In Henry V, Shakespeare dramatizes England's invasion of France and King Henry's success at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). Does the play glorify war and justify Henry's actions, or does it reveal the horrific realities of medieval warfare? These are questions that often divide audiences and literary critics, but there's plenty of evidence to support both views. Shakespeare portrays a wide range of attitudes in the play – from Henry's aggressive stance that war will bring England honor and glory, to the common soldiers' skeptical obedience and desire to simply make it home safely. Regardless of whether or not we believe Shakespeare glorifies Henry's invasion of France, one thing is certain – Henry V shows us that warfare (justifiable or not) has some devastating consequences that go beyond the horrific field casualties to generations of families: "the widows' tears, the orphans' cries, / The dead men's blood, the pining maidens' groans, / For husbands, fathers, and betrothed lovers" (2.4.2).
Questions About Warfare
- Why does Henry V go to war with France?
- Compare and contrast the play's various attitudes toward warfare in the play. Does Henry V glorify war? Or does it show us the horrors of warfare? (Be sure to point to specific evidence in the play.)
- Why does the Dauphin send Henry a chest full of tennis balls?
- Why does the Governor of Harfleur surrender to Henry's forces?
Chew on This
By delivering motivational speeches to his troops, Henry V glorifies warfare.
Although the play glorifies warfare at times, it also goes out of its way to show the devastating consequences of war.