Shakespeare’s Henry V: From the Medieval to the Modern World

Paul A. Cantor, “Shakespeare’s Henry V: From the Medieval to the Modern World,” in Perspectives on Politics in Shakespeare, eds. Murley and Sutton, 11–32


Henry V is one of ten English history plays Shakespeare wrote. Ten out of a total of thirty-seven plays is a substantial portion of Shakespeare’s output, a fact that suggests that he was especially interested in English history and the political issues it raises. To be sure, Shakespeare did not invent the genre of the English history play, and in writing plays such as Henry V he was to some extent exploiting a theatrical trend. But Shakespeare wrote more history plays than any other Elizabethan playwright we know of and may well have been the one who really established the popularity of the genre. On the face of it, the fact that he devoted more than a quarter of his plays to chronicling the reigns of English kinds gives us some indication that he was genuinely drawn to the subject, and not just following a trend. A careful reading of the history plays reveals that Shakespeare is using them to explore the nature of monarchy, its particular virtues and defects as a regime, and the range of forms it took in English history.

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