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After Viewing Activities

Language | Character Development | War

Shakespeare's language is like an onion. If you peel off one layer, there is another beneath it. This depth and richness of language accounts in part for the universality and timelessness of Shakespeare's work. Here are some points about language you may wish to discuss with your students:

  • One of Shakespeare's devices in Henry V is the Chorus. It offers the audience a description of Henry V and reminds them of his greatness and valor. It tells the audience what to expect and what to imagine as the film proceeds. It supports and applauds Henry and England and creates an heroic and epic tone.

  • The speeches of the self serving politicians who advise Henry-Canterbury and Ely, his knights and princes-serve as a counterpoint to the lofty tones of the Chorus' speech. These speeches are characterized by a gritty reality. These two levels of language the eloquent, lofty speeches of the Chorus and the terse, pragmatic speeches of the men of government and war-work together to create some of the tension and impact of the film.

  • Henry himself is a great orator. His skillful rhetoric allows him to accomplish his goals: gaining an allegedly legal mandate from the Church to invade France; bullying the Governor of Harfleur to surrender; inspiring his small and tired army to great success; and courting and winning Katherine. He crafts his speeches perfectly for every occasion and every audience.

Discussion Questions
  1. Which speech do you remember as Henry's finest? What makes it memorable?

  2. Propaganda, both to evoke pride in the home country and rage against the enemy, is a valuable weapon in wartime. What do you see as propaganda in this film? Who is the propagandist? Give examples to support your answers. Think about examples of propaganda in our day. What propaganda have you experienced? What purposes did it serve? If you recognize something as propaganda, can it still succeed in its goal?

  3. In a work of art, tension is the balance between opposing forces. What creates the tension in this film and what are the opposing forces?

  4. Do you remember the times the Chorus appears in this film? What kinds of information does he add? What did you learn from him? Is he necessary? Could he be eliminated? Support your answers.

Suggested Activities
  1. Distribute the student activity below as an in class or homework assignment. Then discuss the speeches with the class. YOU may want to replay these scenes in the film.

  2. Although many people who see this film do not speak French, they still understand what happens in the scene between Katherine and her maid Alice. Create your own language to replace the French in this scene. Enact the scene for your class.

  3. Suppose this play was being performed in a contemporary setting and style. Write a rap song for the Chorus that tells the audience what to think about Henry.

  4. Take a scene and write an internal monologue for the characters to show what they're really thinking.

Language: Student Activity
There are many different levels of meaning in the film that are expressed through the language. Reading and discussing portions of some speeches will help you both clarify and explore how Shakespeare used language to suggest different ideas. Read these speeches and answer the questions on a separate piece of paper.

    Prologue to the Battle Scene
    Chorus: For forth he goes and visits all his host, Bids them good morrow with a modest smile, And calls them brothers, friends, and countrymen.

    A largess universal, like the sun, His liberal eye doth give to every one, Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all Behold, as may unworthiness define, A little touch of Harry in the night.
    (IV.Prologue.3Z 35, 43 - 47)

    1. What is "a little touch of Harry"? Identify the simile that describes Henry's generosity. What does this speech say about Henry as the leader of his army? How does this picture compare to other impressions of Harry?

    The Courting Scene
    Katherine: Is it possible dat I could love de ennemi of France?

    Henry: No, it is not possible you should love the enemy of France, Kate; but in loving me you should love the friend of France, for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it-I will have it all mine: and Kate, when France is mine, and I am yours, then yours is France, and you are mine.

    1. How does the language in this speech differ from that of the Chorus both in style and tone?

    2. How does Henry use language to persuade Katherine and to get around her logic?

    Henry: But, Kate, dost thou understand thus much English- canst thou love me?

    Katherine: I cannot tell.

    Henry: Can any of your neighbours tell, Kate?

    1. How could you interpret Kate's response? What does Henry's reaction portray about his personality?

    Henry: O, Kate, nice customs curtsy to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion. We are the makers of manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows our places stops the mouth of all find-faults- as I will do yours...

