The Epilogue of Henry IV, Part 2 promises that its story will continue in another play, presumably to be written afterwards. Shakespeare may have been influenced by an anonymous play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, published in 1598. A topical reference to the Earl of Essex returning from Ireland allows the play to be dated between November 1598 and September 1599.

The play was first printed as a quarto in 1600, probably based on an actor’s memory of a version that was shortened for performance. A second quarto in 1602 was typeset from the first, and a third quarto in 1619 was also based on the first, with some amendments. The First Folio version was probably typeset using Shakespeare’s draft manuscripts, or a transcript of them: it is nearly double the length of the quarto version.

Henry V

‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’

Henry V, IV iii

Brief synopsis of the play

The horrors of war contrast with moments of humour, as the former Prince Hal has matured into the self-aware, decisive and heroic leader, King Henry V. Shakespeare romanticises the historic war between France and England to explore the nature of kingship, consciously acknowledging the role of the audience’s imagination, and celebrating the great power of language to inspire courage and faith in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.