Themes in Henry V

This resource is designed as a reference guide for teachers. We have listed the major themes and motifs within Henry V and provided examples of scenes where you can study them.

Themes:


Motifs:
(Recurring elements and patterns of imagery in Heny V which support the play's themes)


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This document is designed as a resource for teachers which can be adapted to use with your students.


Themes

Leadership and the qualities needed to be an effective king and whether these are the same as those of a good person.
Some related scenes:

  • Act 1 Scene 1: The Bishop of Ely and the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrate Henry's transformation from a dissolute youth to accomplished and responsible leader.
  • Act 2 Scene 1: Henry has cut himself off from his old friends. Falstaff is dying and Nym and Pistol suggest that Henry has broken his heart.
  • Act 2 Scene 2: Henry dismisses the three traitors' pleas for mercy in sentencing them to death.
  • Act 3 Scene 1: Henry delivers his rousing 'Once more into the breach, dear friends' speech to the English army.
  • Act 3 Scene 6: Henry approves the sentencing of his old friend, Bardolf, to death for stealing. He stresses the importance of protecting the rights of the conquered French.
  • Act 4 Prologue: The Chorus tells of Henry, disguised, visiting his soldiers in the night to give them encouragement.
  • Act 4 Scene 1: After discussing the upcoming battle with various soldiers, Henry reflects on the heavy burdens of kingship.
  • Act 5 Scene 2: Henry successfully negotiates peace, his marriage to Catherine uniting France and England.


The glory of war
Some related scenes:

  • Act 2 Prologue: The Chorus describes the heroic determination and commitment of the entire country to the war ('Now all the youth of England are on fire...').
  • Act 3 Prologue: The Chorus chronicles the glamorous crossing of the English fleet and the army's triumphant siege of Harfleur.
  • Act 3 Scene 1: Henry delivers his rousing 'Once more into the breach, dear friends' speech to the English army.
  • Act 4 Prologue: The Chorus stresses the nobility of the patient English who expect to die the next day.
  • Act 4 Scene 3: Henry delivers his St. Crispin Day speech before the Battle of Agincourt where the French will outnumber them five to one.
  • Act 4 Scene 6: Exeter describes the deaths of York and Suffolk, moving Henry to tears.
  • Act V Prologue: The Chorus reports Henry's triumphant return to England.


The horror of war
Some related scenes:

  • Act 2 Scene 4: Henry's letter to the Dauphin warns of 'this hungry war' which will open its 'vasty jaws' and produce 'widows' tears, the orphans' cries...'
  • Act 3 Scene 2: Nym, Pistol and the Boy wish they were safe at home, drinking ale.
  • Act 3 Scene 3: Henry vividly describes the terrible suffering of Harfleur citizens should the Governor not surrender.
  • Act 4 Scene 4: We learn that Nym has also been hanged for stealing.
  • Act 4 Scene 6: Exeter describes the deaths of York and Suffolk, moving Henry to tears. Henry orders all the French prisoners to be killed.
  • Act 4 Scene 7: Learning of the murder of the pages, Henry repeats his order to kill the French prisoners.



Motifs

Parallel scenes between noblemen and commoners
For example:

  • 'But I will rise there with so full a glory / That I will dazzle all the eyes of France'
    Act 1 Scene 2
  • 'Now all the youth of England are on fire'
    Act 2 Prologue
  • 'I dare not fight, but I will wink and hold out mine iron. It is a simple one, but what though? It will toast cheese, and it will endure cold as another man's sword will - and there's an end'
    Act 2 Scene 1
  • 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...'
    Act 3 Scene 1
  • 'On, on, on, on, on! to the breach, to the breach!'
    Act 3 Scene 2
  • 'For there is none of you so mean and base / That hath not lustre in your eyes...'
    Act 3 Scene 1
  • 'Knocks go and come; God's vassals drop and die; / And sword and shield / In bloody field / Doth win immortal fame'
    Act 3 Scene 2
  • 'Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety'
    Act 3 Scene 2


Friendships as these illustrate a range of styles of human relationships and human qualities; also as they highlight the isolation of Henry.
For example:

  • 'A noble shalt thou have, and present pay; / And liquor likewise will I give to thee,
    And friendship shall combine, and brotherhood. / I'll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me...Give me thy hand'
    Act 2 Scene 1
  • 'As ever you come of women, come in quickly to Sir John....Sweet men, come to him'
    Act 2 Scene 1
  • 'Tut! I have the best armour of the world. Would it were day! / You have an excellent armour; but let my horse have his due.
    It is the best horse of Europe'
    Act 3 Scene 7
  • 'Suffolk first died; and York, all haggled over, / Comes to him, where in gore he lay insteeped,
    And takes him by the beard, kisses the gashes / That bloodily did yawn upon his face, And cries aloud,'Tarry, my cousin Suffolk!
    My soul shall thine keep company to heaven'
    Act 4 Scene 6

Animals as symbols of the aggression and cruelty of war.
For example:

  • 'Whiles his most mighty father on a hill / Stood smiling to behold his lion's whelp / Forage in blood of French nobility'
    Act 1 Scene 2
  • 'Then imitate the action of the tiger'
    Act 3 Scene 1
  • 'I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips'
    Act 3 Scene 1
  • 'Up to the breach, you dogs'
    Act 3 Scene 2
  • 'Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a Russian bear and have their heads crushed like rotten apples! You may as well say, that's a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion'
    Act 3 Scene 7
  • 'When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk'
    At 3 Scene 7
  • 'Steed threatens steed / In high and boastful neighs'
    Act 4 Prologue
  • 'The man that once did sell the lion's skin / While the beast lived, was killed with hunting him'
    Act 4 Scene 3

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