Henry the Fifth

Questions on Shakespeare’s Histories

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Shakespeare, William. King Henry V. (Norton Histories, 2nd ed. 759-836).


1. In the Prologue, what does the Chorus ask theater-goers to do? In what sense might the Chorus be said to give the spoken words of Shakespeare’s play the place of honor in their experience?

2. In Act 1, Scenes 1-2, the Bishops of Ely and Canterbury have their reasons (money, for the most part) for sending the young Henry off to France. But what specific arguments do they employ to convince him — what is Salic Law, and what do the Bishops say about Henry’s predecessor kings?

3. In Act 1, Scene 2, what qualities in Henry are brought to the fore by the Dauphin’s wicked present of “tennis balls” in place of a serious answer to his claims upon the French throne?


4. In Act 2, Scene 1, what seems to be Shakespeare’s principle in going back and forth between serious and silly, noble and low, as he begins to do here with the comic scene between Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym (Henry’s friends from Henry IV, Parts 1-2)? How does their quarreling compare to that of their betters?

5. In Act 2, Scene 2, how does King Henry set forth the moral of the treason and fall of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey? Pay particular attention to his comments about Scroop.

6. In Act 2, Scene 3, how do Henry’s former friends Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym see the impending war with France? When they learn that old Jack Falstaff has finally died, what effect does his passing have upon them? What do they think is the cause of his death?

7. In Act 2, Scene 4, what contrast between the French outlook on war and the English one appears? How does Exeter, in his message to the King of France, undercut the expectations and rhetoric of Shakespeare’s French?


8. What perspectives on war do Act 3, Scenes 1-3, taken together, advance? Consider the remarks of Henry, Pistol/Bardolph/Nym, and the Welshman Fluellen.

9. In Act 3, Scene 4, the French Princess Katherine explores the presence of the English from her own perspective. What does she add to our understanding of the war and the French?

10. In Act 3, Scenes 5-7, how does King Henry’s insistence on hanging Bardolph for theft show about his grasp of proper kingship? How can we connect this part of the play with Fluellen’s failure to discern (at least initially) Pistol’s nature? Consider this question in light of Shakespeare’s perpetual interest in sorting out “seeming” from “being.”

11. In Act 3, Scene 7, what flaw in the Dauphin’s character reaffirms itself? How does the Constable undercut the Dauphin’s claims?


12. In Act 4, Scene 1, why does Henry wander about the camp on the eve of battle? What does he find out about the way some of his subjects (Williams and Bates) think of their part in the campaign? What argument does Henry use to bring Williams around, and what quarrel nonetheless remains between them?

13. In Act 4, Scene 1, when Henry is at last alone, how does he sum up his thoughts on the nature and responsibilities of kingship? What spiritual burden will he bring with him into battle, aside from anything to do with current events?

14. In Act 4, Scenes 2-3, contrast the Frenchmen’s high words before battle with what Henry and his English followers say. What assumptions do the French make about the English, and what proves effective for Henry in lifting the spirits of his men?

15. How do Act 4, Scenes 4-5 work together to show the French side’s shameful conduct?

16. In Act 4, Scenes 6-8, how much realism do you find in Shakespeare’s representation of the battle and the views characters take concerning war? And how does King Henry explain his unlikely triumph over the French?

17. In Act 4, Scenes 7-8, how does the quarrel between King Henry and Williams get settled? What moral principle does this settlement reaffirm?


18. In Act 5, Scene 1, what lesson about symbolism does Fluellen teach Pistol when the two meet? And what does Pistol plan to do now that the war is over?

19. Act 5, Scene 2, what strategy does King Henry employ to win Katherine’s heart and her assent to the marriage that will make him heir to the French throne? What objections does she make, and how does he deal with them?

20. Critics have long argued both sides of an obvious issue in Henry V: is the play pro-English and pro-war to the point of jingoism (a “jingo” is someone who is too quick to call for war, usually to promote national prestige), or should we say that Shakespeare is criticizing others for such attitudes? Or do you find that “either/or” argument simplistic? Explain.

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Four-Volume Genre Paperback Set. Norton, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93152-5.

Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake