King Henry the Fifth

Plot Summary

To finance the projected war on France, the commons are about to pass a bill confiscating the Church's lands. Seeking to avoid the long-term implications of this, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely make the newly-crowned King Henry an irresistible offer of cash, at the same time confirming the legitimacy of his claim to the French throne. Henry orders the invasion of France. Before the army embarks at Southampton, Henry discovers that three of his nobles have plotted to assassinate him. King Charles of France receives the English ambassadors but finally rejects Henry's claim to the crown. Henry's forces besiege and then take the town of Harfleur. Following the victory, the English forces begin a retreat through Normandy on account of the poor condition of the men, who are disheartened by sickness and foul weather. Even so, Henry rejects the French Herald's offer of ransom and the two armies prepare to fight. On the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, Henry tours the camp in disguise to sound out the opinions of his men, is led to consider the heavy responsibilities of kingship. In the French camp, by contrast, confidence is high. As battle is joined, Henry rallies his troops and an English victory is confirmed, with miraculously small losses. As part of the subsequent treaty, Henry woos and wins French Princess Katherine to ensure the linking of the two countries through marriage.

Relationship to De Vere

In 1579, the Puritan pampheter Stephen Gosson produced a essay criticizing literature as evil. The pamphlet was dedicated to Philip Sidney, who was considered a rising literary star. Sidney responded with an essay Defense of Poesy that disagreed with Gosson on most points, but did criticize theatrical innovations that compressed time and space into a two hour period, and shifted moods and settings without explanation. Sidney observed:

... By the by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock... While in the meantime two armies fly in represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not recived it for a pitched field.

In Henry the Fifth, de Vere, a rival and not particularly good friend of Sidney, responded through the CHORUS:

CHORUS: As so our scene must to the battle fly;
Where-O, for pity!-we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils
(Right ill dispos'd om brawl ridiculous)
The name of Agincourt.

The historical Shakespearean plays were the product of de Vere's arrangement with Queen Elizabeth in which she paid de Vere an annuity of £1,000 and in return de Vere writes propaganda plays for the masses to promote the virtues of and loyalty to the regime.