Courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival
Soon after his accession to the throne of England, Henry V decides to engage in foreign conquest. Assured that according to ancient Salic law he is the rightful heir to the throne of France, the king provides for England’s defense against attack by Scotland and begins his campaign against France by demanding certain French domains. Lewis, the dauphin of France, responds by sending Henry a gift of tennis balls, an insult referring to Henry’s wayward youth. Furious, the king dismisses the French emissary with the grim remark that the dauphin shall soon see his tennis balls turned into “gunstones.”
Meanwhile, in another part of London we learn that Pistol, the king’s friend in his younger and wilder days, has married Mistress Quickly; and Falstaff, another old friend and comrade, has died broken-hearted because the king has deserted him.
With great enthusiasm for their king and his cause, the English people prepare for the expedition to France. Simultaneously, Henry, learning of a plot to murder him as he embarks, has the three conspirators arrested and put to death. Then he hastens to France with his army, where he has already sent an ambassador to Charles VI, king of France, demanding his crown, under penalty of war. The king answers Henry’s demand with the offer of his daughter Katherine’s hand and a dowry so small as to be insulting.
Arriving in France, the English set siege to and win surrender of the city of Harfleur and spend the night there before pressing on to Calais.
In the meantime, Princess Katharine prepares to meet King Henry by learning some English words from her attendant, Alice, who has lived in England.
Weakened by sickness and privations, and outnumbered five to one, the English army encamps at Agincourt and readies for battle. Henry, insisting that his soldiers respect property and the French people, orders Bardolph, another comrade from his tavern days, hanged for robbing a church. Meanwhile, the French, confident of success, boast of the victory that will be theirs on the morrow.
Realizing the disadvantaged position he and his army are in, Henry disguises himself in a long cloak and goes among his soldiers to ascertain their morale the night before battle. The next morning the courageous English king delivers his famous St. Crispin’s Day speech and so inspires his troops that they achieve an unexpected and overwhelming victory over the massive French forces, with little loss of English life.
After sailing home and giving thanks for his victory, Henry returns to the French court, where he is kindly welcomed. In an interview with Katharine, he manages to convey to her, despite their difficulties with each other’s language, the plain fact that he loves her, to which she responds so satisfactorily that he insists on sealing their compact with a kiss, even though doing so is contrary to French custom. His peace terms, which include the throne of France and the hand of Katharine, are granted, and the hard-won reign of Henry V, king of England and of France, begins.