Henry V
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The original play, The Chronicle History of Henry the fift, with his battell fought at Agincourt in France (to give it its complete title) was written in 1599 and is the fourth part of William Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy. This tetralogy deals with a period of English history which saw the rise of the House of Lancaster and bore witness to the political machinations leading up to the Wars of the Roses, and chronologically, it actually precedes his first tetralogy. Henry V is the last part in the second tetralogy (which is often called the Henriad), and is preceded by Richard II, 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV. This second teratology is often combined with Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy (1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI and Richard III) to form a Wars of the Roses octology (although there is no evidence that Shakespeare himself intended the plays to form a linear cycle). Taken as a whole, the octology covers the period of the ascension to power of the House of Lancaster in Richard II to the reconciliation between the Houses of Lancaster and York in Richard III, a period covering roughly 90 years (from around 1398 to 1487). The order of the plays in the octology is Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI and Richard III. As such, although Henry V can be read/seen and enjoyed in and of itself, without recourse to any of the other plays, a brief overview of each play will help to situate it within a larger spectrum and an overall context, both historically and thematically.

Richard II begins around the year 1398, with trouble brewing for King Richard II of England. Richard (from the House of Plantagenet, which has been in control of England since the days of Henry II in 1154) is an unpopular leader, who is seemingly out of his depth in his role as king, and who is seen by the people as cut off from and out of touch with the common man. He has also developed a reputation for allowing his advisers to rule the country for their own personal gain, for spending more time worrying about fashion than government, and for wasting money the country can ill afford on what is generally viewed as a pointless and unnecessary war with Ireland. When the play begins, Richard is visited by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford (of the House of Lancaster), who is requesting arbitration in a dispute between himself and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke has accused Mowbray of squandering monies given to him by Richard which were intended for the army, and also claims that Mowbray is responsible for the recent and mysterious death of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray, for his part, denies squandering the money, and in turn, he accuses Bolingbroke of murdering Gloucester (neither man is aware that the man behind the murder is in fact Richard himself, who had Gloucester murdered because he felt he was a threat to his reign as king). Richard tries to appease both men by seeking a compromise, but he fails, and reluctantly agrees to sanction a formal duel between them. However, moments before the duel is set to begin, Richard changes his mind and banishes each of them; Bolingbroke for six years, Mowbray forever. Several months pass. Bolingbroke's father (and Richard's uncle), John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, dies and, against the advice of his cabinet, Richard seizes all of Gaunt's land and money. Richard was warned that doing so could turn the nobles (whose support is essential to the king) against him, as they may fear it is a precursor of what is to happen to them, and this is exactly what happens; the nobles do turn against Richard. Led by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, William de Ross, Baron of Ross and Henry's son, Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, the nobles conspire to help Bolingbroke return to England and assume the throne. In the meantime, Richard leaves England to administer the war in Ireland, and Bolingbroke takes this opportunity to assemble an army and invade. When Richard returns from Ireland, Bolingbroke has already taken control of the Royal Court and has set himself up as the new king. Without the support of the army or the nobles, Richard is powerless to resist Bolingbroke's ascension, and Bolingbroke crowns himself King Henry IV without the loss of a single life. His first action is to sentence Richard to imprisonment for the rest of his life. However, an ambitious nobleman, Sir Piers of Exton, in an attempt to impress the new king, murders Richard in jail. Disgusted by what he sees as an act of cowardice, Henry denounces Exton and vows to journey to Jerusalem to cleanse himself of his part in Richard's death. The play ends with Henry expressing the desire that his kingship had begun under better circumstances.

Henry IV, Part 1 picks up the story several months later, with the newly crowned King Henry IV experiencing an unquiet reign, with troubles assailing him from all directions. His intended trip to Jerusalem has failed to materialise due to border disputes with both Scotland and Wales, and adding to Henry's troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, Hal, the Prince of Wales. Hal has forsaken a political life and instead spends most of his time in taverns with degenerates and drunks. Hal's best friend is Sir John Falstaff, a fat, old, drunk criminal, but who is in possession of great charisma and zest for life. Additionally, the nobles who helped Henry claim the throne are now becoming antagonistic towards him for his failure to acknowledge his debt to them, especially the Percy family. The play begins with word reaching Henry that an army under the command of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March (the rightful heir to Richard II's throne) has been defeated by the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower, and Mortimer himself has been taken captive. At the same time, news also arrives that an army under Henry 'Hotspur' Percy has defeated a rebel force commanded by Archibald Douglas, Earl of Douglas. However, Hotspur is refusing to send his prisoners back to London, and Henry summons him to explain his reasons. Meanwhile, a friend of Hal, Poins, announces to Hal and Falstaff that he has plotted the robbery of a wealthy group of travellers. Hal is reluctant to become involved until Poins explains that it is a practical joke at the expense of Falstaff; after the travellers have been robbed, Poins and Hal will disguise themselves and ambush Falstaff, stealing the booty, which they will then give back to the travellers. The joke is to be in Falstaff's inevitable exaggeration of how many men ambushed him, and his tall tales of how bravely he fought against them. Meanwhile, Hotspur visits Henry and explains that he is keeping the prisoners because he is trying to negotiate the release of Mortimer. In response, Henry questions Mortimer's loyalty, refusing to pay the ransom and insults the Percy family, warning them that if their allegiance does not solidify, they will face serious consequences. Alarmed by Henry's threats, and what they see as irrational behaviour, the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father) and Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester (his uncle) lament their decision to help Henry depose Richard, and after considering the situation, decide to approach the disgruntled and hostile Welsh and Scottish nobles with the intention of forming an army and removing Henry, thus freeing the throne for the accession of Mortimer. Glendower agrees to join the rebels, and frees Mortimer, who also unites with the Percys against the king. Douglas also enters into the alliance, and Worcester is hopeful that he can persuade Richard le Scrope, Archbishop of York to join. Whilst the Percys set about raising an army, Henry summons Hal to the court, telling him that civil war is imminent. He unfavourably compares Hal to Hotspur, saying Hotspur would make a better king, and deeply hurting Hal's pride. The rebel army gather together for the inevitable conflict, but there are problems. Northumberland has taken ill and will be unable to fight for several months; Glendower, who was escorting the wives of the rebels out of the country, has been delayed and will not be back for two weeks, and Mortimer has been arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Fearing that reports may get back to Henry of their difficulties, Hotspur and Douglas decide to attack early, against the advice of Worcester, without the support of Northumberland, Mortimer, Glendower and York. The battle takes place at Shrewsbury, with Hal at the head of the King's army, and Hotspur at the head of the rebel army. After a fierce battle, during which time Hal saves Henry's life from Douglas, Hal and Hotspur meet in single combat on the battlefield, with Hal winning the contest, killing Hotspur, and taking the heart from the rebel forces, over whom the King's army easily prevails, with Worcester and Douglas both captured and executed. The play ends with Henry dividing his army in two; one half, led by his younger son John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford and Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland head to face Northumberland and York; the other half, led by Hal and Henry, head to Wales to pursue Glendower.

