Lecture on King Henry V
The following information is based on taped lectures about Henry V prepared by
William Harlan. Although the following text is not identical to those lectures, it does contain the same information. Citations are based on the Signet edition of the play which you should consult as you study this material.
King Henry V was written in 1599, at about the midpoint in Shakespeare’s career. By this time he had achieved professional success when he an his acting company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, dismantled their old theater building north of London and reassembled it on the south bank of the Thames River, in the area called Southwark The new building was octagonal in shape and was christened The Globe. Shakespeare was writing new plays at about an average of two a year, while he continued to act in the company’s productions and handle business arrangements in London and back home in Stratford. He had also achieved a degree of personal success when, two years earlier, he had bought a coat-of-arms for his father and ensured that the Shakespeare family were officially members of the gentry, the class of gentlemen.
In writing this play he returned to the subject of English history with which he had had his first success back in the late 1580’s with plays like King Henry VI and King Richard III. In those earlier plays the emphasis had been on overt action – battles and political double-crosses. Now he approached history with an emphasis on complexity of character and the effect of power on people thrust into a position of leadership. From a psychological perspective, these later history plays are much more interesting. In some respects Henry V is a precursor of Shakespeare’s greatest psychological study, Hamlet, which he would write the following year.
In Shakespeare’s time people had a very different attitude toward history than we have today. The worst thing we can say about a historian in the 21st Century is that he gets his facts wrong, that he is making up the past. In the Elizabethan period historians were expected to “make up the past.” The purpose of history back then was to make a moral or political point rather than to be an accurate retelling of past events. If history was going to be useful in Shakespeare’s day, it often imposed a purpose on otherwise random events. For example, we know that as a youth Prince Henry had been a wild and crazy kid and at one point he had run afoul of the Lord Chief Justice of England who had jailed him for breaking the law. In retelling this story some historians asserted that the Prince’s crime had been a deliberate testing of the integrity of the judicial system to make sure not even the Crown Prince would be above the law.
The other thing historians often did was to import pieces of folklore into historical accounts. There are many stories of monarchs disguising themselves as commoners and going out among the people to check and see what conditions are really like. Mark Twain used this device in his popular story The Prince and the Pauper. In the film Dave Kevin Kline, playing a substitute for the American president, eludes the Secret Service and goes out for an ice cream. So in this story of King Henry V we have him disguising himself as a common soldier and going through the camp the night before the big battle at Agincourt to see what his men really think of their chances of success the next day. Did the real Henry V sneak around as a spy to test the loyalty of his army? Probably not. But it does make a good story.
In the history of England compiled by the Tudor writers of the mid-sixteenth century there was a concerted effort to show that Protestant resistance to the Roman Catholic Church had begun long before Martin Luther. These apologists for the Protestant cause would take random events from the Middle Ages when there had been a dispute over some matter of church doctrine or political power and would rewrite the accounts to emphasize that there had always been Protestants seeking to overthrow the control of Rome. They created a story of the past in which God’s Will had been worked out in a mysterious manner. As we can see, the idea of “revisionist” history is not new.
When Shakespeare wrote this play, England was ruled by Queen Elizabeth, who was along in years and in poor health. The country faced the prospect of falling into civil war, since there was no clear successor. Thoughtful people were wondering who the next ruler would be and what kind of a person would make the best leader for the country. Many looked back almost 200 years to Henry V, who had a reputation as one of England’s most heroic kings. How could the country get another ruler like that? So Shakespeare’s drama is part a nostalgic evocation of a heroic past and part a wish for a new, charismatic monarch.
The study of English history was still relatively new. Those privileged few who went to school were far more likely to learn the history of ancient Rome than that of their own country. Most people did not attend school, so what they knew of their nation’s past was mostly a few unconnected folk tales. What Shakespeare and his contemporary playwrights did was to take the historical accounts which had been written by scholars and to turn them into popular drama. Particularly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when the English had a new sense of their country’s importance in the world, plays about the history of England, what they called chronicle dramas, became immensely popular. It is no exaggeration to say that most Englishmen in this period learned their history from the stage. That also meant Shakespeare’s perception of particular rulers became the accepted view for most people. For example, in order to justify the Tudor overthrow of the previous dynasty, Shakespeare took Richard III, a relatively minor king, and turned him into a full-blown monster.
Shakespeare had written a group of four interconnected history plays, called a tetralogy, early in his career: Henry VI, Parts 1, 2,3 and Richard III. When he returned to writing histories, he produced another tetralogy of four interconnected plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. All eight of these history plays are focused on events in the fifteenth century because as Englishmen examined their past, they realized their country had gone through an enormous upheaval in that period. England had been engaged in a protracted war overseas and in a bloody civil war at home. The way people lived and even how they spoke underwent major changes in the fifteenth century.
All of this upheaval began in the previous century, in 1337, when King Edward III claimed the throne of France and sent an invasion force to France to enforce his rule. English armies would fight in France, off and on, for the next 116 years, until 1453. Later historians would call this the Hundred Years War. It was not continuous warfare, and there were many shifting alliances between different groups within France and the English invaders seeking to seize political power. The English used all the technology of war available to them, especially the English long bow, winning victories over the French at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. This last battle, in 1415, is at the center of the play. During the prolonged wars in France, England developed several generations of men who were professional warriors, used to living off the spoils of France. These men, led by powerful nobles, were heavily invested in continuing the war.
Throughout most of the 1300’s England was led by King Edward III, a powerful ruler who began and directed the invasion of France. He ruled for so long that he outlived his son and heir, Edward the Black Prince. So when Edward III died, under the terms of succession, the next king was the Black Prince’s young son, who became King Richard II. Richard was inept and out of touch with his most important subjects. He did two things which led to his overthrow: 1.) he made peace with France, marrying a French princess and angering the military; 2.) he tried to curb the power of the great nobles, seizing their wealth and replacing them in his councils with his own favorites. So around 1400 he was forced to abdicate his throne and was replaced by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke was crowned King Henry IV. Looking back on these events a century later the historians of the Tudor period, the writers whose work Shakespeare would use, saw the overthrow of Richard II as the cause of all the subsequent upheaval and civil war England endured in the 1400’s. In effect Henry IV, by illegally seizing power, opened the floodgates to any ambitious, powerful man who might aspire to make himself king.
After a troubled reign Henry IV died and was followed to the throne by his son, Henry of Monmouth, King Henry V. Now Henry V only ruled from 1414 to 1422, but in that short span he accomplished a great deal. He restarted the war with France, leading an invasion personally which resulted in a crushing defeat for the cream of the French nobility at the Battle of Agincourt. He followed this by a series of successful campaigns which resulted in the English occupation of much of France By 1420 he married the princess of France and forced her father to name him as heir to the French throne. Before he could become ruler of both countries, however, he died, probably of dysentery which was rampant among the English soldiers.
Henry was followed to the throne by his son, Henry VI. As often happens in history, the son of a great leader is quite different from his father. Henry VI, who was crowned when he was only six months old, was a weak, indecisive king who misruled for many years. Henry VI was not helped by the fact he had inherited a tendency toward mental instability from his mother’s line. There were times when he was on the throne when Henry did not know what he was doing. Most of the rest of the time he was trying to avoid having to do anything. Shakespeare has the character say about himself that he would have been better as a priest than a prince. He was also psychologically damaged by the parenting he received. When the king is only six months old when he is crowned, whoever changes his diapers, controls the country. As he grew up Henry was manipulated by a series of powerful relatives who were seeking political control. When he came of age, he had difficulty escaping the patterns of dependency he had developed as a child.
Following the death of Henry V the French began to unify to resist the English occupation. Led by a series of leaders, most notably Joan of Arc, the French pushed the English out over a period of years. The English were never strong enough to occupy physically all the territory they had conquered, but it took until 1453 before the French were able to take back almost all their territory and the Hundred Years War officially ended. It is no coincidence that right around the time the English army came back from France, England faced a new challenge – a civil war.
In 1455, just two years after the defeat in France, a bloody conflict began called the War of the Roses. It was a struggle between two very powerful noble families, the Lancasters and the Yorks. Each family adopted a different colored rose as its symbol. Those unemployed English soldiers, men who for four generations had lived by fighting and looting in France, were a major factor in promoting the war. The War of the Roses, which lasted for 30 years, was not a period of sustained combat. Violent outbursts were followed by long stretches of uneasy peace. But during the warfare English society came very close to collapse. Here are some of the factors which made this war particularly traumatic. 1.) The war corresponded with the breakup of feudal society, the long-established social order where the great mass of people were permanently attached to a lord for whom they worked as serfs. 2.) In the fifteenth century the economy changed from one dominated by subsistence farming to an economy based on raising sheep; because sheep required lots of pasture and few people, farmland reverted to grassland, and thousands of poor farmers were thrown off the land.. These dispossessed farmers were a new, permanent class of homeless 3.) During the civil war much of the noble class was destroyed – three generations of leaders were killed in the bloody battles and political intrigue which characterized the war.
During the War of the Roses first the York family and then the Lancaster family would win, only to be overthrown. In 1471 the Yorkists won a series of battles and the eldest, surviving son of the family was crowned King Edward IV. He remained on the throne for about ten years, but when he died the conflict broke out again, especially among the various members of the York faction. After a time of intrigue and power plays, Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, became king. He did so by eliminating Edward’s two young sons as well as any other potential rivals. (Richard locked up the two young boys in the Tower of London and had them murdered in an act made famous in Shakespeare’s play Richard III.) However, the adherents of the Lancaster cause, who had fled into exile on the continent, returned to challenge the king. Richard III, by his actions in seizing power, had managed to alienate a lot of people. In addition, the long conflict had made political loyalty very dangerous. At the critical moment key allies turned on Richard. He reigned for only a couple of years, and it is his death on the battlefield in 1485 that marked the end of the War of the Roses.
The Lancaster champion was an obscure young nobleman named Henry Tudor. He was, in effect, the last man standing after 30 years of civil war. Henry Tudor’s claim to the English throne was very tenuous – his grandmother was the widow of Henry V, but when his army was able to kill Richard there were no other claimants to the English throne, and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings. Henry VII was a very smart, ruthless ruler. He knew his title to the throne was weak, so he decided to strengthen his position by rewriting history He hired the first professional historians of English history; ironically they were Italians, little more than creative PR people. Henry’s problem, besides the fact that the Tudors were hardly the legitimate successors to the throne, was that he had gotten to be king by overthrowing the old king. The first rule of every monarchy is always, “Thou shalt not overthrow the anointed monarch.” Henry had to make his act of ambition seem justified. So his historians and later writers, like Edward Hall, came up with what is now called “The Tudor Myth,” an account of the history of fifteenth century England in which God punishes the English people for having overthrown King Richard II in 1400. Working in mysterious ways, God made Henry IV’s reign very troubled, and then took the good King Henry V to an early death. Finally the divine punishment included the long rule of the inept Henry VI, the boisterous reign of Edward IV and the extreme trauma of King Richard III in 1483. They created this myth by making Richard III appear to be a monster, politically, morally and even physically. When Henry Tudor killed him, it was an act sanctioned by the Lord himself. England had been punished enough. Henry’s “crime” was the one exception to the rule never to raise your hand against the king, and the newly written history of England hammered home that idea.
Henry VII was followed by his son, King Henry VIII, the infamous king with six wives, who in turn was succeeded finally by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. It was during her reign, in the 1580’s, that a prolific writer named Holinshed consolidated all the previous histories into a very important work called Holinshed’s Chronicles of English, Irish and Scottish History. Over a million words in length, this work was the primary source that Shakespeare used for all his history plays, as well as tragedies like King Lear and Macbeth. It popularized the history of the country and included both the elements of the Tudor Myth and folklore accounts of earlier kings.
In Shakespeare’s time Henry V had a reputation as one of England’s greatest kings, sometimes called “The Warrior King.” Shakespeare introduced the phrase “the mirror of all Christian kings” to describe Henry’s preeminent place in the English view of history. Sometimes Henry referred to himself as “the scourge of God,” as if he had been sent especially to punish sinners; the French, understandably, saw things differently and called him “the scourge of the Devil.” The fact is that in the English view, any king who decisively beat the French was a great leader, and Henry V was a military genius. In actuality he did not accomplish that much as a king, and he didn’t reign that long, but his great victories cemented his reputation. In the folklore accounts of Henry he was a wild playboy as a youth who was dramatically transformed into a holy and dedicated leader when he became king. The other piece of folklore was that when he led the invasion of France, his army was filled with the “good lads of Eastcheap,” the youth from the slums of London. He promised them wealth and position if they joined his army. Some English noble families began when poor slum boys succeeded as soldiers with Henry and were rewarded with a title. Both these elements of folklore appear as important elements in Shakespeare’s plays about Henry’s education and rise to power.
In historical reality Henry V was .not nearly as self-aware and calculating as a leader as Shakespeare makes him. He was a cold-blooded killer. At the siege of the city of Rouen, the French trapped inside the walls allowed the elderly and very young to leave the city. Henry had all the refugees rounded up and driven into the moat around the city where they were drowned as a warning to those inside to surrender. Shakespeare makes Henry a very intelligent and humane ruler who has only the best intentions toward both the English and the French. The playwright used material from both Holinshed and Hall to create his heroic protagonist. In addition he based his work on an earlier play called The Famous Victories of Henry V. It was not as sophisticated as Shakespeare’s version, but it did contain some incidents that he used in his masterpiece. Shakespeare would often work this way – finding an earlier version, rewriting it and transforming it into something memorable.
In the tetralogy Shakespeare wrote -- Richard II, King Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V – he moves from the figure of the incompetent ruler (Richard) to the heroic leader (Henry V). The middle two plays explore how young Prince Hal, as Henry was known before he became king, is educated to become the epitome of a king. On the surface he appears to be an irresponsible playboy, but underneath he is a serious young trainee in the ways of royalty. Everything he does is calculated to make him effective once he takes the throne; he play-acts different roles with the people he comes in contact with, always trying to manipulate his own image. King Henry V is the payoff for all Prince Hal’s efforts and preparations. We see no better example of his finely-honed skills in interpersonal communications than in his interactions with the church leaders in the opening scenes of the play and the French ambassador in the second scene. These are scenes of high seriousness where we see him playing the accomplished leader. In contrast we see him later interacting with the common soldiers in his army where he is able to talk with them in their own language and to share their concerns. He is what he needs to be in order to be successful as a leader. Once he mounts the throne he is transformed into “Super King” who does everything necessary to hold onto the crown his father had seized. He is knowledgeable, ambitious and uses his natural eloquence to inspire others to act in concert with him. When he has to, he bends the laws, shaves the truth and behaves in a ruthless manner. The character Shakespeare creates is not a “goody two-shoes,” a poster boy for good government. He is shown to be a very modern kind of leader, warts and all.
Another element of the play is pageantry. There are a number of places where we see formal processions of power – English nobles, church leaders, French royalty. His audiences loved this kind of display. Even though he had a limited number of actors, with ingenious use of costumes and props and music, he was able to create the illusion of being in the halls of power.
