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Sources of the Play

Virtually all the historical material for Henry V was drawn from Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Second Edition, 1587). A few minor incidents—the embassy of the tennis balls, Pistol's encounter with the French soldier, and the wooing scene of Act V—seem to have been suggested by the crude old chronicle play, The Famous Victories of Henry V, licensed for the press in 1594. The characters of the sub-plot—Pistol, Fluellen, and the rest—are entirely original.

Shakespeare follows Holinshed almost word for word in certain passages of the play; particularly in the account of the bill against the clergy, in the Archbishop's argument in favor of Henry's claim to the French throne, and in the list of the casualties at the battle of Agincourt. More typical of his usual treatment of his sources are the passages in which he has caught up a suggestion or two from the prosy chronicle and transformed them into glowing poetry. The following quotation from Holinshed, for example, contains the only hints which Shakespeare found in his source for King Henry's stirring appeal to his officers on the morning of Saint Crispin's day:

'It is said, that as he heard one of the host vtter his wish to another thus: I would to God there were with vs now so manie good soldiers as are at this houre within England! the king answered: I would not wish a man more here than I haue; we are indeed in comparison to the enimies but a few, but if God of his clemencie doo fauour vs, and our iust cause, (as I trust he will,) we shall speed well inough. But let no man ascribe victorie to our owne strength and might, but onelie to God's assistance; to whome I haue no doubt we shall worthilie haue cause to giue thanks therefore. And if so be that for our offenses sakes we shall be deliuered into the hands of our enimies, the lesse number we be, the lesse damage shall the realme of England susteine; but if we should fight in trust of multitude of men, and so get the victorie, (our minds being prone to pride,) we should therevpon peraduenture ascribe the victorie not so much to the gift of God, as to our owne puissance, and thereby prouoke his high indignation and displeasure against vs: and if the enimie get the vpper hand, then should our realme and countrie suffer more damage and stand in further danger. But be you of good comfort, and shew your selues valiant! God and our iust quarrell shall defend vs, and deliuer these our proud aduersaries with all the multitude of them which you see (or at the least the most of them) into our hands.'