Analysis

To help you look at any scene in Henry V and interrogate it, it’s important to ask questions about how it's written and why.

Shakespeare’s plays are driven by their characters and every choice that’s made about words, structure and rhythm tells you something about the person, their relationships or their mood in that moment. You should always try and ask yourself, like actors do, why is the character saying what they are saying or doing what they are doing? What is their motive?

Just like Detectives, we need to look for clues to help us answer those questions each time and below you can find some interrogation techniques we use to analyse text, introduced by the actors that use them. 

  • Analysing the Chorus

    The Chorus is a member of the acting company who appears on stage alone and speaks directly to the audience six times. They deliver a prologue before each Act and one epilogue that finishes the play. The Chorus acts as a kind of narrator and uses these soliloquies to plead with the audience to use their imagination to help create the drama.

    In this video, RSC actor Oliver Ford Davies also describes the Chorus as an ‘unreliable narrator’, a voice that gives the ‘official history’, a tidied up version of what really happens in war.

    Can you find examples of the Chorus fulfilling these different roles in Henry V?

    Even though the Chorus has the role of a narrator, they are still a character and their emotions can help capture the audience’s attention and bring the drama to life. Watch Mark Quartley exploring monologues as he shares some of the things he looks for to help understand how a character is feeling in a speech. The example he is using is a monologue from The Tempest but you can look for the same clues in the words spoken by Chorus in Henry V.

    As you read the Chorus’ prologue to Act 3, see if you can notice the things Mark tells us to look out for:

    • Imagery
    • Metre
    • Word choice
    Chorus
    Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies
    In motion of no less celerity Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen
    The well-appointed king at Hampton pier
    Embark his royalty, and his brave fleet
    With silken streamers, the young Phoebus fanning.
    Play with your fancies, and in them behold
    Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
    Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
    To sounds confused. Behold the threaden sails,
    Borne with th’invisible and creeping wind,
    Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
    Breasting the lofty surge. O, do but think
    You stand upon the rivage and behold
    A city on th’inconstant billows dancing;
    For so appears this fleet majestical,
    Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow.
    Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy,
    And leave your England as dead midnight still,
    Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women,
    Either past or not arrived to pith and puissance,
    For who is he, whose chin is but enriched
    With one appearing hair, that will not follow
    These culled and choice-drawn cavaliers to France?
    Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege:
    Behold the ordnance on their carriages,
    With fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur.
    Suppose th’ambassador from the French comes back,
    Tells Harry that the king doth offer him
    Katherine his daughter, and with her, to dowry,
    Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.
    The offer likes not, and the nimble gunner
    With linstock now the devilish cannon touches,
    (Alarum, and chambers go off) And down goes all before them. Still be kind,
    And eke out our performance with your mind.
    Speed.
    Roman God of the Sun.
    Rigging made from hemp.
    Shore.
    Fasten.
    The stern of ships.
    Grandfathers.
    Too old or too young to have strength or power.
    Chosen and specially selected.
    The cannons on their wheeled frames.
    Surrounded.
    An amount of money or property brought by a bride to her husband when she marries.
    A stick for holding the gunner's lighted match.
    Small cannons.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)

    Questions to consider

    What can we learn about the Chorus from this soliloquy? Ask yourself:

    • Do the sounds of the words help bring the action to life? Which sounds stand out?
    • Are there lines or parts of the speech that stand out because of how they sound?

    If you are able to read along, you will also notice the punctuation and where each line ends. This soliloquy is written in verse, like a poem. Ask yourself:

    • Does the punctuation in the text match with Oliver’s choices in the video?
    • Think about where the character is breathing and pausing; why is he doing this? What effect will it have on an audience?
    • Does the actor emphasise the last word of each line in his performance?
    • If you wrote down all the words at the end of each line, what would you think the soliloquy was about? Does that feel right?

    Using Mark’s strategies, we’ve started to look at what the Chorus’ language tells us about this character in the Act 3 prologue. See if you can complete the grid below and finish the four points which explain what this speech reveals about how the Chorus is affecting the audience at this point in the play.

