Published c. 1599
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
First, I have to admit I am a bit frustrated by this Reading Challenge, focused on reading a play by Shakespeare a month. The blogger who announced this Challenge had chosen 12 plays, based on a survey from her readers, fine, and then she stopped hosting the challenge, and no one has taken over.
As I don’t like not finishing what I started, I plan to keep doing this challenge, which is actually a nice way of deepening my reading of Shakespeare. I would enjoy though being able to interact with other bloggers doing the same challenge, but that will not be. But I really do not enjoy too much his historical plays, so I have decided to choose my own plays for the rest of the year.
Here is my plan:
June — The Taming of the shrew
July — As You Like It
August — King Lear
September — Mary wives of Windsor
October — Twelfth Night
November — Othello
December — The Tempest
As for this play, the interest was how Shakespeare described the Battle of Agincourt, with the psychology of the French and the British before the battle – the French being very arrogant and sure of the victory, which of course did not happen.
It would be interesting now to read Bernard Cornwell’s historical novel on the same topic, and I certainly plan to do that, Cornwell being one of my most favorite historical fiction writers.
I did not like too much how Henry’s personality was so positively portrayed; he looked to me more like a weak character, too easily influenced by the ecclesiastical powers of the time, who did manage to trick him into attacking France.
I was not really amused by the supposedly comic characters.
But this is probably once again the proof that Shakespeare’s plays are not made to be READ but WATCHED – the irony and comedy would probably be much more obvious and really enjoyable.
As a companion, I read Cliffs Notes to Shakespeare’s Henry V, by Jeffery Fisher.
In “CliffsNotes on Henry V” (the final play in Shakespeare’s political tetralogy), you once again meet young Prince Hal who is now the ideal Christian monarch, King Henry V. To retain power and increase revenue, he finds he must lead his soldiers in battle against France to reclaim land and titles.
A character study on King Henry V and a close look at sixteenth century politics shed light on the Bard’s intentions for the play. You’ll also explore synopses of the three related history plays that lead up to “Henry V.” Count on “CliffsNotes on Henry V” for detailed summaries and commentaries on every scene to help you appreciate the complexity of the play.
Other features that help you study include A list of characters and their roles, An interactive quiz, Essay topics, and review questions.
It was helpful and well done.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
T he play is set in England in the early fifteenth century. The political situation in England is tense: King Henry IV has died, and his son, the young King Henry V, has just assumed the throne. Several bitter civil wars have left the people of England restless and dissatisfied. Furthermore, in order to gain the respect of the English people and the court, Henry must live down his wild adolescent past, when he used to consort with thieves and drunkards at the Boar’s Head Tavern on the seedy side of London.
Henry lays claim to certain parts of France, based on his distant roots in the French royal family and on a very technical interpretation of ancient land laws. When the young prince, or Dauphin, of France sends Henry an insulting message in response to these claims, Henry decides to invade France. Supported by the English noblemen and clergy, Henry gathers his troops for war.
Henry’s decision to invade France trickles down to affect the common people he rules. In the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, some of the king’s former friends—whom he rejected when he rose to the throne—prepare to leave their homes and families. Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim are common lowlifes and part-time criminals, on the opposite end of the social spectrum from their royal former companion. As they prepare for the war, they remark on the death of Falstaff, an elderly knight who was once King Henry’s closest friend.
Just before his fleet sets sail, King Henry learns of a conspiracy against his life. The three traitors working for the French beg for mercy, but Henry denies their request. He orders that the trio, which includes a former friend named Scrope, be executed. The English sail for France, where they fight their way across the country. Against incredible odds, they continue to win after conquering the town of Harfleur, where Henry gives an impassioned speech to motivate his soldiers to victory. Among the officers in King Henry’s army are men from all parts of Britain, such as Fluellen, a Welsh captain. As the English advance, Nim and Bardolph are caught looting and are hanged at King Henry’s command.
The climax of the war comes at the famous Battle of Agincourt, at which the English are outnumbered by the French five to one. The night before the battle, King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier and talks to many of the soldiers in his camp, learning who they are and what they think of the great battle in which they have been swept up. When he is by himself, he laments his ever-present responsibilities as king. In the morning, he prays to God and gives a powerful, inspiring speech to his soldiers. Miraculously, the English win the battle, and the proud French must surrender at last. Some time later, peace negotiations are finally worked out: Henry will marry Catherine, the daughter of the French king. Henry’s son will be the king of France, and the marriage will unite the two kingdoms. [synopsis from SparkNotes]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “The Bard”). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592 he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of the playing company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. Next he wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest examples in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime, and in 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s.
Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare’s genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called “bardolatry”. In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are consistently performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.
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