It is widely agreed that Henry V was written in 1599. This date is based on what is generally perceived as a topical allusion in the play; Gerard Langbaine, writing in 1691, was the first to suggest that the reference to "the general of our gracious Empress" in the Chorus preceding Act V is an allusion to the Earl of Essex, who led an English expedition to put down an Irish rebellion in March of 1599. Essex and his men returned to London in disgrace on September 28 of that same year, for the Irish campaign was a humiliating failure. Most modern scholars endorse the thesis that the description of a triumphant general "from Ireland coming, / Bringing rebellion broached on his sword" (Chorus.V.31-32)—if indeed it is a reference to Essex—would have been terribly inappropriate after the Earl's actual return; thus, they conclude that Shakespeare must have composed Henry V sometime between March and early September 1599. There is no record of a performance of Henry V before January 7, 1605, when it was presented at Court by the King's Majesty's Players.
Most modern critics maintain that there is strong evidence that Shakespeare consulted both Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (1577; 1587) and Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York (2d ed., 1548) as sources for Henry V. Commentators note that such passages as Canterbury's Salic law speech in Act I, Scene ii is a paraphrase in verse of Holinshed's narrative of this episode, with only minimal variations from the original. On the other hand, Shakespeare made no reference to many events that appear in Holinshed's and Hall's accounts of the reign of Henry V; in addition, the dramatist implied only a short passage of time between Agincourt and the achievement of a treaty with France, when in fact the two were separated by a period of nearly four years. A lost and anonymous play from the 1580s, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, survives only in a corrupt edition of 1598, so that it has proved difficult to determine the degree of Shakespeare's familiarity with this work. However, several critics have noticed parallels between Shakespeare's Henry V and The Famous Victories, including similarities in structure, the prominence in each of the Dauphin's gift of tennis balls to Henry, and the inclusion in both of a wooing scene between Henry and Katherine.
Henry V has been praised by many scholars as a vigorous portrayal of one of England's most popular national heroes. While the central issue for critics has been the character of the king and whether he represents Shakespeare's ideal ruler, modern commentary has increasingly explored both Henry's positive and negative attributes. Although the personality of the king has attracted significant criticism, commentators have also shown renewed interest in Shakespeare's attitude toward patriotism and war, his use of language and imagery, the absence of Falstaff, and the play's epic elements, particularly Shakespeare's use of the Chorus.