    Point

    The Chorus makes the audience feel patriotic.

    Evidence

    ‘Either past or not arrived to pith and puissance, / For who is he, whose chin is but enriched / With one appearing hair, that will not follow / These culled and choice-drawn cavaliers to France? / Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege: / Behold the ordnance on their carriages, / With fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur.’

    Explanation

    Shakespeare uses alliteration to create sounds that stand out and attract our attention, such as in the p’s of ‘past’ and ‘pith and puissance’ and the c’s in ‘culled’ and ‘cavaliers’. The Chorus asks the audience an emotional question and the repetition of ‘work’ urges the audience to really take part and use their imagination. The final image of the ‘fatal mouths’ of deadly cannons ready to swallow Harfleur is very powerful. There is a double image of circles here too - the mouths of the cannons and the ‘girded’ town, surrounded by troops, as well as a description of the theatre itself as a wooden ‘O’.

    Point

    The Chorus addresses the audience as individuals, bringing them personally into the drama and making their experience seem important.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point

    The Chorus awakens the audience’s senses so they can really imagine the scene.

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    What else can I do to explore the Chorus?

    • Try applying these same strategies to all of the Chorus’ soliloquies to reveal any changes in the character’s language and behaviour. How is the language being used to affect the audience at different stages of the play?
    • Take a look at the action in the scenes directly after the Chorus’ speeches. Is it what we are expecting? If not, what effect does this have on us? What would the play be like if there wasn’t a Chorus?
    • Keep a record of the images in the Chorus’ language. Which images stand out particularly? Why might this be? Notice which images the Chorus uses to describe Henry. What does this tell us about how the Chorus wants us to see him? Find out more by looking at the Analysing the Imagery section.
  • Analysing Henry’s St Crispin’s Day speech

    In this video, RSC actor Alex Hassell says that Henry V is a play about how war 'costs everyone something'. Henry is aware of this cost. He cares about his country and the opinions of his soldiers matter to him. He makes some very powerful and now famous speeches to his troops during the play. The St. Crispin’s Day speech from Act 4 Scene 3 is particularly difficult as he is asking a very tired and outnumbered army to risk their lives.

    Here, you can watch Alex deliver this speech in the 2015 RSC production of Henry V. As you listen, take note of which words and images stand out. How is the actor using the speech to affect his troops? What is it about the language in this speech that makes this possible?

    How does Henry V inspire his troops in this speech?

    The St. Crispin’s Day speech is delivered to Henry’s troops in order to inspire them. In it, he uses lots of different rhetorical devices in order to sway his troops and encourage them to fight on behalf of their country, particularly playing on their emotions.

    As you watch the clip of Alex Hassell performing this speech, see if you can identify four examples of Henry causing an emotional response in his listeners. What is the impact of these?

    Henry V
    This day is called the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tiptoe when this day is named,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall see this day, and live old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian’.
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
    And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day’.
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words —
    Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Westmoreland and Gloucester —
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememberèd.
    This story shall the good man teach his son,
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be rememberèd;
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.—
    For he today that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition.
    And gentlemen in England now abed
    Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
    St. Crispin's Day, 25th October.
    Feel proud.
    Move.
    The evening before the feast day.
    Additions/embellishments - to make a good story better.
    A toast will be raised to them.
    Saint Crispin's day marks the martyring of two brothers, Crispin and Crispian.
    Fortunate.
    Low, unimportant.
    Make him noble.
    In bed.
    Manliness.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)

    Questions to consider

    • What are the key images that stand out for you in this speech? What visual pictures do they suggest in your mind and how does that help you imagine the mood of this moment in the play?
    • How regular is the rhythm in this speech? Can you find lines in the speech where the normal rhythm is disturbed? What might those disturbances suggest about how Henry feels or how he is trying to affect his men?
    • What do you notice about the verbs that Henry uses in this speech?
    • Can you find examples of alliteration or assonance and how do you think these devices affect the mood of the speech?

    Using Mark’s strategies we’ve started to look at the language Henry uses in this monologue and what it tells us about him at this moment in Act 4 Scene 3. See if you can complete the grid below and finish the four points which explain how Henry V inspires his troops in the play.

