Shakespeare's history plays are obsessed with royal power, especially the question of who has a right to rule and why. Should the throne be inherited by an eldest son? Can anyone just come along and take it by force if they feel like it? In this particular play, the English King Henry V makes a sketchy claim to the French throne and goes to war in order to secure his position as France's next king. Meanwhile, his claim to the English throne is being called into question by those who think he's doesn't have a legal claim to the crown. (After all, Henry only inherited it after his dad stole it away from Richard II.) In Henry V, Shakespeare also considers what it is that makes a good king and admits that, sometimes, being a successful monarch often involves being a not-so-nice person.
Questions About Power
- Discuss Henry's motives for claiming a right to the French throne.
- Explain how the Salic Law factors into Henry's justification for claiming the French crown. Do you agree that he should be the King of France?
- Discuss King Henry's relationship with the Church in the play.
- What are the terms of the peace treaty Henry signs at the end of Henry V?
- What qualities make a good king? Is Henry V a good king? Are there any qualities that make someone a good ruler that might not make them a good friend?
- Do you think that Henry V has a solid claim to the throne of England? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Henry V's claim to the French throne is dubious at best. Henry claims that he has a right to rule France through his grandmother's family tree, but, if the exact same argument were used to decide who should rule England, Henry wouldn't be the king.
The play suggests that being a successful king involves a willingness to be ruthless.