Henry V

by William Shakespeare
352 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

An epic play of glory and war, but with a harsh tone.


(Also known as "The Life of Henry V")

This play surrounds the events of the campaigns of Henry V in France, most significantly at the Battle of Agincourt. Spruced up and given some Shakespearean spice, the Hundred Years War takes the stage.


The world of the fifteenth century is well portrayed here. The coarseness of the "common people" as well as the idea of the Divine Right of Kings are both shown. King Henry is positive that he holds the right to the French throne, and thus believes that it is his duty to capture France. The characters of the subplot - Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol - are rough and a bit lacking in the way of morals. Pistol resorts to thievery in the end and another character is hanged for stealing. Treason is mentioned in one scene.

Shakespeare romanticizes Henry V and portrays him as a magnanimous king: brave in battle, God-fearing, and noble...but still with a Medieval perspective.

Spiritual Content

The play starts off with two bishops discussing a proposed law which, if passed, would cut the amount of money going into their purses. Harry (Henry V) prays to God and invokes His name. "Abraham's bosom" is confused with "Arthur's bosom."


The play surrounds two major battles - the taking of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt - so one can expect a good bit of violence. Pistol also threatens people with Shakespeare's customary embellished and slightly gory speeches. Some men are sentenced to be executed for treason; another man is hanged; suicide is considered by a few noblemen; and wounds received in battle are described.

Drug and Alcohol Content

"Fuel" is used to refer to liquor at one point.

Sexual Content

It is suggested that the French prince, the Dauphin, is a little too fond of his horse. In his address to Katherine, daughter of the French King, Henry makes a comment which may be one of Shakespeare's subtle bawdy quips. A feud between Pistol and Nym, which arose from Pistol's marrying the girl Nym was betrothed to, is mentioned in Act 2, and this part also contains some references to adultery. In Scene 3 of the same act, the Whore of Babylon is mentioned.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Several times, a euphemism for the f-word is used by Pistol. A woman is called a w**** and Pistol calls a man a dog. It is mentioned that Harry lived a dissolute life before becoming king, at which point he laid aside former frivolities.


"Henry V" contains some of Shakespeare's most memorable orations, such as the Saint Crispin's Day speech, and surrounds the historical events of Henry's campaign against France in fictional glory. Though Shakespeare accurately portrays the harshness of the times, it is still a memorable work of literature and will probably be enjoyed by classic enthusiasts.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 2.5
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

Average rating: 4 stars
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