    Point

    Henry describes the present as a legendary event to make his troops want to be remembered for taking part in it.

    Evidence

    ‘He that shall see this day, and live old age, / Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, / And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’ / Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, / And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ / Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, / But he’ll remember with advantages / What feats he did that day.’

    Explanation

    The repetition of ‘day’ and the names of the Saints ‘Crispin’ and ‘Crispian’ makes the date stand out and already stick in the memories of the audience members. Henry connects St. Crispin’s Day with important words like ‘yearly’, ‘vigil’ and ‘feast’, suggesting the celebration of it will become a well-known ceremony. The use of sibilance in ‘strip his sleeve and show his scars / And say’ draws attention to a personal and grisly image which Henry turns into a proud moment. The internal rhyme of ‘say’ and ‘day’ make this line stand out. It is also in regular iambic pentameter which gives a regular rhythm to it like a chant or a song. The iambic rhythm places emphasis on the rhyme and on ‘wounds’; again turning the coming pain and injury the soldiers face into something to be proud of.

    Point

    Henry turns negative things into positive ones, lifting the spirits of his men.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here.

    Point

    Henry puts himself on the same level as his troops to create a closeness and a bond between himself and them.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    What else can I do to explore Henry’s language?

    • Most of Henry’s speeches are delivered to other people. In Act 4 Scene 1, he has a long soliloquy in which he shares his deepest thoughts only with the audience. Ask yourself:
      • How might the variation in the length of sentences affect the choices an actor makes in considering how the character feels?
      • Do the choice of verbs and images tells us anything about how Henry feels at this moment, compared to his choice of language in other speeches?
    • What do you notice if you emphasise the last word of each line? What do you notice if you read just the first word of each line?
    • Try applying these same strategies to the other speeches Henry has in the play. Consider how Henry's language changes in different moments in the play and what this might reflect about how he feels at those moments.
    • Take a look at the scene that comes before this soliloquy. Some of it is explored in Language Key Scenes on Act 4 Scene 1.
  • Analysing the Imagery

    As with all Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of types of imagery used in Henry V. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and examples of these types of imagery in each act and who uses them as you explore the play.

    Here are three types of imagery that come up a lot in Henry V and are useful to look out for:

    War and Death Imagery

    • In a play about conflict, war and death imagery is very important. Henry, ‘the warlike Harry, is first introduced by the Chorus in the Prologue as ‘Mars’ the god of war himself. The image of Mars is used again by the Grandpré in Act 4 Scene 2, but this time as a threat to the English, who he describes as being so weak, their ‘bones’ are ready for ‘carrion’ (birds that feed on corpses).
    • Later in Act 4 Scene 3, Henry creates a fierce and grisly image when he tells Montjoy the ‘valiant bones’ of the English dead, although ‘buried in your dunghills’ will grow in the sun, taking their souls to heaven and leaving their ‘earthly parts’ to ‘breed a plague in France’.
    • How many examples of war and death imagery can you find in the play and what do they reveal about the character who uses them?

    Consuming and appetites imagery

    • Hunger and eating are particularly powerful images in Henry V to describe both men’s appetite for conflict and the destructive power of war itself. Exeter, for example, in Act 2 Scene 4 talks of ‘this hungry war’ that ‘opens his vasty jaws’ and the Chorus describes the English threat to the town of Harfleur as ‘fatal mouths gaping’, an image which also makes us think of the breach that is made in Harfleur’s wall.
    • The traitors’ crimes in Act 2 Scene 2 are described by Henry as being ‘chewed, swallowed and digested’, meaning they were well thought out and deliberate.
    • How many examples of eating and consuming imagery can you find in the play and what do they add to the drama when they are used?

