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Shakespeare's Henry V

In Henry V, Shakespeare uses rhetorical devices to create a powerful and rousing King’s speech. In Act 3 scene 1, King Henry V calls on his troops to renew their assault upon the heavily fortified French town of Harfleur.

Watch a film version of this speech via the following link, and read the text carefully.

Watch: Clip from Kenneth Branagh's Henry V

After viewing and reading, try to identify some of the following elements included in the speech:

  • Encouragement
  • Consolation
  • Warning
  • Threat
  • Battle cry
  • Inspiration
  • Suggesting a dream
  • Suggesting a nightmare
  • Making the speaker liked, or strong, or intimidating
  • Solidarity

What is the rhythm of the speech? In the first line for example there are five strong beats on the words or syllables ‘more’; ‘to’; ‘breach’, ‘friends’ and ‘more’ again. Try to speak the line with the emphasis on ‘once’; ‘un’, ‘the’; ‘dear’ and ‘once’. How does it sound? Which set of stresses is the most effective?

With a partner, work methodically through the speech indicating which syllables should, in your view, be stressed. Is the rhythm the same throughout or does it alter at any point – two stresses together or two unstressed syllables? If you find any of these changes in rhythm, try to suggest the effect the sound change might have on an audience.

Take turns to read this speech aloud trying to make it sound as inspiring and rousing as you can.