Discussion and Activities
Before watching the film, review The Literary Context of Henry V. You may also want to read or distribute Kenneth Branagh's discussion of Shakespeare and his thoughts about this film. Print and distribute the Viewing Strategies and read it with your class to make sure students understand the plot. You may also want to point out the following:
- The events in this film really happened. It takes place from 1413 to 1415 in England and France (although Shakespeare wrote the play in 1599). At that time, the English and the French had been enemies for years, and Henry's attack on France is part of the Hundred Years' War between the two countries (1337-1453). Henry V, who ascended the throne at 26, was one of the best-loved English kings and a military hero.
- Henry V had no true claim to the French throne. Also, since his father Henry IV had overthrown Richard II to become king, even his claims to the English throne were tenuous.
- Henry had been a wild and reckless prince, but he claims that he learned about the common man during his "riotous youth." His youthful irresponsibility and his newfound resolve are often referred to throughout the film. He is determined to be a good king. His belief in God and desire to do the right thing are very important to him.
- Flashbacks in the film (golden, smoky scenes in a tavern) show Henry as young Prince Hal (these scenes are taken from Henry IV). The large man in the first flashback is Sir John Falstaff, Hal's best friend. Henry rejects Falstaff when he becomes king.
- Before you begin discussion, have students choose an image or brief scene from the film that lingers in their minds after the film is over. Ask them to take ten minutes to write down a description of the scene and why they remembered it. Then have them share their thoughts with the class.
- Listed below are random scenes and images from the film. What is important about each scene?
- Henry borrows Sir Thomas Erpingham's cloak
- Katherine's English lesson
- The gift of tennis balls
- Canterbury explains the Galic law to the English lords
- Henry demands the surrender of Harfleur
- The Dauphin describes his horse
- Bardolph is hanged
- Henry learns the numbers of the French and English dead
- Exeter yanks the medallions off Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge
- On a sheet of paper, have students create a graph with the numbers one through 18 on the horizontal axis and the words "Level of Importance" up the vertical axis. Have them determine how interesting or important each event below is in the overall plot and enter that level on the graph. Looking at the graph, they should be able to pinpoint the climax of Henry V. Why is that point the most significant? What issues are addressed and how are they resolved?
- The Dauphin sends Henry a gift of tennis balls.
- Henry decides to go to war.
- Henry orders the execution of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey.
- Harfleur falls to Henry's army.
- Katherine begins her English lessons.
- The French plan their revenge.
- Henry executes Bardolph.
- Henry rejects France's bid for his ransom.
- Henry wanders disguised among his men the night before battle.
- Henry prays for courage for his soldiers and for forgiveness for his father's sin.
- Henry delivers the St. Crispin's Day speech to his men.
- Henry signals the initial charge at the battle of Agincourt.
- York is killed.
- Henry asks Montjoy who won the day.
- Henry orders his soldiers to credit God with their victory.
- Henry carries the Boy across the battlefield.
- Henry courts Katherine, and she agrees to marry him.
- The French and the English sign a treaty.
- Have the class make a storyboard of the film. Assign groups or individuals to draw or paint specific scenes and then label them. Arrange the drawings in sequential order to reveal the plot of Henry V.
After Viewing Discussion Questions
- If you could choose one character to play in the film, which one would it be? How would you play the part?
- What are the pluses and minuses of being a king? Would you want to trade places with Henry? Explain your answer. If Henry V were alive today, how would his role as king be different? How would it be the same?
- What are the strongest emotions in this film? Which one do you think is strongest? What makes it so powerful?
- What is the message of this film? How does the film director tell the story to highlight the message? What visual clues reflect the director's attitude? In what ways is the message of this film relevant to today's world?
Viewing Strategies | Discussion and Activities | After-Viewing Activities
The Literary Context of Henry V | A Word from Kenneth Branagh
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