Shakespeare and Henry V

Harold F. Hutchison compares fact with fiction in Shakespeare’s historical dramas.

It is a tribute to the genius of Shakespeare that so many Englishmen are happy to accept him as their historian as well as their greatest dramatist. His ‘histories’, they know, were based on doubtful sources and clearly need much academic correction, but it is safe to say that Shakespeare’s fictions are still far more potent than the professional historian’s facts.

This is especially true of the three plays that give us the Shakespearian version of the life and character of Henry of Monmouth both as Prince of Wales and King of England. Where was Shakespeare wrong in his facts, and to what degree is his finished portrait of Henry V misleading?

There are four groups of stories incorporated in the Shakespearian plays that deal with Henry V’s early life. First, those concerning the relationship between the Prince and his father King Henry IV. Second, those that portray the Prince as the friend and comrade-in-vice of the lowest reprobates. Third, those that assert that the Prince was in trouble with the Law.

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