Henry IV, Part 2 begins a few days after Henry IV, Part 1, with news reaching Northumberland of the rebel defeat at Shrewsbury and that Glendower has been forced to return to Wales, and is now a hunted guerrilla fighter. At the same time however, word arrives that York has assembled his army and is ready to enter the fray. It is also revealed that King Henry (who is still in Wales) has had to send part of his army to the east coast due to escalating tensions with France, and as such, his army is now divided in three. Meanwhile, the rebels are also joined by Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Norfolk, son to the banished Thomas Mowbray, who pledges his support to the Percy rebellion, determined to get one over on his father's old enemy. Henry, for his part, has become worn out by the conflict and is extremely ill. Knowing that Henry's army is split, the rebel forces gather at the Forest of Gaultree determined not to make the same mistake as Hotspur, and attack before they are ready. Meanwhile, word reaches Henry that Glendower has been killed, but he is unmoved, expressing only weariness with the conflict, and lamenting the burden of Kingship. As Northumberland prepares to join the other rebels, he is convinced by Kate Percy, Hotspur's widow, to withdraw to Scotland, and await the outcome of Gaultree, rather than getting directly involved. After some consideration, Northumberland agrees, and word is sent to York that he will not be joining the fray. The King's army gather at Gaultree under the command of Bedford, and a massive battle is set to take place. However, Bedford agrees to hear the demands of the rebels, and upon doing so, he immediately agrees to them, telling the rebels to disband their army, and he will do likewise. Against the advice of Mowbray, who senses something amiss, York dismisses the army, but immediately upon doing so, Bedford has York, Mowbray and the other rebel leaders arrested and executed. After the threat has passed, Henry's health worsens. News is brought to him that Northumberland has been defeated in Scotland, and as such, the rebellion is now officially over, but Henry can only lament the betrayal of Richard which allowed him to become king eight years previously. Henry dismisses all his followers, keeping only Hal by his side, and on his deathbed, after Hal has sworn to be a righteous king, Henry gives Hal two pieces of advice; always listen to his closest allies, and unite the bickering nobles (thus ensuing the legitimacy of his forthcoming kingship) by means of engaging in a foreign war. At this point, Henry dies. Hal now assumes leadership, becoming King Henry V. In the final scene, Falstaff, having learned that Hal is now King, travels to London to see his old friend, expecting royal treatment. Hal, however, rejects him in the middle of a crowded street, telling him never to come within ten miles of the court again. Confused, Falstaff assumes that Hal is simply playing a trick on him, and that he will summon him to a private conference soon, but Bedford informs Falstaff that Hal is quite serious, and orders him to leave London. The play ends with Hal's advisors, pleased by these developments, uniting around him as they speculate about the possibility of a war with France.

Henry V begins several months after Henry IV, Part 2, with the newly crowned King Henry V attempting to rule a country still suffering from the scourge of civil war. Henry is also trying to live down his former reputation as a drinker and playboy. Urged on by the clergy, who are trying to avoid paying taxes to the government, to follow through with his plan to invade France, Henry lays claim to the French throne itself, based on distant roots in the French royal family and a questionable interpretation of Salic law. When Prince Charles, Dauphin of France, responds to Henry's claims by sending him a box of tennis balls (intended as an insulting reference to Henry's lascivious past) Henry decides to invade. En route, Henry discovers that three of his most high ranking nobles plan to assassinate him at Southampton. Two are in the employment of France, and are doing it simply for the money, but the third, Richard of Conisburgh, Earl of Cambridge, brother-in-law to the still imprisoned Edmund Mortimer, is attempting to depose Henry and install Mortimer as the new King. Upon discovering the plot, Henry has all three executed, a decision which will have great implications in the future. It is also revealed that Falstaff has died, having never recovered from his rejection by Hal. Arriving in France, the English army immediately lay siege to Harfleur. When the governor of the town comes out to speak to Henry, Henry promises him that if he doesn't yield, his soldiers will storm the town and kill every man, woman and child within. Shocked by this threat, the governor concedes defeat. Meanwhile, the French King, Charles VI, determines to defeat Henry, and sends a massive army to meet him, under the command of Charles d'Albret, Constable of France. On route to the confrontation, Henry has Bardolph, an old friend of his and Falstaff's, executed for robbing from a church. The culminating battle is fought at Agincourt, with Henry himself assuming direct control of his forces, with support from his uncle Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter and his brothers Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Victory looks uncertain for Henry however, as the French outnumber the English five to one. Additionally, the night before the battle, Henry disguises himself and wanders through the camp, discovering that many of the soldiers don't agree with the invasion and don't think Henry is sympathetic to their situation or a good leader. On the morning of the battle, Henry prays to God and asks for victory, then gives a rousing speech, urging those who do not wish to fight to leave and vowing to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with those who stay. Meanwhile, the French are so confidant of victory, they spend most of their time arguing about who has the finest horse, and just before the battle, the nobles decide to lead the first wave of attack, rather than sending in the common soldiers. In the English camp, Henry's speech has the desired affect and his men ready themselves for battle. The English win, suffering only thirty deaths, although the French lose over ten thousand, including almost their entire nobility, without whom the army falls to pieces. Upon the cessation of hostilities, Henry proposes terms to Charles. Whilst Charles considers the offer, Henry woos the French princess, Catherine of Valois (Charles' daughter). Charles returns and agrees to the terms (which include Henry's future son becoming King of France). Henry also asks for Catherine's hand in marriage as part of the peace agreement, and Charles consents. The Dauphin however, who is now disinherited, is greatly angered by all of this and vows revenge. The play ends with the Chorus pointing out that although this particular story has had a happy outcome for the English, it was to be only a temporary one, as a time of great political instability was at hand.

