Henry V

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Themes and Colors
Kingship Theme Icon
Warfare Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
Appearances Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Henry V, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
England Theme Icon

Just as Henry V presents a multifaceted perspective on warfare, it also portrays a diverse portrait of England. Throughout the play, England is understood as a royal line, a malleable geography, a multicultural melting pot, and a source of patriotic pride. Faith in England’s royal line and indignation at France’s attempt to truncate that line spurs the action of the play. Henry V goes to war, he believes, to claim a monarchic right over France inherited from his great-uncle Edward III. Though King Charles and the Dauphin deny that claim, the French are nevertheless intimidated by England’s royal line. Henry comes from “victorious stock,” King Charles reminds his son. A sense of that stock stands stronger in the English mind than any sense of national geography. England’s borders are permeable. Henry goes to war to extend them and thinks, in going, that the Scottish will inevitably try and push them back. With England’s lands in constant flux, the English place more weight on national character than on geography, taking pride in the “lions” of Henry’s blood and striving for honor and courage. Indeed, even the French acknowledge that English toughness and bravery seem at odds with the damp, dull, murky landscapes of England.

While the play celebrates royal lineage, it also celebrates the diverse lineage of common Englishman by incorporating characters from a wide variety of backgrounds and English subcultures. Characters hail from every class and from many different cultures: Henry V and Captain Fluellen are Welsh, Captain MacMorris is Irish, and Captain Jamy is Scottish. Though the captains’ heavy accents identify their backgrounds, their high ranks in the army prove that those backgrounds haven’t biased English society against them. In fact, Captain Gower (who is English) chastises Pistol for failing to show Fluellen’s Welsh heritage due tolerance.

Perhaps most crucially, England is a source of patriotic pride and a rousing cause to fight for. Henry’s inspirational speeches to his troops before the battles of Harfleur and Agincourt understand this fact and convince English soldiers to forget exhaustion, illness, and fear for the sake of England, uniting army members of every stripe in their common identity as honorable citizens of England, a “band of brothers” embracing any brave Englishman from the lowliest soldier to King Henry V himself.

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England Quotes in Henry V

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry V related to the theme of England.
Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.32-37
Explanation and Analysis:

With his forces about to engage the French in their first battle, Henry delivers this speech, which begins, "Once more into the breach, dear friends." This rousing pre-battle speech is evidence of the eloquence that Canterbury and Ely ascribed to Henry in Act 1 Scene 1. Here he uses language to reinforce his Kingship, and by appealing to his soldiers as both friends and Englishman, rhetorically prepares them with visions of their connection to their country and their king to rally them to face and overcome the horrors of warfare.

In these lines he calls all of his soldiers noble, saying that even the lowest of them have "noble luster" in their eyes. In the preceding speech they have been told to discard their peaceful ways and embrace the battle that will follow, and they have been reminded of England's proud history and many victories. Now, they "stand like greyhounds," ready to fight for their country and their king. Declaring "the game's afoot," Henry gives his final rallying cry, telling his men to follow their spirits and, charging, cry out "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" In this way he appeals simultaneously to their faith, their sense of camaraderie with each other as soldiers and countrymen, and their sense of duty to their King. Note that by calling himself the informal Harry, he draws his men even closer to him.

Henry may believe all these things, but once again he is also putting on a performance for his men here. He is, through his words, conjuring a vision of a united England while also helping the men to conjure visions of their own best, bravest selves. 


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Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Where have they this mettle?
Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruite with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth,
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?

Related Characters: The Constable of France (speaker)
Page Number: 3.5.15-20
Explanation and Analysis:

The war between England and France is now well underway, and here the French King and his retinue discuss England and their advance thus far. In these lines, the constable wonders how the English have so much strength ("mettle"). Speaking about England's climate, he finds it miraculous that such a rainy, "foggy, raw and dull" place where "the sun looks pale" could turn out such ferocious warriors. How, he asks, can the cold damp place make men with such "valiant heat?"

As the conversation continues, these French lords will continue to suggest that the Englishmen put Frenchmen to shame, since French women now yearn for the English. These lines can be seen as an appeal to the English audience of the play, who would probably have cheered upon hearing praise of their country. 

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.23-25
Explanation and Analysis:

No longer disguised and once more fully inhabiting his role as king, Henry speaks to calm and inspire his men who are worried and wishing for more soldiers. The English, in fact, are about to face a French army that is massively larger than their own. 

In this famous speech, called the St. Crispin's Day Speech, Henry appeals to fate and glory, suggesting that if the men are "mark'd to die," then it is simply time for them to die for their country. And "if to live," than the fewer that survive, the greater the honor is for each one of them. By consigning their lives to fate and appealing to their sense of English pride and honor, Henry returns to the ideals of warfare in honor of England that he evoked in his famous "Once more into the breach" speech, and prepares his men to fight for victory.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.62-69
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, also excerpted from the St. Crispin's Day Speech, are probably the most famous from the play. In an impressive display of rhetoric and masterful use of language, Henry makes his soldiers feel like his equals and relish their opportunity to fight for and with him. He marks the exclusivity of the chance with "we few," and immediately modifies it to "we happy few," making clear that the group is not a grim company marching towards death but rather a lucky group of men granted a rare chance to achieve glory.

