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Henry V's stirring orations prior to the victorious battles of Harfleur("Once more unto the breach") and Agincourt("We few, we happy few, we band of brothers") astonish and inspire me every time I read them. Simply amazing. Having read Henry IV Parts I&II beforehand, I was surprised Shakespeare failed to live up to his word in the Epilogue of Part II in which he promised to "continue the story, with Sir John in it." The continuing follies of the conniving Bardolph, Nym, & Pistol and their ignominious thieving prove to be somewhat of a depricating underplot which nevertheless proves to act as a succinct metaphor for King Harry's "taking" of France.
Powerful and vibrant, the character of Henry V evokes passion and unadulterated admiration through his incredible valor & strength of conviction in a time of utter despondency. It is this conviction and passion which transcends time, and moreover, the very pages that Shakespeare's words are written upon. I find it impossible to overstate the absolute and impregnable puissance of Henry V, a play which I undoubtedly rate as the obligatory cream of the crop of Shakespeare's Histories. I recommend reading Henry IV I&II prior to Henry V as well as viewing Kenneth Branagh's masterpiece film subsequent to reading the equally moving work.
I will never buy Shakespeare from another publisher. While these books may be slightly more expensive than a "mass market" edition, I believe that if you are going to take the time to read and understand Shakespeare, it is well worth the extra dollar or two. The Introduction, the images, and plethora of footnotes are irreplaceable and nearly neccessary for a full understanding of the play (for those of us who are not scholars already). The photocopy of the original Quatro text in the appendix is also very interesting.
All in all, well worth it! I recommend that you buy ALL of Shakespeare's work from Arden's critical editions.
this is one of shakespeare's best plays. the story of the rebellion is intriguing, and the adventures of hal and falstaff are laugh-out-loud hilarious. the culmination of the two stories in the final battle scene is wonderful. this is a fitting sequel to richard ii.
note that there are some historical inaccuracies and even outright inventions in this play. foremost is the character of falstaff who is pure invention (and genius). the story of hal's adventures stems from his reputation, enhanced by legend, as a playboy. falstaff was the perfect foil for a carousing prince. the biggest inaccuracy is hotspur's age. he was actually of the generation of henry iv, and not as young as he's depicted in the play. shakespeare made him younger to enhance, maybe even create, the rivalry with hal. there are other inaccuracies here, but better for the reader to consult 'shakespeare's kings', an excellent book by saccio that explains the history of the period and the discrepancies in the play.
We also get to see the contrast between these young men in temperament and character. King Henry wishes his son were more like Hotspur. Prince Hal realizes his own weaknesses and seems to try to assure himself (and us) that when the time comes he will change and all his youthful foolishness will be forgotten. Wouldn't that be a luxury we wish we could all have afforded when we were young?
Of course, Prince Hal's guide through the world of the cutpurse and highwayman is the Lord of Misrule, the incomparable Falstaff. His wit and gut are featured in full. When Prince Hal and Poins double-cross Falstaff & company, the follow on scenes are funny, but full of consequence even into the next play.
But, you certainly don't need me to tell you anything about Shakespeare. Like millions of other folks, I am in love with the writing. However, as all of us who read Shakespeare know, it isn't a simple issue. Most of us need help in understanding the text. There are many plays on words, many words no longer current in English and, besides, Shakespeare's vocabulary is richer than almost everyone else's who ever lived. There is also the issue of historical context, and the variations of text since the plays were never published in their author's lifetime.
For those of us who need that help and want to dig a bit deeper, the Arden editions of Shakespeare are just wonderful.
-Before the text of the play we get very readable and helpful essays discussing the sources and themes and other important issues about the play.
-In the text of the play we get as authoritative a text as exists with helpful notes about textual variations in other sources. We also get many many footnotes explaining unusual words or word plays or thematic points that would likely not be known by us reading in the 21st century.
-After the text we get excerpts from likely source materials used by Shakespeare and more background material to help us enrich our understanding and enjoyment of the play.
However, these extras are only available in the individual editions. If you buy the "Complete Plays" you get text and notes, but not the before and after material which add so much! Plus, the individual editions are easier to read from and handier to carry around.
Falstaff is undoubtedly the most infamously famous literary comic character in the history of English literature. The scenes of him being robbed by Prince Hal, feigning his death, stabbing the already deceased Hotspur in the leg while claiming victory, and his employment of beggars as his foot soldiers galvanize the comic aspect of the play and make for a hilarious & farcical sublot. Interestingly, in the bar in Eastcheap, Prince Hal alludes to his future persecution of Falstaff when he is crowned king.
I strongly recommend Henry IV Part I to all Shakespeare aficionados seeing as I deem it in the top five of all Shakespeare's works along with Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, & Henry V. Now on to Part II. Adieu.
"The better part of valor is discretion." - Falstaff
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