Act V, Prologue Summary and Analysis
Apologizing yet again for “th’ excuse/Of time, of numbers, and due course of things,/Which cannot in their huge and proper life/Be here represented,” Chorus relates the events that have transpired between the fall of France and the action of Act 5. Henry returned to England and a tumultuous reception, the Holy Roman Emperor also made the journey in an unsuccessful attempt to impose a peace treaty on England and France. Henry came back to Paris to claim the spoils of war, the French throne, and Princess Katharine.
As elsewhere in the play, similes by Chorus compare Henry and the English to the heroes of classical times. Here, the welcoming Mayor of London “and all his brethren” are “like to the senators of th’ antique Rome/With the plebeians swarming at their heels,” while the king is “their conqu’ring Caesar.”
Chorus also adds a contemporary note in referring to a “general” under “our gracious empress” (i.e., Queen Elizabeth I) who returned from Ireland “bringing rebellion broached on his sword.” This general would be one of two heroes of Shakespeare’s time, either Exeter or Mountjoy, who crushed an Irish uprising in 1599. The reference would serve as a salute both to the Queen, who was the playwright’s chief patron, and to the patriotic pride of the audience.