Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources

Adaptations: Henry V and Holinshed (Ninth and Tenth Grade Lesson Plan)

Page Three Audio File


ELAGSE9-10RL7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums (e.g., Auden’s poem “Musée de Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus), including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment. 

This unit will focus on the character of Henry V in Shakespeare’s play, comparing the film adaptation’s portrayal to that of the text. Have students read Henry V throughout your class sessions by either listening to an audiobook or taking turns reading aloud.  

If you are considering using an audiobook, 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, which may be useful when designing your lesson. Furthermore, the reading is engaging and well-performed. If you prefer a budget-friendly and shorter alternative, there are free audiobooks of Henry V without commentary available on YouTube.

For this unit, we will pay extra attention to Henry's speech in 4.7.56-66. He delivers these lines right after he discovers the boys have been murdered by the French, which is “expressly against the law of arms” (4.7.1-2). First, have students look closely at the lines and read them aloud or sliently, depending on which works better for your classroom.

Ask students how they think Henry feels in this moment (angry, sad, grieving, seeking revenge?). Walk them through the context of the scene and its implications if they seem confused at its meaning. Have them note in a journal, on a worksheet, or through class discussion what textual elements led them to their conclusions (context, word choice).

After this activity, have students group up and read/act out the lines, each in a different manner to portray the different ways the line can be read (grief, anger, vengeance, etc.). Have them note what elements of the performance let them know what Henry’s reaction to the boys being slaughtered is (body language, tone, inflection, etc.). Then, discuss how the text can be read in different ways, which leads to different interpretations of characters and their motivations. This will serve as a good lead-in to the next portion of the unit, where the students compare the adaptation to the text.  

Though any adaptation of Henry V would serve as a good point of comparison, we will use Branagh’s Henry V for our lesson plan. You can have students watch the entirety of the movie to help them better understand the play, but for the purpose of our lesson plan you need only focus on the scene where Henry discovers the corpses of the boysPlay this scene for them, telling them to pay extra attention to the cinematic details and Henry's body language during the performance. After the clip has played, ask them questions to stir discussion: “How did Henry feel during this scene? What details of his performance make you think this? How does the sound or other cinematic details affect how we interpret his reaction?” 

"Henry V (Branagh) - The Day is Yours" Video Transcript

Once the students have analyzed the adaptation, have them compare it with the text. What elements remain the same? What differs? How does Branagh use Shakespeare's material and transform it to make his own interpretation of King Henry? You can have them write a short essay/journal response analyzing these differences or leave this for class discussion. 

ELAGSE9-10RL9 Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).  

Now that your students understand how authors/directors can take source material and make their own differing adaptations, shift to discussing Shakespeare’s source material for Henry V. For this part of the lesson, we will be using The Holinshed Project, which is an open access database that allows users to study one of the sources Shakespeare used when writing Henry V and his other history plays.  

To begin, search “Henry” in the “search the texts” search box. Afterwards, the documents that have any mention of “Henry” will appear on your screen. When you click on one, several names will appear, including multiple “Henry’s.” Use the ctrl+F function (command+F for Macs) on your keyboard and narrow results to “Henry V.” Doing so will provide you with only the mentions of Henry V. Looking through these documents will show you the source text Shakespeare used when writing Henry V.  For each page, you can use the blue box on the righthand side to compare between the 1577 and 1587 editions of Holinshed, which are discussed in more detail in Mikaela LaFave's essay on sources

Take the students to a computer lab or have them use their own devices while you lead them in using The Holinshed Project. Feel free to highlight any features you think may be useful, such as the “compare” feature. Students may have a difficult time understanding the language; if this occurs, have them read along with you to help them establish a basic understanding of it. 

After showing them how to access the Holinshed Project, have students look through the documents and note the areas where Shakespeare’s text differs from the material in Holinshed, both small (Montjoy coming shortly after the battle concludes rather than arriving in the morning) and significant changes (Bardolph, Henry V’s fictional former friend, being hanged for stealing, which creates an inner conflict for Henry, when the hanged man was not close to Henry in reality).  

Have a discussion with the students, highlighting the nature of these changes and transformations of the source material. Highlight how his adaptation, and the film adaptations of Shakespeare, creates a new narrative for audiences, keeping the story alive in new, fresh ways. 

Optional Assignment 

Have your students take a piece of fiction already covered in your class (a short story, novel, etc.) and make their own film adaptation of it. Encourage them to take careful note of inflection, tone, and body language when filming, as these elements are how they will portray their intended messages/tones in their adaptations. 

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