Henry VI, Part 1 begins several years after Henry V, opening at the funeral of Henry V, who has died unexpectedly in his prime. As the play begins, Henry's brothers Bedford and Gloucester, and his uncle Exeter lament the passing of such a great king and express doubt as to whether his son, the as yet uncrowned Henry VI (son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois) is capable of ruling the country in such tumultuous times. News from France then arrives suggesting that a rebellion, led by the Dauphin, is growing momentum, and several major towns have already been lost to the rebel army. Additionally, Sir John Talbot, commander of the English army in France, has been captured. Indeed, the Dauphin has become so confidant of victory that he has already announced himself as King Charles VII. Bedford, who is now Regent of France, immediately prepares himself to leave and take command of the army in person. Behind the scenes however, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, jealous of Gloucester's power, vows to ensure that he and not Gloucester becomes Henry's chief advisor. The play then shifts to Orlans, where the English army are laying siege to Charles' forces. There, the Bastard of Orlans, a rich nobleman in command of the city's defences, approaches Charles and tells him of a young soldier who has claimed to have seen visions and knows how to command the forces to victory. Charles summons the soldier, who turns out to be a young woman called Joan Pucelle. Charles is dismissive of her, but she persuades him to engage in single combat with her to prove her worth. He agrees, and she defeats him easily. Stunned, Charles places her in command of the army. Meanwhile, Bedford negotiates the release of Talbot in exchange for a French lord, but immediately afterwards, Joan launches an attack on the English, forcing them back and temporarily lifting the siege. During the battle, she faces Talbot in single combat, but before either can gain an upper hand, they are separated. After a protracted battle, the French forces again win, but Talbot and Bedford engineer a sneak attack on the city, gaining a foothold within the walls, causing the French leaders (including the Dauphin and Joan) to flee. Back in England, a petty quarrel between Richard Plantagenet (of the House of York, and rightful heir to the throne lost by Richard II) and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, has expanded to the point where the House of Lords and the Royal Court have become involved. Richard and Somerset demand that their fellow nobles pledge allegiance to one of them, and as such the lords select either red or white roses to indicate which side they adopt in the growing conflict. Somerset insults Richard's father, calling him a traitor, but Richard is unsure what he means. As such, he goes to see his uncle, Edmund Mortimer, still imprisoned in the Tower of London since prior to the Battle of Shrewsbury. Mortimer tells Richard the history of his family's conflict with the king, about how they helped Henry IV attain power and were then shoved into the background. He explains how at Gaultree, Bedford tricked the rebels into believing they had won, and then killed them, and how Henry V had Richard's father (Richard of Conisburgh) executed en route to France, and Richard's family stripped of all its lands and monies. He also tells Richard that he is the rightful heir to the throne lost by Richard II. Richard determines to attain his birthright, and vows to have his family's dukedom restored. He presents his petition to Henry, who agrees and reinstates the Plantagenet's title, making Richard the Duke of York. Meanwhile, Winchester is putting into action his plan to remove Gloucester. Somerset pledges his support to Winchester, and a huge brawl breaks out in Parliament, but Henry demands that Gloucester and Winchester shake hands, and vow a truce. They do, but Gloucester doesn't believe that Winchester is serious, and he expects him to break it soon. Henry then leaves for France, accompanied by Gloucester, Exeter, Winchester, Richard and Somerset. Meanwhile, within a matter of hours, the French retake and then lose the city of Rouen. After the battle, Bedford, who has recently become ill, dies, and Talbot assumes direct command of the army. The Dauphin is horrified at the lose of Rouen, but Joan tells him to calm down, and then reveals that she has persuaded the powerful Duke of Burgundy to switch sides, and join the French cause. Meanwhile, Henry and his parliament arrive in Paris. He learns of Burgundy's betrayal, and sends Talbot to destroy him. Henry then pleads for Richard and Somerset to put aside their conflict, and, unaware of the implications of his actions, he chooses a red rose, aligning himself with Somerset against Richard. Henry then places Richard in command of the infantry and Somerset in command of the cavalry. Meanwhile, Talbot approaches Bordeaux, ready to attack, but the French army swing around behind him and trap him. Talbot pleads for reinforcements, but the conflict between Richard and Somerset lead them to second guess one another, and neither of them send any, both blaming one another for the mix up. In a huge battle, the English army is destroyed, and both Talbot and his son killed. Meanwhile, Joan's visions desert her, and she is captured in battle by Richard, and subsequently burned at the stake. At the same time, urged on by Pope Eugenius IV and Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry decides to sue for peace. Back in France, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, a supporter of Somerset and Winchester, has captured a young French princess, Margaret of Anjou, who he intends to marry to Henry and dominate the king through her. Word then reaches Richard of the peace accords, but he is displeased, feeling that he can win the conflict and resents having the opportunity for military victory snatched from his grasp by what he sees as political cowardice. Under the terms of the treaty, the Dauphin is be a viceroy under Henry. However, he only agrees to this proposal with the firm intention of breaking it later on. Suffolk then travels back to England to persuade Henry to marry Margaret. Gloucester, urges Henry not to listen to Suffolk, but Henry is taken in by Suffolk's description of Margaret, and agrees to Suffolk's proposal to wed her. The play ends with Suffolk heading back to France to bring Margaret to England.

