Thanks to the generous donations of our supporters, last year we published a digital facsimile of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, where you can experience the first collection of his works in your own home, or download its images to your own device.
This year, to mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, we’re delighted to announce a new phase of the project, to publish digital editions of each of the plays. This has been made possible by a lead donation from Dr Geoffrey Eibl-Kaye, with generous support from Dallas Shakespeare Club, James Barber, and another private individual.
Thank you to you all.
We’re excited to be launching our serial publication of Shakespeare’s plays with Henry V: not just for Harry, England, and St. George, but for everyone.
As the digital editions of the plays are published, you will be able to read and reformat them more easily, search across them, and produce play-scripts and cue-scripts.
The Life of Henry The Fift.
(as the First Folio titles it)
Henry V is a play of paradoxes.
Sometimes performances interpret the text as jingoistic, highlighting its calls to arms from an impassioned Henry, who understands how to inspire and rouse his troops. Yet a close reading of the text also reveals a petulant and calculating king, who uses his insight to manipulate the people around him, and is capable of denying former friends.
The audience is taken from London to northern France, via Southampton, and in this wide sweep, the Chorus keeps reminding us that we are in the physical space of a theatre.
As the play’s title in its first printed edition (the 1600 quarto) describes, and its most memorable speeches support, this is a play about war: The Cronicle History of King Henry the fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Together with Auntient Pistoll. But it includes two affecting accounts of deaths (Sir John Falstaff’s, and the Duke of York’s), and a touching (and politically unnecessary) courting scene between Henry and the French princess Katharine (whom he is promised in marriage as the first article in the peace treaty).
Henry shows courteous respect to the Herald who delivers messages from the French camp, yet orders the French prisoners to be killed when he believes the battle is going against him: notably, this happens before he discovers the French have killed the boys behind the English lines.
Henry V and the Bodleian First Folio
In keeping with the many voices of the Bodleian First Folio, Henry V has a particular and poignant place in the life of one of the major figures in the book’s history.
Gladwyn Turbutt was the undergraduate at Magdalen College, University of Oxford who, by chance, brought the book back to the Library for advice on its binding in 1905. He subsequently worked with Falconer Madan and Strickland Gibson on a scholarly description of the book for publication.
When the First World War broke out, Gladwyn Turbutt (by then an architect specializing in ecclesiastical work) signed up. He later died at the First Battle of Ypres, leading an advance.*
Through a trying march from Le Havre towards the front line, Lieutenant Turbutt is reported as having used his knowledge of Shakespeare to entertain and encourage his men:
Mr. Gladwyn had been sent from Aldershot in command of a draft of 100 men to fill up the gaps in the 2nd Battalion. On landing at Havre, in France, these 100 men set out for the fighting line, having to march a large part of the way. […] To them during their halt he told them of how Henry V of England invaded France, and won the great battle of Agincourt.**
We hope you enjoy the play. Let us know what you think. Join the conversation here at our blog, or write a guest blog post and email us.
Find out more
If you prefer your literary criticism in podcast form, Emma Smith’s
podcast on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series is brilliantly engaging.
Notable film versions of Henry V include:
- Laurence Olivier‘s The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944)
- David Giles‘s Henry V (1979)
- Kenneth Branagh‘s Henry V (1989)
- Thea Sharrock‘s Henry V from the BBC’s The Hollow Crown series (2012)
* I am very grateful to Emeritus Professor Richard Sheppard, for sending me details of Gladwyn Turbutt’s war.
** The quotation above is taken from Turbutt’s anonymous obituary in his local parish magazine, of Shirland, Derbyshire (Bodleian Library Records, c. 1262).