Henry V on film – overview

by Debra Murphy

Henry V is surely one of the Shakespeare Plays most amenable to screen adaptation. First, it’s an epic, larger-than-life story. Loaded with princes and nobles galore, decked out in the garments and weapons of chivalry, Henry V tells a tale of intrigues and betrayals, courtly romance, and heroic battles against outrageous odds.

In this sense, and in spite of the otherwise notorious difficulties of bringing off Shakespeare in the medium of feature film, Henry V might be one of the few of the Bard’s plays which can actually work better on screen than on stage, given the vast resources of filmic make-believe.

Or, as the tale’s narrator, Chorus, laments about the limits of the Stage in the Prologue:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention.
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
into an hour-glass,,,,

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