    1. Do you think Harry really loves Kate? What does this speech reveal about his feelings? Do you think Kate loves him?

    2. Consider all three speeches from this scene and describe the relationship between Henry and Katherine.

Character Development
Understanding the character of Henry is critical to understanding the film. The truest portrait of this complex young king is a composite of the various aspects of his personality and the world in which he lives.

He is a man of contradictions. Henry warns Canterbury not to lead him into an unjustified war that will spill innocent blood. Then he describes in dreadful detail how he will spill French blood because the Dauphin sent him tennis balls-wholesale destruction to get even with a bad joke. He boasts of what he will accomplish in battle, and yet when victorious, he gives all the credit to God.

He lives in a world of contradictions. The Archbishop of the English Church, while representing honesty and peace, leads Henry into international robbery and war. His best friend Scroop abandons him to France just as he has abandoned his friend Falstaff. And his own father Henry IV advises him to make war abroad in order to keep the peace at home.

As a king, he is an honorable as well as a brutal warrior. He promises the Governor of Harfleur he will dash the heads of elder townsmen against the walls and impale innocent infants on pikes. Yet he orders his soldiers to treat the vanquished with mercy and executes his old friend Bardolph for stealing from the enemy.

As a man, he must be a king. He is painfully aware of the tremendous responsibilities he carries for his subjects and soldiers. He feels isolation and criticism, "subject to the breath/Of every fool..." And he feels the emotions his subjects feel: terrible anger after the boys are murdered at Agincourt; exhaustion after battle; embarrassment when courting a lovely young woman.

Suggested Activities
  1. Distribute the student activity below as an in-class or homework assignment. Discuss students' responses. You may also wish to replay the tennis ball speech and discuss how Branagh interprets the language and gives it meaning.

  2. It's I992 in the United States. Henry Lancaster (Henry V) is running for President. Write his campaign speech. You're running for President against him. Write your campaign speech.

  3. Henry V is a British hero. Think of an American hero or heroine who is similar to him. Write a description of your heroic American and then compare him or her to Henry.

  4. Write two entries that Henry might have made in his journal. Consider entries about how he felt after the Dauphin's gift of tennis balls, after he finds out his friend Scroop has betrayed him to France, after he orders the execution of Bardolph, the night before the battle of Agincourt, or the day after the battle.

  5. You're interviewing Katherine for a slick, glossy magazine. The headline of your article reads: "The Real Harry -- Only Katherine Knows and TELLS!" Write that article.

Discussion Questions
  1. What are some of the contradictions in Henry's personality? What internal conflicts does Henry face? Do we ever see Henry struggle? Does he seem like a real person to you? Has the king in Henry destroyed the man in Henry?

  2. Why does Henry visit his troops in disguise on the eve of battle? What do we learn about Henry in this scene?

  3. Henry is capable of great concern for common people and also great brutality. Where does he show this concern? Where does he show brutality?

  4. How does the way the French herald Montjoy feels about Henry change as the film progresses? What do you think accounts for this change? In what ways does this change in attitude reflect changes in Henry? How does Montjoy show this change?

Character Development: Student Activity
To understand this film, you must understand Henry, and to understand Henry, you must think about both what he says and what he does. For example, think of the scene in which Henry is given a gift of tennis bails by the Dauphin. What does this speech show us about Henry's character?

Henry: We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us
His present, and your pains, we thank you for
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard

And we understand him well,
How he comes o'er us with our wilder days,
Not measuring what use we made of them
But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state,
Be like a king, and show my sail of greatness,
When I do rouse me in my throne of France

And tell the pleasant Prince this mock of his
Hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down,
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn
So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin
His jest will savour but of shallow wit
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it

rackets = (1) tennis rackets; (2) noises of gunfire
crown = (1) coin staked in a game; (2) symbol of majesty
hazard = (1) in tennis at that time, an opening in the wall; hitting the ball into it scored a point; (2) jeopardy
keep my state = fulfill the role of king
gun-stones = cannonballs (originally of stone)
sore charged = sorely burdened with responsibility
wasteful = destructive

Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.