    Nature and Animal Imagery

    • Shakespeare uses strong and contrasting images from nature in Henry V. Canterbury calls Henry a ‘lion’s whelp’ in Act 1 Scene 2, a fierce and proud image of the young King which is repeated when Exeter reminds him of the ‘former lions’ in his blood. Later in the scene, Henry describes himself as a rising sun that ‘will dazzle all the eyes of France’. In Act 4 the Chorus also uses the image of the sun for Henry but as a generous and warming force ‘Thawing cold fear’.
    • Unflattering images of animals are used often to describe the enemy. In Act 3 Scene 7, Orléans compares the English fighting the French as ‘a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion’ and in Act 1 Scene 2 Westmoreland uses a ‘weasel’ to describe the ‘Scot’ as a sneaky enemy who attacks when you’re weak and unprotected and ‘Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs’.
    • Take a closer look at the extract from Act 1 Scene 2 below to explore how Canterbury uses nature imagery in his speech to Henry. Why do you think Shakespeare uses this language at this point in the scene? Why is animal and nature imagery so important in the rest of the play?

    Canterbury
    Therefore doth heaven divide
    The state of man in divers functions,
    Setting endeavour in continual motion,
    To which is fixe`d, as an aim or butt,
    Obedience, for so work the honeybees,
    Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
    The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
    They have a king and officers of sorts,
    Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
    Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad:
    Others, like soldiers, arme`d in their stings,
    Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds,
    Which pillage they with merry march bring home
    To the tent-royal of their emperor,
    Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
    The singing masons building roofs of gold,
    The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
    The poor mechanic porters crowding in
    Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,
    The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,
    Delivering o’er to executors pale
    The lazy yawning drone. I this infer,
    That many things, having full reference
    To one consent,
    contrariously.
    As many arrows, loose` d several ways,
    Come to one mark, as many ways meet in one town,
    As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea,
    As many lines close in the dial's centre,
    So may a thousand actions, once afoot
    End in one purpose, and be all well borne
    Without defeat. Therefore to France, my liege.
    Different.
    Target.
    Archery target.
    In Shakespeare's time, some people believed the queen bee was male.
    Order.
    Plunder.
    Loot.
    Royal responsibilities.
    Stonemasons, builders.
    Civilised.
    Solemn judge.
    Stern.
    Executioners.
    Male bees whose only job is to impregnate the queen, and once they have done this, they die.
    Working together for one result.
    In opposite ways.
    Target.
    Roads.
    Meet.
    Sundial's.
    Carried out.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)

    Thinking about Act 1 Scene 2, we’ve started to look at what the nature imagery and word choices in the scene tells us about Canterbury and Henry and, in particular, how Canterbury is trying to influence Henry. See if you can complete the grid below and finish the four points which explain what this language shows about their relationship at this point in the play.

    See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explain what this language shows at this point in the play.

    Point

    Canterbury tries to persuade Henry that war with France is natural and will end in success.

    Evidence

    ‘As many arrows, loose` d several ways, Come to one mark, as many ways meet in one town, / As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea, / As many lines close in the dial’s centre, / So may a thousand actions, once afoot / End in one purpose, and be all well borne / Without defeat. Therefore to France, my liege.’

    Explanation

    Canterbury has been describing how society is made up of individuals who work towards a common goal - to create an orderly kingdom. Here, he switches this goal to winning a war. The list has a powerful effect by overwhelming Henry with successful examples from nature. Each image ends in success: the arrows hit their mark, the streams reach the sea, the lines on a sundial tell the time. Canterbury cleverly ends the list with one conclusion - go to war with France. If nature can show so much success, how can Henry fail? But how are the man-made arrows and lines on a sundial successes of nature?

    Point

    Canterbury sells Henry the idea of a well-ordered England which will bring glory and riches.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here

    Point

    Canterbury reassures Henry of the proper order of society - with him, the King, at the top.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point Click text to edit

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    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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  • Analysing the themes

    As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of themes that appear in Henry V. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and themes in each act.

