Henry V


William Shakespeare

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Henry V makes teaching easy.

Henry V: Allusions 3 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Adam and Paradise:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest religious authority in Catholic, medieval England, alludes to the biblical figure of Adam when describing the personal growth exhibited by the young King Henry V: 

Yea, at that very moment
Consideration like an angel came
And whipped th’ offending Adam out of him,
Leaving his body as a paradise
T’ envelop and contain celestial spirits.

Speaking privately with the Bishop of Ely, the Archbishop hopes to deter Henry from confiscating properties belonging to the Church, and he pauses to comment on the seemingly remarkable shift in the King’s character. He suggests that “Consideration"—in other words, thoughtfulness—came to the previously insolent Henry abruptly, like an angel. In the Bible, God sends angels to expel Adam and Eve from Paradise after they have disobeyed God’s orders. Here, the Archbishop imagines a similar scene, in which an angel physically beats “th’ offending Adam out of” Henry. 

In this allusion, then, the Archbishop uses an angel to represent Henry’s newfound thoughtfulness, and the figure of Adam to represent the sinful aspects of Henry’s character. Just as Adam is banished from Paradise, so too is sinfulness expelled from Henry, “leaving his body as a paradise” in which only holy spirits live. Through this complex allusion, the Archbishop imagines the shift in the King’s character—from a rebellious youth to a mature and responsible King—as a sort of spiritual battle. So too does the Archbishop’s allusion cloak the King in language of spiritual purity, comparing him to the garden of Eden once the sinful Adam has been expelled. 

Act 1, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Edward, the Black Prince:

Granted a private audience with Henry, the Archbishop of Canterbury alludes to various members of the King’s illustrious lineage, including King Edward III and Prince Edward, also known as the Black Prince: 

Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire’s tomb,
From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit
And your great-uncle’s, Edward the Black Prince,
Who on the French ground played a tragedy,
Making defeat on the full power of France
Whiles his most mighty father on a hill
Stood smiling to behold his lion’s whelp
Forage in blood of French nobility

The Archbishop’s speech references events and figures from the then-recent past. First, he implores Henry to visit his “great-grandsire’s tomb,” the final resting place of King Edward II. There, the Archbishop suggests, he will be inspired by the “warlike spirit” of his ancestor. Next, the Archbishop alludes to Edward the Black Prince, great-uncle to Henry. As the Archbishop notes, Prince Edward was valorized as a great military hero in the early years of the Hundred Years War, an ongoing conflict between England and France. 

The Archbishop alludes to these figures in order to convince Henry to finish what his forefathers started by conclusively defeating the Kingdom of France in war. In referencing Prince Edward, the Archbishop urges Henry to match the accomplishments of his celebrated ancestors, who had considerable success in their military engagements with England’s enemies. The Archbishop’s description of King Edward III looking down proudly on his son’s achievements from up high “on a hill” reminds Henry to make his own father proud as he watches from heaven. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—King Arthur:

The Hostess of a public tavern in London makes an ironic allusion to the legendary figure of King Arthur in describing the death of Falstaff, King Henry’s former companion and mentor. When Bardolph says that he wishes that he was with Falstaff “either in heaven or in hell,” the Hostess sharply refutes the implication that Falstaff might have gone to hell, stating: 

Nay, sure, he’s not in hell! He’s in Arthur’s
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. He
made a finer end, and went away an it had been any christom child.

The phrase “Abraham’s bosom” appears in the Bible, and Christian interpreters read the phrase as referring to heaven. The Hostess, then, confuses the important biblical figure of Abraham with the medieval folk hero King Arthur, exposing her own ignorance and reflecting her comic role in the play as a “low” or common character. Religious authorities in Shakespeare's day often condemned folk tales, and particularly the legends of King Arthur, as distractions from the Bible and other religious study; the Hostess’s mistaken allusion seems to confirm this anxiety. Worse yet, her impious confusion leaves open the question of whether or not Falstaff has indeed gone to heaven or hell after his death. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+