Henry V is the most famous and influential of Shakespeare's history plays. Its powerful patriotic rhetoric has resounded down the ages, gaining eloquent expression in Laurence Olivier's renowned film. Henry himself, astute and charismatic, who led his `band of brothers' to victory in the Battle of Agincourt, could indeed seem to be `this star of England'.
In recent decades the play has attracted increasing critical attention and is now highly controversial. Kenneth Branagh's film-production reflected the changing valuation. Does this play have a skeptical sub-text which subverts its patriotism? Is Henry's achievement beset by irony? Has current skepticism distorted a predominantly and proudly nationalistic drama? Henry V demonstrates Shakespeare's acclaimed ability to bring a new complexity to the material that he adapted, so that different eras may find within his work the familiar and the strange, the congenial and the harsh, the sustaining and the challenging.