Henry V Plot Synopsis

By Megan Diehl

The newly crowned King Henry V, once an unruly prince, now reigns as a firm and serious ruler. Assured by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely that he has a right to the French throne, the King declares his intentions to seize the French crown after receiving a contemptuous gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin, the actual heir to the French throne. As the English armies ready for invasion, the traitorous nobles Cambridge, Scroop and Grey, bribed by the French, plot to murder King Henry. Just in time, the King discovers the plot, arrests the three men and sees to their execution. Meanwhile, in the tavern Henry frequented before he became king, his erstwhile friends Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol are also preparing to march to war when they hear that their old drinking companion Falstaff has died.

At the French court, King Charles and the French lords discuss the arrival of the English, while the Dauphin remains unconvinced of King Henry’s power. Henry’s uncle Exeter arrives to demand that Charles recognize Henry’s claim to the French crown, or face an English attack. When the French refuse, Henry launches his assault.

His army is not without cowards, however, as Pistol, Bardolph and Nym resolve to loot rather than fight. Henry besieges the French city of Harfleur and threatens to destroy it unless it yields to him. When the Dauphin fails to send reinforcements, the governor of Harfleur surrenders to Henry’s assault. Captain Fluellen reports to the king that he has lost no men in the battle, except for Bardolph, who was hanged for robbing a church. Henry affirms the justice of the sentence on his old friend.

The French King’s daughter, Katherine, has an English lesson from her maid, Alice, while the French lords discuss their anticipated victory over the English. They send their herald, Montjoy, to Henry, who rejects the offer to yield, and the French boastfully prepare for battle. In the English camp, the night before the decisive battle against the immense French army at Agincourt, Henry disguises himself and goes into the camp to gauge his soldiers’ morale. He argues with a man over whether the king is responsible for the souls of those who die in battle. Alone, Henry contemplates the enormous responsibilities of a ruler, and prays for success in the next day’s fight.

The French, confident as ever, leave their camp for the battle of Agincourt. Henry rallies his troops, dismissing anxieties about their small number. He rejects a further offer of surrender from Montjoy. The battle begins. Henry orders the execution of the prisoners, so that the English can concentrate on the battle at hand. Montjoy returns to Henry, this time to request a truce for burying the dead and to concede defeat. A herald brings Henry the numbers of dead: ten thousand French, and only twenty-nine English.

After triumphantly returning from battle, Henry continues to France to negotiate a treaty. While Henry’s officers discuss the details of the French surrender, Henry woos the French Princess Katharine to be his queen. The terms of the treaty are agreed upon, and Henry is recognized as successor to the French throne.