The Disunity of King Henry V

  • Kristian Smidt


King Henry V, it seems to be generally agreed, ‘was almost certainly written in the spring or summer of 1599’. The main evidence is the allusion to the Earl of Essex’s expedition into Ireland contained in the chorus before the fifth act. Essex ‘left London on 27 March 1599 and returned on 28 September in the same year having failed in his task’.1 The allusion to Essex, however, only proves that the lines containing it, and possibly the whole chorus, were written in the spring or summer of 1599. It tells us nothing about the dating of the rest of the play, some of which could theoretically have been composed much earlier. There is good reason to believe that the ‘wooden O’ referred to in the prologue is the new Globe theatre and not the Curtain.2 The Globe may not have been completed till August or September 1599 but it must have been going up in the early summer, and if Shakespeare was giving final shape to a play at that time it would be natural for him to anticipate its effect in the new theatre. So the prologue, too, may be a late addition, supposing Henry V was first begun soon after the completion of 2 Henry IV, i.e. possibly as early as 1597.


Tennis Ball Rightful Hand Territorial Claim Open Scene Henry Versus 
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  1. 4.
    On Shakespeare’s omission of any ‘hand-to-hand combats between leading figures on the two sides’ see C. H. Hobday, ‘Imagery and Irony in “Henry V”’, SS, 21 (1968) 112.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    It is tempting to speculate that there may have been one version of the play for the public stage and one adapted for performance at court, in which case Q would represent the court version and F possibly a conflation of both. This would mean that the choruses, which are not in Q, were for ‘oι πoλλoι, which would be not unnatural, although G. P. Jones thinks they were written for performance at court (see his ‘Henry V: The Chorus and the Audience’, SS, 31 (1978) 93–104, esp. pp. 95ff). W. J. Lawrence (Shakespeare’s Workshop, 1928) thinks it was mainly court adaptations of the play which fell into the printers’ hands.Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    By G. W. Williams in a paper read at the International Shakespeare Conference at Stratford-upon-Avon, August 1978. See also Peter Bilton, Commentary and Control in Shakespeare’s Plays (1974).Google Scholar
  4. 24.
    Cf. H. C. Goddard: ‘Through the Choruses, the playwright gives us the popular idea of his hero. In the play, the poet tells the truth about him’ (The Meaning of Shakespeare (1951) p. 218). Goddard sees the difference as intentional and functional.Google Scholar
  5. 34.
    Battenhouse, ‘Henry V as Heroic Comedy’ in R. Hosley (ed.), Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama (1963) pp. 163–82. See p. 168.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    C. H. Hobday, ‘Imagery and Irony in “Henry V”’, SS, 21 (1968) 107–13;Google Scholar
  7. William Babula, ‘Whatever Happened to Prince Hal? An Essay on “Henry V”’, SS 30 (1977) 47–59;Google Scholar
  8. Andrew Gurr, ‘“Henry V” and the Bees’ Commonwealth’, SS 30 (1977) 6–72.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kristian Smidt 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristian Smidt
    • 1
  1. 1.OsloNorway

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