Lesson Plans for Shakespeare’s Henry V

posted in: pedagogical | 6

Henry the Fifth is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I love medieval England and the premodern English monarchy, so its setting and themes are right up my alley.

Henry V is a great play to do with those who think Shakespeare is boring or only about tangled love stories. If you have a child who isn’t into love triangles, but enjoys a good fight, then Henry V might be the play to begin with.

In my original Shakespeare for Kids post, I wrote:

You don’t have to wait for high school to do Shakespeare with your kids, and you don’t need to be homeschooling to study Shakespeare together. If you do any reading aloud or movie watching together, you can do Shakespeare together.

And even if all you want to do is read a picture book version and watch a movie – that counts as introducing Shakespeare!

Shakespeare for Kids: Henry V

Henry V is the tale of Henry’s incredible success during the Hundred Years War between France and England. Against overwhelming odds, the worn and weary underdog England soundly beats proud France and gains the crowd of France for England, though that doesn’t last long.

An overarching theme of Shakespeare’s play is the question of what makes a good Christian king and what a king’s duties are.

It has betrayal, death, destruction, victory, and yet is also infused with humility.

It’s beautiful.

Shakespeare for Kids: Henry V » Simply Convivial

Step 1: Introduce Henry V

If you want to begin first by introducing Shakespeare and his time and his theatre, William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki is a beautiful narrative book that makes a great read aloud in its own right.

For the “picture book” introduction, my boys were entranced with the graphic novel version of Henry V. Yes, graphic novel. In this case, it was a good fit and well done. And, our library had it. However, it is the full, original, unabridged text of the play, so while the pictures help bring the meaning to light, it’s not a quick read aloud introduction. For that, I purchased Henry V (Shakespeare for Everyone). It’s not particularly lovely, but it does introduce the plot.

Step 2: Memorize Henry V Famous Lines

Of course the most fitting speech to memorize from Henry V is the St. Crispin Day Speech he makes before Agincourt:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Oh, I just love it!

Download the lesson plans and memory sheets:

Step 3: Watch a Play Movie or Production

I am a firm believer that Shakespeare is meant to be seen, so I think watching a production – live or movie – is an important part of learning and loving Shakespeare. Usually we've tried to fit a movie in after reading the picture book summary and introducing the play and before we start the real text. Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V is excellent; I can't recommend it highly enough. It is one of my absolute favorite Shakespeare movies. Even if you aren't going to read the play, reading the picture book and then watching this movie is still a great exposure to Shakespeare (There is a battle scene that might be too much for younger or more sensitive viewers).

Step 4: Listen to Henry V

How a text is read greatly influences comprehension and appreciation, so I like to stick with well-done audio versions of the play along with either coloring or reading along. A Shakespearean actor reading the text simply makes it more understandable, and a British accent makes it more enjoyable, too. For Henry V we used the Dover Shakespeare Coloring Book, Dover's cheap paperback copy for reading along, and Arkangel's audio version.

Step 5: Play Henry V

No lectures or charts or Socratic discussions necessary - not for elementary students. Just wait and watch and see what connections they draw themselves and I bet you'll be surprised. Another way the kids enjoyed acting out Henry V was with the Masterpuppet Theatre set. They each picked a scene to read while using the puppets to act it out.
My boys made Henry V scenes with their Legos and their army men, too.
Shakespeare for Kids: Henry V » Simply Convivial
Remember that the point in the pre-high-school years is just to introduce the stories and get Shakespeare into their affections. If they grow up thinking that Shakespeare is fun and normal, they will be ready to dive deep when maturity comes because there will be no fear or intimidation that comes with the assumption that Shakespeare is hard and enigmatic.
So loosen up, and remember that the point is caring, being interested, and growing in familiarity.

Download the lesson plans and memory sheets:

Learn more about reading Shakespeare with kids.

6 Responses

  1. Jocelyn
    |

    Thank-you, I appreciate this very much!!
    There’s something I wonder about, and I’m sorry, I don’t know very much about the history, or the play; but these lines confused me: “Henry V is the tale of Henry’s finally concluding the Hundred Years War between France and England. Against overwhelming odds, the worn and weary underdog England soundly beats proud France.” It is my understanding that France ultimately won the “Hundred Years War” with the inspiration of St. Joan of Arc, thus surviving as a nation. I suppose that was after Henry V… but then he didn’t finally conclude it. Thoughts?

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      Thank you, Jocelyn. I was writing that post too late at night and should have fact checked my statement. :) I was thinking that Henry V’s marriage to Catherine and Henry VI’s title as King of England and France ended the Hundred Year’s War, but then through Joan the English were finally driven out and that is still considered the same war. So you are right. I edited my article for accuracy.

      Thanks!

      • Jocelyn
        |

        Okay, thank-you. :)

  2. Kelly
    |

    A year or two ago, BBC produced a series called “The Hollow Crown,” which was Shakespeare’s RIchard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Tom Hiddleston plays Henry V and does a great job. I’ve also seen Laurence Olivier’s version and of course Kenneth Branagh’s. I love seeing how different actors interpret the role. It reminds me of the question Peter Leithart asks in his book Brightest Heaven of Invention — what does it really mean to be the mirror of a Christian king?

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      I’ve eyed the Hollow Crown DVDs on Amazon. They’re good? Maybe they’ll go on my Christmas list. :)

      I love Brightest Heaven of Invention. :)

      • Kelly
        |

        I’ve watched the first and last all the way through, but they are really good. Richard II is kind of creepy, but it was good creepy, if you know what I mean. I haven’t watched the two Henry IVs yet because I need to watch them without my younger kids around first. The beginning of Part 1 was kind of . . . skeevy, but I don’t remember details now — actually, that may have been Part 2, since that play features young Prince Hal hanging out with people you wouldn’t want your son to hang out with. I’m planning on buying the DVDs since that’s the only way you can see them now (unless your library has them).