Henry VI, Part 2 begins several weeks after Henry VI, Part 1, with Suffolk's return to England, accompanied by Margaret of Anjou. She and Henry are married, but Henry's uncle, Gloucester expresses his disgust that Henry is willing to give up the lands in France that where hard won by Henry V. Upon Gloucester's departure from the court, Winchester, Somerset and Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham vow to bring Gloucester down, but Winchester and Somerset are both working to their own ends rather than for a greater cause. Meanwhile, Richard (now formally known as the Duke of York), Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and his son, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick ally themselves behind York's plans to assume the throne. Meanwhile, Gloucester expresses his concerns to his wife Eleanor Cobham. However, far from being concerned with her husband's situation, Cobham also has plans to take the throne, and has employed witches, mystics and conjurors to that end. Little does she know however, that they are actually working for Suffolk and Winchester to undermine her, as Suffolk wants Gloucester out of the way so he can become Henry's chief advisor, and Winchester wants to settle old scores with Gloucester. Meanwhile some petitioners come to London looking for Gloucester. Instead they encounter Suffolk and Margaret, who, it is implied are now involved in a sexual relationship. Suffolk questions the petitioners who reveal that word is spreading throughout the country that York is in fact the rightful king. Suffolk then outlines his plan to use Somerset, Winchester and Buckingham to make Margaret Queen, and once she is, she and Suffolk will discard their former allies. Shortly thereafter, Henry chooses Somerset as the new Regent of France, and dispatches him immediately to oversee the still simmering war. At the same time, the old conflict between Winchester and Gloucester reaches a head, and they arrange to have a formal duel later in the day. However, they are interrupted in their plans by Buckingham, who reports that he and York have arrested Cobham, who was using the witch and conjurer to summon a spirit and reveal the future of Henry's reign. Cobham is charged with practising the occult, and Henry banishes her and decrees that she be paraded through the streets to discourage others following in her example. Gloucester calls off his duel with Winchester and asks Henry if he can follow his wife into banishment. Henry agrees, and Gloucester resigns his position. He goes to see his wife, who warns him to be careful, believing that Suffolk and Winchester want him dead, but he tells her not to worry as Henry would never condone anything done to harm him. Meanwhile, at a meeting of the court, Somerset returns from France and announces that all French territories have been lost to King Charles. At the same meeting, Suffolk accuses Gloucester of high treason, and has him arrested and imprisoned, whereupon Winchester vows to oversee his murder. At this point, a messenger arrives to announce that a rebellion has taken place in Ireland, and Henry orders York to quell it. Salisbury, Warwick and York delight at this news, as they can now move against the king with an army to support them. Before leaving, York tells a friend of his, Jack Cade to find out if the common people would support him should he move against Henry. Henry then goes to visit Gloucester in jail, only to find his old advisor dead in his cell. The king is distraught, and Warwick immediately accuses Winchester and Suffolk of murdering him. Winchester is overcome with a fever, and taken to bed, whereas Suffolk attempts to defend himself against Warwick's allegations. Henry however is not interested in his defence, and despite the pleas of Margaret, he banishes Suffolk. Soon thereafter, Winchester dies, raving that he has been abandoned by God. Margaret tells Suffolk that she will see that he is able to return; however, as he leaves England he is captured and killed by pirates. Meanwhile, Cade has been gauging what support York may have should he openly begin a rebellion, and he has determined that the majority of people will support a popular rebellion. However, he is confronted by the King's army and a fight breaks out. Cade's forces win, and spurred on by this victory, Cade decides to attack London immediately rather than let the momentum slide. At first, the London campaign is extremely successful, with Cade setting himself up as Mayor, but Henry then sends Buckingham to meet Cade. Buckingham uses rhetoric to convince the common people that they should support the king rather than Cade, and, distraught at the lose of his followers, Cade flees. After remaining in hiding for four days, Cade is subsequently killed by a noble after trying to steal food from his garden. Meanwhile, word reaches Henry that York is returning from Ireland with the intention of arresting and executing Somerset. Upon hearing this, Henry dispatches Buckingham to meet York before he gets to London. Buckingham meets York outside London, and York assures him that the only reason he has an army with him is to remove Somerset. As Buckingham and York discuss the situation, Henry, Margaret and Somerset arrive demanding to know what is happening. They refuse to accept York's explanation as to his actions, and Somerset attempts to arrest him for high treason, York immediately calls for Salisbury, Warwick and his own sons, Edward and Richard, and refuses to allow himself be arrested. Henry then calls for the support of Thomas Clifford, Baron of Clifford and his son John Clifford. The parliament splits in two, with some supporting Henry, Margaret, Somerset, Buckingham and the Cliffords, and others supporting York, Warwick, Salisbury, Edward and Richard. A battle is then fought at St. Albans, during which York kills Thomas Clifford, Richard kills Somerset and Edward kills Buckingham. Upon finding his dead father, John Clifford vows revenge on York. Henry is then persuaded to flee by Margaret and Clifford, and the play ends with York, Edward, Richard, Warwick and Salisbury setting out to pursue them.

