Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scenes 1 and 2
1. What perception of Henry do we see among the English characters? What is their estimation of his character and personality? What different perception do we see among the French? How do these attitudes affect their political decisions?
2. Like any leader embarking on war, Henry needs the power of a united people behind him. What hint do we get that all is not well within England? How would disunity lessen his power against France?
Act II, Prologue
1. Write an essay contrasting the imagery used here to describe the English with that used to describe the French, especially as it relates to parts of the human body. What does it imply about the national spirit of each country?
2. After seeing the arrogance of the Dauphin earlier, how would an audience most likely react to the news that the French are afraid of the English—and that they have hired assassins to kill Henry? Discuss the characterization of the French at this point in the play.
Act II, Scene 1
1. Describe or exemplify some of the lot characters’ comic techniques: puns, insults, parody, non sequiturs, double entendres, malapropisms. Give at least three or four specific instances from this scene.
2. This scene contains at least five references to various kinds of canines. Identify each of these, define it, and give its metaphoric meaning as well.
Act II, Scene 2
1. The topic of mercy, and its place in a scheme of justice, is an important theme in the play, arising here and at key moments later. In light of Henry’s former friendship with the three spies on the one hand, and his responsibilities as king on the other, write a theme arguing for or against a more merciful verdict on his part. (Consider also the way Henry tests the three men before passing sentence on them.)
2. In Elizabethan thought, treason was considered not only wrong, but fundamentally unnatural, insofar as it upset the ordered state ordained by the Christian God. Find at least three or four references in Henry’s accusatory speech, lines 85-151, that support or exemplify this principle. Explain their relevance to the theme.
Act II, Scene 3
1. Carefully reread Hostess Quickly’s dialogue. What is her attitude toward Falstaff? Is it the same as that of the men, or different? How would you compare or contrast her with them? Write an essay analyzing her characterization and its relationship to that of the others.
Act II, Scene 4
1. Discuss the pervasive irony in Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Dauphin. Focus on the Dauphin’s dialogue and its relation to his own manners, morals, attitude, and leadership—especially his decision not to defend Harfleur (see Act III). Also comment on how this irony generalizes to his fellow nobles and ultimately to the French people as a whole.
2. Does Charles VI’s estimate of Henry concur with that of this advisors? Do his military orders follow or countermand theirs? Compare or contrast his leadership and personality with Henry’s. Include a comment on his response to Exeter in this scene.
Act III, Prologue
1. Copy the Prologue and make notations as if you were going to recite it. Underline key words or passages, show where pauses should go, and include prompts where there should be special emphasis or feeling. Be prepared to perform it for the class.
2. What examples of words, phrases, or figures of speech can you find that expand the scope of the action to an epic scale? How might these lend a sense of grandeur to the play? Write an essay giving at least three or four specific examples.
Act III, Scene 1
1. Imagine you are a newspaper reporter covering the siege of Harfleur and must describe Henry’s speech and his men’s reactions to it. In a narrative essay, write a line-by-line paraphrase of the speech, but from time to time interpose responses indicating whether the English troops are inspired, discouraged, skeptical, etc.
2. The class divisions in English society were frequently a source of conflict within the ranks of the army. Discuss the ways in which Henry tries to overcome these in his speech. How might he be exploiting their social differences by stimulating a healthy competition against the enemy? How would this be advantageous militarily? Does he imply that war makes all soldiers equals?
Act III, Scene 2
1. This scene enacts roughly the same event as does Act III, Scene 1, but from a different point of view. How might it be considered a “companion piece” to the previous scene—i.e., one that contains enough similarity to suggest a parallel but also important differences? Compare and contrast Henry’s noble rhetoric with the attitudes of these “low” characters and that of his one-time boon comp
2. Describe the personalities of Fluellen, Jamy, and Macmorris. To what extent do they seem to be simply caricatures or stereotypes? Which of them is most fully developed in his own right? What do their ethnic rivalries imply about domestic tranquility back in England?
Act III, Scene 3
1. What evidence can you cite that Henry uses bluff and bluster, as well as genuine military might, to achieve his ends? Consider his actual accomplishments thus far at Harfleur, his speech to the men of the town, and his command once the victory is in hand.
2. Arguably, the English did not truly win at Harfleur—the French simply lost. Discuss this proposition, with reference to the Dauphin’s conduct and to the implications it contains about the French national character and the ensuing events of the play.
Act III, Scene 4
1. The emotional tone of this scene is ambiguous, in that it is not always clear whether we should be laughing with the princess or at her. Imagine that you are a theatrical director coaching an actress in this part. Tell how she should recite at least three or four key passages so as to convey the point of view you have chosen. Add stage directions or actions to help clarify the perspective for the audience.
2. The English audience knew the history of Agincourt before seeing this play. In light of this, how does Shakespeare use this scene to anticipate a happy ending? Is it necessary to know anything more about Katharine than we learn in this scene? Why or why not?
Act III, Scene 5
1. What does the French women’s “mock” imply about the characters and values of the French men? How might it define the French national character as a whole—and how does this definition compare or contrast with English standards of valor and manliness? Note especially Exeter’s speech...
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