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Henry V:
The Port of Mars

February 12, 13, 19, and 20 at 7:30 pm
February 14 at 4 pm
at the Hangar Theatre

Tickets on sale now!

Tickets for Henry V are being sold through the Hangar box office, and this year you can reserve specific seats!

Buy online here, or call the Hangar box office at 607-273-ARTS (2787).

The Field of Agincourt

Henry V's war in France is represented in the play in two sequences: a siege on the town of Harfleur in the first half, and the climactic battle with the French at Agincourt in the second.

Agincourt is one of the most famous military victories in history. The play says that the French have 60,000 men, five times more than the English, but the English manage to kill 10,000 French while losing only 27 of their own. These numbers are probably greatly exaggerated; historical sources differ on the actual numbers present and killed, but they do agree that the English were heavily outnumbered but still lost far fewer soldiers than the French.

How were the English able to overcome these odds and win so decisively? Historians have pointed to a number of key factors:

  • The English were a unified force under a single skilled commander, while the French command was divided and weakened by a variety of disputes.
  • The field of battle was narrow and hemmed in by forests, so the smaller English army could array its forces in a line across the field, while the larger French army had to advance in a column. The English could then attack each element of the French army as they advanced, reducing the advantage of their superior numbers.
  • The French wore heavy plate armor, which caused their knights and horses to bog down in the mud created by incessant rain over the previous week. As they got stuck or slogged exhaustedly through the mud, the English could decimate them from a distance with their archers and then scramble around them in their lighter armor and kill whoever was left.
  • The English used longbows, which were more effective than the French crossbows (which they barely even deployed because they were so confident in their superior numbers).
  • The English used arrays of sharpened stakes to protect their archers from attack by French calvary, a new innovation in medieval warfare.

In the play, Henry has another explanation for the victory: it was God's doing. The battle takes place on St. Crispin's Day, October 25. Crispin and Crispinian were largely legendary brothers who became Christian saints for their ministry and martyrdom in France in the 3rd century AD. Henry's famous "St. Crispin's Day" speech — a.k.a. the "band of brothers" speech — emphasizes the significance of the day, and after the battle Henry concludes that the lopsided victory can only be the result of God's intervention on the English side.

The play, though, demands a more complicated response on the part of the audience. This battle feels very different from those in previous plays. The climax to the Agincourt sequence is not a heroic one-on-one fight between two great warriors, after which the victor honors the vanquished (as in Henry IV). Instead, it is a sneak attack on the undefended English camp and the slaughter of defenseless innocents and prisoners — by both sides. There is a brutal realism to this battle that highlights the horrors of war and for a modern audience can make Henry V seem as much an anti-war play as anything else.

Our approach to the Agincourt sequence tries to do justice to all these different elements. It will be very exciting to see it all come together in performance. In the mean time, check out some photos from rehearsals:

Gathering for tablework

Because sometimes one sword is not enough

Their T-shirts say "Protect this house" and "Out of your league"

The aftermath of Agincourt

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who donated to our end-of-year fundraising campaign! Every gift takes us one step closer to achieving our goals for more, better, clearer, more exciting Shakespeare than ever in 2016. We couldn't do it without you, so thank you for all your contributions!

And don't forget to get your tickets to Henry V here

The Ithaca Shakespeare Company · Ithaca, NY 14850 ·