What can literature contribute to the study of strategy? In this seminar, military historian and strategic advisor Eliot Cohen explores what students of strategy can learn about the exercise of power from an enduring master, William Shakespeare.

Through a close reading of Shakespeare’s most famous history play, Henry V (1599), fellows will meditate on the events that secured legitimacy for the House of Tudor – how Prince Hal takes the throne and leads England to victory in war against France.

Image Credit: The King of England Receiving the French Herald, 1485

Eliot Cohen on Shakespeare's "rough magic."


Eliot Cohen

Eliot Cohen is the Robert E. Osgood Professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where he has taught since 1990. He served as Dean of SAIS from 2019 to 2021. In addition to public service in the Department of Defense he served as Counselor of the Department of State from 2007 to 2009.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



  • What did Shakespeare know about politics?
  • Henry’s back story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why and to what purpose does Shakespeare use the device of the Chorus?
  2. How do the domestic discontents of Henry’s realm shape his decision for war?
  3. Why does Henry set up the three conspirators rather than simply arrest them?



  • The power of rhetoric
  • The burdens of kingship

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does his action at Harfleur teach us about Henry?
  2. Is Henry’s soliloquy in 4.1. a just reflection on his responsibility for the war?
  3. What makes the St. Crispin’s Day speech (4.3.) so effective?



  • Politics as seduction
  • Politics as stagecraft

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Henry negotiate with the French King and court?
  2. Why does his seduction of Kate succeed?
  3. And again, the Chorus. Why do we believe it? Or do we? Should we?

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