to deal with the final details, turns his attention to the wooing of Katherine. Presenting himself as a bluff, unsophisticated lover, he emphasises the unaffected honesty of his feelings and before long wins her consent. The treaty, including the marriage, is agreed, its chief term being that Henry becomes the named heir of the French king. Scene 3: The Chorus reaffirms the glorious achievements of Henry, but ends on a lower note as he recalls the disaster of the infant Henry VI’s reign, when France was lost.


Henry V is, at first sight, a patriotic play in which its eponymous hero presents an idealised picture of the warrior-king. English qualities of honour, resilience, courage in the face of adversity and social unity appear to be celebrated in a pageant of set-piece displays; so remarkable are the values demonstrated that the theatre and the actors must be inadequate, as the Chorus frequently reminds us. One has only to think of the two well-known film versions – Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version and Kenneth Branagh’s more recent one – to conjure images of sterling longbowmen and memories of heroic national rhetoric. The themes are surely clear: patriotism, kingship, comradeship.

Yet all is not quite so simple, as critics of the last half-century have tried to demonstrate. Henry himself is vulnerable to agonised self-doubt, as in his prayer before battle; he is capable of ruthlessness; and it is difficult at any one time to know which is the ‘real’ Henry, even (for example) in the moving account of his agonised disappointment at betrayal by his former intimate, Scroop. His self has been called ‘opaque’: he cannot afford to seem weak or uncertain, must be all things to all men, and can never forget his father’s sins. Thus he becomes the consummate actor, apparently indifferent to the fate of old friends in his desire to be the perfect prince, ready to put on a distasteful, uncomfortable performance in order to win his French princess. Then there is the repeated undercutting of idealism by cynicism – Nym, Bardolph and Pistol paradoxically echo their king’s words; the fighting at Agincourt is represented by Pistol’s mercenary treatment of his prisoner; the different nations brawl rather than pull together; Williams remains convinced of his king’s indifference to the ordinary soldier’s fate until after the battle, when he can hardly do other than apologise in the circumstances. Even the notion of English social unity – ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ – may be seen as temporary and convenient: when the dead are counted, Henry seems much more interested in those ‘of name’ than in ‘all other men’. Again, linguistic variety – ‘correct’ English, caricatured dialect forms, Alice’s pidgin English, a whole scene in French – serve, perhaps, to emphasise an almost comic disunity rather than the reverse.

But this complexity or ambiguity is what makes the play interesting, not to say typically Shakespearean, and we need to beware in any case of imposing modern notions of political correctness upon a sixteenth-century text. Shakespeare was certainly interested in a kind of social justice – think of King Lear, of Measure for Measure – but he was at least equally concerned with social order and the dangers of anarchy. My own feeling is that the power of this play derives in part from the imaginative realism of his depiction of power and responsibility: to be an effective king requires the sacrifice of what most of us regard as common humanity, and it cannot be otherwise. If Henry is less sympathetic than Hal, that is no fault of his. Think, for example, of his repeated, anxious deference to God and His will – hastily adding, after a burst of proud defiance, that ‘this lies all within the will of God’ or, after Agincourt, taking care to announce ‘not to us, but to Thy arm alone/Ascribe we all’. There is glory in Henry’s achievements, but there is also pathos: after all, the play ends not in triumph but in sober disappointment with the loss of everything Henry had bought so dearly.

Notes by Perry Keenlyside



Shakespeare’s Henry V is a play that is a mass of contradictions, and has been both extolled and execrated by the critics. It sits awkwardly in the canon of history plays, and Shakespeare may not have been at ease in writing it. He seems to have found the subject matter (strong leadership, the glorification of war and the dubious justification for an invasion of a foreign country) difficult to come to terms with as a poet. Indeed, he constantly apologises through the mouthpiece of the Chorus, for the inadequacies of the stage and his inventive processes in dealing with so epic a subject. It was a technique he had never employed before, nor ever would again. Is it possible that Shakespeare didn’t want to write this play at all, or at least not in this way, but was coerced by his fellow shareholders at the Globe Theatre?

It seems certain that Henry V was written in 1599, a momentous year for Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This was the year their new theatre, ‘The Globe’, opened on Bankside, carefully and economically constructed from the timbers of their old one across the river in Shoreditch. ‘The Globe’ needed a sensational opening production to put it on the map. What better than a revamp of the old history of Henry V, the warrior-king whose victory at Agincourt against overwhelming odds was nothing short of a miracle. The story had everything: battles, drama, humour, a love- interest in Henry’s wooing of Katharine, the King of France’s daughter, and it was well- suited to the times.

For in 1599, England was at ‘war’ with its dominion Ireland, and Robert Devereux, the young Earl of Essex, the very image of a Henry V, was in the process of subduing the Irish rebels. He was the man of the moment, and Shakespeare unmistakably links this Elizabethan rising sun with his hero Henry. The Elizabethan ‘plebeians’ will like their medieval counterparts ‘go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in:

As, by a lover but by loving likelihood. Were now the general of our gracious empress,
As in good time he may, from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit/to welcome him!’

Yet, Shakespeare seems to have had difficulties in presenting a mere celebratory romp through the well-known story. In fact he has written two plays in ‘Henry V’, so the audience may take it on whatever level pleases them. There is enough patriotic rhetoric in the play, of the ‘God for Harry, England and St George’ variety to satisfy those who look for a celebration of heroism and a victorious war, and on one level Shakespeare is examining the nature of leadership, the qualities desirable in a strong and just prince, a ‘mirror of all Christian kings’.

But he could not stop himself presenting a more rounded characterisation than a one-dimensional catalogue of virtues. Herein lies the second ‘hidden’ play. Shakespeare strives to show that this idealised monarch also has a human face: ‘The king is but a man’.

This leads him inevitably to start to explore the darker shadows cast by this sun king. In 1599, Shakespeare was moving away from the romantic comedies and chronicle plays, towards the deeper explorations of human nature he expressed in Hamlet and the tragedies. It is the scene before Agincourt, (Act IV Scene 1), where we feel Shakespeare turns a corner in his writing and almost takes the play in another direction. The voice of the common man, Williams and Bates, enters the chivalric argument, sounding a new note of doubt about the moral justification of the war, and leaving Henry, Hamlet-like, to wrestle with his conscience about his personal responsibility.

It is not however Shakespeare’s intention to go down this winding road yet, and to put the play back on track, he uses his Chorus to inject doses of ‘praise and glory’ on his hero’s head. This is some of the finest poetic writing in the whole gamut of Shakespeare’s plays. So fine, in fact, it could be the voice of the poet himself.

So, in this production ‘work your thoughts’, and imagine the Chorus is indeed Shakespeare, in ‘little room’ going through the difficult creative process of writing the brilliant yet controversial history of ‘King Henry the Fifth.’

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