He then calls the whole group a "band of brothers," and says that whoever on that day fights with him will be his brother. To instill in them bravery and the desire to fight, he places them on his kingly level, inviting them to share in his glory. He then appeals to their sense of patriotism and honor by suggesting that any Englishmen missing the fight will curse themselves for missing the opportunity and question their own manhood. Again, we see Henry use masterful language to energize his men with multiple, overlapping ideals. These speeches are extremely performative, and indicative of Henry's success as a king.

Act 4, Scene 7 Quotes

All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty’s Welsh plod out of your pody, I can tell you that: God pless it and preserve it as long as it pleases his Grace and his Majesty too.

Related Characters: Captain Fluellen (speaker), Henry V
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 4.7.112-114
Explanation and Analysis:

The battle is won, and Henry has named it the Battle of Agincourt. Here Fluellen, a Welsh captain in the army, reminisces about Henry's relatives, which brings the appeal to royal lineage full circle. Henry's men persuaded him to act as the "former lions of [his] blood" did, and now Fluellen praises Henry saying that he has lived up to those great ancestors. In these lines Fluellen refers specifically to Henry's Welsh relatives, saying that "all of the water in Wye" couldn't wash the King's Welsh blood ("plod") out of his body ("pody"). Note that the alliteration of blood and body is altered, yet still preserved by Fluellen's accent.

These lines also show that Fluellen feels close to his King and feels the sense of brotherhood, camaraderie, and patriotism which Henry tried to instill in his men. The lines also help to illustrate and stake a claim about English greatness: that the country is unified across its many cultures and people: British, Welsh, Scottish, etc. Henry must represent and account for all of the different cultures that he rules; as king he is the entirety of his country and his peoples. In this moment, it is the Welsh aspect of his Englishness that shines, but more broadly Henry has been successful in embodying and unifying them all.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Will you mock at an ancient tradition, begun upon an honourable respect, and worn as a memorable trophy of predeceased valour and dare not avouch in your deeds any of your words? I have seen you gleeking and galling at this gentlemen twice or thrice. You thought, because he could not speak English in the native garb, he could not therefore handle an English cudgel: you find it otherwise; and henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you a good English condition.

Related Characters: Captain Gower (speaker), Ancient Pistol
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 5.1.74-83
Explanation and Analysis:

In these lines, Captain Gower chides Pistol based on a series of interactions between Pistol and Fluellen. Pistol has mocked Fluellen, making fun of his traditions and asking him to eat his leek (which is disrespectful to a Welsh man). Fluellen has been wearing the leek past when he usually would so that he could settle things with Pistol; upon meeting Pistol, Fluellen insults him, beats him, makes him bite the leek, and gives him a coin.

Here, Gower tells Pistol that he essentially deserved the harsh treatment for mocking "an ancient tradition." Gower says he has seen Pistol "gleeking and galling at [Fluellen] twice or thrice," thinking that because of his accent, he was less threatening and demanding of respect. But after the beating, Gower claims, Pistol has found otherwise, and learned a "good English condition" from a "Welsh correction." In other words, a Welshman has taught him how to be a good Englishman, who is respectful and gentlemanly. This lesson reinforces the image of England as inclusive, culturally diverse, and honorable.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Take her, fair son, and from her blood raise up
Issue to me; that the contending kingdoms
Of France and England, whose very shores look pale
With envy of each other’s happiness,
May cease their hatred.

Related Characters: King Charles (speaker), Henry V, Katherine
Page Number: 5.2.360-364
Explanation and Analysis:

Spoken by the King of France, this quote is one of the last in the play. Katherine has agreed (as if she had a choice) to the marriage, and for now there is peace. Here King Charles speaks to Henry, telling him to produce a male heir so that the French and English bloodlines merge (including Charles own blood), so that the "contending kingdoms / Of France and England" may have peace, instead of hating and envying each other.

These lines are optimistic, and Act 5 ends on a strong note, but the Chorus explains that the child Charles wished for, Henry VI quickly lost France and caused harm to England as well. In fact, Shakespeare's audience would have been extremely familiar with the actual history (Henry V died just months after his son was born; and Henry VI was eventually killed by a rival family, the Yorks, in the events leading up to the rise of Richard III) and have seen Shakespeare's plays about that history (the three Henry VI plays as well as Richard III), so King Charles' optimistic lines would have been seen by audience members as deeply ironic.

The failure of Henry V's son to hold on to the legacy that Henry passed down also suggests two things. First, just how capable and adept Henry V himself was. He truly did unite an England that before his reign and just after was riven by civil war, and he did so with a kind of performance and mastery of appearances that made him, at least while he was alive, a kind of cure for the underlying fractures within English society. Second, at the same time, his amazing success was temporary, itself almost no more than an appearance or illusion that disappeared or was proved false as soon he died. Just as the play could not really recreate the past (as the Chorus states in the Prologue), Henry's own performance as king could not make the brief period of his glorious reign last into the future.