The play also has a variety of character types, called characters of humor. Shakespeare wrote this play right around the time his contemporary Ben Jonson was writing a series of tremendously popular comedies of humor characters. These were characters who were funny because they were obsessive, going overboard with jealousy or greed. Shakespeare uses this approach to create characters like Pistol, who talks a good fight but is a devout coward, or Nym, who comes across as a dangerous type of few words. To these types he added ethnic portrayals based on people from different parts of the British Isles – Ireland, Scotland and Wales. One of the most fascinating is a Welsh captain named Fluellen, who comes across as a wise commentator on the ways of the leader. Another interesting ethnic character is the French princess Katherine, who has an entire scene in French. Henry woos her in a decidedly anti-romantic manner, as if he were an uncivilized hick. (Henry and Katherine have a lot in common with Beatrice and Benedict in Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.) Finally Shakespeare has a number of scenes of low humor, funny stuff in questionable taste by lower class characters – Bardolph, Pistol and Mistress Quickly. King Henry may be seeking glory and power in France; these characters are only interested in what they can steal.
The action of the play is introduced by a character who also describes the process of presenting history within the limitations of the Globe Theater.
for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention [creative imagination],
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling [stately] scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars [appearance of the God of war]; and at his heels,
(Leashed in like hounds) should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles [genteel folks] all,
The flat unraised spirits [dull, uninspired actors] that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold [stage] to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O [the theater itself, the Globe] the very casques [helmets]
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure [a zero] may
Attest in little place a million [a zero can change 100,000 to 1,000,000];
And let us, ciphers [nothings] to this great accompt [total or story],
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts [frontiers or cliffs],
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder [High cliffs at Dover and Calais face each other across the English Channel].
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance [mighty army].
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass; for the which supply [to help your thought],
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who, Prologue-like, your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Shakespeare in some of his plays uses a character as Chorus to provide a commentary on the play, usually at the beginning or right at the end of the drama, such as the opening of Romeo and Juliet or Puck’s benediction at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This Chorus delivers a complex message with very interesting language at each beginning of the play’s five acts and as an epilogue at the end. There are three points to make about this first prologue: 1.) King Henry has become mythological, assuming “the port” or behavior of the Roman God of War, Mars. The language throughout the passage makes his achievements something more than an ordinary military victory. 2.) Shakespeare reinforces this idea by having the Chorus apologize for the inadequacy of the theater to capture the full spectacle of Henry’s reign. This is, of course, Shakespeare’s new theater, the Globe which he calls, at line 12, “this wooden O,” reminding us of the shape of the building. He laments that they cannot bring horses on stage and have to represent the mass of the armies with just a few actors. He calls upon the audience to supplement what they see with the power of their imaginations. At line 15 he uses an unusual image of a “crooked figure” or zero to represent some great quantity by its place in the numeral for a million. 3.) Finally Shakespeare evokes the sense of the past. Everyone in the audience knows something about Henry V, and Shakespeare asks the audience to allow his drama, even though it compresses time and skips over important events, to stand for that reality.
Act I, Scene 1
This is an exchange between two of England’s leading churchmen at that time: The Archbishop of Canterbury, the nominal head of the national church and the Bishop of Ely, one of the most powerful prelates. They are discussing a crisis they face – the new young king is considering changing the way the Church is financed. At the time the play was set, if a person died without a will, that person’s estate would automatically go to the church; Henry V has a proposal from Parliament to redirect that wealth to the royal coffers. (Kings were always looking for ways to finance their military ventures.) Out of this political crisis, Ely and Canterbury have had to reassess their opinion of Henry. He seems knowledgeable in many areas and appears to be a very serious ruler. Canterbury has a long description of the king’s many skills. Ely and Canterbury come up with a political strategy to save the church’s finances: they will bribe him with a large contribution (just like today’s politics) and they will supply him with a religiously sanctioned justification to invade France, which they know he wants to do. They hope this will make him reconsider this proposed “reform.”
[London. An ante-chamber in the KING'S palace.]
[Enter the ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, and the BISHOP
OF ELY CANTERBURY: My lord, I'll tell you; that self [same]
bill is urged,
Which in the eleventh year of the last king's reign
Was like [likely to be enacted], and had indeed against us passed,
But that the scambling [chaotic] and unquiet time
Did push it out of farther question.
ELY: But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?
CANTERBURY: It must be thought on. If it pass against us,
We lose the better half of our possession:
For all the temporal [secular] lands which men devout
By testament have given to the church
Would they strip from us; being valued thus --
As much as would maintain, to the king's honor,
Full fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights,
Six thousand and two hundred good esquires,
And, to relief of lazars [lepers] and weak age,
Of indigent faint souls past corporal toil.
A hundred almshouses right well supplied;
And to the coffers of the king beside,
A thousand pounds by the year. Thus runs the bill.
ELY: This would drink deep.
CANTERBURY: 'Twould drink the cup and all.
ELY: But what prevention?
CANTERBURY: The king is full of grace and fair regard. [repute].
ELY: And a true lover of the holy church.
CANTERBURY: The courses of his youth promised it not.
The breath no sooner left his father's body,
But that his wildness, mortified [dead] in him,
Seemed to die too; yea, at that very moment
Consideration [meditation], like an angel, came
And whipped the offending Adam [drove original sin] out of him,
Leaving his body as a paradise,
To envelop and contain celestial spirits.
Never was such a sudden scholar made;
Never came reformation in a flood,
With such a heady currance [headlong current], scouring faults
Nor never Hydra-headed [Hydra was a mythological beast with nine heads]willfulness
So soon did lose his seat [throne] --and all at once --
As in this king.
ELY: We are blessed in the change.
CANTERBURY: Hear him but reason [debate] in divinity,
And all-admiring with an inward wish
You would desire the king were made a prelate;
Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,
You would say it hath been all in all [in all respects] his study:
List [listen to] his discourse of war, and you shall hear
A fearful battle render'd you in music [told to you in eloquent terms].
Turn him to any cause of policy [political issue],
The Gordian knot [mythical complex knot] of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
The air, a chartered libertine [one allowed to go anywhere], is still,
And the mute wonder [one who wonders in silent awe] lurketh in men's ears,
To steal his sweet and honeyed sentences [sayings];
So that the art and practic part of life
Must be the mistress to this theoric [the experience and practice must have taught him the theory];
Which is a wonder how his Grace [Majesty] should glean it,
Since his addiction was to courses vain,
His companies [friends] unletter'd, rude and shallow,
His hours filled up with riots, banquets, sports,
And never noted in him any study,
Any retirement, any sequestration
From open haunts and popularity [public places and familiarity].
ELY: The strawberry grows underneath the nettle
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbored by fruit of baser quality;
And so the prince obscured his contemplation [study]
Under the veil of wildness; which (no doubt)
Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,
Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty. [growing because it is its nature].
CANTERBURY: It must be so; for miracles are ceased [age of miracles is gone];
And therefore we must needs admit the means [natural cause]
How things are perfected.
ELY: But, my good lord,
How now for mitigation of this bill
Urged by the commons [House of Commons]? Doth his Majesty
Incline to it, or no?
CANTERBURY: He seems indifferent [impartial],
Or rather swaying more upon our part
Than cherishing the exhibiters against us [the proponents of the bill];
For I have made an offer to his Majesty --
Upon our spiritual Convocation [formal meeting of church leaders],
And in regard of causes [issues] now in hand,
Which I have opened [revealed] to his Grace at large,
As touching France -- to give a greater sum
Than ever at one time the clergy yet
Did to his predecessors part withal.
ELY: How did
this offer seem received, my lord?
CANTERBURY: With good acceptance of his Majesty;
Save that there was not time enough to hear,
As I perceived his Grace would fain have done,
The severals and unhidden passages [details and clear lines of descent, in his claims in France]
Of his true titles to some certain dukedoms
And generally to the crown and seat of France
Derived from Edward, his great-grandfather.
ELY: What was the impediment that broke this off?
CANTERBURY: The French ambassador upon that instant
Craved audience; and the hour, I think, is come
To give him hearing. Is it four o'clock?
ELY: It is.
CANTERBURY: Then go we in, to know his embassy;
Which I could with a ready guess declare,
Before the Frenchman speak a word of it.
ELY: I'll wait upon you, and I long to hear it.
This scene sets the stage for the play. These two churchmen fill us in on the situation at court with the new king, and then, like many other characters in this historical pageant, having fulfilled their purpose, they will disappear from the play. In the first 18 lines, Canterbury and Ely have a serious political problem: the proposed change in the way money is distributed from the estates of those who die without a will. Beginning at line 12 they have even calculated how much this change will cost the church. Notice that they measure the financial impact in how many positions (earls, knights and esquires) and how many charitable institutions (almshouses) the King could use the money to support. Although elsewhere in the scene (line 72) Canterbury says the king appears indifferent to the proposal now being considered by the House of Commons, the political reality is that this would represent a fundamental shift in power from the church to the throne. Every one of those 7,715 people who received a title from the king and every community which got a new almshouse would be especially beholden to the monarch. What do these church leaders have to do to keep from losing all that money?
They have some hope because the new king appears to be a pious and serious young man. They both marvel at how quickly he was miraculously transformed from a wild playboy to a sober, effective ruler by the death of his father, King Henry IV. (The audience who in Shakespeare’s day probably had seen the two King Henry IV plays will know that while he appeared to be wild and irresponsible, Prince Hal was using the experiences of his youth in a deliberate way to prepare himself to become king.) Canterbury, beginning at line 38, runs down the list of the king’s achievements: 1.) He is knowledgeable about religion, as good as any prelate at arguing points of theology; 2.) He is very capable at discussing fine points of “commonwealth affairs,” the running of government, as if he had a doctorate in management. 3.) He is able to discuss military tactics, turning the chaos and confusion of the battle into “music.” (The Elizabethans believed that music was synonymous with order and understanding.) 4.) He is skilled at “any cause of policy,” the process of understanding political power. (Shakespeare knew that politics was different from the operation of government, something many current political leaders forget.) He will explain some seemingly insoluable problem, symbolized by the intricate Gordian knot, as easily as he unties his garters.
All of these achievements lead Canterbury, at line 53 on, to wonder how Henry got so smart so quickly. He recalls that Prince Hal’s friends (“companies”) had been “unlettered, rude and shallow.” He assumes the prince was no different. The Archbishop, like everyone else, has misjudged Hal’s real character, which is exactly what the prince had intended. He deliberately lowered expectations before he assumed the throne. Ely explains this transformation with a homey image at line 60: “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle.” Prince Hal grew into the accomplished King Henry V by hiding his true self, using his base companions, like the nettle, to protect his real identity. Canterbury agrees since the only other explanation is that it was a miracle, and at line 67 he declares that the age of religious miracles, the kind recounted in the Bible, has ceased.
Ely brings the conversation back to what they will do about the proposed reform. Beginning at line 75, Canterbury lays out the plan: The Church will make an enormous gift to the king to help finance his planned invasion of France – the largest “campaign contribution” ever. (We are all too familiar with how the political process is lubricated with money.) Furthermore, at line 86 the churchmen will use their knowledge and authority to establish “The several and unhidden passages” of the king’s claim to the throne of France. This is undoubtedly even more important than the money. Henry will be able to justify his making war on another country by using the moral shield of the church. What we see in this sequence, the offering of a two-part bribe, is the dirty business of politics. King Henry V will be a triumphant leader, but Shakespeare always makes sure we see the sometimes ignoble process by which power is gained and wielded.
Act I, Scene 2, Lines 1 -- 32
In the next scene we meet the king who we know has the French ambassador waiting. Henry will not see him, however, until he has a chance to talk with Canterbury.
[Enter KING HENRY V, GLOUCESTER, BEDFORD, EXETER, WARWICK, WESTMORELAND, and Attendants]
HENRY: Where is my gracious Lord of Canterbury?
EXETER: Not here in presence.
HENRY: Send for him, good uncle.
WESTMORELAND: Shall we call in the ambassador, my liege?
HENRY: Not yet, my cousin. We would be resolved [have clarified],
Before we hear him, of some things of weight
That task our thoughts, concerning us and France. [Enter the CANTERBURY and ELY]
CANTERBURY: God and his angels guard your sacred throne
And make you long become it!
HENRY: Sure, we thank you.
My learned lord, we pray you to proceed
And justly and religiously unfold
Why the law Salique that they have in France
Or [either] should, or should not, bar us in our claim.
And God forbid, my dear and faithful lord,
That you should fashion, wrest, or bow your reading [interpretation],
Or nicely charge your understanding soul
With opening titles miscreate, whose right [claim]
Suits not in native colors with the truth [told plainly would not be taken for true];
For God doth know how many now in health
Shall drop their blood in approbation [support]
Of what your reverence shall incite us to.
Therefore take heed how you impawn [pledge] our person,
How you awake our sleeping sword of war:
We charge you, in the name of God, take heed;
For never two such kingdoms did contend
Without much fall of blood; whose guiltless drops
Are every one a woe, a sore complaint
'Gainst him whose wrong [wrongdoing] gives edge unto the swords
That make such waste in brief mortality.
Under this conjuration, speak, my lord;
For we will hear, note and believe in heart
That what you speak is in your conscience washed
As pure as sin with baptism.
At line 4 we see the first use of the royal “we,” when the king says, “We would be resolved.” He is referring to himself, but when a monarch uses “we,” it signals that this is a kind of official pronouncement – speaking of himself as an individual but also in his official capacity, as an embodiment of the nation. Watch for the subtle distinctions throughout the play between when Henry uses “we” and when he uses “I.”
Henry has already notified the King of France that he wants the throne and the French ambassador has arrived with an answer. The main point here is the warning that Henry issues to Canterbury – he doesn’t want the Archbishop to fudge the truth in laying out the case for his claiming the throne of France under the terms of the “Salique Law” which governs the succession of the French throne. The effects will be devastating for too many people. In other words, the king does not want a “yes-man” advising him on this important step. Furthermore, he is all too aware of the consequences for his country and his people if he proceeds with an invasion of France. At line 14 he warns Canterbury not to twist his “reading” or interpretation just to please the king. The Archbishop’s soul knows right from wrong and will recognize if he advances a false claim. He reminds churchman of the bloody consequences of his advice, and tells him at line 30 that he will “hear, note and believe” whatever he says, because it has been “washed” by his conscience. Clearly Canterbury will bear the heavy responsibility of having set in motion the invasion of France. But Henry is not ducking the moral consequences himself. His awareness throughout the play of what the effect of his actions will be make many see a parallel with Hamlet, the ultimate moral barometer in Shakespeare’s plays.
It’s interested to note that King Henry is very polite. In the sequence we just saw, the king addresses three different people, and in each case he uses terms which are complimentary: “gracious,” “good uncle,” “learned lord,” “my dear and faithful lord.” It costs the king nothing to be courteous, and most of the people he is dealing with in his court are older than the king. Furthermore, notice that many of these people are relatives – his uncle Exeter and his brothers Gloucester and Bedford and members of his extended family, like to Earl of Westmoreland whom he refers to as “cousin,” a generic term used by Elizabethans for anyone even distantly related. King Henry V uses family members because of the issues of allegiance. As we’ll see, he has reason to fear treason.
