“The Life of Henry the Fifth,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

I think there’s not much to say about this play that hasn’t already been said by ardent fans of Shakespeare. I did find it surprising that Henry himself (sorry, “King Harry” in the casting) didn’t have as large a part as I imagined he would have in his own play.

Then again, that seems par for the course regarding these monarchy plays. What’s with that decision, anyway?

But when he IS there–whew, he steals the freaking scene! His dialogue fits the moment and the emotion so well, and there are so many sides to him. His language has its ups and downs, and he’s going to be as open as he can, and very intelligent.

I can see why the character and play have endured if people want to hear this dialogue–I can’t wait to myself.

There are some really, really long monologues and rallying moments, and a pretty large cast of characters to work with. Still an interesting character, and still complex as hell. Harry deals with many people and issues, and he can be pretty harsh, too (there’s an issue about getting a town to surrender, and he’s warning them it can get bad if they don’t, and then the treatment of prisoners that’s questionable). Harry comes off somewhat burdened by his crown, inspiring and reserved, with trouble sleeping, as if he is asking for guidance from heaven every step of the way.

Considering he’s renewed war with France over centuries-old English territorial claims, I suppose that’s needed. Harry takes the job of King far more seriously than those around him would suspect, given his prior behavior.

The play begins with Harry as king after many years of civil wars, and as he pursues his claims in French territory, ambassadors from France arrive with a mocking gift of tennis balls to play with rather than war. So, he says screw that mockery and they’ll go to war.

The action changes constantly between characters: there are some nobles accused of conspiring to kill Harry early on, and then the battles in France. The play switches action quite a bit between Harry and the English, and King Charles and the French (actually Charles is out of sight for most of the play, and it’s the Dauphin that has the most authority in the course of things).

There are, of course, the amazing speeches by Harry (seriously, so far I think he has the best speeches of any Shakespearean character) to inspire his men and the nobles for more fighting and victory. And then there’s an interesting wooing session between Harry toward the end and the Princess Catherine of France to end the war…and it goes a lot longer than I expected it to.

Other Shakespearean plays have maybe a brief interchange of words (in person or proxy) and it’s a done deal. There’s a bit of suspense here, especially since Catherine’s English is rather poor, but Harry just keeps going with the wooing, throwing in his faults and his love for her right and left (where exactly it came from, I’m not sure, and hope it wasn’t just because he was getting a bunch of land along with her–guess I’ll have to re-read it all sometime soon to see what I might’ve missed).

Related image

(From The Hollow Crown) Honey, if Harry looked, sounded, and acted anything like the way Hiddles portrayed him in the Henry V episode, just take his hand and kiss him already!

Some old characters from Henry IV (1 & 2) come into the story, though their roles are more comedic and tragic as the play goes on. Even these criminals and jokesters have changed a bit, some marrying, and some growing worse in their lawless natures. And then there’s the way Harry deals with them…showing that a king has to have a far different mindset than a common man with his former friends.

I suppose this is why it’s the last play with Harry in it, as he’s come full circle to become a well-renowned and successful king instead, far-removed from his careless, youthful start. He died young, so there would’ve been very little story left to tell for another play, I guess.

Either way, so many great quotable moments, and they’re so lengthy and well-known it’s kinda pointless to rehash ’em here. There’s the “Once more unto the breach” speech, and the “St. Crispian’s Day” speech, and his epic wooing marathon that I can’t wait to watch.

But, nope. No The Hollow Crown series until I finish this book… That’ll be a Merry Christmas (hee hee).

5 thoughts on ““The Life of Henry the Fifth,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

  1. bobcabkings says:

    Laurence Olivier’s Henry V is one of the classic performances (He was the right age for the part and directed the film also. He absolutely kills the St. Crispin’s Day speech. He waited to do Lear until he was the right age and that one is wonderful too, with a great cast.) Richard Branagh played Henry for a later film version and did very well too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      I just get tired of overly-bombastic speech patterns when its on film and not the stage. It’s like some actors forget they don’t have to project to the nosebleed section or something and feels a bit hammy on film (probably just fine in the theater). I’d still love to see it in the theater as intended (and several filmic versions for comparison, provided they never try to put Henry in the 21st century with Shakespearean dialogue–gah, I hate that!).

      Liked by 1 person

      • bobcabkings says:

        I think the best modern costume version of a Shakespeare play on film I can recall is on of “The Scottish Play” with Patrick Stewart in the lead (BBC, 2010). The costume style was sort of 1930s-1940s ish. And, a modern-ish dress worked well in a version of Titus Andronicus (1999) with Anthony Hopkins as Titus doing the kind of dark character he does so well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • TheChattyIntrovert says:

          I adore Patrick Stewart. I’m going to have to check that out. And I definitely wanna see Titus. I think it’s when the character and circumstances are clearly married to a particular time period in history (Like the British monarchy plays, because of all the back and forth between historical events and family lineage) that it’d be atrocious. I’d rather see it faithful in those circumstances. Macbeth (oops) and Titus could be put any time and work out, and a few other plays, too.

          Liked by 1 person

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