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NA320512 - SHAKESPEARE, W.: Henry V (Unabridged)

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Henry V


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 honorable 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 2 Henry IV 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 fulfill 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 behavior 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 1, Prologue: The Chorus apologizes 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…savor but of shallow wit’. Henry then orders immediate preparations for invasion.


Act 2, Prologue: The scene shifts to Southampton, where the fleet’s departure is delayed by the discovery of 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 3, 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 honor: ‘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 valor 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/Discolor’. 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 armor, laying bets on who will capture the most Englishmen.


Act 4, Prologue: The Chorus vividly evokes the night scene in which two armies can see each other by the light of their watch-fires 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 defenseless ‘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 dispatches 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 apologized. 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 5, 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 cudgeling. 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 emphasizes 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 idealized picture of the warrior-king. English qualities of honor, 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 theater 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, and comradeship.

Yet all is not quite so simple, as critics of the last half century have tried

to demonstrate. Henry himself is vulnerable to agonized 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 agonized 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, 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 apologize 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 emphasize 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 16th 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 apologizes 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 theater , ‘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 re-vamp 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, humor, 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 characterization than a one-dimensional catalog of virtues. Herein lies the second ‘hidden’ play. Shakespeare strives to show that this idealized 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 Scene1), 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.’


The Cast of Henry V

            Henry V          Samuel West

            Chorus          Timothy West

            Katharine      Cathy Sara

            Archbishop/Scroop Hugh Dickson

            Pistol/Grandpré       Nigel Anthony

            Exeter/Rambures/Erpingham       Stephen Thorne

            Llewellyn/Bretagne Bernard Lloyd

            Gower/Nym/Ely        Ian Masters

            Hostess/Alice/Queen Isabel         Auriol Smith

            French king/Cambridge/Bates     Roy Spencer

            Dauphin/Court/French soldier/Westmorland    Roger May    

            Bourbon/Williams/Salisbury         Barrie Jaimeson

            Constable/Bardolph/Macmorris   Jonathan Keeble

            Orléans/Gloucester Nick Fletcher

            Burgundy/Governor/York/Bedford David Timson

            Montjoy/French Ambassador/Grey/Jamy/Warwick        Peter Yapp

            Boy     Dominic Kraemer


            Director          David Timson

            Producer       Nicolas Soames

            Engineer       Mike Etherden

            Stage Management Alison Mackenzie


Recorded at Motivation Sound Studios, London (August 3-4, 2000)


SAMUEL WEST (Henry V) was widely praised for his performance as Leonard Bast in the Merchant Ivory film, Howard’s End. Other film credits include Carrington and Reunion, and he has been seen on television in Persuasion and Heavy Weather. Theatrical roles have included Valentine in Arcadia and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest.


TIMOTHY WEST’s (Chorus) numerous London stage performances began in 1959 with the farce Caught Napping. He has appeared with the National, Royal Shakespeare Company and Prospect Theatre companies playing among others, King Lear, Prospero, Shylock and Macbeth. Among his many television appearances are: Edward VII, Beecham, Brass and Churchill and the Generals. His films include Ever After, Joan of Arc and Villa of Roses. In 1984 he was awarded CBE for his services to the profession.


CATHY SARA (Katharine) has worked for the New Shakespeare Company in The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, as well as the Stephen Joseph Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse and in King Lear at the Hackney Empire. Her television appearances include Kavanagh QC, Beck, The Detectives and Heartbeat, and she has worked extensively for the BBC Radio Repertory.


HUGH DICKSON (Archbishop/Scroop) is a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC Radio Drama Company. He has specialized in verse-speaking, working with many leading poets on radio, platform and recordings. Stage appearances include Escalus in Measure for Measure and Prof Riley in Shadowlands. Radio work includes Camillo in The Winter’s Tale and Guy Crouchback in Sword of Honour.


NIGEL ANTHONY (Pistol/Grandpré) is one of Britain’s leading voice actors with wide experience of reading for audiobooks and on radio. His extensive work for BBC Radio has twice won Best Actor awards. He is also known for his work in television (Coronation Street, Slender, Casualty, and others) and in theater, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and with Alan Ayckbourn at Scarborough.


