Richard Burton as Henry V

Soon after his accession to the throne King Henry V is considering asserting his right to rule France as well as England. Consulting the Archbishop of Canterbury as to the justness of his claim, he receives a gift of tennis balls sent by the dauphin – a jibe at his youth, which spurs him on to invade France.

The king's former companions from his days in the Eastcheap tavern hear of the death of Sir John Falstaff from Hostess Quickly. They take their leave of her and set out to join Henry's army. Despite the dauphin's insistence that Henry is an unworthy opponent, the French king receives the English ambassadors but finally rejects Henry's claim to the crown. Henry's forces besiege and then take the town of Harfleur. While her father rouses his nobles to retaliation, Princess Katherine begins to learn English with the help of her companion Alice.

Following the victory at Harfleur, the English forces begin a retreat through Normandy on account of the poor condition of the men, who are disheartened by sickness and foul weather. Even so, Henry rejects the French Herald's offer of ransom and the two armies prepare to fight.

On the eve of the battle of Agincourt, Henry tours the camp in disguise and, sounding out the opinions of his men, is led to consider the heavy responsibilities of kingship. In the French camp, by contrast, confidence is high. As battle is joined, Henry rallies his troops and places them all in God's hands. An English victory is confirmed, with miraculously small losses. As part of the subsequent treaty, Henry woos and wins Katherine to ensure the linking of the two countries through marriage.

Photo: Richard Burton as Henry V, 1951. Photo by Angus McBean © RSC.

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Teaching Shakespeare