We will skip the section on Salique Law between lines 33 and 94. Basically, Canterbury goes through the intricacies of the legal case to show that Henry, through a female ancestor, has as much claim to the French throne as any member of the French royal family. Apparently Shakespeare’s audience enjoyed this kind of detailed exposition more than modern audiences do. At line 95 the king asks “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” Notice how quickly everyone jumps in to tell the king to go ahead with what he obviously wants to do. Shakespeare wants to establish that the war with France was widely supported. What is the strategic problem that Henry has to tackle before he can take his army off to France?
Act I, Scene 2, Line 96 – 233
HENRY: May I with right and conscience
make this claim?
CANTERBURY: The sin upon my head, dread sovereign!
For in the book of Numbers is it writ:
When the man dies, let the inheritance
Descend unto the daughter. Gracious lord,
Stand for your own; unwind your bloody flag;
Look back into your mighty ancestors;
Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire's [Edward III] tomb,
From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit,
And your great-uncle's, Edward the Black Prince,
Who on the French ground played a tragedy [Crecy],
Making defeat on the full power of France,
Whiles his most mighty father on a hill
Stood smiling to behold his lion's whelp
Forage in blood of French nobility.
O noble English. that could entertain
With half their forces the full pride of France
And let another half stand laughing by,
All out of work and cold for [for lack of] action!
ELY: Awake remembrance of these valiant dead
And with your puissant arm renew their feats:
You are their heir; you sit upon their throne;
The blood and courage that renowned them
Runs in your veins; and my thrice-puissant [mighty for the three reasons just cited] liege
Is in the very May-morn of his youth,
Ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises.
EXETER: Your brother kings and monarchs of the earth
Do all expect that you should rouse yourself,
As did the former lions of your blood.
WESTMORELAND: They know your grace hath cause and means and might;
So hath your Highness. Never king of England
Had nobles richer and more loyal subjects,
Whose hearts have left their bodies here in England
And lie pavilioned [tented] in the fields of France.
CANTERBURY: O, let their bodies follow, my dear liege,
With blood and sword and fire to win your right;
In aid whereof we of the spiritualty [Church]
Will raise your highness such a mighty sum
As never did the clergy at one time
Bring in to any of your ancestors.
HENRY: We must not only arm to invade the French,
But lay down our proportions [make plans] to defend
Against the Scot, who will make road upon us
With all advantages [at every opportunity]..
CANTERBURY: They of those marches [border areas], gracious sovereign,
Shall be a wall sufficient to defend
Our inland [interior kingdom]from the pilfering borderers [raiders].
HENRY: We do not mean the coursing [maurading] snatchers only,
But fear the main intendment [overall intention] of the Scot,
Who hath been still a giddy neighbor to us;
For you shall read that my great-grandfather
Never went with his forces into France
But that the Scot on his unfurnished [undefended] kingdom
Came pouring, like the tide into a breach,
With ample and brim fullness of his force,
Galling the gleaned [stripped of defenses] land with hot assays,
Girding with grievous siege castles and towns;
That England, being empty of defense,
Hath shook and trembled at the ill neighborhood [neighborliness].
CANTERBURY: She hath been
then more feared [frightened] than harmed, my liege;
For hear her but exampled [furnished with a precedent] by herself:
When all her chivalry hath been in France
And she a mourning widow of her nobles,
She hath herself not only well defended
But taken and impounded as a stray [wandering animal]
The King of Scots; whom she did send to France,
To fill King Edward's fame with prisoner kings
And make her chronicle as rich with praise
As is the ooze and bottom of the sea
With sunken wrack [wrecks] and sunless treasuries.
ELY: But there's a saying very old and true,
“If that you will France win,
Then with Scotland first begin:”
For once the eagle (England) being in prey [away hunting],
To her unguarded nest the weasel (Scot)
Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs,
Playing the mouse in absence of the cat,
To tame [break] and havoc [destroy] more than she can eat.
EXETER: It follows then the cat must stay at home:
Yet that is but a crushed necessity [needless requirement],
Since we have locks to safeguard necessaries,
And pretty traps to catch the petty thieves.
While that the armed hand doth fight abroad,
The advised [prudent] head defends itself at home;
For government, though high and low and lower,
Put into parts [social groups, or musical passages] doth keep in one consent [agreement, or harmony]
Congreeing [coming together] in a full and natural close [union, or chord].
CANTERBURY: Therefore doth heaven divide
The state of man [society] in divers functions,
Setting endeavor in continual motion [giving a unending push to effort];
To which is fixed [the endeavor rotates around], as an aim or butt,
Obedience; for so work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature [instinctively] teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts [various kinds];
Where some, like magistrates, correct [administer justice] at home,
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make boot upon [plunder] the summer's velvet buds,
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor --
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold,
The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
The poor mechanic porters [manual laborers] crowding in
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,
The sad-eyed justice, with his surly [stern] hum,
Delivering o'er to executors [executioners] pale
The lazy yawning drone. I this infer [cite],
That many things, having full reference
To one consent [being wholly directed to one purpose] may work contrariously [in different ways];
As many arrows, loosed several ways [from different places];
Come to one mark; as many ways meet in one town;
As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea;
As many lines close in the dial's centre;
So may a thousand actions, once afoot.
End in one purpose, and be all well borne [carried out]
Without defeat. Therefore to France, my liege.
Divide your happy England into four;
Whereof take you one quarter into France,
And you withal shall make all Gallia [Latin name for France] shake.
If we, with thrice such powers left at home,
Cannot defend our own doors from the dog,
Let us be worried and our nation lose
The name of hardiness and policy [statecraft].
Canterbury begins at line 98 by citing the Biblical injunction in the Book of Numbers in response to the Salique Law; the king may claim the throne of France because of his great-grandmother. Because of this, Canterbury argues, Henry must proceed. He evokes the memory of the king’s famous ancestors, Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, and describes the famous victory at Crecy when the prince defeated the French army with only a portion of the English force. What Canterbury doesn’t mention is that England and France have been at peace for some years and that for Henry to renew hostilities now will have far-reaching consequences. That’s why Henry insists that the churchmen justify his actions before he undertakes them. Ely obliges by urging at line 115 following that Henry honor his ancestors and their sacrifice by going to war. (It is interesting to note that none of these military enthusiasts mentions the slightly tricky problem that Henry V is only on the throne because his father, Henry IV, stole it from the legitimate ruler, Richard II.) Exeter and Westmoreland, from the vantage point of the nobles, who will be expected to bear the brunt of the fighting, also urge him to invade France; such foreign wars offered men like them excellent opportunities for gaining wealth and fame.
Henry has kept quiet throughout this whole sequence, allowing the tide of expectation and enthusiasm make it seem as if the decision to go to war is one that he has no alternative but to undertake. We often see effective leaders using this same technique; rather than forcing an action, they create the circumstances which make the decision seem inevitable. The cincher in the argument is at line 132 where Canterbury offers his bribe, the massive donation from the Church, to finance the campaign.
Henry, as a prudent leader, has to make sure all his bases are covered. He cannot go off to France without making sure that Scotland doesn’t invade England from the north. Throughout this period Scottish forces had taken the opportunity to strike into England when the main English force had been in France. At line 145 Henry calls Scotland “a giddy neighbor,” someone who is irrational and therefore potentially dangerous; at line 154 he refers sarcastically to the relationship with Scotland as “ill neighborhood.”
The churchmen are especially eager to push the case for war, since it is part of their plan to head off reform of finances. So at line 155 Canterbury at first tries to play down the Scottish threat. He reminds everyone that during Edward III’s time the English at home captured the Scottish king, David II, almost as if he were a stray cow, and sent him to King Edward to be held for ransom. “A King’s ransom” was one of the ways in which monarchs financed their military adventures, and the archbishop uses an appropriate simile at line 163 to describe the money the Scots had to pay, comparing it to the wealth in shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea. Ely throws in another interesting comparison at line 166, likening what the Scots do to the actions of an egg-sucking weasel attacking the nest of a royal eagle. Exeter, the king’s uncle, again tries to minimize the threat, using his own homey images of mouse-hunting cats, locks and traps for “petty thieves.” Beginning at line 180 he introduces an extended comparison, called a conceit, in which all the parts of society should function together like musical harmony.
Arguing for an overall military strategy, Canterbury comes up with the most detailed and interesting conceit in this whole sequence. He starts out at line 183 arguing that the entire kingdom must be dedicated to the ensuing war., arguing that heaven has ordained all the various classes and functions of society be centered around the concept of obedience, much as a wheel turns on an axle around a central point. He then introduces an extended comparison at line 187 – the life of a bee colony. For the next 17 lines in remarkable detail he describes the way a hive functions, likening each of the different categories of bees to human counterparts, the laborers, the judges and the drones. Look at the poetic description of the bees filling the honeycombs at line 198: “The singing masons building roofs of gold.” Canterbury follows this extended conceit with four more simple comparisons to describe people working in harmony although in different ways: shooting arrows from different points at the same target (line 207), many streets leading to the same spot in a town (line 208), many streams running to the same ocean (line 209) and many different lines intersecting the center of a sundial (line 210). The Archbishop concludes at line 213 that the king should divide his forces into four parts and take just one quarter to France, leaving the rest to guard the kingdom.
Henry makes the decision to invade France and then calls in the French ambassador. Why might the French king have not replied to Henry’s demand? What is the significance of the gift which the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne, sends to Henry? How does it backfire on the French?
Act I, Scene 2, Lines 221 -- 310
HENRY: Call in the messengers sent from the Dauphin. [Exeunt
some Attendants] Now are we well
resolved [determined]; and, by God's help,
And yours, the noble sinews of our power,
France being ours, we'll bend it to our awe [make it acknowledge our authority],
Or break it all to pieces: or there we'll sit,
Ruling in large and ample empery [dominion]
O'er France and all her (almost) kingly dukedoms,
Or lay these bones in an unworthy urn [grave].
Tombless, with no remembrance [memorial] over them:
Either our history shall with full mouth
Speak freely of our acts, or else our grave,
Like Turkish mute, shall have a tongueless mouth,
Not worshipped [honored] with a waxen [transitory] epitaph. [Enter Ambassadors of France] Now are we well prepared to know the pleasure
Of our fair cousin Dauphin; for we hear
Your greeting is from him, not from the king.
AMBASSADOR: May't please your majesty to give us leave
Freely to render what we have in charge;
Or shall we sparingly [discreetly] show you far off
The Dauphin's meaning and our embassy?
HENRY: We are no tyrant, but a Christian king;
Unto whose grace [gracious disposition] our passion is as subject
As are our wretches fetter'd in our prisons;
Therefore with frank and with uncurbed plainness
Tell us the Dauphin's mind.
AMBASSADOR: Thus, then, in few [briefly]:.
Your highness, lately sending into France,
Did claim some certain dukedoms, in the right
Of your great predecessor, King Edward the Third.
In answer of which claim, the Prince our master
Says that you savor too much of your youth,
And bids you be advised; There's naught in France
That can be with a nimble galliard [lively dance] won;
You cannot revel into dukedoms there.
He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun [cask] of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.
HENRY: What treasure, uncle?
EXETER: Tennis balls, my liege.
HENRY: We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant [merry] with us --
His present and your pains we thank you for.
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard [tennis term or peril].
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler [opponent]
That all the courts [pun on tennis] of France will be disturbed
With chases [ball bouncing twice, or ursuits].And we understand him well,
How he comes o'er us [acts superior to us] with our wilder days,
Not measuring what use we made of them.
We never valued this poor seat [throne] of England;
And therefore, living hence [away from], did give ourself
To barbarous license [wild living], as 'tis ever common
That men are merriest when they are from home.
But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state [position of power],
Be like a king and show my sail of greatness [display of majesty]
When I do rouse me in my throne of France.
For that I have laid by my majesty
And plodded like a man for working-days,
But I will rise there with so full a glory
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us.
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turned his balls to gunstones [cannonballs]; and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance That shall fly with them; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn [taunting joke].
But this lies all within [depends upon] the will of God,
To whom I do appeal; and in whose name
Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on,
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallowed cause.
So get you hence in peace. And tell the Dauphin
His jest will savor but of shallow wit,
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.
Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well. [Exit Ambassadors]
EXETER: This was a merry message.
HENRY: We hope to make the sender blush at it.
Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour [don’t miss any opportunity]
That may give furtherance to our expedition;
For we have now no thought in us but France,
Save those to God, that run before [precede, like prayers] our business.
Therefore let our proportions [soldiers and supplies] for these wars Be soon collected and all things thought upon
That may with reasonable swiftness add
More feathers to our wings; for, God before [leading],
We'll chide this Dauphin at his father's door.
Therefore let every man now task his thought,
That this fair action may on foot [into operation] be brought. [Exeunt. Flourish]
Before the ambassador comes in, Henry, at lines 222 – 233, makes a solemn pledge to conquer and control France with the help of God and his nobles. (It’s interesting to see how often throughout the play Henry invokes the deity in carrying out his royal plans; it has the effect of making his pursuit of personal and political aggrandizement seem like a divine crusade.) Throughout this passage notice how violent his images are: “bend,” “break it all to pieces.” We’ll see this same verbal violence from Henry at the first battle. At line 225 he begins to set forth his alternatives: either he will succeed in his campaign, or he will die and be buried on the battlefield without any of the honors customary for the deceased king. For a proud monarch, member of a royal family, this is an enormous risk. Later in the play he will make this same pledge again to inspire his men and impress his enemies.
Henry had made his demand to the French king, but after almost of century of warfare, the French monarch is terrified of the English and is in no hurry to reply. But the Dauphin, the crown prince of the French throne, is young and callow. He treats the formal demand by Henry as an opportunity for a stupid joke. Throughout the play Shakespeare means for us to see the contrast between these two young royals, Henry and the Dauphin -- the one an accomplished leader, worthy of sitting on the throne; the other, a twit who doesn’t deserve to rule.
Take a moment to appreciate the bind the French ambassador is in: he has come with a message that he knows is an insult, and he is reluctant to deliver it at first. (It’s easy for the Dauphin to be insulting when he does it at long distance, using someone else to carry it.) The ambassador asks at line 238 if Henry wants the polite version, a mere suggestion of the Dauphin’s intention, or the full message. Henry assures him that he is a Christian king who can control his temper (“passion”) as if it were a prisoner is fetters. He tells the ambassador to be frank and plain.
The “tun of treasure” is a cask full of tennis balls. At the time the play was set in, as well as in Shakespeare’s age, tennis was a popular sport among the upper classes, but it was considered an amusement, not a serious endeavor. The intent is to trivialize Henry’s demand and to tweak the king about his youth and reputation as a playboy. .At line 253 the ambassador declares that in France, “You cannot revel into dukedoms,” or you cannot party your way into power.
Henry must be enraged by this insult, but he keeps his cool, telling everyone that he is glad the Dauphin was so “pleasant” with him. (Much of Henry’s response to the “tun of treasure” is couched in subtle sarcasm, as here.) Notice how, after line 260, Henry makes an extended comparison of tennis to warfare, what I called earlier a conceit, with France becoming a tennis court and the balls cannonballs (“gunstones” at line 282). Once again Henry‘s imagery, behind the joke about playing the game, is quite violent. Shakespeare uses language to stand for physical violence in this most warlike play. Henry warns the Dauphin at line 282 that
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance That shall fly with them [the cannonballs]; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn [taunting joke].