    Here are three themes that can be seen in Henry V and are useful to look out for:

    Theme of identity

    • The theme of identity is very important in Henry V as it represents what everyone is fighting for and what matters to them. The French and the English are enemies and obviously have negative opinions about each other. The French call the English ‘Norman bastards!’ in Act 3 Scene 5 and criticise their ‘foggy’ weather whereas the French are known by the English for their boasting ‘Yet, forgive me, God, / That I do brag thus. This your air of France / Hath blown that vice in me’ (Henry, 3:6). Many characters show pride in their identity. Fluellen seeks great comfort in Henry being Welsh like him ‘By Jeshu, I am your majesty’s countryman, I care not who know it.’ ( Fluellen, 4:7). Shakespeare also uses Fluellen and the other two Captains, the fiery Irishman, MacMorris, the Scottish Jamy, to show how allies from different countries can hold prejudices against each other’s identity: ‘What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?’ (MacMorris, 3:2)
    • See how many references you can find in the play to the English and the nature of the English people. Can these be split into categories of positive and negative? In which situations is English seen in a positive way and by whom? When is it negative?

    Theme of gender and status

    • People’s status in society is important, especially in war where there is a structure of authority and women are hardly seen. In Henry V, we see characters of all types of status, from royalty and noblemen to the Captains and working-class soldiers, right down to the Eastcheap Three. Shakespeare gives them all a voice to show us how war affects people on every level. Henry, of course, is King but addresses the common man often, perhaps hoping this will bring him closer to his troops and make them better fighters. He personally addresses the ‘good yeoman’ in Act 3 Scene 1 and his famous ‘band of brothers’ line from the St. Crispin’s Day speech attempts to puts him on the same level as his men. This also reminds us that in war, anyone can die, no matter who you are. We are reminded, however, that the bodies of noble men will always be more important ’So do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs / In blood of princes’ (Montjoy 4:7).
    • How many times do characters call each other ‘brother’ in the play? What does this say about these relationships and the person saying it?
    • War is entirely dominated by men in Henry V. Katherine is one of only three women in the play and is used mostly as a war prize ‘She is our capital demand’ (Henry, 5:2). Because of this, the appearances by women stand out. Look at the times when women feature or are mentioned in scenes and what it adds to the play at that particular moment. Why do you think Shakespeare puts Queen Isabel in Act 5 Scene 2?

    Theme of Kingship

    • What it means to be a king is an important theme in Henry V. We know that Henry has only just begun to emerge from ‘the veil of wildness’ (Ely, 1:1) and accept his responsibilities as a monarch. This change in him could be a growing maturity, although he does claim in Henry IV Part I that he is pretending to transform. Henry makes sure he has a legal right to the French throne before he risks any lives going to war. However, the soldier, Michael Williams, believes the king is responsible for all who die in war ‘if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it’ (Williams, 4:1). Henry finds this so hard to hear that it ends in a quarrel and leads to his heartfelt soliloquy in Act 4 Scene 1, when he reveals that he finds the burden of kingship difficult ‘What infinite heart’s-ease Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy?’
    • Henry can be seen as a portrait of a good Christian king.... A king’s responsibility to God is important to Henry right throughout the play. He is always looking for signs that God is on his side and, when he finally learns that his armies have won the Battle of Agincourt, his first thought is to credit God ‘Praised be God, and not our strength, for it!’ How many references to God can you find in Henry’s speeches?
    • Canterbury gives a long speech in Act 1 Scene 2 about Henry’s right to the French throne and the ‘Salic law’ which the French have used to prevent Henry inheriting the throne through his female ancestors. How important is this law to the events of the play? How different would the play be without this speech?
    • Henry V is such an enduringly interesting play because it does not simply present Henry as a hero but as a deeply complex figure of leadership – he could be diagnosed as a psychopath – which doesn’t mean he is evil of course but in the way that many CEOs are thought to have psychopathic tendencies. Shakespeare gives us scenes and structures that question the image of hero Christian king and would have been very influenced by the writings of Machiavelli and Erasmus.

Teacher Notes

The following activities will help you to explore the role of the chorus and the theme of identity with students.

Through the eyes of men (2015)

This activity can be found on page 9 and looks at the different characters’ motivations for fighting, including the Boy, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym.

The Opening speech (2015)

This activity can be found on page 3 and explores the language and structure of the Chorus.

You can also print the PEE grids from each of the sections on this page to help students explore the language of central characters and some of the imagery used in more detail.