Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Genre 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Explanation and Analysis:

In the First Folio, Shakespeare’s plays are divided into three categories: histories, tragedies, and comedies. Henry V is a history play, and like Shakespeare’s other history plays, it depicts the life of a medieval king whose actions shaped British history. As its title suggests, this play concerns the life and reign of King Henry V in the period leading up to and during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. This battle marked a significant military victory for the English over the French in the early stages of the Hundred Years War, a long and bloody struggle for power between the French and English monarchies over control of the French throne. 

As is the case in many of Shakespeare's history plays, Henry V blends fact with fiction to create a compelling dramatic narrative that is not always historically accurate. In crafting his portrayal of King Henry V, Shakespeare draws liberally from various historical sources, including the Chronicles of Holinshed, as well as earlier plays concerning the life of the medieval King. The play features a number of real historical figures, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duke of Exeter, and the French King Charles VI, but Shakespeare also takes creative liberties. Shakespeare invents the scene of the tennis ball, for example, in order to give King Henry V a personal motivation for entering the war. 

Though Henry V is a good example of a history play, it also contains elements generally associated with comedy and tragedy. Shakespeare introduces such characters as Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym, buffoonish figures with no basis in history, in order to provide comic relief that occasionally lightens the otherwise serious mood of the play. In addition, Henry V contains elements of tragedy, such as the death of King Henry’s former friend and mentor Falstaff, a major character in the earlier plays, Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II. Even the comic characters, then, are not spared from tragedy, and by the end of the play, both Bardolph and Nym are executed by Henry for looting.