War and Leadership in Shakespeare’s Henry V ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview

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LESSON TITLE: War and Leadership in Shakespeare’s Henry V

GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods

OVERVIEW: This lesson uses video segments from the PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered to explore the nature of war and its impact on those who fight it particularly the title character of William Shakespeare’s “history” play Henry V.

In the Introductory Activity, students brainstorm different reasons that nations have gone to war throughout history, and weigh which reasons they consider just or unjust. In the Learning Activity, students watch video segments from Shakespeare Uncovered exploring the nature and morality of war, the military necessity of the ethically questionable concept of honor, and the tendency of humanity to forget the bloody cost of war while remembering its glory. The Culminating Activity asks students to find parallels to Shakespeare’s history plays in our own historical movies today, and suggests that difficulty of creating truly anti-war works of art.

This lesson is best used before, during, or after a unit on Shakespeare’s Henry V, or in a unit on history in literature.

SUBJECT MATTER: English/Language Arts; History

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify the root causes of war and discuss the relative justness of each;
  • Compare and contrast how the experience of war is different for military leaders and the soldiers they command;
  • Discuss the different and often contradictory elements of what Shakespeare suggests is effective military leadership;
  • Describe how Shakespeare’s sense of ambiguity complicates and deepens the narrative of Henry V;
  • Find parallels between how Shakespeare’s plays have shaped people’s understanding of history and how contemporary historical films shape our own.


Common Core Standards

Grades 9-10

RL.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.9-10.6. Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.

RI.9-10.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

RI.9-10.7. Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

W.9-10.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Grades 11-12

RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

RL.11-12.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

RL.11-12.6 Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

RL.11-12.7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)



Shakespeare Uncovered: Henry IV &V with Jeremy Irons

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Segment 1: “May I with Right and Conscience Make this Claim?”

The darkly comic and ironic aspects of the justification for Henry’s campaign in France are explored, focusing especially on Olivier’s 1944 film version of the play.

Segment 2: “Once More Unto The Breach”

Director Thea Sharrock explains that her new production of Henry V is neither pro nor anti-war, but is rather an acknowledgement that “war happens,” and an attempt to understand the individuals shaped by it.

Segment 3: “The Battle of Agincourt”

On the eve of what history will remember as the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V moves among his soldiers, listening to their fears and anger made all the more poignant by their powerlessness. Henry’s great moment as king comes as he inspires his soldiers by making his cause England’s own.

Segment 4: “Have We Learned Anything?”

This segment reflects on the transience of Henry V’s military accomplishments, the bloody price of his battlefield glory, and humanity’s ongoing inability to learn the larger lessons of war’s futility.


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson. Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.