Although all of these things were taken from the two sources it can be noted that the storyline of the play did not fully replicate the exact story of the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Shakespeare had mad some changes. Here are a few of them: In Holinshed’s Chronicles the Archbishop of Canterbury urges Henry to invade France simply to distract him from the issue of Church revenues but in the play the Archbishop of Canterbury supports Henry’s claim to the French throne when he is asked for his opinion.
In the Chronicles the tennis-ball incident was the main cause of the conflict whereas Shakespeare writes that the incident only brought the invasion closer. Holinshed writes that the conspirators plotted to kill Henry and his brothers and crown the childless Earl of March. Cambridge expected that he or his kin would succeed to the throne in due course whereas in the okay Cambridge, Scoop and Grey are in the pay of the French. They are, therefore, traitors to the country, reinforcing the audience’s feeling of national pride.
The Chronicles describe that Charles VI was a lunatic, and the Dauphin had full responsibility for running the country but in the play it is said that Charles is indecisive but he has not handed any of his responsibilities to anyone. In the Chronicles Henry supervised a soldier’s execution for theft but in the play Henry approves of the hanging of Bardolf for theft. There were also things that Shakespeare completely left out which would support the idea that Henry V is more of a pageant than a play:
In reality the town of Harfleur and its citizens suffered very badly at the hands of Henry’s army but in Shakespeare’s Henry V the peaceful surrender of the town reflects well on Henry’s leadership qualities. Holinshed said that Agincourt was won because the French cavalry floundered in the mud, strategically positioned with stakes hindered their progress and the English archers were very reliable but in the play the details of the battle are ignored, presumably because they are difficult to portray on stage and lose impact when merely related.
The army’s fervour and Henry’s spirited leadership are emphasized. In the Chronicles the English and French confrontations continued between 1415 and 1420, and relations became quite complex before the meeting at Troyes but in the play five years of history are mentioned in passing as the action moves from Agincourt to Troyes. Shakespeare does make it very clear that the play does not really display history when he strays us from the main storyline about the King, Henry V, and his fervour to conquer France and win the hand in marriage of Katherine.
Shakespeare creates other sideline stories such as the death of Falstaff and then this story continues into the going into war of Falstaff’s companions. Although Falstaff did have a significant role in the life of Henry V he and his friends and their story does not contribute much to the main storyline. It is clear that William Shakespeare did not write Henry V as a historical reference; he wrote it as a work of art. He didn’t follow the history exactly but instead followed it to a certain extent and changed and missed out some bits.
Henry the fifth is a pageant because Shakespeare has manipulated history to make England look brave and respectable. That is why he missed out parts such as the suffering of the people of Harfleur at the hands of the British army. And Henry V fulfils this purpose. Shakespeare also tried to deal with these particular points in the play: England is like an organized hive and whereas the English are united in pursuit of a common goal, the French are constantly at odds with each other and do not wish to cross social barriers.
The conduct and morality of a war was a 16th century talking point and when a King was involved God was involved. The outcome of the war showed whether justice was done and in the story the English won which meant that God was on their side and that the war was just. The hero of this history play is also a king. The ideal prince was seen to be Christian and pious, merciful and just, self-controlled and willing to listen, quietly amiable and fiercely patriotic, and the leader of a united country.
The less endearing qualities of Henry V have been glossed over to present him as an epic hero. A history play was expected to show the glorification of a nation, which Henry V no doubt does. The final and most important reason for a history play was to contain a message for the political and church leaders so that they could learn from their previous mistakes. What many people do forget is that Henry V was not a play written for historians it was written for the lay people of Elizabethan London.
People would come to the theatre to have a good time and it wasn’t cheap; they paid a penny to get in which was a twelfth of a day’s wages for a skilled workman. If you wanted a seat then you would have to pay another penny or two pence. The Elizabethan audiences were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and watching a play was an exciting experience. I think that they would have preferred the play to be performed in the way that Shakespeare had wrote to a more historic version because the historic version would have many negative things in it.
This would have probably made the audience a bit more negative. The main reason that Shakespeare wrote it the way he did was that it would’ve made the audience feel positive and happier. It made them think that they were learning about the history of their country while at the same time having a good time. It would’ve also given them an escape from their dreary, laborious lives. To conclude, Shakespeare’s Henry V is more pageant than play but for the right reasons. But we must ask ourselves, if Henry V only really displayed history would it not just be a documentary?