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.
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!