  1. Why did the Dauphin send the tennis balls? Why did he think he could get away with it?

  2. How does Henry respond? What does the language he chooses reveal about him? Is his response appropriate? Explain.

  3. Find the lines where Henry implies that the Dauphin is judging him for the way he was in the past. Has anyone ever made fun of you because of something silly or foolish you did when you were younger? What were the circumstances? How did you react? Was your reaction similar to or different from Henry's?

If Henry is the controlling figure in this film, then war is the driving force. War makes up the substance of the plot: its causes, the rituals of diplomacy, the mobilizing of an army, strategizing, discipline, heroism, courage, and horror. Over the years, the face of war has been portrayed differently in productions of Henry V. In this film, stress has been placed on the misery and suffering of war as well as on the moments of compassion and courage. The film may not clearly explain for your students how the English overcame immeasurable odds to win the battle of Agincourt. They were vastly outnumbered; the English soldiers were exhausted and sick while the French were fresh. So how did they do it? England's first line of defense was a row of pointed stakes, behind which stood English yeomen armed with longbows. The French knights on horseback could not get past the stakes. Then the English archers shot hundreds of arrows at them. Struck by the arrows, the French knights were thrown to the ground where they were captive in their own armor -- too heavy to get back on their horses or in some instances just to get up. Many were trampled to death or drowned. The English yeoman and the French armor won the day for Harry.

Suggested Activities
  1. Distribute the student activity below as an in-class or homework assignment. Then discuss the two speeches with the class. You may want to replay the scenes in the film where Henry delivers the two speeches.

  2. Draw a recruitment poster for Henry's army. Write accounts of the battle from two perspectives: first as it might appear in a French newspaper and then in an English newspaper.

  3. You're a French soldier. Write a letter home telling about the battle of Agincourt. Start the letter the night before the battle and finish it the next day after the battle is over.

  4. What differences and similarities exist between war then and now? Consider the causes of war, the mobilization of an army, the weapons used, the way the battle is fought, and the involvement of other nations. Think of yourself as a soldier on an average day during a war in 1415 and in 1992. Compare the experience of soldiers at Agincourt with those involved in the Persian Gulf war). What would be similar and what would be different about your experience?

Discussion Questions
  1. How do the French and English armies compete before the battle of Agincourt? Be sure to include the relative size of each army, their attitudes, their weapons, and their hopes of success. What do you expect to happen? Why? How do each look after the battle?

  2. Which scenes in the film portray the violent aspect of war? Which show the compassionate and courageous side of human nature? What does this film say about war? Support your answer with examples from the film.

  3. What role do God and religion play in this film? How do Henry's religious beliefs affect his military leadership?

  4. Do you think Henry was justified to start this war? Would you feel the same way if he had lost and his people had been slaughtered? Can you think of parallels in our time where the success or failure of a war affected how we valued our involvement?

War: Student Activity
Do we see human kind at its best or at its worst during wars? Are there moments of glory and moments of despair? Can war be justified? These are questions that: Shakespeare grappled with and that we still grapple with. Read the two speeches below. The first follows the attack on Harfleur the second precedes the battle of Agincourt What do they say about the different sides of war?

Henry: Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command,
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil, and villainy.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile de locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls;
You naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds.

What say you?
Will you yield and this avold;
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroyed?
(IIl.3-27 - 44)

Henry: This day is called the Feast of Crispian:

He that shall see this day, and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "Tomorrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve, and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's Day."

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered --
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother, be he never so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day.

Answer these questions on a separate piece of paper.

  1. Whom does Henry address in each speech? What is Henry trying to achieve with each? Does he succeed? Compare and contrast the two speeches. Use examples of language to support your argument.

  2. Imagine that you're a soldier who has followed Henry through the mud and muck. How does each speech make you feel?

Teacher's Guide:
Viewing Strategies | Discussion and Activities | After-Viewing Activities
The Literary Context of Henry V | A Word from Kenneth Branagh
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