The Dauphin’s soul is likened to a cannon which is “charged” with gunpowder to fire the balls, but with the second meaning that he will be charged with a crime that causes many deaths because of his taunt. It will “mock” the people who lose loved ones and mock the castles which will be destroyed and will continue to cause death and destruction for years to come. Notice once again how Henry evokes the deity.
Henry acknowledges at line 266 that he knows why the Dauphin is taunting him: his reputation for the days of his wild youth. But he asserts that the French prince does not realize “what use we made of them”; here again we see Henry’s contention that his playboy image was a deliberate preparation for what he has become. He sarcastically declares that because he was not on the throne at that time, he gave himself to “barbarous license,” because people always misbehave when they are away from home. In order to win the throne of France, he “laid by his majesty./ And plodded like a man for working days,” that is, he found out how the people lived who would become soldiers in his army. We will see ample evidence of the king’s ability to understand, command and inspire the ordinary men of his army.
Once the ambassador is sent back to France with his message, Henry moves quickly. At line 300 he tells his followers, “omit no happy hour [don’t miss any opportunity]/ That may give furtherance to our expedition; For we have now no thought in us but France.” In historic reality King Henry was famous for the rapidity with which his army moved, beating his opponents to the punch. He calls it, at line 306 adding “More feathers to our wings.” So England is mobilized for action. Notice how often in the rest of the play the French complain about the speed of the English advance.
In this brief prologue to the second act we learn how the people of England react to Henry’s decision to invade France. How do the French plan to counter the invasion? Where does the Chorus tell us the action now shifts and why does it take place there?
Now all the youth of England are on fire,
And silken dalliance [peaceful pastimes] in the wardrobe [closet] lies:.
Now thrive the armorers, and honor's thought
Reigns solely in the breast of every man:
They sell the pasture now to buy the horse,
Following the mirror [model] of all Christian kings,
With winged heels, as English Mercuries.
For now sits Expectation in the air,
And hides a sword from hilts unto the point
With crowns imperial, crowns and coronets,
Promised to Harry and his followers.
The French, advised by good intelligence [espionage]
Of this most dreadful preparation,
Shake in their fear and with pale policy
Seek to divert the English purposes.
O England! model to thy inward greatness,
Like little body with a mighty heart,
What mightst thou do, that honor would thee do,
Were all thy children kind and natural!
But see thy fault [imperfection]! France hath in thee found out -- A nest of hollow [false] bosoms -- which he fills
With treacherous crowns [coins]; and three corrupted men --
One, Richard Earl of Cambridge, and the second,
Henry Lord Scroop of Masham, and the third,
Sir Thomas Grey, knight, of Northumberland --
Have, for the gilt [gold] of France, (O guilt indeed!)
Confirmed conspiracy with fearful France;
And by their hands this grace [ornament] of kings must die,
If hell and treason hold their promises,
Ere he take ship for France, and in Southampton.
Linger your patience on; and we'll digest
The abuse of distance [make up for the error of moving the action to another locale]; force [cram full] a play:--
The sum is paid; the traitors are agreed;
The king is set from London; and the scene
Is now transported, gentles, to Southampton.
There is the playhouse now, there must you sit,
And thence to France shall we convey you safe
And bring you back, charming the narrow seas [English Channel]
To give you gentle pass [passage]; for, if we may,
We'll not offend one stomach [displease our audience, or make them seasick] with our play.
But, till the king come forth, and not till then,
Unto Southampton do we shift our scene. [Exit]
Henry’s decision, we are told, was very popular. The youth of the country are “on fire” and willingly put their peacetime pastimes into storage to go to war. They sell their land to buy horses to take to France. At this time it was expected that soldiers, especially those from the upper classes, would supply their own weapons and transport. The potential payoff was worth it: soldiers usually got to keep whatever they could loot. Those in the upper classes would capture prisoners and hold them for ransom by their families. (We saw how much the English made from the ransomed king of Scotland in the preceding scene.) Henry is described as the “mirror of all Christian kings” at line 6, and his followers are described as “Mercuries,” as if they were all patterned on the Roman messenger of the gods who flitted swiftly around Mount Olympus.
To counter the English threat the French resort to espionage and sabotage. Throughout his history plays Shakespeare consistently shows the French as treacherous and underhanded. Now they learn of Henry’s plans and find three English traitors to stop the invasion by killing the king. Shakespeare tells us the assassins are motivated by money, which he explains in a serious pun at line 26 which couples French “gilt” (gold) with “guilt.” The traitors are named. In reality, at least one of them, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, was probably motivated by the fact his father had been executed by Henry’s father. There was still a lot of revenge going on for past crimes.
Finally Shakespeare once again apologizes for the inadequacy of his theater and for making the audience use their imaginations to transport the scene to Southampton, the major port on the English Channel for ships going to France. In compensation for the imaginary sea voyage, Shakespeare promises that no one will get seasick or disgusted by the drama. And so he tells us to shift the scene in our minds.
Act II, Scene 1
Where does this scene take place? Who are these people and what is their connection with the king?
[London. A street. Enter Corporal
NYM and Lieutenant BARDOLPH] BARDOLPH: Well met,
NYM: Good morrow, Lieutenant Bardolph.
BARDOLPH: What, are Ancient [military rank, above a corporal and below a lieutenant] Pistol and you friends yet?
NYM: For my part, I care not. I say little; but when
time shall serve [opportunity arises], there shall be smiles -- but that
shall be as it may. I dare not fight; but I will wink and hold out mine iron [sword]. It is a simple one; but
what though? It will toast cheese, and it will endure cold [doesn’t mind being naked] as another man's sword will – and there's an end [that’s all there is to it].
BARDOLPH: I will bestow [treat to a breakfast] a breakfast to make you friends; and we'll be all three sworn brothers [comrades] to France. Let’t be so, good Corporal Nym.
NYM: Faith, I will live so long as I may, that's the
certain of it; and when I cannot live any longer, I will do as I may. That is my rest [stakes in a card game], that is the
rendezvous [end] of it.
BARDOLPH: It is certain, corporal, that he is married to Nell Quickly, and certainly she did you wrong; for you were troth-plight [formally engaged] to her.
NYM: I cannot tell. Things must be as they may; men may sleep, and they may have their throats about them at that time; and some say knives have edges. It must be as it may; though patience be a tired mare, y et she will plod [will get there eventually]. There must be conclusions. Well, I cannot tell. [Enter PISTOL and Hostess]
BARDOLPH: Here comes Ancient Pistol and his wife. Good corporal, be patient here. How now, mine host Pistol!
PISTOL: Base tyke, call'st thou me host? Now, by this hand, I swear, I scorn the term; Nor shall my Nell keep lodgers.
HOSTESS: No, by my troth, not long; for we cannot lodge and board a dozen or fourteen gentlewomen that live honestly by the prick of their needles, but it will be thought we keep a bawdy house straight. [NYM and PISTOL draw] O well-a-day, Lady, if he be not drawn now! We shall see willful adultery and murder committed.
BARDOLPH: Good Lieutenant! -- good Corporal! -- offer nothing here.
PISTOL: Pish for thee, Iceland dog! thou prick-eared cur of Iceland!
HOSTESS: Good Corporal Nym, show thy valor, and put up your sword.
NYM: Will you shog off [walk away with me]? I would have you solus [alone].
PISTOL: “Solus,” egregious [outrageous] dog? O viper vile!
The “solus” in thy most marvelous face;
The “solus” in thy teeth, and in thy throat,
And in thy hateful lungs, yea, in thy maw [stomach], perdy [by God]!
And, which is worse, within thy nasty mouth!
I do retort the “solus” in thy bowels;
For I can take [catch fire], and Pistol's cock [firing pin] is up,
And flashing fire will follow.
NYM: I am not Barbason [name of a devil]; you cannot conjure [exorcise] me; I have an humor inclination] to knock you indifferently [fairly] well. If you grow foul with me, Pistol, I will scour you with my rapier, as I may, in fair terms [in plain language]. If you would walk off, I would prick your guts a little in good terms, as I may, and that's the humor of it.
PISTOL: O braggart vile and damned furious wight [person]!
The grave doth gape [open wide], and doting [loving] death is near;
Therefore exhale [draw your sword]!
BARDOLPH: Hear me, hear me what I say! He that strikes the first stroke, I'll run him up to the hilts, as I am a soldier. [Draws]
PISTOL: An oath of mickle [archaic form of “much”] might; and fury shall abate. [Pistol and Nym sheathe their swords] Give me thy fist, thy fore-foot [paw] to me give:
Thy spirits are most tall [courageous].
NYM: I will cut thy throat, one time or other, in fair
terms, that is the humor of it.
PISTOL: Couple a gorge [corruption of French phrase for “Cut the throat!”]
That is the word. I thee defy [challenge] again.
O hound of Crete, think'st thou my spouse to get?
No; to the spital [hospital] go,
And from the powd’ring tub [used in treatment of veneral disease] of infamy
Fetch forth the lazar kite of Cressid's kind [leprous whore]
Doll Tearsheet she by name, and her espouse:
I have, and I will hold, the quondam [former] Quickly
For the only she [one woman for me]; and – pauca [few words], there's enough Go to. [Enter the Boy]
BOY: Mine host Pistol, you must come to my master [Sir John Falstaff], and you, hostess. He is very sick, and would to bed. Good Bardolph, put thy face [Bardolph, as a drunk, as a red face] between his sheets, and do the office of a warming-pan. Faith, he's very ill. BARDOLPH: Away, you rogue!
HOSTESS: By my troth, he'll yield the crow a pudding [die and be eaten by crows] one of these days. The king has killed his heart. Good husband, come home presently [soon]. [Exit Hostess and Boy]
BARDOLPH: Come, shall I make you two friends? We must to France together: why the devil should we keep knives to cut one another's throats?
PISTOL: Let floods o'erswell, and fiends for food howl on [Let riot thrive and devils cry for food]!
NYM: You'll pay me the eight shillings I won of you at betting?
PISTOL: Base is the slave that pays.
NYM: That now I will have; that's the humor of it.
PISTOL: As manhood shall compound [courage will determine] Push [sword thrust] home! [They draw]
BARDOLPH: By this sword, he that makes the first thrust, I'll kill him! By this sword, I will.
PISTOL: “Sword” is an oath, and oaths must have their course.
BARDOLPH: Corporal Nym, and [if] thou wilt be friends, be friends: and thou wilt not, why, then, be enemies with me too. Prithee, put up [sheathe your swords]!
NYM: I shall have my eight shillings I won of you at betting?
PISTOL: A noble [a coin worth slightly less than 8 shillings] shalt thou have, and present [immediate] pay;
And liquor likewise will I give to thee,
And friendship shall combine, and brotherhood.
I'll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me.
Is not this just? For I shall sutler [supply sergeant] be
Unto the camp, and profits will accrue.
Give me thy hand.
NYM: I shall have my noble?
PISTOL: In cash most justly paid.
NYM: Well, then, that's the humor of't. [Re-enter Hostess]
H0STESS: As ever you came of women, come in quickly to Sir John. Ah, poor heart! he is so shaked of a burning quotidian tertian [nonsensical terms for fever] that it is most lamentable to behold. Sweet men, come to him.
NYM: The king hath run bad humors [vented ill-will] on the knight; that's the even of it.
PISTOL: Nym, thou hast spoke the right;
His heart is fracted and corroborate [nonsensical for broken and ruined]
NYM: The King is a good king, but it must be as it may;
he passes some humors and careers [indulges in some whims].
PISTOL: Let us condole the knight; for, lambkins we will live.
All these lowlife characters had appeared in earlier plays with Sir John Falstaff, the drinking buddy of Prince Hal.
1.) Bardolph is an older man, a drunk, who had worked in various capacities, legal and illegal, for Falstaff. In the earlier plays he had called himself “Corporal,” but apparently in anticipation of the invasion of France he now calls himself “Lieutenant”.
2.) Pistol is another member of Falstaff’s gang. As his name implies, he is always half-cocked and ready to go off. But Pistol’s violence is entirely verbal. He specializes in the furious-sounding threat and often utters snatches of what sound like popular song lyrics or famous poems – except he usually gets them all mixed up. Pistol is the only one of these characters who sometimes speaks in verse, an affectation like his vocabulary. He has the delusion that he is a gentleman and resents anything which implies his real social position. Pistol’s military rank now is “Ancient,” a corrupt form of the word “ensign.” He is lower than a lieutenant but above a corporal.
3.) Nym is the strong silent type, always implying that he is capable of really hurting you. His name is a slang term for “thief. “ He has a couple of stock phrases, like “And that’s the humor of it,” meaning “That’s just the way it is.” Watch for variations of this phrase in Nym’s dialogue. Nym is at the bottom of the military ranking, being a lowly corporal.
4.) Nell Quickly is frequently married woman who operates a tavern in Eastcheap, the Tenderloin area of London. As a hostess she has money. (Falstaff frequently borrowed from her and seldom paid her back.) As a woman of means, she is sought after by men as a marriage partner. In addition to selling liquor, she rents out rooms to young women whom she tells the authorities are seamstresses who have to see a lot of men for “fittings” at all hours of the day and night. Poor Quickly frequently misuses words of more than one syllable, often making herself look stupid or inadvertently making bawdy allusions she is unaware of. Her name is probably associated with what the bawds, the people who served as lookouts for prostitutes, said as a warning.
5.) Boy is a little kid hired by Prince Hal to serve as Falstaff’s page or servant, simply because it was funny to see his tiny frame next to Falstaff’s looming bulk. The Boy often utters wisecracks, but he is devoted to Falstaff or whoever gives him any money.
These are all humor characters, comic types who are obsessed with one thing (like Bardolph’s quest for liquor) or some verbal tic (like Nym’s “And that’s the humor of it). The men make themselves sound important with their self-bestowed ranks and they act like they are soldiers, but as we will see they are devout cowards. These are the base companions that Canterbury, Ely and the Dauphin all associate with Henry from when he was still a prince. They are going to France for one thing – loot.
There is a fight going on between Pistol and Nym: The Corporal was engaged, “troth-plight,” to marry Quickly, but Pistol has stolen her affections. Bardolph is trying to make peace between the two men before they all go off to fight in France. But Nym is not in a forgiving mode. Between lines 5 and 10 he mutters ominously: He will “say little,” but when the opportunity arises, he will “smile,” implying that he will kill someone. He won’t fight, but he will “hold out mine iron,” or sword and “wink,” perhaps closing his eyes or giving a meaningful look. In any event his sword will be naked, “endure the cold,” even if he only uses it to toast cheese over an open fire. There is the clear suggestion here that he is capable of violence, but as in all Shakespeare’s comedies, any reference to a sword, especially a naked one, has the unintended meaning of a male erection. Shakespeare’s audiences apparently couldn’t get enough of what we call phallic humor. Nym continues in this vein, saying at line 22 that “men may sleep, and they may have their throats about them at that time,” implying that he could cut Pistol’s throat. It may take him a while to get his revenge, like tired horse plodding along, but eventually he will get there.
