Henry V is one of two titles in the Classic Graphic Novels Collection based on a Shakespearean play. The other three are Victorian novels, and all five represent hallmark pieces of British literature. The most populist of Shakespeare's histories, his story of the beleaguered British king's battle at Agincourt, in this format will appeal to readers who have not yet encountered Shakespeare in any other way.
Graphic elements throughout Henry V are well-organized and easy to follow as it explores a centuries-old enmity between England and France, with Welshmen and the Cornish disparaged in turn. The banter in the army encampment alone demonstrates the timelessness of the war tale and the larger philosophical issues underpinning Henry’s crisis of faith as a ruler.
In this adaptation, fifteenth-century France and England are depicted in robust Technicolor and replete with an ample store of medieval arms and armor. The characters are established in two pages of portrait with a Disney-esque quality. Like caricatures, the illustrations exaggerate individual characteristics for effect. Incognito in his attempt to gauge the mood of the troops, Henry is depicted as a shadowy figure in a red cloak. A blue-and-green-toned landscape further evokes Disney’s version of Robin Hood.
A page-long introduction relates the background to the play and events of the first act in a summary format. The adaptation is faithful to the source text, using the original, rousing "band of brothers" verbiage, still used as an example of the highest sort of patriotic rhetoric. The French language is indicated by more calligraphic lettering, which is an elegant way of handling the distinction. Introspection is also indicated clearly by airily speculative text boxes. In addition to vocabulary relevant to the play — Dauphin, Norman, and the throne — some of the terms defined throughout are basic — battle, army, bell, flag and drum — making the volume suitable for rudimentary English language support. The adaptation is segmented by act and scene with clever use of a chorus to shift scenes, establish mood and reinforce the historicity of events. The text includes page-long biographies of William Shakespeare and King Henry V. It is an unintimidating version of a book with perennial appeal for readers with an interest in the medieval. Recommended for school and public libraries.