Functions of the Chorus in Shakespeare's Henry V
In Shakespeare's Henry V, the chorus plays a prominent role. There are
few other plays written by Shakespeare that include a chorus, however
in no other play does the chorus have such an important role.
The principal purpose of the chorus is that of story telling. The
chorus acts as a guide for the audience, narrating parts that wouldn't
fit into the action of the play. For example in the Act II Chorus, we
are told about treason:
'The sum is paid, the traitors are agreed, the king is now set from
London, and the scene is now transported, gentles, to Southampton.'
As we can see, the chorus reviews what has happened in previous scenes
and also tell us where we are going next.
Kenneth Branagh made a film version of Shakespeare's Henry V in 1989.
He made several alterations to the script and especially to parts of
the chorus. I think he chose to do this for two main reasons. Firstly,
to sustain levels of dramatic tension and interest, as modern
audiences have a far lower attention span. Branagh was also able to
make cuts because he had created the play through a modern medium, not
all the explanation of the action was necessary, as it could be shown.
This is effective for Branagh, as stage technology has developed since
Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare would need to explain several scenes
in the play in close detail, as they are near impossible to appear as
realistic as Branagh is able to make them seem.
Another function of the chorus is to arouse expectation. The chorus is
used to influence the way the audience react to people and events.
This is especially true in the way that Henry is presented as an epic
'O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of
This is an example of the traditional beginning of an epic poem, and
is the first line of the play. Appealing to a muse, a goddess patron
of the arts, tells us that is going to be a really special play. The
audience react to this, getting excited as they find they are going to
watch such a wonderful play. The prologue raises our expectation of
Henry, as we know previously he had been a bit of a rebel. It now
calls him the 'Warlike Harry'; it says he is like Mars, the god of
war. Throughout the play, the audience are reminded how great Henry
is. In Act V's chorus, Henry is compared to 'Caesar', a great roman
emperor and by the epilogue Henry is 'The star of England'. However,
Henry also has a less attractive side, which is occasionally portrayed
in the scenes between the choruses. This may seem inconsistent. Henry
can be cunning and manipulative. When he wishes to fight the French,
he says to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he wants his blessing,
because then God will be on his side. If Canterbury agrees, then