Henry V – Dramaturg Info
Bought tickets to see Henry V (playing February 18 – March 22, 2015) but don’t know the first thing about the play? Never fear! Read through our dramaturgical notes for the history behind Shakespeare’s most famous history play.
Who the heck was Henry V?
The son of Henry IV, Henry was born in 1387. He was knighted as Prince of Wales by Richard II in 1399, when his father usurped the throne in the same year. Henry was descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III, which was his claim to the throne.
In 1403 Henry abandoned his recklessness ways and joined forces with his father to fight Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. The 16-year-old prince was almost killed when he was shot in the face with an arrow, but he survived due to the good care he was given, such as honey being used as an antiseptic. Henry was left with permanent scars.
Henry became king upon his father’s death in 1413. Determined to regain the lands in France held by his ancestors, he invaded in 1415 and captured the French harbor city of Harfleur. He then defeated a superior French force in the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most famous battles of English history.
In 1420, he entered Paris, and married Catherine of Valois. He fell ill and died in September 1422 from dysentery. His son, who become Henry VI, ruler of both France and England, was just a few months old when his father died.
Other things to know:
About the Black Prince of Wales
Edward, Black Prince of Wales, was the first born son of King Edward III. When father and son invaded France, they won the Battle of Crecy when their company, made mostly of English archers, defeated a vastly larger French force of armored knights. The cream of the French nobility was destroyed. The Black Prince died young, however, and the invasion was France was not completed.
About Richard II
Upon the death of Edward III, the throne passed to the Black Prince’s son, Richard II, who was only ten years old. As he came of age, Richard was notorious for his ill-advised government, leading to civil war. Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the throne, becoming Henry IV. Richard II was murdered, making the “Hundred Year’s War” for the English Throne.
About Prince Hal and Falstaff
Prince Hal (Bolingbroke’s son) spent his youth drinking with his best buddy, the fat knight Falstaff and his cronies Bardolph, Pistol, Nym, and Mistress Quickly. Henry eventually left Falstaff, and fought bravely in the Battle of Shrewsbury.
About the Invasion of France and Harfleur
After his father’s death, Prince Hal became Henry V and made claim to the throne of France. He invaded the country with 12,000 men and attacked Harfleur, but the siege took five long weeks and many of his men died of dysentery. After taking Harfleur, Henry began the long march to the English stronghold at Calais, but he was delayed at the Somme River, and when he finally crossed it, his sick and enfeebled troops were reduced to 6,000.
About Agincourt and the English longbow
Meanwhile, a French army of over 20,000 descended on Henry, stopping him near the castle of Agincourt. Henry chose a field with forests on either side as his battleground, forcing the French into a narrow funnel. The rains had turned the field to thick mud, miring the French horses and heavily armored knights. The English longbowmen sent thousands of arrows into the French lines, killing horses and men alike and at the end of the day, the English won one of the greatest victories in the history of warfare.