STEPHEN THORNE (Exeter/Rambures/Erpingham) has made over 2,000 broadcasts for BBC Radio as well as theater and television appearances. He has recorded over 100 audiobooks, mostly unabridged, including The Sheep Pig, all the Brother Cadfael novels and works by Dickens and Hardy.

BERNARD LLOYD (Llewellyn/Bretagne) trained at RADA.


His theater credits include Still Time (Manchester Royal Exchange), Give Me Your Answer Do (Lyric Theatre, Belfast), Mother Courage (Contact Theatre, Manchester), and many Royal Shakespeare Company credits—most recently A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and A Christmas Carol. His television credits include Pavements of Gold, A Christmas Carol, episodes of Coronation Street, McCallum, Food For Ravens, Casualty and Inspector Morse.

IAN MASTERS (Gower/Nym/Ely) has worked in radio, television and theater for over thirty years. From the Welsh College of Music & Drama he went to regional reps and then into the West End where he played the lead in No Sex Please We’re British. Other West End productions include Noises Off, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and Conduct Unbecoming. On television he has played parts as diverse as Birdman in Red Dwarf to Siegfried Sassoon in Fatal Spring. Films include: Jigsaw Man, Telling Tales and Pathfinders.


AURIOL SMITH (Hostess/Alice/Queen Isabel) has played many leading roles including Paulina in A Winter’s Tale touring the USA, and Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World at Manchester Royal Exchange. Recent television appearances include One Foot in the Grave and Peak Practice. Her many voice recordings include 40 Years On’ with Alan Bennett and Losing Rosalind for BBC Radio 4.


ROY SPENCER’s (French King/Cambridge/Bates) spear carrying, repertory work, first appearance on television and first broadcast followed training at RADA. Fans still request photos and send questionnaires about the making of a 1970s Dr. Who serial. For BBC Radio 4, he has written and presented programs and has made three American tours with his one-man D.H. Lawrence shows.


ROGER MAY (Dauphin/Court/French Soldier/ Westmorland) has done over 80 radio plays and spent a year with the BBC Radio Drama Company in 1995-6, following that with a season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. On television he has appeared in, among others, Mosley, Peak Practice and Hornblower and, on film, The Scarlet Tunic and An Ideal Husband.


BARRIE JAIMESON (Bourbon/Williams/Salisbury) trained at The Webber Douglas Academy and has had a long theater career appearing in many London productions, repertory theaters across the UK and national tours. His television appearances have included The Bill, Pie In The Sky, Albion Market and Bergerac. He recently completed filming A Kind of Hush for the First Film Company.


JONATHAN KEEBLE’s (Constable/Bardolph/Macmorris) theater credits include leading roles at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Coventry, Liverpool, Exeter, Lancaster and West Yorkshire Playhouse. Television includes People Like Us, The Two Of Us and Deptford Grafitti. Jonathan has featured in over 250 radio plays for the BBC and was a member of the Radio Drama Company.


NICK FLETCHER (Orléans/Gloucester) began his career in Henry V and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside at Shakespeare’s Globe. Other theater work includes A Difficult Age for English Touring Theatre, seven plays at the Orange Tree in the’98/’99 company, Silence at the Birmingham Rep and After The War for Granada TV.


DAVID TIMSON (Burgundy/Governor/York/Bedford and Director) has performed in modern and classic plays across the UK and abroad, including Wild Honey for Alan Ayckbourn, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and The Seagull. He has been seen on television in Nelson’s Column and Swallows and Amazons, and in the film The Russia House. A familiar and versatile audio and radio voice, Timson is a frequent reader on Naxos AudioBooks.


PETER YAPP (Montjoy/French Ambassador/Grey/Jamy/ Warwick) has appeared in plays and theaters across Britain and in the West End including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Piccadilly, and The Black Prince at the Aldwych, and spent a year with the BBC Radio Drama Company. His TV credits include House of Elliot, Martin Chuzzlewit and Poirot.


DOMINIC KRAEMER (Boy) studies music at the Purcell School and is a member of the Finchley Children’s Music Group. He has appeared in Joy to the World, sung in Britten’s St. Nicolas as well as in the chorus in Carmen, The Nutcracker (ENB), Wind in the Willows (NT); he was Eyolf in Little Eyolf at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the National Theatre Studio. He appeared in the 2000 Royal Military Tattoo and at the Queen Mother’s 100 Birthday Pageant at Horse Guards Parade.


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