Henry VI, Part 3 begins the day after Henry VI, Part 2 ends, with York, Edward, Richard, Warwick and Salisbury pursuing Margaret, Henry and Clifford to London. On their way, they are joined by John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who pledges his support to York's cause. Arriving in court, a debate ensues between York and Henry during which York outlines that he is descended from Edward III's third son, whereas Henry is descended from his fourth. He reminds Henry that the Lancastrians only have the throne because Henry Bolingbroke betrayed Richard II. Henry realises that York is correct, and has more right to the throne than he, so he proposes a compromise whereby Henry will rule until his death, but once he dies, York can have the throne, and his descendents thereafter. The only condition Henry imposes is that the war cease. York agrees, and he leaves, leaving Warwick and Norfolk in London to keep an eye on things. The king's supporters, disgusted at his acquiescence, abandon him, flocking to Margaret's side, as she vows to continue the war. With the assistance of Clifford, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's grandson) and her and Henry's son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, Margaret marches to York's castle to declare war. At the castle, Richard has persuaded York to betray his oath to Henry to cease the war, but before York can reassemble his army, Margaret arrives. Henry immediately dispatches a messenger to London to get Warwick and Norfolk, but before reinforcements can arrive, Margaret attacks. At the Battle of Wakefield, Salisbury is killed, and the Yorkists are defeated, with Clifford callously murdering Richard's twelve year old son, Edmund. Realising that the battle is lost, York allows himself to be captured by Margaret and Clifford, who taunt him about his son's death, and place a paper crown on his head. Northumberland urges them to be lenient, but they refuse, and stab York to death. Meanwhile, word reaches Richard and Edward (who escaped the battle) that their father and brother have been killed. At this point, Warwick arrives from London with even worse news. On his way to York, he was attacked by Margaret's army at St. Albans, the scene of the Yorkists' greatest victory. This time however, the Yorkists were routed, and Margaret's forces easily won the conflict. Warwick also brings good news however. Norfolk is nearby with a huge army, and York's third son, George, has arrived from Burgundy and pledges to support Warwick, Edward and Richard after hearing of the dishonourable way in which his father and brother were killed. Warwick is also joined by his own brother John Neville, Marquis of Montague. Edward, now the next in line for the throne, visits Henry and tries to persuade him to relinquish the crown, but Margaret won't allow it, and armed conflict again breaks out. Firstly, at the battle of Ferrybridge, Richard kills Clifford, and then at the battle of Towton, Northumberland is killed and the Yorkists romp to victory. Whilst watching the carnage unfold from nearby, Henry breaks down, horrified at the violence and hatred before him, wishing he had never become king. Urged by his son and Margaret, he flees the battlefield, although he is soon arrested by two huntsmen loyal to Edward. After the victory at Towton, Norfolk withdraws from the conflict, and Warwick suggests to Edward that he should marry the sister of King Lewis XI of France, the Lady Bona, thus uniting the two nations and nullifying a possible enemy. Edward agrees, and Warwick travels to Paris. However, Prince Edward and Margaret, accompanied by John De Vere, Duke of Oxford, have also travelled to see Lewis and beg for his support in the civil war. Back in London, Edward is proclaimed King Edward IV, and his two brothers, George and Richard are created Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester respectively. However, almost immediately upon Edward assuming the throne, Richard begins to plot against him. Meanwhile, Edward falls in love with a commoner, Elizabeth Woodville and proposes marriage to her. In France, Lewis agrees to give his sister's hand in marriage to Edward, and refuses to help Margaret. However, an English messenger arrives and informs Warwick that Edward has already married back in England. Feeling he has been made to look a fool despite everything he has done for Edward, Warwick pledges his support to Margaret and the Prince. To solidify the relationship between them, Warwick betroths his daughter Anne Neville to the Prince. Lewis then agrees to provide them with an army, sending Warwick and Oxford back to England with the first batch of troops. Meanwhile, back in England, George and Montague have also deserted Edward due to his decision to marry Woodville. Additionally, a major split has taken place in Edward's senior most officers. William Hastings, Baron of Hastings and Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby remain loyal to Edward, but Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset follows George and Montague, and pledges his support to Henry. Warwick and Oxford return to England with a massive army, and meet up with George, Montague and Somerset. They immediately arrest Edward, and restore Henry to the throne. Henry then appoints Warwick as the head of the parliament, and takes George as his protector. Edward is imprisoned, but is soon rescued by Richard, Derby and Hastings. Meanwhile, fearing for their lives, Elizabeth (who is pregnant with Edward's child) and her brother, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers go into hiding. Word is sent to Margaret and the Prince in France to return to England, and whilst Henry awaits their return, Somerset introduces him to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, great great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Should anything happen to Prince Edward, young Henry is the next in line for the throne, so for his safety, Oxford and Somerset have him go into hiding in Brittany until the present conflict is resolved. Meanwhile, Edward once again arrests Henry, and imprisons him in the tower of London, at which point, both sides head to Coventry to do battle. Prior to the battle, George switches sides again, forsaking Warwick and joining with Edward. Warwick places Oxford, Somerset and Montague in charge of his troops. At the Battle of Barnet, Warwick and Montague are killed, and Somerset assumes command of the retreating Lancastrians. Shortly after the battle, word reaches Edward that Margaret and Prince Edward have landed with a large consort of French soldiers, and the Yorkists head to meet her. At the Battle of Tewkesbury, Margaret, Prince Edward, Somerset and Oxford are all captured, and the Lancastrian army is completely decimated. Edward, George and Richard then brutally stab Prince Edward to death in an effort to ensure the Lancastrian bloodline is finished. Somerset is formally executed, Oxford imprisoned and Margaret banished. Edward once again assumes the throne, and Elizabeth has a son. Unbeknownst to Edward however, Richard visits Henry in the Tower of London, and murders him as part of his machinations to secure the throne for himself. Richard plans to eliminate everyone who can prevent him becoming King, and to this end, he plans to sow seeds of discord between Edward and George. The play ends with the Yorkists established in authority, with all the Lancastrians either dead or in exile, and Edward IV thanking God that the conflict is finally over.

