Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources

The Role of the Chorus (Eleventh and Twelfth Grade Lesson Plan)

Page Four Audio File


ELAGSE11-12RL7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare as well as one play by an American dramatist.) 

This unit will involve comparing Shakespeare’s text to three starkly different film adaptations. Begin the unit by having students read through Henry V, during class or as homework.  

If your students prefer audiobooks, I recommend using the SmartPass Plus Audio Education Study Guide to Henry V on Audible. The narrator provides context for the scenes and offers study tips for how to better understand Henry V. Furthermore, the reading is engaging and well-performed. If you or your students prefer a budget-friendly and shorter alternative, there are free audiobooks of Henry V without commentary available on YouTube.

Provide a synopsis of the scenes with students to break down the play's events, as Shakespeare’s language can be difficult for students to grasp initially. The synopses provided before each scene in the Folger print edition are useful for this. To encourage active learning, you can make a game where students pair off into groups to answer questions about their assigned reading and the groups that answer correctly win prizes (candy, school supplies, etc.). You can also have them act out scenes with props, which can help students better visualize the events of the play. 

Whichever way you choose to explain the play, be sure that students have a clear understanding of the play’s theme of war and the chorus' role in the text. After you have explained the text, play Olivier’s Henry V for the class. Have them take notes about the film and especially highlight Olivier's portrayal of the chorus. A scene of interest is the opening scene, where the chorus only exists in the larger framework of the film.

"Henry V - 1944 - Opening Chorus - Clip" Video Transcript

Once the students have finished this, play Branagh’s Henry V in class. Again, have them note any major changes they notice and discuss the tone of the piece. Have them focus on the film's portrayal of the chorus and how he exists in the larger framework, but also becomes a part of the film, though he never directly interacts with the characters.

"Branagh's Henry V (1989) - O! For a Muse of Fire" Video Transcript

Finally, play The Hollow Crown's Henry V for the class. Your students should notice similarities among this film's chorus to the other film's versions; however, they will notice a major difference at the end of the play when the Chorus is revealed to be the boy who accompanied Henry's army throughout the play.

After watching the films, engage the class in a group discussion comparing them to one another and the play. Particularly focus on the films’ portrayal of the chorus. To aid you in this discussion, read Julia Koslowsky's essay on the chorus' role in Olivier's Henry V. You can create columns on the whiteboard or use overlapping Venn diagrams to visually depict their similarities and differences. In the event that you cannot watch these films in class, I recommend assigning the films as homework for students to watch on their own time. If this is not possible, I suggest showing the opening chorus clips and the ending scenes for each film in class. Then, have the students compare the clips to one another and the text. This discussion will prepare the students for this unit's optional assignment(s).

ELAGSE11-12W2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 

Optional Assignment(s)

Write a comparative essay studying the chorus' portrayals in Olivier's, Branagh’s, and the Hollow Crown's film adaptations, analyzing and explaining how the cinematic elements (body language, performance, costume, set, inclusion of details) affects the character's role in the story.

Write a comparative essay comparing the chorus from Shakespeare's Henry V to one of the film adaptations. Analyze and explain how the two differ or remain similar through the textual or cinematic details respectively.

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