When Pistol and Quickly enter, Bardolph greets his friend as “mine host,” since he now controls his wife’s tavern. Pistol responds in an angry outburst, scorning the term “host.” To understand this we need to remember that Pistol has delusions of being a gentleman; that’s why he replies in verse. A gentleman would never be caught running a business, nor shall his wife be associated with anything lower class like renting out rooms. . (Having married Quickly for her meager fortune, Pistol seems in an unwitting hurry to make sure she goes broke.) Poor Quickly responds by declaring that she has already gotten in trouble for renting out rooms to all those “seamstresses” upstairs who “live honestly by the prick of their needles.” Her bawdy reference to how the girls make a living is an example of her unintended humor which makes her a figure of ridicule. When Nym draws his sword, she cries that they will now see “willful adultery and murder,” confusing the nature of the crimes about to take place. Then at line 46 she pleads with Nym paradoxically to “show his valor” by putting his sword away. Quickly is usually confused.
Pistol’s reaction to Nym’s threat to start a fight at line 45 is characteristic of his verbal violence. You might expect someone in this situation to call his opponent a “dog,” but leave it to Pistol to embellish the insult by making it an “Iceland dog” and adding the detail about his having “prick ears.” Later, at line 76, he’ll call Nym a “hound of Crete.” Pistol does enjoy exotic insults. Nym responds at line 48: “Will you shog off [walk away with me]? I would have you solus [alone].” What Nym is suggesting here is that they go off to a private place. It was against the law to fight duels in public. He uses the word “solus” to signal that he wants to get Pistol alone. Whether Pistol doesn’t understand the word, or thinks Nym wants him to drop Quickly, or just resents the fact that Nym used a fancy Latin word, he reacts with a verbal fury. At lines 50 –54 he throws the term back into Nym’s face, his mouth, his throat, his lungs, his stomach (“maw “ was an insulting word used for animals’ stomachs), all the way to his bowels. This is exaggerated insult, a hyperbole of invective. He ends with an interesting metaphor on his own name: “For I can take [catch fire], and Pistol's cock [firing pin] is up,/ And flashing fire will follow.” Like his wife Pistol uses inadvertent bawdy as he envisions himself ready to explode, like a firearm but also a male erection. More phallic humor!
At line 57 Nym is not deterred, although Pistol has talked to him as if he were a demon who could be conjured by a verbal incantation.. If Pistol, like his name, is ready to be fired, Nym threatens to clean him out, using his rapier as a ramrod, something primitive pistols in those days had to have done frequently. Nym offers his suggestion of verbal violence in what he calls “fair terms,” the kind of polite phrase a gentleman might use. This just enrages Pistol all the more. Notice his use of alliteration at line 63: “O braggart vile and damned furious wight [person]!/ The grave doth gape [open wide], and doting [loving] death is near;/ Therefore exhale [draw your sword]!“ Pistol’s cursing is given more poetic power by his repeated consonant sounds
Bardolph steps in and breaks up the fight by threatening to stab the first man that tries to stab the other. Pistol and Nym immediately sheathe their swords, with Pistol explaining that the threat is an “oath of mickle might.” “Mickle” is an archaic word, the kind of affectation that Pistol thinks makes him sound educated. After just threatening to kill Nym, he now congratulates his courage, calling his spirits “tall,” another effort at sounding fashionable. (Mercutio accuses Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet of being a phony because he uses the same word.) But Nym is not ready to make peace and at line 72 he says he will cut Pistol’s throat sometime. The ancient goes off on another rant, using a fancy French phrase. Now he taunts Nym by telling him if he wants a wife, he should go to the hospital and get Falstaff’s old girlfriend, a whore named Doll Tearsheet. (Shakespeare did love picturesque names!) The problem is that Doll is being treated for advanced syphilis by being placed in a heated tub and doused with mercury vapor, a form of therapy that appears to have hastened the death of the patient. Bragging that he has won Nell, Pistol uses another example of alliteration in “quondam Quickly.”
Boy enters at line 84 with news that Sir John is very ill. Even though this is serious news, Falstaff’s page can’t resist taking a shot at Bardolph who, because of his years of drinking, has a big swollen nose and bright red complexion. The kid wants Bardolph to warm Falstaff’s bed with his fiery face. The Hostess, at line 90, voices a common concern that many have had about Falstaff: that he is in poor health and will soon die, providing a meal (“pudding”) for the birds of carrion that thrived in London. She introduces the idea that Falstaff is suffering because of the rejection he suffered when Henry became king and banished him from the court. .In reality, Prince Hal warned Falstaff soon after we first met them in Henry IV, Part 1, that he would eventually reject his companion when the time required it. Despite many indications that the relationship was doomed, Falstaff held on, hoping he would be rewarded when Hal became king. Many productions of this play will repeat the key scenes of Hal’s brutal denial of Sir John to explain what happens here.
Bardolph tries again to bring peace to his quarreling friends, but neither man seems willing to back down. Now at line 97 Nym introduces a new complaint: Pistol owes him eight shillings from a bet. Pistol refuses to pay his debt, declaring “Base is the slave that pays..” (Gentlemen were notorious for scoffing at their creditors; there was often nothing that merchants could do to recoup money from the rich and noble.) He suggests that they fight right now, and once again Bardolph threatens to kill the one who starts a fight. And so the opponents work out a compromise – Pistol will immediately pay a noble, a gold coin which almost covers his debt, and to provide Nym with liquor, and Nym agrees. So much for honor and wounded pride among these “soldiers!” The key to the compromise is also the news that Pistol has managed to get the position as “sutler” for the army, the man in charge of supplies. As such, he is in a position to make a lot of money and steal even more. Some things are too important to let friendship get in the way! After watching this verbal sparring we realize these people probably act like this all the time. They threaten violence on each other in a choreographed ritual in which they wait for someone to step in and force a settlement. They are all too cowardly to actually do anything to each other. If this is the quality of soldier Henry takes to France, things don’t look too promising
Quickly comes back with the urgent news that Falstaff is failing and urges the men to come see him one last time. Even in delivering this solemn news, she manages to turn the medical report into a piece of nonsense: he suffers from a “burning quotidian tertian” fever, which your notes explain is an impossibility. Both Pistol and Nym repeat the assertion that the king has caused this condition, breaking his heart, which in Pistol’s effort to be impressive becomes “fracted and corroborate.” They see the king’s actions as a kind of whim (“passes some humors and careers”), but the king is a good ruler and there is nothing they can do about it. In any event, whatever happens to their old friend, “we will live!” Pistol will turn out to be premature in this assertion.
So why does Shakespeare, after preparing us for the assassination attempt by the traitors at Southampton, show us these comic lowlifes in Eastcheap? In a way, they are the unfinished business of the king’s youth. They were once his close drinking buddies, and now that he is going for the big prize, he is giving them one last chance to straighten up and do the right thing, as he has done. He never promised them any reward, but he does extend an opportunity for them. The second reason we detour on the way to Southampton is that these are comic counterparts of the very serious traitors the king will face. Throughout the play Shakespeare will balance the serious with the comic, the big geopolitical issues side-by-side with the very ordinary and mundane.. Nym and Pistol’s fight over Quickly and betrayal of trust is paralleled in the next scene.
Act II, Scene 2
Finally we arrive at Southampton. In this scene watch how King Henry will trick the traitors. What aspect of the crime and the criminals seems to bother the king the most? What is unusual about the legal proceedings following the discovery of the crime?
[Southampton.] [Enter EXETER, BEDFORD, and WESTMORELAND]
BEDFORD: 'Fore God, his grace is bold, to trust these traitors.
EXETER: They shall be apprehended by and by.
WESTMORELAND; How smooth and even [calm] they do bear themselves!
As if allegiance in their bosoms sat,
Crowned with faith and constant loyalty.
BEDFORD: The king hath note [knowledge] of all that they intend,
By interception which they dream not of.
EXETER: Nay, but the man that was his bedfellow,
Whom he hath dulled and cloyed [overindulged] with gracious favors,
That he should, for a foreign purse, so sell
His sovereign's life to death and treachery. [Trumpets sound. Enter KING, SCROOP, CAMBRIDGE, GREY, and Attendants]
HENRY: Now sits the wind fair, and we will aboard.
My Lord of Cambridge, and my kind Lord of Masham,
And you, my gentle knight, give me your thoughts:
Think you not that the powers we bear with us
Will cut their passage through the force of France,
Doing the execution and the act
For which we have in head [as an organized force] assembled them?
SCROOP: No doubt, my liege, if each man do his best.
HENRY: I doubt not that; since we are well persuaded
We carry not a heart with us from hence
That grows [lives] not in a fair consent [agreement] with ours,
Nor leave not one behind that doth not wish
Success and conquest to attend on us.
CAMBRIDGE: Never was monarch better feared and loved
Than is your majesty. There's not, I think, a subject
That sits in heart-grief and uneasiness
Under the sweet shade [protection] of your government.
GREY: True. Those that were your father's enemies
Have steeped their galls [bitterness] in honey and do serve you
With hearts create [created] of duty and of zeal.
HENRY: We therefore have great cause of thankfulness;
And shall forget the office [proper function] of our hand,
Sooner than quittance [requital] of desert and merit
According to the weight and worthiness.
SCROOP: So service shall with steeled sinews toil,
And labor shall refresh itself with hope,
To do your grace incessant services.
HENRY: We judge no less. Uncle of Exeter,
Enlarge [set free] the man committed yesterday,
That railed against our person. We consider
it was excess of wine that set him on;
And on his more advice [further reflection] we pardon him.
SCROOP: That's mercy, but too much security [lack of caution].
Let him be punished, sovereign, lest example
Breed, by his sufferance [allowing his actions], more of such a kind.
HENRY: O, let us yet be merciful.
CAMBRIDGE: So may your highness, and yet punish too.
You show great mercy, if you give him life,
After the taste [experience] of much correction.
HENRY: Alas, your too much love and care of me
Are heavy orisons [prayers] 'gainst this poor wretch!
If little faults, proceeding on distemper [happening when drunk],
Shall not be winked at, how shall we stretch [open wide] our eye
When capital [punishable] crimes, chewed, swallowed and digested,
Appear before us? We'll yet enlarge that man,
Though Cambridge, Scroop and Grey, in their dear care
And tender preservation of our person,
Would have him punished. And now to our French causes:
Who are the late [recently appointed] commissioners?
CAMBRIDGE: I one, my lord.
Your Highness bade me ask for it [his commission] to-day.
SCROOP: So did you me, my liege.
GREY: And I, my royal Sovereign.
HENRY: Then, Richard Earl of Cambridge, there is yours;
There yours, Lord Scroop of Masham; and, sir knight,
Grey of Northumberland, this same is yours:
Read them; and know, I know your worthiness.
My Lord of Westmoreland, and uncle Exeter,
We will aboard to night. -- Why, how now, gentlemen?
What see you in those papers that you lose
So much complexion [color]? Look ye, how they change!
Their cheeks are paper. -- Why, what read you there
That hath so cowarded and chased your blood
Out of appearance [sight]?
CAMBRIDGE: I do confess my fault;
And do submit me to your Highness' mercy.
GREY, SCROOP: To which we all appeal.
HENRY: The mercy that was quick in us but late,
By your own counsel is suppressed and killed:
You must not dare (for shame) to talk of mercy;
For your own reasons turn into your bosoms,
As dogs upon their masters, worrying you.
See you, my princes, and my noble peers,
These English monsters! My Lord of Cambridge here --
You know how apt our love was to accord [agree]
To furnish him with all appertinents
Belonging to his honor; and this man
Hath, for a few light [trivial] crowns, lightly [readily] conspired,
And sworn unto the practices [intrigues] of France,
To kill us here in Hampton; to the which
This knight, no less for bounty bound to us
Than Cambridge is, hath likewise sworn. But, O,
What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop? Thou cruel,
Ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature!
Thou that didst bear the key of all my counsels,
That knew'st the very bottom of my soul,
That (almost) mightst have coined me into gold,
Wouldst thou have practiced on me for thy use [plotted against me for profit],
May it be possible, that foreign hire
Could out of thee extract one spark of evil
That might annoy my finger? 'Tis so strange,
That, though the truth of it stands off as gross [out so plain]
As black and white, my eye will scarcely see it.
Treason and murder ever kept together,
As two yoke-devils [fellow-devils] sworn to either's purpose,
Working so grossly in a natural cause,
That admiration did not whoop at them;
But thou ('gainst all proportion [natural order]) didst bring in
Wonder to wait [attend] on treason and on murder;
And whatsoever cunning fiend it was
That wrought upon thee so preposterously [unnaturally]
Hath got the voice [vote] in hell for excellence;
All other devils that suggest [tempt] by treasons
Do botch and bungle up damnation
With patches, colors, and with forms being fetched
From glist’ring semblances of piety;
But he that tempered [worked on] thee bade thee stand up [act directly],
Gave thee no instance why thou shouldst do treason,
Unless to dub [invest] thee with the name of traitor.
If that same demon that hath gulled thee thus
Should with his lion gait [in the Bible the Devil is said to walk like a hungry lion] walk the whole world,
He might return to vasty Tartar [Hell] back,
And tell the legions [of demons] “I can never win
A soul so easy as that Englishman's.”
O, how hast thou with jealousy infected [suspicion tainted]
The sweetness of affiance [confidence]! Show [seem] men dutiful?
Why, so didst thou. Seem they grave and learned?
Why, so didst thou. Come they of noble family?
Why, so didst thou. Seem they religious?
Why, so didst thou. Or are they spare in diet,
Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger,
Constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood [erring after the flesh],
Garnished and decked in modest complement [unostentatious courtesy],
Not working with the eye without the ear [listening as well as seeing],
And but in purged judgment trusting neither?
Such and so finely bolted [sifted like flour] didst thou seem;
And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
To mark the full-fraught [completely gifted] man and best indued [endowed]
With some suspicion. I will weep for thee;
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man. Their faults are open:
Arrest them to the answer [punishment] of the law;
And God acquit [requite] them of their practices!
EXETER: I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of
Richard Earl of Cambridge.
I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of
Henry Lord Scroop of Masham.
I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of
Thomas Grey, knight, of Northumberland.
SCROOP: Our purposes God justly hath discovered;
And I repent my fault more than my death --
Which I beseech your Highness to forgive,
Although my body pay the price of it.
CAMBRIDGE: For me, the gold of France did not seduce;
Although I did admit it as a motive
The sooner to effect what I intended:
But God be thanked for prevention;
Which I in sufferance [suffering the punishment] heartily will rejoice,
Beseeching God and you to pardon me.
GREY: Never did faithful subject more rejoice
At the discovery of most dangerous treason
Than I do at this hour joy o'er myself.
Prevented from a damned enterprise.
My fault, but not my body, pardon, Sovereign.
HENRY: God quit [absolve] you in his mercy! Hear your sentence.
You have conspired against our royal person,
Joined with an enemy proclaimed and from his coffers
Received the golden earnest [advance payment] of our death;
Wherein you would have sold your king to slaughter,
His princes and his peers to servitude,
His subjects to oppression and contempt
And his whole kingdom into desolation.
