Henry V

Shakespeare: the funny bits

Henry V is really quite odd. The two parts of Henry IV use the relationship between Hal and Falstaff to connect the historical action and the comic subplot, but now that Falstaff has gone, Henry’s wild youth is behind him and he’s soberly invading France and delivering stirring stuff like “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” and the St Crispin’s day speech. Meanwhile, in the place of a proper subplot, we have a series of characters who talk in amusing regional accents and rude French puns. It’s as if the form of the history play has distorted to the point where all that is left is a mass of rhetorical devices and Goon Show silly voices.

I felt I had to parody the whole thing in order to convey the play’s cumulative effect. The famous speeches are omitted, as they have become far too firmly associated with the idea that the English are plucky, scrappy, reluctant soldiers, even when they are embarking upon a war of conquest on the flimsiest of pretexts. In their stead I’ve included Henry’s fine address to the good citizens of Harfleur, which deserves to be better known.

Because we all know that Henry V is about inspiring people to go off to war. Isn’t it?

Act One

London. The Presence Chamber in the King’s Palace.

Enter the King, Lords and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

King. My learned lord, we pray you to proceed,
And justly and religiously unfold
If we should rightly claim the throne of France;
If you are wrong, this war will be your fault.

Cant. Blah blah blah blah, Salique blah blah blah blah,
Blah blah terriam Salicam blah bah,
Blah blah inheritrix blah blah, blah blah,
(This speech really goes on for sixty lines.
With any luck, I’ll stop the play stone dead.)
Blah blah blah blah blah blah progenitors.

King. May I with right and conscience make this claim?

Cant. aside] Oh, fuck, he’s still awake.
Why, yes, my Lord.

King. Oh, goody! Er, I mean, thanks be to God.

Enter Ambassadors of France

1 Amb. The Dauphin sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.

King. What treasure, uncle?

Exe. Tennis balls, my liege.

King. Well, then, that does it. Tell your Frenchy lord,
We are at war! And it is all his fault.

Act Two

Southampton. A council-chamber.

Enter the King, and Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey, conspirators.

Scroop., Cam. and Grey. We do submit us to your Highness’ mercy.

King. Because you said “no mercy” to some guy,
I’m going to have your traitor’s heads cut off.
It’s nothing pers’nal, and it’s all your fault.

Eastcheap, before the Boars’ Head tavern

Falstaff, offstage [dies.

France. The King’s Palace

Flourish. Enter the French King, the Dauphin, the Dukes of Berri and Britaine and Others

Enter Exeter.

Exe. Henry says “Hi,” and “I’m the King of France,”
And if you don’t agree with all his claims,
There will be war, and it will be your fault.

Lords. Oh la la! Allons! What is it zat it is! Etc

Act Three

Enter Chorus.

Chor. Behold the threaden sails,
Borne with th’ invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge.
aside] This is the only bit I get to read?

France. Before Harfleur.

Enter Fluellen, a Welsh captain, Macmorris, an Irish captain, and Jamy, a Scottish captain

Flu. Look you, Dai bach, Men of Harlech.

Jamy. Och aye the noo, hoots mon, a man’s a man for a’ that.

Mac. Top o’ the marnin’ to yez, begorrah.


Enter the Governor and some Citizens on the walls.  Enter the King and all his
Train before the gates.

King. Good morning, Harfleur! Let the English in,
Or the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh fair virgins and your flow’ring infants.
What is it then to me if impious war,
Array’d in flames, like to the prince of fiends,
Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats
Enlink’d to waste and desolation?
What is’t to me when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
What rein can hold licentious wickedness
When down the hill he holds his fierce career?

Exe. You’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you?

King, pointedly ignoring him] If not- why, in a moment, look to see
The blind and bloody soldier, with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters,
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls;
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes –

Exe. [vomits

King. All this and more. And it will be your fault.

Gov. Well, when you put it like that…

Rouen. The French King’s Palace

Enter Katherine and Alice

Kath. Soixant neuf.

Alice. Menage-à-trois.

Both. Oh, la la!

The French camp near Agincourt

Enter the Constable of France, the Lord Rambures, the Duke of Orleans, the
Dauphin, with Others

Orl. Mah ‘orse, she is ze best ‘orse in all Europe!

Dau. Oh yes, she is a varry pretty ‘orse.

Ram. Ze English, zay have ugly ‘orses.

Con. And zay zemselves, zay are varry ugly.

Omnes. Ha! Ha! Alors! Conspuez l’Anglais! Ha! Ha!

Act Four

The English camp at Agincourt

Enter the King, wearing a ginger beard and heavy boots.

Enter three soldiers: John Bates, Alexander Court and Michael Williams

Will. Who goes there?

King. A friend. My, but it’s a man’s life in the English army, being an ordinary soldier. What ho, lads.

Will. Right… but, as I was saying, if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp’d off in a battle, shall all join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died and such a place’.

King. Every subject’s duty is the King’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.

Will. ‘Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head – the King is not to answer for it.

[Exeunt all but the King, who puts on a black Hamlet outfit and picks up a skull.

King. Upon the King! Let us, our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sin, lay on the King!
Oh, woe is me! They say it’s all my fault!

The field of battle

Alarums. Excursions.

The French. Sacre bleu! [They die.

The English. Hurrah!

Enter the King. He climbs up a huge pile of dead French soldiers.

King. Here was a royal fellowship of death!
Where is the number of our English dead?
[Herald presents a paper
Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk,
Sir Richard Kikely, Davy Gam, Esquire;
None else of name; and of all other men
But five and twenty. O God, thy arm was here!
And not to us, but to thy arm alone,
Ascribe we all.

Flu. Is it not lawful, an please your Majesty, to tell how many is kill’d?
King. Yes, Captain, but with this acknowledgment,
That it was all God’s fault.

Act Five

France. The English camp.

Enter Fluellen and Pistol, fighting.

Flu. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Pist. Sheepshagger.

Flu. Eat my leek.

France. The French King’s Palace.

Enter Katherine and Alice, and the King.

King. Well, hello there. I’m an ugly bastard who’s just laid waste to Normandy and slaughtered most of your noble cousins. Give us a kiss. [Kissing her] You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate; there is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the tongues of the French council; and they should sooner persuade Henry of England than a general petition of monarchs.

Kate. I cannot tell vat is dat.

Alice. Il a dit «C’est tout de votre faute.»

[Sennet. Exeunt.


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