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Free Study Guide-Henry V by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Online
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SHORT PLOT/SCENE SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Since Henry V is part of the tetralogy that began with Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, this play shares many of the same characters as well as carries over many of the plot lines. One of the first public acts of the young King Henry is to carry out his father's advice to him which is to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels" and so quiet rebellion at home. He wants to claim the throne of France "with right and conscience." He secures from the Archbishop of Canterbury a declaration that states that the "Salic Law" barring women and their descendants from ascending the French crown could not be urged legally against his claims to titles "usurp'd from (him) and (his) progenitors. The King resolves, therefore, "by God's help ... to bend(France to (his) awe or break it all to pieces." His purpose is strengthened by the arrival of the French ambassadors who bring a reply from the Dauphin to Henry's demand for "certain dukedoms (in France) in the right of his great predecessor," King Edward the third", an insolent message that he "cannot revel into dukedoms there." In place of these territories, he receives an insulting gift of tennis balls. The angry King retorts that he will turn the Dauphin's tennis balls to gun-stones. He expedites his preparations for the invasion.

In London, the hostess of the Boar's Head Tavern reports to Falstaff's old cronies that "the King hath killed his heart" and that Falstaff has died of plague. Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph resolve to follow the King to Southampton and thence to France. In Southampton, on the point of sailing, Henry orders the execution of three English noblemen who have accepted French bribes to assassinate him. At the French palace the King and the Dauphin receive from the English a demand that the "crown and kingdom" be resigned to the English ruler.


Proof of King Henry's ability to unite all factions under his banner appears in the bravery displayed in the siege of Harfleur by Caption Fluellen, a Welshman, Caption Jamy, a Scot, and Caption Macmorris, an Irishman. Failing to receive help from the Dauphin, the Governor of the town yields to the English. Later, Henry and his men who are sick, underfed and war-worn, march towards Calais. They cross the Somme. At Agincourt Henry is confronted with a much larger French army under the Dauphin and the Constable of France.

To test the morale of his common soldiers, the young King goes in disguise around the camp. He converses with many and gathers a sense of his royal responsibilities. However, even in such an hour the spirit of the fun-loving Prince Hal breaks out in a prank that he plays on one of his men. In the opposite camp, the over-confident French leaders jest at the "beggar'd host" of their enemies. The Constable of France derisively sends a herald to King Henry to "mind (his) followers of repentance." However, in the battle that in the morning follows, the badly led French forces, though vastly superior in numbers and equipment to the English, are decisively defeated. The field of Agincourt is strewn with the corpses of French princes and nobles. Although a big victory for the English, the war continues for five more years.

Towards the end of the war, Pistol is thoroughly cudgeled by Captain Fluellen for insulting the Welsh. He is forced to eat the Welsh leek that he had derided. To save himself from a possible worse fate-since both his cronies Nym and Bardolph have been hanged for theft, this knight of the "killing tongue and quiet sword" resolves to return to England. Through the friendly services of the Duke of Burgundy, the French King yields to the demands of King Henry. He grants him the hand of fair Katharine, his daughter. He acknowledges him as heir to the French crown. And from the union of the English King and the French Princess is born, a son "Henry the sixth, in infant bands crown'd king, of France and England" is born, thereby ending the period with the unification of the two countries both as a nation and a family.

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