Touching our person seek we no revenge;
But we our kingdom's safety must so tender [care for],
Whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws
We do deliver you. Get you therefore hence,
(Poor miserable wretches) to your death:
The taste whereof, God of his mercy give
You patience to endure, and true repentance
Of all your dear [dire] offenses! Bear them hence! [Exeunt CAMBRIDGE, SCROOP and GREY, guarded] Now, lords, for France; the enterprise whereof
Shall be to you, as us, like [equally] glorious.
We doubt not of a fair and lucky war,
Since God so graciously hath brought to light
This dangerous treason lurking in our way
To hinder our beginnings. We doubt not now
But every rub [difficulty] is smoothed on our way.
Then forth, dear countrymen. Let us deliver
Our puissance [army] into the hand of God,
Putting it straight in expedition [motion].
Cheerly to sea; the signs of war advance [raise the banner].
No king of England, if not king of France.
What Henry does in the first 70 lines is to trick the three conspirators into urging him to forgo clemency for a supposed minor act of defiance. When he was Prince Hal, Henry had played practical jokes somewhat like this on his friends, especially Falstaff. We’ll see him do something similar after the battle at Agincourt. In this scene the “practical joke” is deadly serious. Notice how throughout these 70 lines, much of the dialogue takes on an ironic meaning since we know that Henry knows what the traitors are up to. For example, at line 33 Henry says he “shall forget the office [proper function] of our hand,/ Sooner than quittance [requital] of desert and merit/ According to the weight and worthiness.” The conspirators think he is promising to reward his followers, but we realize he is saying that he won’t forget or forgive their betrayal. Notice how Henry springs the trap on the three would-be assassins, giving them papers which supposedly contain their commissions but apparently have all the details of the plot which Henry’s secret police have uncovered. All three, beginning with Cambridge, instantly confess and throw themselves on the king’s mercy. (It’s interesting to note that in giving out the commissions and later in the arrest of the conspirators, Shakespeare carefully follows the protocol of rank, so Cambridge, as an earl, comes first, and Grey, as a mere knight, comes last.)
When Henry lays into the three conspirators from line 80 on, he really lets them have it. However, the three criminals are not all alike. For example, although Shakespeare does not mention it, Cambridge has a personal grudge against Henry because his father had been executed by the king’s father. Cambridge alludes to this motivation in his response at line 135. Grey has very little to say. Henry saves his most bitter invective for Lord Scroop, who was a personal friend. At line 8, Exeter tells us that Scroop was the King’s “bedfellow,” meaning that Henry trusted him so much that he allowed him to stay in his private rooms – a mark of great honor in a court obsessed with the King’s security. Now he is at line 95 an “Ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature!” At line 105 Henry tries to articulate the enormity of Scroop’s betrayal:
Treason and murder ever kept together,
As two yoke-devils [fellow-devils] sworn to either's purpose,
Working so grossly in a natural cause,
That admiration did not whoop at them;
But thou ('gainst all proportion [natural order]) didst bring in
Wonder to wait [attend] on treason and on murder;
Treason and murder always work together, like twin demons; no one is surprised (”admiration did not whoop”) when they are associated. But Scroop’s crime is so outrageous, “wonder” has joined murder and treason. Whatever fiend from Hell corrupted Scroop probably bragged when he got back to the underworld, “I can never win/ A soul so easy as that Englishman's.” At line 127 -- 136 Henry catalogues all the virtues men aspire to which Scroop appeared to possess. How many qualities does he mention? And yet, despite Scroop’s pretensions, Henry likens his crime, at line 142, to “Another fall of man,” as if his former friend was as guilty as Adam when God expelled him from the Garden of Eden.
Henry’s revelation of the plot and accusation of the criminals is really played for public show in this scene. His message seems to be that he is all-knowing and that he will act quickly to counter treason. But Scroop’s betrayal must have been a heavy blow at a personal level. In the earlier plays we saw Prince Hal seeking for friendship, only to discover the same kind of betrayal by those he thought were his friends. One of the themes Shakespeare develops throughout the play is Henry’s search for some kind of personal connection he can trust. Watch for his efforts to reach out to others.
At lines 167 – 173, Henry outlines the charges against the conspirators. Why was the plot to kill a single man so potentially devastating for the whole kingdom? At line 174 Henry makes clear that the punishment of the three traitors is designed to protect the safety of the kingdom. And the punishment, death, is swift in coming. In most productions the three are simply taken off stage and killed by beheading. When you’re king you don’t have to bother with niceties like legal proceedings and courts, especially in time of war. At key points in the play we will see Henry act in this same ruthless way to ensure the success of his crusade. The scene ends with Henry quickly switching gears back to being a cheerleader for war. The discovery of the plot must be proof that God will see to it they succeed in their invasion. Henry even comes up with a slogan for the campaign in the last lines of the scene. What is it?
Act II, Scene 3
This scene recounts the off-stage death of Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece, and one of the most popular characters Shakespeare ever created. How is his death treated in a comic fashion? How has Pistol’s behavior changed? What parallels are there between this and the previous scene?
[London. Before a tavern.] [Enter
PISTOL, HOSTESS, NYM, BARDOLPH, and BOY]
HOSTESS: Prithee, honey-sweet husband, let me bring thee to Staines [town on the way to Southampton].
PISTOL: No; for my manly heart doth yearn [grieve].
Bardolph, be blithe; Nym, rouse thy vaunting veins [spirits];
Boy, bristle thy courage up; for Falstaff he is dead,
And we must earn therefore.
BARDOLPH: Would I were with him, wheresome'er he is, either in heaven or in hell!
HOSTESS: Nay, sure, he's not in hell. He's in Arthur's
bosom [a mistake for Abraham’s bosom from the Bible], if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' [He] made
a finer end [didn’t go to Hell] and went away and [if] it had been any christom [innocent] child; a' parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o' the tide. For after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. “How now, sir John!” quoth I “What, man? Be o' good cheer.” So a' cried out “God, God, God!” three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a' should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone. Then I felt to his knees, and so upward, and upward, and all was as cold as any stone.
NYM: They say he cried out [complained] of sack.
HOSTESS: Ay, that a' did.
BARDOLPH: And of women.
HOSTESS: Nay, that a' did not.
BOY: Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils
incarnate.[in human shape].
HOSTESS: A' could never abide carnation [flesh color];'twas a color he
BOY: A' said once, the devil would have him about women.
HOSTESS: A' did in some sort, indeed, handle [speak of] women; but then he was rheumatic [mistake for “lunatic”] and talked of the Whore of Babylon [term often used for Catholic Church].
BOY: Do you not remember, a' saw a flea stick upon
Bardolph's nose, and a' said it was a black soul burning in hell-fire?
BARDOLPH: Well, the fuel is gone that maintained that fire:
that's all the riches I got in his service.
NYM: Shall we shog? The King will be gone from
PISTOL: Come, let's away. My love, give me thy lips.
Look to my chattels and my movables:
Let senses rule; the word is “Pitch and Pay [no credit].”
For oaths are straws, men's faiths are wafer-cakes [easily broken],
And Hold-fast is the only dog, my duck:
Therefore, Caveto [Take Care] be thy counselor.
Go, clear thy crystals [wipe your eyes]. Yoke-fellows in arms,
Let us to France; like horse-leeches, my boys,
To suck, to suck, the very blood to suck!
BOY: And that's but unwholesome food they say.
PISTOL: Touch her soft mouth, and march.
BARDOLPH: Farewell, hostess. [Kissing her]
NYM: I cannot kiss, that is the humor of it; but, adieu.
PISTOL: Let housewifery [good housekeeping] appear; keep close [stay home], I thee command.
HOSTESS: Farewell; adieu.
Falstaff was one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, so much so that the playwright resurrected him after his death in this play to have him star in another comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. In most productions of Henry V the director figures out a way to bring the character back on stage for at least a short flashback. The Kenneth Branagh film version is no exception. During his lifetime in the plays Falstaff was never serious about anything and he refused to allow anyone around him to be serious. There were only two exceptions: 1.) In Henry IV, Part 1 where the young prince Hal warned the old man in no uncertain terms that he would banish him when he became king; 2.) In Henry IV, Part 2 the newly crowned King Henry V carries through with his earlier threat and banishes Falstaff from the court, but even then the old man tried to laugh it off. So it is somehow appropriate that the description of Falstaff’s death comes from the silliest, least serious character in the play, Mistress Quickly. She describes his death in simple prose, the language which Falstaff always used. She feels his loss very deeply, and there is a real poignancy in her description of his passing as well as reminders of what Falstaff had been like. We learn some of the curious folklore of death in those days. At the same time Quickly infuses his death with an inadvertent bawdy, which is characteristic of her and appropriate for Falstaff.
Mistress Quickly is at some pains to defend the reputation of the departed. So she begins at line 9 assuring everyone that his soul has gone to heaven, to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. Of course, she gets it mixed up with the legendary figure of King Arthur, so heaven becomes “Arthur’s bosom.” He died peacefully, as an innocent child might (although heaven knows Falstaff was hardly innocent). His death came at the point where the tide turned, an important moment in the folklore of these people who are much closer to the natural rhythms of the world than we are. We learn that just before death he “fumbled with the sheets,” played with the flowers on the quilt which covered him and “babbled of green fields” while he smiled at his own fingers, as if he were hallucinating in his final moments. These very concrete details help make the death scene more vivid for us. We also learn the curious folklore that just before death one’s nose appears to grow sharper. When Falstaff cried out to God, Quickly reassured him that there was no need to invoke the deity yet; he was not actually dying. Throughout his life as Shakespeare shows us, Falstaff frequently threatened to repent his sins only to recant a moment later because he was still alive. There was no need to worry about his immortal soul until absolutely necessary. Falstaff feels death coming as he grows colder. Quickly feels death literally creeping upward, as she gropes his feet, his knees, his legs and by implication all the way to his genitals, in each case lamenting that he was “cold as any stone.” The bawdy touch is that “stones” were the slang for testicles.
Quickly admits that Falstaff “cried out” about liquor, lamenting that it has led to his downfall, but she refuses to acknowledge that he voiced similar complaints about women. The Boy, who was also present at the deathbed, insists that Falstaff did cry out against women, saying they were “devils incarnate,” that is, demons in human form. Quickly tries to explain the phrase away, saying he was referring to “carnation,” the color. When Falstaff’s page insists that his old master inveigled against women, Quickly tries to blunt the charge by saying that the “whore” he was talking about was the biblical “Whore of Babylon,” a phrase frequently used by Puritan ministers to label the Catholic Church. It is not clear whether she is trying to protect the memory of her own past romantic relations with the knight or those of the many working girls which she supplied him, especially his favorite prostitute, Doll Tearsheet. What is implied here is that the cause of Falstaff’s death was related to the effects of syphilis, a public health catastrophe in Shakespeare’s time. We have already learned that Doll is in the hospital being treated for the effects of the disease. At the end of the play we learn Quickly has perished from “the pox.” The Boy recalls one final taunt that Falstaff aimed at his oldest associate, the drunk Bardolph with the big red nose. The dying man likened a flea on Bardolph to a black soul burning in hell, Falstaff’s fate in the minds of many in the audience. It is appropriately the last mention of Falstaff, the ultimate jokester.
The men prepare to depart while Quickly weeps. Shakespeare signals the change in tone by switching from prose to verse at line 48. Pistol, who earlier was adamant about not being in the tavern business, now is full of advice for his wife on how to safeguard his property while he is gone: trust no one, give no credit and stay home. He commands his friends, “yokefellows,” to kiss his wife farewell, and all do, except the heart-broken Nym. If Henry’s motto for the invasion was “No King of England, if not King of France,” Pistol’s motto is a lot less noble, although it is the same sentiment: “Let us to France, like horse-leeches, my boys,/ To suck, to suck, the very blood to suck.” They are going just for personal profit from the looting and pillaging.
Act II, Scene 4, lines 1 -- 74
We have seen the English preparations for the invasion. Now we see the French response to the threat. How might we account for the differences between the King of France, his son (the Dauphin) and the Constable of France?
[France. The KING'S palace.] [Flourish. Enter the
FRENCH KING, the DAUPHIN, the DUKES of BERRI and BRETAGNE, the
Constable, and others]
KING: Thus comes the English with full power upon us;
And more than carefully it us concerns
To answer royally in our defenses.
Therefore the Dukes of Berri and of Bretagne,
Of Brabant and of Orleans, shall make forth,
And you, Prince Dauphin, with all swift dispatch,
To line [fortify] and new repair our towns of war
With men of courage and with means defendant;
For England his approaches makes as fierce
As waters to the sucking of a gulf [whirlpool].
It fits us then to be as provident
As fear may teach us out of late examples [defeats at Crecy and Poitiers]
Left by the fatal and neglected [fatally underestimated] English
Upon our fields.
DAUPHIN: My most redoubted father,
It is most meet we arm us 'gainst the foe;
For peace itself should not so dull a kingdom,
(Though war nor no known quarrel were in question,)
But that defenses, musters, preparations,
Should be maintained, assembled and collected,
As were a war in expectation.
Therefore, I say 'tis meet we all go forth
To view the sick and feeble parts of France:
And let us do it with no show of fear --
No, with no more than if we heard that England
Were busied with a Whitsun morris-dance [lighthearted celebration];
For, my good liege, she is so idly kinged,
Her scepter so fantastically borne [royal power freakishly exercised],
By a vain, giddy, shallow, humorous [moody] youth,
That fear attends [accompanies] her not.
CONSTABLE: O peace, Prince Dauphin!
You are too much mistaken in this king:
Question your Grace the late ambassadors,
With what great state he heard their embassy,
How well supplied with noble counselors,
How modest in exception [restrained in response] and withal
How terrible in constant resolution;
And you shall find his vanities forespent [used up].
Were but the outside of the Roman Brutus,
Covering discretion with a coat of folly;
As gardeners do with ordure [manure] hide those roots
That shall first spring and be most delicate.
DAUPHIN: Well, 'tis not so, my Lord High Constable;
But though we think it so, it is no matter;
In cases of defense 'tis best to weigh
The enemy more mighty than he seems;
So the proportions of defense are filled;
Which of a weak or niggardly projection
Doth, like a miser, spoil his coat with scanting [stinting]
A little cloth. KING: Think we King Harry strong;
And, princes, look you strongly arm to meet him.
The kindred of him hath been fleshed [initiated in bloodshed] upon us;
And he is bred out of that bloody strain [stock]
That haunted [pursued] us in our familiar paths:
Witness our too much memorable shame
When Crecy battle fatally was struck,
And all our princes captived by the hand
Of that black name, Edward, 1Black Prince of Wales;
Whiles that his mountain sire [father larger than life] -- on mountain standing,
Up in the air, crowned with the golden sun --
Saw his heroical seed [son], and smiled to see him,
Mangle the work of nature, and deface
The patterns [examples of Frenchmen]that by God and by French fathers
Had twenty years been made. This is a stem
Of that victorious stock; and let us fear
The native mightiness and fate of him [what he is destined to do]. [Enter a Messenger]
MESSENGER: Ambassadors from Harry, King of England
Do crave admittance to your majesty.
KING: We'll give them present audience. Go, and bring them. [Exit Messenger and certain Lords] You see this chase is hotly followed, friends.