Richard III begins three months after Henry VI, Part 3. Edward's health has become an issue of great concern, as he lives to excess, eating and drinking far too much. Additionally, the royal court is beset with petty squabbles and infighting; a minor conflict between Rivers and Elizabeth on the one hand, and Hastings on the other, has led to Hastings' (now Lord Chamberlain) temporary imprisonment. Richard is delighted with all of this, as it plays into his own plan to attain the throne. He sends a wizard to Edward who tells the king of a prophecy whereby his kingship will be ended by a family member whose name begins with G. Edward concludes this must mean George, so he has him arrested and imprisoned. To further strengthen his future claim to the throne Richard then dupes Anne Neville, Prince Edward's widow and Warwick's daughter, into believing that he loves her, and the two are betrothed. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has been joined in London by her two sons, Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset and Sir Richard Grey. In an effort to secure the support of the nobles, Richard accuses Elizabeth, Rivers, Dorset and Grey of being behind George's imprisonment, just as they were responsible for Hastings'. In this, Richard is supported by Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. As they debate the situation, Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's widow, returns in defiance of her banishment to curse all present. She warns Buckingham not to trust Richard, and tells Elizabeth that Richard is plotting against her husband, but neither of them believe her, and she leaves cursing them all. Using this distraction, Richard sends two murderers to the Tower to assassinate George. To ensure that George's children (Edward and Margaret) don't suspect him, Richard then intimates to them that it was Edward who had their father murdered. Meanwhile, Edward himself is spending most of his time sorting out the petty squabbles of his nobles, and just as he appears about to secure a truce, news arrives of George's death. Overcome with grief, and physical excess, Edward dies shortly thereafter, leaving the throne vacant. Word is then sent to Edward and Elizabeth's son, Edward Plantagenet, Prince of Wales, who is studying in Ludlow, that he must come to London and assume the throne. Rivers, Grey and an associate of the family, Sir Thomas Vaughan are dispatched to Ludlow to meet the Prince. However, back in London, Richard and Buckingham determine that they need to get the Prince away from Elizabeth's family, so they too head to Ludlow. In Northampton, the two groups meet up, and Richard has Rivers, Grey and Vaughan arrested and imprisoned, whilst he and Buckingham return to London with the Prince. Meanwhile, Dorset informs Elizabeth of the situation. Realising that Richard is making a play for power, his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, advises Elizabeth to take her and Edward's younger son, Richard into hiding. However, before she can do so, young Richard is summoned to London to join his brother the Prince. After young Richard arrives, older Richard places both him and the Prince in the Tower, telling them it is for their own safety. He then sends Hasting's associate, William Catesby to speak to Hastings and Derby, to subtly determine if they would support an open play for the throne. Meanwhile, Richard has Rivers, Grey and Vaughan executed. Upon learning that Hastings would not support him if he attempted to seize power, Richard then has him executed for treason. That done, Richard begins to sully Edward's name amongst the common people, in preparation of his need for them to accept him as King. Next, he presents himself as pious, and he and Buckingham devise a scheme whereby Buckingham publically argues that neither Prince Edward nor young Richard have royal blood and therefore Richard must be king. In an effort to appear humble, Richard continually refuses the offer, before finally, reluctantly accepting. When Elizabeth, the Duchess and Anne hear the news of Richard's coronation, they are all horrified, but Anne is sent for to assume her role as Queen. Seeing how dangerous things are becoming, the Duchess and Elizabeth tell Dorset that he must fly to Brittany and tell Richmond the time has come for him to take the throne. Richard's next move is to assassinate the Prince and young Richard. He asks Buckingham to do it, but he refuses. Richard then turns to an associate of Catesby, James Tyrrell, who happily carries out the murder. Richard then has his own wife Anne killed as he has no need for her now, and declares his intention to validate his kingship by marrying Elizabeth of York, Edward's daughter. He forces George's daughter, Margaret, to marry a commoner, and then imprisons George's son, Edward. Richard then tells Buckingham to pursue Dorset to Brittany, but Buckingham wants to know what has happened to the lands Richard promised him before becoming King. Richard refuses to grant them, and Buckingham leaves the court with his army. Richard then appoints Derby to take over from Buckingham, but to ensure Derby doesn't betray him, Richard imprisons his son, and tells Derby he will be executed should he turn against him. Meanwhile, the Duchess and Elizabeth meet with Margaret, who advises them both to condemn Richard. The Duchess does, but Richard is able to convince Elizabeth that he genuinely loves her daughter, and he is given permission to marry her. Meanwhile, word reaches Richard that Richmond is on his way back to England, and Buckingham has travelled to the coast to meet them and join him. Throughout the country, lords rise up against Richard in preparation of the arrival of Richmond. However, word then arrives that upon seeing Buckingham's troops ashore, Richmond suspected it was a trap, and turned back. As they then retreated from the coast, Buckingham's army was caught in a flood and decimated, and Buckingham himself was soon thereafter arrested. Richard immediately has Buckingham executed. However, Richmond has returned, and landed, and is now marching across the country. Meanwhile, Derby instructs a messenger to go to Richmond and tell him that although it will appear he is on Richard's side, he is actually working against the King. He also gives Richmond the message that unbeknownst to Richard, Elizabeth has given her daughter's hand in marriage to Richmond, reneging on her promise to Richard. The two opposing armies march to Bosworth Field to do battle. The night before the battle, Derby secretly visits Richmond and tells him that once the battle has begun, and his son is safe, he intends to betray Richard. As the battle begins, this is exactly what Derby does, throwing Richard's forces into chaos. However, rather than regrouping his troops, a maniacal Richard hunts for Richmond on the battlefield. Upon finding him, the two engage in single combat, with Richmond killing Richard. After the battle, with Richard's army destroyed, Richmond is made King Henry VII. He announces his marriage to Elizabeth of York, thus uniting the houses of Lancaster and York, and finally ending the conflict which began when Henry Bolingbroke took the throne from Richard II almost one hundred years previously.

For the most part. All of the dialogue from the film is taken verbatim from the play, all of the characters in the film come directly from the play and all of the events in the film come directly from the play. Most of the differences which do exist between the play and the film are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, and, by and large, the play and the film are essentially one and the same.

Almost all of the differences in the film involve omissions concerning material found in the play, but two small scenes actually represent additions to the film; the two flashback scenes. In both of these scenes, Henry (Kenneth Branagh) thinks back to his time as a companion of Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane), Nym (Geoffrey Hutchings), Bardolph (Richard Briers), Pistol (Robert Stephens) and Mistress Quickly (Judi Dench). In the first scene, he remembers a conversation he had with Falstaff, where Falstaff acknowledges that Henry may forget his all of his other companions, but he should not forget Falstaff himself ("No, my good Lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish him not thy Harry's company; banish plump Jack, and banish all the World"). In the second scene, he remembers a drinking game between Bardolph and Falstaff, where Bardolph turns to him and says, "Do not thou, when thou art a king, hang a thief". Neither of these scenes occur in the play, but are instead both taken from Henry IV, Part 1. Additionally, the line "Do not thou, when thou art a king, hang a thief" was spoken in that play not by Bardolph, but by Falstaff. However, by having this flashback scene occur just as Henry orders the hanging of Bardolph, changing the speaker of the line creates a strong thematic resonance.

Another minor difference between the play and the film concerns the French herald, Montjoy (Christopher Ravenscroft), who is given far more lines in the film than the character has in the play. Many of the lines he speaks in the film where originally spoken by unnamed characters. For example, in the play, the report of the numbers of dead is brought to Henry by an unnamed English herald, whereas in the film, it is brought to him by Montjoy.

Another difference is in terms of the removal of material. Lines have been cut from numerous speeches throughout the film so as to shorten the running time, and inconsequential conversations and scenes have been truncated.

There is one difference between the play and the film however, which attracted some attention when the film was released. One scene from the play was altered entirely in the film, and as it presents Henry in a somewhat unflattering light, critics pointed out that the film was more of an idealisation of the character than the play. The altered scenes concerned the French murder of their English prisoners. In the film, Fluellen (Ian Holm) tells Henry that the French have murdered the prisoners, and he and Henry and ruminate on how monstrous such an action is. However, in the play, it is Henry who orders the murder of his French prisoners, not the French who order the murder of the English prisoners, due to a French raid on the King's tent, which was guarded only with young boys. Fluellen and Gower (played by Danny Webb in the film) then discuss the raid, and the King's order. Fluellen says of the raid "'tis expressly against the Law of Arms, 'tis as arrant a piece of knavery mark you now, as can be offered in your conscience now, is it not?", to which Gower responds "the King most worthily hath caus'd every soldier to cut his prisoners throat. O 'tis a gallant King". This is changed in the film, thus presenting Henry in a more enlightened fashion; when he hears of the English troops being killed, he responds only with horror, there is no hint of him doing the same thing in retaliation, whereas in the play, he shows himself to be capable of the same level of inhuman viciousness against the "Law of Arms".

