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Royal Shakespeare Company, 2000

Henry V

Summary of William Shakespeare's Henry V: Henry becomes king, kills a bunch of his old friends, and conquers the French.

Following the events of Henry IV Part 2, after Prince Hal is crowned, a Chorus introduces the play and celebrates the life of England's King Henry V. Henry seeks for evidence of his right to rule over France. The Archbishop explains land laws to the King and his court when an ambassador arrives from the French King's son, the Dauphin, with a gift of tennis balls that are meant to humiliate Henry. His response to this challenge is to set in motion the invasion of France, and the scene moves to Southampton where a fleet prepares to sail.

Henry has rejected many of his former friends in his ascension. Three of these former friends are caught plotting his death, and Henry condemns the conspirators to their own deaths in return. Meanwhile, Pistol, Nim, and Bardolph, three of Henry's former rambunctious comrades who were originally presented in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' Parts 1 and 2, decide to join the army. They set off for the war after hearing of the death of their leader, Sir John Falstaff. Everyone believes that Falstaff died of a broken heart following his rejection by the young King Henry, affectionately known as Hal.

The French King receives Exeter as Henry's ambassador before the English lay siege to and take the town of Harfleur. During this battle, Henry gives a rousing speech to his troops: 'Once more unto the breech, dear friends, once more'. He leaves a regiment of troops in Harfleur before travelling on towards Calais, gradually moving throughout the French countryside. Meanwhile, the French courtiers deride their invaders amongst themselves and, ironically, back at the French court, Princess Catherine has an English lesson with her waiting woman. 

The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

— Henry V, Act 3 Scene 1

In the English camp, Pistol ridicules the Welsh captain, Fluellen. After many battles, the two armies start to prepare for combat near Agincourt. The night before the battle, the King takes a disguise and visits his soldiers both to learn from them and give them comfort before the day ahead. He prays that his responsibility will be rewarded by victory. As dawn approaches, the French generals are confident of their superior forces. Henry encourages his troops to fight for success and scorns a further French envoy's invitation to surrender. 

After much fighting and effort on both sides, the French army is defeated with heavy losses, while few have died on the English side. Thanking God for his victory, Henry returns in triumph to London; but not before he, too, has an encounter with the Welsh captain, Fluellen. Henry makes peace with the French King and woos Princess Catherine. Soon thereafter, the two nations are linked through marriage. The play ends with the Chorus reminding the audience of how little time would pass before Henry's infant son inherited two war-torn nations: a tale told in Henry VI Part 1. 

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