DAUPHIN: Turn head [stand your ground] and stop pursuit; for coward dogs
Most spend their mouths [bay] when what they seem to threaten
Runs far before them. Good my sovereign,
Take up the English short, and let them know
Of what a monarchy you are the head:
Self-love [self-praise], my liege, is not so vile a sin
The French King knows the English are coming, and he orders his leading nobles and his son, the Dauphin, to go out and prepare for the attack on their major fortresses, “towns of war.” He takes a historical perspective; remember, they are only in about year 80 of the 100 Years War. He compares the English attack to the irresistible power of a whirlpool and reminds the court that they had underestimated the English before and were soundly defeated. The Dauphin is young and foolish; he figures if he hasn’t experienced something, it won’t happen. He agrees that they need to start preparing a defense but that they shouldn’t take the threat seriously. Henry is a “humorous” or moody youth and his actions are of no more consequence than the folk dancing held at the beginning of summer, the “Whitsun morris dance.” The Constable of France, a leading military figure, disagrees strongly. He has apparently talked to the French ambassador and has been impressed by the report of Henry response to the earlier insult. He likens Henry’s earlier reputation for being a playboy to the legendary figure of Lucius Brutus in ancient Rome who hid his serious political intent behind a mask of frivolity. The Dauphin continues to remain unconvinced, although he says at line 43 that it is a good idea to prepare a defense as if the enemy were really powerful, rather than running any slight risk, much as a miser might ruin a coat by trying to save a little cloth.
The King settles the debate by declaring that he believes the English pose a real threat. He brings up the defeats the French suffered at the famous battles of Crecy and Poitiers waged by King Edward III and his son Edward, the Black Prince. The King of France is very cautious in dealing with the English, and he does not make any sudden moves, as we will see. The arrival of the English ambassador breaks up the conference and prompts the King to say at line 68, “You see this chase is hotly followed,” as if the French were stags being pursued by eager hunting dogs. The Dauphin responds to this comparison by urging his father to stand his ground like an animal facing down cowardly dogs and impress the ambassador with his might and authority.
Act II, Scene 4, Lines 75 – 146
In the exchange with Exeter, the English ambassador, what is it that he demands of the French? What is his special message to the Dauphin? Does the French King impress us with his power and majesty?
[Re-enter Lords, with EXETER and train]
KING: From our brother England?
EXETER: From him, and thus he greets your majesty.
He wills you, in the name of God Almighty,
That you divest yourself, and lay apart
The borrowed glories that by gift of heaven,
By law of nature and of nations, 'long
To him and to his heirs -- namely, the crown
And all wide-stretched honors that pertain
By custom and the ordinance of times [established usage],
Unto the crown of France. That you may know
'Tis no sinister nor no awkward [illegitimate or irregular] claim,
Picked from the worm-holes of long-vanished days,
Nor from the dust of old oblivion raked,
He sends you this most memorable line [impressive pedigree],
In every branch truly demonstrative;
Willing to overlook [asking you to peruse] this pedigree:
And when you find him evenly [directly] derived
From his most famed of famous ancestors,
Edward the Third, he bids you then resign
Your crown and kingdom, indirectly [wrongfully] held
From him the native [rightful] and true challenger.
KING: Or else what follows?
EXETER: Bloody constraint; for if you hide the crown
Even in your hearts, there will he rake for it:
Therefore in fierce tempest is he coming,
In thunder and in earthquake, like a Jove;
That, if requiring [demand] fail, he will compel;
And bids you, in the bowels of the Lord,
Deliver up the crown, and to take mercy
On the poor souls for whom this hungry war
Opens his vasty jaws; and on your head
Turning the widows' tears, the orphans' cries
The dead men's blood, the pining maidens groans,
For husbands, fathers and betrothed lovers,
That shall be swallowed in this controversy.
This is his claim, his threatening and my message;
Unless the Dauphin be in presence here,
To whom expressly I bring greeting too.
KING: For us, we will consider of this further:
Tomorrow shall you bear our full intent
Back to our brother England.
DAUPHIN: For the Dauphin,
I stand here for him. What to him from England?
EXETER: Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt,
And any thing that may not misbecome
The mighty sender, doth he prize you at.
Thus says my king: and if your father's Highness
Do not, in grant of all demands at large,
Sweeten the bitter mock you sent his Majesty,
He'll call you to so hot an answer of it,
That caves and womby vaultages [deep caverns] of France
Shall chide your trespass and return your mock
In second accent of his ordnance [echo of his cannon].
DAUPHIN: Say, if my father render fair return,
It is against my will; for I desire
Nothing but odds with England. To that end,
As matching to his youth and vanity,
I did present him with the Paris balls [tennis balls].
EXETER: He'll make your Paris Louvre shake for it,
Were it the mistress [chief] court of mighty Europe:
And, be assured, you'll find a difference,
As we his subjects have in wonder found,
Between the promise of his greener [more immature] days
And these he masters now. Now he weighs[values] time
Even to the utmost grain: that you shall read
In your own losses, if he stay in France.
KING: Tomorrow shall you know our mind at full.
EXETER: Dispatch us with all speed, lest that our king
Come here himself to question our delay;
For he is footed in this land already.
KING: You shall be soon dispatched, with fair conditions.
A night is but small breath and little pause
To answer matters of this consequence.
Henry has sent his uncle, Exeter, as ambassador to the French King. It is a calculated move to impress his enemies with the seriousness of the situation, using an older, respected member of his court. Exeter doesn’t waste time on diplomatic niceties. Beginning at line 77 he demands that the King give up his throne and move out of the palace. He assures the French King that Henry’s claim is absolutely legitimate, not based on some questionable relation (“sinister”) or manufactured out of “wormholes of long-vanished days.” He even presents the King with a detailed document explaining why Henry is the legal ruler of France!
The French King is very cautious in his response. He begins by referring to Henry as his “brother” at line 75, a title he repeats at line 115, even after he has heard Exeter’s threat. He does not respond immediately to the English demands, asking for time to consider them at line 113 and delaying any answer at the end of the scene. The King hardly impresses us with his “power and majesty.” His son is likewise cautious, for all his bluster earlier: notice that at line 115 he initially says he “stands for” or represents the Dauphin, almost as if he were reluctant to acknowledge his real identity.
The real key to this scene is the sense of violence and urgency which Exeter conveys. In an earlier scene the Dauphin had treated Henry’s claim on France as a joke, but Exeter’s message is deadly serious. Notice how in his speech at lines 97 –
109 he uses imagery of war and extreme destruction: “bloody constraint,”
“fierce tempest,” “thunder and earthquake,” He compares Henry to the Roman god
Jove and at line 102 uses an echo of a Biblical injunction “the bowels of the
Lord.” Most powerfully, Exeter personalizes the potential loss for those that
will suffer – “dead men,” “widows,” “orphans,” and “maidens.” What Shakespeare
does throughout this play is to substitute violence in language for physical
violence which he could not portray fully on his limited stage. Exeter continues this verbal assault in his message to the Dauphin, promising that Henry
will repay the insult of the tennis balls by making English cannon echo through
the “caves and womby vaultages of France.” (What a poetic way of describing the
limestone caverns where the French stored their wine!) By the way, it is
possible that the French King first learns of his son’s practical joke of the
tennis balls at line 131; the Dauphin explains what he did and why as if he
were justifying his actions. Notice that in his response Exeter acknowledges
Prince Hal’s reputation for wildness in his “greener days” but explains that
now he is utterly serious and values time. Exeter emphasizes this sense of
urgency by asking to be allowed to return to Henry as soon as possible and
revealing that the English have already landed and are on their way. Throughout
the play the English are always surprising the French with the speed and
The Chorus describes for us the trip across the English Channel to France. Notice the poetic images to create the sense of a sea voyage by sailing ship. How do the English view the invasion of France, according to the Chorus? What was the French King’s reply to Exeter’s demands in the previous scene?
Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies
In motion of no less celerity
Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen
The well-appointed king at Hampton pier
Embark his royalty; and his brave [splendid] fleet
With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning [fluttering before the sun];
Play with your fancies, and in them behold
Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give [the whisle of the ship captain]
To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms [ships] through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge: O, do but think
You stand upon the ravage [shore] and behold
A city on th’ inconstant billows dancing;
For so appears this fleet majestical,
Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow!
Grapple your minds to sternage [astern] of this navy,
And leave your England, as dead midnight still,
Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women,
Either past or not arrived to pith [strength] and puissance;
For who is he, whose chin is but enriched
With one appearing hair, that will not follow
These culled and choice-drawn [chosen with special care] cavaliers to France?
Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege;
Behold the ordnance [cannons] on their carriages,
With fatal mouths gaping on girded [besieged] Harfleur.
Suppose the ambassador from the French comes back;
Tells Harry that the king doth offer him
Katherine his daughter, and with her, to dowry,
Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.
The offer likes not; and the nimble gunner
With linstock [match] now the devilish cannon touches [sets off]; [Alarum, and chambers [stage cannons] go off] And down goes all before them. Still be kind,
And eke out our performance with your mind.
Once again Shakespeare marks a transition by having the Chorus come in and describe some physical event in glorious language, even as he asks the audience to forgive the limitations of the stage, at line 35. He gives us the sights and sounds of a massive fleet of sailing ships leaving for France: the ship boys climbing on the ropes, “the hempen tackle”; the “shrill whistle” of the master bringing order to the confusion; the sea itself, described as being “furrowed.” Shakespeare likens the view to that of a great city dancing upon “the inconstant billows,” a wonderful image that many people recalled when the enormous invasion fleet on D-Day made the same voyage on June 6, 1944. We are assured that everyone who is old enough to have a single hair in his beard wants to be with the English soldiers making this great trip, presented almost as if it were a religious crusade.
The English landed on the French coast and approached Harfleur, one of the medieval walled cities that were a stronghold in the country’s defense. Not waiting for the diplomatic response, the English begin the siege of the city, using their cannons to try and knock a hole in the wall. If a besieging army was able to create such a breach and get their army through the wall, the battle was pretty much over. There were two ways to create such a breach – knock the wall down with cannons or dig a tunnel under the wall, called a mine, and plant an explosive charge, called a petard which would cause the wall to collapse. In the middle of the siege of Harfleur, Exeter returns with the French King’s answer to the demand. He obviously takes Henry’s threat seriously since he is willing to give his daughter in marriage to the English King, but the dowry (the wealth she will bring to the marriage) is not sufficient. The offer is dismissed out of hand, in that curious phrase, “The offer like not.” Henry orders the siege to continue, and Shakespeare brings in one of his special effects, a small cannon off stage, called a “chamber,” which created a loud explosion.
ACT III, Scene 1
What is Henry trying to get his soldiers to do in this scene? How does he do it?
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness [silence] and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage [portholes] of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled [sea-weathered] rock
O'erhang and jutty [project beyond] his confounded [demolished] base,
Swilled [swallowed] with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up [strain] every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet [fetched] from fathers of war-proof [proven in battle];
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders [Alexander the Great, the ancient warrior]
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument [opposition];
Dishonor [by throwing doubt on your parentage] not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you!
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman [peasant farmers],
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture [the quality of your rearing]; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble luster in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips [leashes],
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot!
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge [as you charge]
Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”
It is in his use of rhetoric to inspire men on the battlefield that we see Henry’s greatest gift. What he is asking his men to do here is essentially to go on a suicide mission. Having caused a small breach in the wall at Harfleur, he needs his soldiers to charge into that narrow gap, despite the fact that every Frenchmen will be trying to stop them. How does he make his appeal? One way is to speak to his soldiers not just as their commander and king but as their friend. Later in the play he will refer to them as his “brothers.” The second thing he does is, almost like an acting coach, tell them how to behave physically, how to imitate the action of the tiger. At lines 7 – 17 what are the specific actions he asks them to perform? It is almost as if he is saying, “If you act the part, you will become the part.”
The third thing he does is to appeal to them as Englishmen who must honor their country and their parents by the actions in battle. To the nobles he recalls that their ancestors had come to France and fought so valiantly that they ran out of opponents. He compares them to the greatest soldier in history, Alexander the Great. He asks the lower class soldiers, whom he calls yeomen, to prove the mettle of the upbringing, as if they were farm animals. Then, at line 31, he compares all of them to greyhounds, eager to be let off the leash, so they can chase the game animals. Finally he endows their actions in mounting the attack with a political and religious significance by giving them a new battle cry: “God for Harry, England and Saint George.” Saint George was the heroic patron saint of England who according to mythology had slain the dragon. Harry has made the crusade personal and included himself as part of a trinity. Let’s run right out and get through that breach!
Act III, Scene 2, Lines 1 – 55
Now we view the battlefield from a different perspective, down in the trenches with the grunts. How effective was Henry’s appeal to Pistol, Bardolph and Nym? How do you account for the Boy’s reaction to their behavior?
[Enter NYM, BARDOLPH, PISTOL, and Boy]
BARDOLPH: On, on, on, on, on! to the breach, to the breach!
NYM: Pray thee, corporal, stay; the knocks are too hot;
and, for mine own part, I have not a case [set] of lives.
The humor of it is too hot, that is the very
plain-song [basic melody without embellishment] of it.
PISTOL: The plain-song is most just: for humors do abound:
Knocks go and come; God's vassals drop and die;
And sword and shield,
In bloody field,
Doth win immortal fame.
BOY: Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give
all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.
PISTOL: And I:
If wishes would prevail with me,
My purpose should not fail with me,
But thither would I hie.
BOY: As duly, but not as truly [honorably or in tune],
As bird doth sing on bough. [Enter FLUELLEN]
FLUELLEN: Up to the breach, you dogs! Avaunt, you cullions [base fellows]! [Driving them forward]
PISTOL: Be merciful, great duke, to men of mould [clay]!
Abate thy rage, abate thy manly rage,
Abate thy rage, great duke! Good bawcock, bate thy rage; use lenity, sweet chuck!
NYM: These be good humors [meant sarcastically] Your honor wins bad humors. [Exit all but Boy]
BOY: As young as I am, I have observed these three
swashers [swaggering braggarts]. I am boy to them all three; but all they
three, though they would serve me, could not be man
to me; for indeed three such antics [buffoons] do not amount to
a man. For Bardolph, he is white-livered [cowardly] and
red-faced; by the means whereof ‘a faces it out, but
fights not. For Pistol, he hath a killing tongue
and a quiet sword; by the means whereof ‘a breaks
words [breaks promises], and keeps whole weapons. For Nym, he hath
heard that men of few words are the best men; and
therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest ‘a
should be thought a coward; but his few bad words are matched with as few good deeds, for ‘a never broke any man's head but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk. They will steal anything, and call it purchase [plunder]. Bardolph stole a lute-case, bore it twelve leagues, and sold it for
three halfpence. Nym and Bardolph are sworn
brothers in filching, and in Calais they stole a
fire-shovel. I knew by that piece of service the
men would carry coals [do dirty work, or submit to insults]. They would have me as familiar with men's pockets as their gloves or their
handkerchers; which makes much against my manhood,
if I should take from another's pocket to put into
mine; for it is plain pocketing up of wrongs [receiving stolen goods]. I
must leave them, and seek some better service.