Shakespeare's source for Henry V (as for most of his history plays) was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of English history. However, as with all of the history plays, great liberties were taken with historical fact for the sake of dramatic and narrative expediency. As numerous critics have pointed out, Shakespeare never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story, and this is as evident in Henry V as it is anywhere else.

The events depicted in the film happened in 1415 and were a part of a conflict between England and France which has since become known as the Hundred Years' War (a misnomer insofar as the war actually lasted 116 years; from 1337-1453). The origins of the war are complex and lengthy, but the immediate cause of open hostilities was a dispute over the French territory of Gascony, a profitable region rich in salt and vineyards which was controlled by the English. When a rebellion broke out in Scotland in 1333, the king of France, Philip VI, attempted to use the English distraction to retake the territory, but he was defeated by the English king, Edward III, at the Battle of Halidon Hill. Humiliated, he determined to remove all English influence from France, and as such, he began to send ships to scout English settlements located on the English Channel. In 1337, feeling secure enough to once again challenge the England, he again claimed ownership of Gascony. In response, Edward claimed that he was in fact the rightful heir to the French throne. When Philip heard of Edward's claim, he became enraged, and France formally declared war on England. Over the next 52 years, numerous battles were fought between the French and English, with each side gaining their fair share of victories. Various truces temporarily halted hostilities, but animosities refused to die, and invariably the conflict would flair up again. By 1389, most of the leading generals from both sides had been killed, and skilled military commanders were difficult to find on either side of the Channel. Coupled with this lack of leadership, both Edward and his rightful heir (Edward of Woodstock) were dead, and with a new Scottish rebellion was on the horizon in England, a hasty truce was signed to allow both countries to concentrate on their own domestic problems. This truce lasted until 1415, at which time, Henry V invaded France, renewing the conflict. This invasion is the subject of the film.

The English invasion of France was part of what is generally considered to be the third phase of the conflict, and has become known as the Lancastrian War (the first two phases were the Edwardian War (1337-1360) and the Caroline War (1369-1389)). Henry IV had initially planned the invasion, but domestic problems had prevented him from carrying it out. In 1414, Henry V demanded the return of all territories in France which had been initially owned by the English but lost over the last 77 years. France refused, and Henry invaded, landing at Harfleur, and easily capturing the city. Although he initially planned to invade Paris itself, he changed his mind, and instead made for the English controlled Calais. However, en route, he was blocked by a massive French army, who forced a conflict at Agincourt. Henry , whose forces numbered only 6,000 men, was outnumbered five to one in the conflict (which took place on 25 October, 1415), but due to the invention of a new weapon, the longbow, the English were able to decimate the French cavalry from a distance. As the cavalry charged, the bowmen simply opened fire, cutting through the oncoming attack. Within a short time, the already swamp-like battlefield was covered with dead horses and dead men, slowing down subsequent charges, and making it even easier for the long bowmen to pick them off. It is estimated that at least 200,000 arrows were fired at Agincourt, and contemporary accounts of the battle contain several reports that the sun was blacked out by the amount of arrows raining through the sky. The French cavalry was composed primarily of nobles, and without them, the rest of the army fell to pieces. The defeat was catastrophic for France, and Henry went on to take most of Normandy. The French king, Charles VI, was subsequently forced to sign the Treaty of Troyes, which made the rightful heir to the French throne, the Dauphin Charles, illegitimate, and also gave Katherine of Valois, the King's sister, to Henry. Henry died shortly thereafter, and his son, Henry VI, was declared king of France. Ultimately however, the French were able to take back the most of the country (including Gascony), and the Dauphin became King Charles VII. The conflict officially ended in 1453 when England attempted to retake Gascony and were soundly defeated.

As can be seen, the broader events in the film are historically accurate; England did invade France, they did win at Harfleur with relative ease, they did win at Agincourt despite overwhelming odds, they did force France to sign a humiliating treaty, Henry did get the hand of Katherine of Valois, and the Dauphin was rendered illegitimate. However, whilst the outline of the play is historically accurate, many of the particulars are fabricated. For example, Henry V never claimed a right to the French throne as is depicted in the play (in fact it was Edward III's claim of such that began the war in the first place). Another alteration of historical fact is that the Dauphin (Michael Maloney) was not present at the Battle of Agincourt as he is in the play. Yet another difference is that Katherine of Valois (Emma Thompson) was not wooed by Henry, she was deeply unhappy with the treaty and only reluctantly went back to England with the king, learning English only because she was compelled to. Another difference is in relation to the number of dead. In the play, the English lose 30 men, and the French lose 10,000. In reality however, the English lost about 150 and the French lost 12,000. By and large however, unlike some of Shakespeare's other history plays, Henry V is largely historically factual, and whilst some of the smaller details are fabricated, the broader elements are truthful.

The three men - Lord Henry Scroop (Stephen Simms), Earl Richard of Cambridge (Fabian Cartwright) and Sir Thomas Grey (Jay Villiers) - were being arrested for plotting to assassinate King Henry for the French.

This is one of the fundamental problems with both the play and the film. From the time of its initial publication in 1599, this criticism has been levelled at the play, and when the film came out in 1989, the same criticism was brought to bear on it.

In the film, which, as we have seen is essentially identical to the play, Henry is presented as a model of traditional heroism, a brave and fearless leader ready to fight and die side-by-side with his men. However, the fact is that he does invade a peaceful nation for petty reasons (the fact that he has a claim to the French throne, which is based on questionable clerical interpretations of ancient texts), leading to the deaths of thousands of people. He claims he values mercy above all else, and he expresses great sadness at the death toll after the battle of Agincourt. However, he never acknowledges his own responsibility for the bloodshed, never seems to show any guilt, and soon after the battle, he follows through with his claim to the French throne, depriving the Dauphin of his birthright, and then casually flirting with Katherine, having seemingly forgotten about the tens of thousands who lie dead across France. Henry's speeches (some of the most famous and rousing in all of Shakespeare) clearly position him as a man to be respected, an inspiring leader, capable of making men fight and die for him. These speeches seem to imply that the French invasion is not motivated exclusively by ego or desire for power and land and that Henry takes the mantle of kingship very seriously, and is dedicated to improving his native country. Nevertheless, no amount of rhetoric can resolve the inherent paradoxes of the campaign in France (as it is depicted in the play and the film). True, at the end of the film, the victory at Agincourt is revealed to have been only temporary, with England set to lose France back to the Dauphin only a few years later, but the outcome of both the play and the film is treated very much like a celebration and Henry very much like a conquering hero.

