Here’s a scene by scene breakdown of the abridged version of Henry V that we are presenting next week.
– Throughout the play the Chorus acts as a narrator, and fills in details that the play skips over. In this opening, the Chorus apologizes for the limitations of theatre, and introduces the French and English courts.
I, Scene i – Archbishop Canterbury and Bishop Ely are concerned that the King of England may take away land from the church. They hatch a scheme to convince the King to invade France instead.
I, Scene ii – Canterbury and Ely set their plan in motion, aided by an insulting gift to Henry from the Dauphin (the French Prince). Henry (also called Harry) decided to go to war on France.
The Chorus describes the preparations that the English make as they go off to war.
II, Scene i – Before Henry become King he was a wild young man, who hung out with a group of ruffians. In this scene we are introduced to those scoundrels: Nym, Bardolph and Pistol (who are preparing to go with the English army to fight in France) and Pistol’s new wife Mistress Nell Quickly. The leader of that gang had been Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff was a favourite character in Shakespeare’s earlier plays, but in this play we never see him. We only hear, from his Boy, that he’s dying, and his old cronies leave the scene to go to his deathbed.
II, Scene ii – King Henry uncovers a plot by some of his nobles to kill him and deals with the traitors.
Scene iii – The gang of ruffians bid farewell to Quickly and go off to war (hoping to loot!)
II, Scene iv – The play shifts to France where we see tension in the French court. The French Prince Dauphin scoffs at the English, but the French King is more cautiously preparing to defend the country.
The Chorus describes the English army’s sea journey to France
III, Scene i – The English, now in France, are storming the walled city of Harfleur. Henry’s stirring speech inspires his men.
III, Scene ii – Henry’s been so inspiring that even the cowardly Nym, Pistol and Bardolph are almost motivated to go into battle. They think better of it, then are driven into the fray by the Welsh Captain Fluellen (listen for his Welsh accent!)
III, Scene iii – The Governor of Harfleur had hoped for aid from the Dauphin. When that does not materialize, Harfleur has to surrender to the English.
III, Scene iv – Meanwhile, back in the French palace, the French princess Katherine has heard rumours that she may be given in marriage to Henry, so she (and her ladies-in-waiting) have some English lessons… and learn a swear word!
III, Scene v – Nym has been caught robbing a church and has been condemned to did. Pistol tries to get Captain Fluellen to intercede on his behalf, but Fluellen – a stickler for rules – refuses to do so. This angers Pistol, who swears to get revenge on Fluellen.
III, Scene vi – The French are upset by the loss of Harfleur and make more serious preparations for war
III, Scene vii – Montjoy, a herald from the French, comes to Henry and tries to convince him to surrender. Henry refuses, despite the fact that his army is sick, weak, and vastly outnumbered.
The Chorus shows us the two armies, on the night before the battle, around their campfires
IV, Scene i – The French are still over-confident and spend the night boasting, especially the Dauphin
IV, Scene ii – Henry disguises himself as a common soldier and goes among his men, to encourage them. Disguised, he meets Pistol, who is still swearing revenge on Fluellen. Pistol says he is going to disrespect the leek (a type of onion!) that is an important symbol to the Welsh.
IV, Scene iii — Henry goes off on his own to pray, overwhelmed by his responsibility for the lives of his troops. The English troops are outnumbered and afraid, but Henry rallies them with another inspiring speech.
IV, Scene iv – The Battle. Pistol finds himself and small and feeble French soldier to shake down for money.
IV, Scene v – The French, ashamed by their failings in battle, swear to battle harder
IV, Scene vi – Henry and his uncle Exeter meet and discuss the battle
IV, Scene vii – Fluellen enters, carrying the dead Boy. We learn that the French have killed unarmed English servants. In response, Henry calls for the English to kill their prisoners. Both of these actions are against the ‘rules of war’. Herald Montjoy comes again and we learn that the English have won the battle. But victory comes at a price of grief and death.
The Chorus tells us that Henry returned victorious to England, but now has been called back to France by the French King, to sign the peace treaty and to marry princess Katherine.
V, Scene i – Pistol has taken his revenge on Fluellen by insulting the leek (remember? The onion?). In this scene, Fluellen (and his leek) are encouraged by his friend Capt Gower to get revenge back on Pistol.
V, Scene ii – Henry is in the French court, where he has to learn enough French to woo the Princess. Peace treaties are signed.
The Chorus tells us that although all has ended well, Henry dies young, his son is only a baby when he’s crowned King, and due to mismanagement, all the French land for which Henry went to battle are regained by France.