Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources

Wait, What? Defining Sources

Page Two Audio File

When this article refers to a source, it means any item that provided substantial information to the author of a later text. The investigation of these culturally resonant texts is called source study. In this case, sources are those items that were part of the cultural fabric of England in the time between the historical Battle of Agincourt and Shakespeare’s writing of Henry V – anything from a chronicle to a poem. A chronicle is a specific kind of text that provides a (semi-)factual written account of historical events in the order of their occurrence to the best knowledge of the chronicle author. Early modern dramatists also used historical information from broadsides: ballads printed on a singular sheet of paper and sold for cheap prices, enabling them to be shared easily. 

In source studies, it can be difficult to pin down a stable list of definitive sources for a particular play like Henry V, because source lists change as historians uncover additional evidence and scholars continue to debate that evidence. As can be seen more prominently in the competing introductions to the scholarly editions of Henry V from Arden, Cambridge, and Oxford written by T.W. Craik, Andrew Gurr, and Gary Taylor (respectively), scholars still disagree on a specific list of definitive sources for Henry V and the extent to which each source can truly be attributed to influencing the text. Specific scholars call for the inclusion of Greco-Roman texts and other English texts in a list of sources for Henry V – Craik introduces theories that the English translations of Tacitus’ Annals by Greneway and Homer’s Iliad from 1598 should be included but dismisses them as unpersuasive ; Taylor reiterates the 1598 Annals and further includes Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti (Pseudo-Elmham, n.d.), Annals (John Stow, 1605), Vita Henrici Quinti (Titus Livius, n.d.), and Brut (Caxton, edition not specified)  ; Gurr includes Gentili’s De Jure Belli Libri Tres (1599), Richard Crompton’s Mansion of Magnanimitie (1599) , and perhaps most interestingly, John Stubbs’ 1579 pamphlet entitled “The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf…”   – while others disagree with this conjecture entirely, as demonstrated in Craik’s, Taylor’s, and Gurr’s discussions of these texts.  

Furthermore, as literary critics, historians, and librarians work together to digitize previously undiscovered and/or under-studied works, more items may appear as relevant in defining the sources to Henry V. Our lists, then, should be taken as guidelines for research; the sources examined throughout are those that almost definitely contributed a significant amount to Shakespeare’s work as identified through verbal patterns and specific language cues found in both texts. As we continue to identify sources through digitization and scholarly projects, these earlier defined patterns can assist in defining future sources or influences on the play. 

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