1916-2016: A Hundred Years of Anglo-French Entente in World War I stage productions of Henry V

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Henry V is often read as a nationalistic play showcasing British unity and military strength against a common enemy, theoretically making it an ideal piece of war propaganda capable of bolstering patriotic feelings. It may therefore come as no surprise that Henry V featured among a surge of Shakespeare productions during the Great War, and that the figure of Henry himself was a popular heroic model for British soldiers. The often-identified anti-French subtext of the play and its staging of a humiliating French defeat at the battle of Azincourt in 1415, however, was problematic in the context of the entente cordiale and of the military alliance between France and England. As a result, the first World War became the perhaps unlikely theatre of a more tolerant version of the play, one which insisted on Anglo-French reconciliation and common history in Henry V – a trend which has survived in more recent commemoration productions. This paper discusses the phenomenon of Anglo-French entente in World War I retellings and adaptations of Henry V, focussing particularly on Antic Disposition’s 2015-16 commemoration production, which tells the story of wounded English and French soldiers at a military field hospital in France staging an amateur production of Henry V to pass the time, thereby offering a mise en abyme of Shakespeare’s play. Establishing links between this production and the reconciliatory 1916 war production of Henry V in Calais (Hoenselaars 2015), this paper illustrates how such productions negotiate anti-militarist elements identifiable in Shakespeare’s text to foster Anglo-French entente in their respective political and social contexts, and argues that the 2016 production can be deemed a metatheatrical retelling of the 1916 Calais production, re-using the World War I setting to foster European unity in a pre-Brexit world.
Period7 Oct 2022
Event titleII SEDERI International Conference for Junior Researchers
Event typeConference
LocationMadrid, SpainShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • entente cordiale
  • Henry V
  • Anglo-French relationships
  • war commemoration