One of the main criticisms that has been levelled at the play is that by presenting such a man as an ideal king, with an indefatigable will-power, a cast-iron resolve and a fearless determinism, and encouraging us to view him as a traditional hero, the play is in fact championing and celebrating warfare and English imperialism. As such, the play is often seen as Shakespeare's most openly jingoistic piece, with its main purpose being to instil a strong sense of national pride in the audience. The two 'big' speeches ("Once more unto the breach" and the St Crispin's Days speech) both work to this effect, as they both celebrate inherently English values. Indeed, the 1944 Laurence Olivier adaptation of the play, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, was specifically commissioned by the British government so as to rally support for the British army during World War II. At the time of the making of the film, victory in Europe seemed remote and it was felt that reminding people of Henry's unexpected victory at Agincourt against a much larger force, depicted in the play as being the result of his righteousness and devotion to God, would re-instil in the people a spirit of national pride. Speeches which criticize Henry's invasion and leadership (such as his conversation with the soldier Williams) were cut, as was the scene where Henry hangs Bardolph. Additionally, the French are portrayed as inherently evil, sadistic and amoral men who deserve to be destroyed. Also removed was the assassination plot (as it shows dissention in the ranks), Henry's regret of the actions of his father in unlawfully taking the throne from Richard II (as it shows ambiguity in a desire to lead), his threats to the governor of Harfleur to kill every man, woman and child in the town (as it undermines the presentation of Henry as righteous), and the Chorus' closing speech about how France was soon lost by England (as it undermines the victory at Agincourt). These changes had the effect of making an already strongly patriotic piece even moreso, and Olivier's grandiose performance in the film was directly aimed at rousing national pride in viewers (much as Henry's speeches aim to do the same thing to his soldiers). Indeed, as part of his contract for the film, Olivier had to agree not to appear in another film for 18 months. This was used during the advertising of the film in the hopes that more people would go to see the film due to the fact that it was to be Olivier's last performance in some time. Interestingly, the play itself had a similar gestation. In 1599, England was under threat of invasion by the Spanish armada, and the government was constantly looking for ways to inspire the populace, and remind them of their nationality. Shakespeare thus created an idealised hero whose story was designed to stir feelings of national unity at a time of religious division, and when the threat from Spain made such unity of vital importance.

Whatever the case however, whilst some critics see the play as presenting an ideal king and championing military might, others offer a more ambiguous interpretation, pointing to such aspects of the play as Henry's Machiavellian tendencies (how he dupes the three assassins), and the undermining of the patriotic heroism seen in the characters of Pistol, Bardolph and Nym (whilst Henry is presented as noble and righteous, they care only about robbing the dead and furthering their own agendas). Such critics argue that there is a great deal of evidence of flaws in Henry's character. For example, they claim that the play never really supports his false claim to the throne of France, and it presents his invasion as a means to distract attention from domestic conflict (in reality, this claim has been made as regards the historical invasion of France, but no evidence has ever been produced to support it, and it seems to have been purely an invention of Shakespeare). His bloodthirsty speech at Harfleur is also cited as evidence that he is not an idealised patriotic leader, but a tough military commander willing to kill innocent people to ensure victory. His decision to kill the French prisoners (absent in the film), his cold rejection of Falstaff, and his acquiescence to the execution of Bardolph are scenes which are also used as evidence that the character is morally ambiguous. As such, any critics come away from the play with the predominant impression being one of ambiguity; the play does celebrate patriotism, but it also presents a flawed leader. Kenneth Branagh has himself been quoted as saying, "I would describe as best I could my belief in a modern view of the play: it emerges as a political thriller, a warts-and-all study of leadership, a complex debate about war and the pity of war".

He is the Chorus. The Chorus is a concept from the ancient Greek theatre, where it involved a group of onlookers who commented on the action presented in the narrative, but did not actually participate directly in that action. A particularly famous example is found in the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles, where the Chorus does actually serve a mimetic function insofar as they are Oedipus' royal guard, although they also speak to the audience. Basically, the Chorus is there to narrate, and to lead the audience, offering interpretations, opinions, and filling in blanks (as the Chorus does in Henry V several times, especially at the Siege of Harfleur).

The opening speech of the play, delivered by the Chorus is:

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention:
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels
Leashed in like hounds, should Famine, Sword, and Fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unrais'd spirits that hath dared,
On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cock-pit hold
The vast fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O pardon: since a crook'd figure may
Attest in little place a million,
And let us, ciphers to this great account,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high uprear'd and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them,
Printing their proud hoofs i'th' receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
Turning th'accomplishment of many years
Into an hourglass - for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history,
Who Prologue-like your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.
The basic meaning of this speech is that the Chorus is lamenting how the stage cannot possibly hope to truly represent all that is to be depicted in the narrative, and therefore, the audience must imagine much of the action for themselves. He returns to this point during the siege of Harfleur, again asking the audience to imagine what is described, as it is cannot be shown directly. When the play begins, the Chorus acknowledges that he is quite literally standing on a stage where actors are about to start performing. Obviously, such an opening is a deeply self-reflexive device, breaking the skein of make-belief found in all narrative; the audience is presented with an actor on a stage, acknowledging that he is an actor on a stage and telling them that they are about to watch a group of actors performing on a stage. As such, the opening speech alludes to the very artistic medium itself, and this is the important point for the opening of the film. The film begins on a film set because it is a film; it has the same meaning as the opening speech in the play, but because it is a different medium, there is simply a change of location.

The 'gift' of the tennis balls from the Dauphin in return to Henry's claim to the French throne is a reference to Henry's previous lifestyle (as depicted in Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2). Henry was an idler who consorted with drunks and thieves, and the tennis balls are an attempt to remind Henry of his reputation for being a useless pleasure-seeker, thus symbolising the Dauphin's contempt for him.

Other than the theatrical trailer and scene selection, there are no special features on either the R2 UK DVD, which was released by Universal Home Entertainment (UK) in 2002, or the R1 US DVD, which was released by MGM Home Entertainment in 2002. However, the aspect ratio of the film on the US DVD has been stretched to 1.85:1. The original aspect ratio of the film was 1.66:1.

A US edition is scheduled for released on January 27, 2015.

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