Their villainy goes against my weak stomach [makes me sick] and
therefore I must cast it up [vomit, get rid of it]. [Exit]
Henry’s appeal for his men to charge into the breach doesn’t work with everyone. Here we see Pistol and Nym and Boy complaining mightily about being in the middle of a battle, while Bardolph, as a corporal, is busy urging everyone else to charge into the breach while he stays put. The battle, or “knocks,” is too hot for Nym, and he has only got one life to lose. Pistol agrees and is moved to spout a line of impressive-sounding verse at line 9 – 11 about winning honor on the battlefield, although he has no intention of doing anything like it. The Boy says he would trade any fame he might win for a pot of ale in a tavern back home. Pistol continues his verse at lines 15 – 17, saying that he wishes he could move forward in the attack, to which the Boy adds a mocking rejoinder that Pistol’s verbal heroics are hardly honest.
At this point Captain Fluellen, a real soldier, enters,. He curses and beats the cowards to make them join the attack, insulting them as “dogs” and “cullions.”. Nym and Pistol try to mollify Fluellen by flattering him, calling him “Great Duke,” and “Your honor.” Then Pistol tries being overly familiar with him, calling him “bawcock” and “chuck.” These were terms that good friends might use with each other, like “buddy” or “pal,” not something a private would say to an officer.
In a long speech at lines 28 – 55, Boy gives us a detailed assessment of his companions. He serves as “boy,” or servant, to all three of them, but if the situation were reversed, if they were all three his servants, his “men,” they would not add up to a single honorable man. He catalogues their defects for us: Bardolph has a red face but white liver; that is he is a coward; Pistol is all talk; Nym says little, but what he does say is all bad and he never hurt anyone but himself. They will steal anything and act as if it were the legitimate plunder of war, what they call “purchase.” And their thievery is not even rational: Bardolph stole a lute-case, which isn’t worth much without a lute, carried it for over 30 miles and then sold it for peanuts; Bardolph and Nym stole a coal shovel, an insignificant object, which Boy points out shows they will “carry coals,” meaning they are fit for doing nothing but grunt work, and that they will endure the insults of others. The men want Boy to pick pockets, which is against his nature. He shows us his reluctance to adopt a life of crime at line 34 – 35 where he compares it to vomiting. He plans to leave their company as soon as possible. Throughout this speech Boy uses the word “’a” as a slang form of “he.” The idea of men taking inconsequential things for booty during war is as old as war itself; there is a famous photo from World War II of an Allied soldier carrying an empty bird cage he had found as he moved to the front.
Act III, Scene 2, Lines 56 – 143
The rest of this scene introduces us to four captains serving in Henry’s
army, representing four different parts of the British Isles. Who are they and
how does Shakespeare help us tell them apart? What is Fluellen’s obsession as a
soldier? Why does Captain Macmorris get mad at line 124? [Re-enter
FLUELLEN, GOWER following] GOWER: Captain
Fluellen, you must come presently [at once] to the
mines; the Duke of Gloucester would speak with you.
FLUELLEN: To the mines! tell you the duke, it is not so good
to come to the mines; for, look you, the mines is
not according to the disciplines of the war [military science]: the
concavities of it is not sufficient; for, look you,
the athversary [adversary], you may discuss [declareunto the duke, look
you, is digt himself four yard under the
countermines: by Cheshu [Jesus],I think a' will plow [blow] up
all, if there is not better directions.
GOWER: The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the order of the
siege is given, is altogether directed by an
Irishman, a very valiant gentleman, i' faith.
FLUELLEN: It is Captain Macmorris, is it not?
GOWER: I think it be.
FLUELLEN: By Cheshu, he is an ass, as in the world: I will
verify as much in his beard [to his face]. He has no more
directions in the true disciplines of the wars, look
you, of the Roman disciplines, than is a puppy-dog. [Enter MACMORRIS and Captain JAMY]
GOWER: Here a' comes; and the Scots captain, Captain Jamy, with him.
FLUELLEN: Captain Jamy is a marvelous falourous [valiant] gentleman,
that is certain; and of great expedition [readiness to dispute] and
knowledge in th' aunchient [ancient] wars, upon my particular
knowledge of his directions. By Cheshu, he will
maintain his argument as well as any military man in
the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars
of the Romans.
JAMY: I say gud-day, Captain Fluellen.
FLUELLEN: God-den to your worship, good Captain James.
GOWER: How now, Captain Macmorris! Have you quit the
mines? Have the pioneers [miners] given o'er?
MACMORRIS: By Chrish, la! tish ill done! The work ish give
over, the trompet sound the retreat. By my hand, I
swear, and my father's soul, the work ish ill done.
It ish give over: I would have blowed up the town, so
Chrish save me, la! in an hour: O, tish ill done,
tish ill done; by my hand, tish ill done!
FLUELLEN: Captain Macmorris, I beseech you now, will you
voutsafe me, look you, a few disputations with you,
as partly touching or concerning the disciplines of
the war, the Roman wars, in the way of argument,
look you, and friendly communication; partly to
satisfy my opinion, and partly for the satisfaction,
look you, of my mind, as touching the direction of
the military discipline, that is the point.
JAMY: It sall be vary gud, gud feith, gud captains bath:
and I sall quit you with gud leve, as I may pick
occasion; that sall I, mary [a mild oath from “Virgin Mary]>
MACMORRIS: It is no time to discourse, so Chrish save me. The
day is hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the
king, and the dukes. It is no time to discourse. The
town is beseeched [besieged], and the trumpet call us to the
breach; and we talk, and, be Chrish, do nothing:
'tis shame for us all: so God sa' me, 'tis shame to
stand still; it is shame, by my hand! And there is
throats to be cut, and works to be done; and there
ish nothing done, so Chrish sa' me, la!
JAMY: By the mess, ere theise eyes of mine take themselves
to slomber, ay'll de gud service, or ay'll lig i'
the grund for it; ay, or go to death; and ay'll pay
't as valourously as I may, that sall I suerly do,
that is the breff and the long. Marry, I wad full
fain hear some question 'tween you tway.
FLUELLEN: Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your
correction, there is not many of your nation --
MACMORRIS: Of my nation! What ish my nation? Ish a villain,
and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish
my nation? Who talks of my nation?
FLUELLEN: Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is
meant, Captain Macmorris, peradventure I shall think
you do not use me with that affability as in
discretion you ought to use me, look you: being as
good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of
war, and in the derivation of my birth, and in
MACMORRIS: I do not know you so good a man as myself: so
Chrish save me, I will cut off your head.
GOWER: Gentlemen both, you will mistake each other.
JAMY: A! that's a foul fault. [A parley sounded]
GOWER: The town sounds a parley.
FLUELLEN: Captain Macmorris, when there is more better
opportunity to be required, look you, I will be so
bold as to tell you I know the disciplines of war;
and there is an end. [Exit all]
In most war movies we are shown a diversity among the soldiers – the guy from Brooklyn, the Southerner, the Hispanic, etc. This scene is Shakespeare’s equivalent. The four captains represent the four areas of the British Isles: Gower is English, Fluellen is from Wales; Jamy is from Scotland; Macmorris is from Ireland. They have joined together for Henry’s crusade, anticipating the move toward a United Kingdom, which would officially kick off a few years after this play was written when the Scottish king, James, came to take over the English throne. They should be united by their hatred of the enemy and their response to Henry’s stirring speech in III, 1. But we see them arguing among themselves over the conduct of the battle and ancient hostilities. Despite Henry’s grand rhetoric, the battle of Harfleur is not going well.
At the time Shakespeare wrote this play he was fascinated by different dialects, so in this scene we get three very distinct ways of speaking to fit the accents and vocabulary of these men from different regions. Their pronunciation of words on the page may be a little challenging, but if you try reading the lines aloud, you get a sense of what they are saying. Fluellen, the Welsh captain, is the most fully developed of the three. We see that he often confuses the “b- and p-“ sounds, so that “Blow up” becomes “Plow up.” Likewise he reverses “f- and v-“ so that “valorous” becomes “falorous.” He also has a kind of verbal tic, so that he inserts the phrase, “look you” frequently in his statements.
More than verbal peculiarities, Fluellen is a character obsessed with warfare as seen through the prism of the ancient Romans. Education in these days consisted of learning everything you could about Roman culture: people training to become doctors learned what the Romans had to say, as did lawyers, and as does Fluellen. What he means by his catchphrase “the disciplines of war” is what writers like Julius Caesar had to say about combat over 1600 years earlier. So Fluellen judges all aspects of the battle against the criteria he believes the Romans had established. That’s what makes him so angry about the efforts to undermine the wall of the city – Caesar wouldn’t have done that. I mentioned earlier that digging a mine under the walls of a fortress was one of the ways of creating a breach. Those inside the fortress were not without a defense. If they knew what was happening, they would dig a tunnel, a “countermine,” and blow up the besiegers’’ tunnel before they had a chance to explode their own explosive charge, called a petard. That’s what Hamlet is talking about when he says the people plotting against him will be “hoist on their own petard.” The threat of a countermine causes the English to call off the mining effort at line 90, much to the disgust of the Irish captain in charge, Macmorris.
Fluellen has told Gower at line 72 that he doesn’t think much of Macmorris anyway, and the fiasco of the mining only seems to confirm his opinion. Notice that he is very polite to Jamy, telling us that the Scotsman “will maintain his argument as well as any military man in/ the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars/ of the Romans.” It tells us something about Fluellen’s obsession that he judges his fellow soldiers by how ell they can discuss military science according to the Romans, who fought the right way, what he calls “the pristine wars.” It also tells us a lot about his obsession when he wants to stop in the middle of the battle to dispute with Macmorris about the “disciplines of war.” When, at line 123, he starts to argue with Macmorris, he refers to the Irishman’s “nation,” which Macmorris takes as an insult. He wants to be seen as part of the same fraternity of warriors as the other three captains and objects to being singled out. Their confrontation is a kind of parallel to the earlier fight between Pistol and Nym. They are separated before they come to blows and the sound of a trumpet signals that the people in Harfleur want to talk.
Act III, Scene 3
The English efforts to take Harfleur had been thwarted. What is their magic weapon revealed in this scene which enables them to take the city?
[The Governor and some Citizens on the walls; the
English forces below]
HENRY: How yet resolves the governor of the town?
This is the latest parle we will admit;
Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves,
Or like to men proud of destruction [glorying in death]
Defy us to our worst; for, as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,
If I begin the batt’ry once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the fleshed [initiated in slaughter] soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
What is it then to me, if impious war,
Arrayed in flames like to the prince of fiends,
Do, with his smirched complexion, all fell [savage] feats
Enlinked to waste and desolation?
What is't to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
What rein can hold licentious wickedness
When down the hill he holds his fierce career [gallop]?
We may as bootless spend our vain command
Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil [plundering]
As send precepts [instruction] to the leviathan [whale]
To come ashore. Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villainy.
If not -- why, in a moment look to see
The blind [reckless] and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defense [responsible by holding out], be thus destroyed?
GOVERNOR: Our expectation hath this day an end:
The Dauphin, whom of succors we entreated,
Returns us that his powers are yet not ready
To raise so great a siege. Therefore, great king,
We yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy.
Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours;
For we no longer are defensible[capable of being defended].
HENRY: Open your gates. Come, uncle Exeter,
Go you and enter Harfleur; there remain,
And fortify it strongly 'gainst the French:
Use mercy to them all. For us, dear uncle,
The winter coming on and sickness growing
Upon our soldiers, we will retire to Calais.
To-night in Harfleur we will be your guest;
To-morrow for the march are we addrest [prepared]. [Flourish. The King and his train enter the town]
Having failed to storm the breach or undermine the walls, The English unleash their secret weapon on Harfleur – King Henry’s vivid imagination and powerful eloquence. Besieging a walled fortress in those days was a crap shoot. The siege failed as often as it succeeded. The edge was often as much psychological as it was technological, as we see here. In historical reality Henry V had a reputation as a ferocious warrior in taking strongholds. At the siege of the French city Rouen, he surrounded the walls for so long the citizens began to starve. The French opened the gates one night and let the old people, women and children out, thinking that at least the noncombatants would be safe. Instead, Henry ordered them rounded up and driven into the moat around the city so the French could watch their loved ones drown. When the English finally entered the city, Henry ordered every tenth Frenchman killed as a warning not to keep him waiting in the future.
We have seen the verbal violence of Henry and Exeter in previous scenes. In Henry’s long speech here, he threatens to burn the city at line 9, but his greatest threat is the physical violence the citizens of the city will receive at the hands of his soldiers. They will plunder and destroy, bashing the heads of the old men at line 36, ravishing the young girls at lines 14, 20 and 35 and even killing the infants at line 38 in an atrocity compared to the infamous slaughter of the innocents by Herod at the birth of Jesus. All that stands between this mayhem and the citizens is Henry’s control of his men, which he warns will disappear if the city holds out any longer. At line 43 he places the potential destruction of their city on the heads of the French leaders.
Faced with this ultimatum, the Governor of Harfleur surrenders the city. He explains that they had asked the Dauphin for relief from the siege, but the French leader has sent word that he cannot raise an army in time to help. As we see throughout the play, the English are much quicker to act than are the French. In reality the English are hardly in a position to storm Harfleur and destroy it. In the Branagh film version watch the shots of the English soldiers while Henry makes his fire-eating speech; they are worn out, on the verge of collapse. It is their leader’s effective use of language which saves the day. In the final seven lines of the scene, after his great public display of ferocity, Henry quietly tells his uncle Exeter to hold the city while he marches his army back to Calais, the French port opposite Dover which was the base of operations in France for the English. Winter is coming on and his men are sick, but they will have to cross hostile territory to get to safety.
Act III, Scene 4
This is an unusual scene, almost entirely in French. You follow the scene in the translation in the footnotes in your text. Why is the Princess of France learning the English words for body parts from her attendant, Alice?
[Enter KATHARINE and ALICE]
KATHARINE: Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.
ALICE: Un peu, madame.
KATHARINE: Je te prie, m'enseignez: il faut que j'apprenne a
parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?
ALICE: La main? elle est appelee de hand.
KATHARINE: De hand. Et les doigts?
ALICE: Les doigts? ma foi, j'oublie les doigts; mais je me
souviendrai. Les doigts? je pense qu'ils sont
appeles de fingres; oui, de fingres.
KATHARINE: La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. Je pense
que je suis le bon ecolier; j'ai gagne deux mots
d'Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?
ALICE: Les ongles? nous les appelons de nails.
KATHARINE: De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: de
hand, de fingres, et de nails.
ALICE: C'est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.
KATHARINE: Dites-moi l'Anglois pour le bras.
ALICE: De arm, madame.
KATHARINE: Et le coude?
ALICE: De elbow.
KATHARINE: De elbow. Je m'en fais la repetition de tous les
mots que vous m'avez appris des a present.
ALICE: Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.
KATHARINE: Excusez-moi, Alice; ecoutez: de hand, de fingres,
de nails, de arma, de bilbow.
ALICE: De elbow, madame.
KATHARINE: O Seigneur Dieu, je m'en oublie! de elbow. Comment
appelez-vous le col?
ALICE: De neck, madame.
KATHARINE: De nick. Et le menton?
ALICE: De chin.
KATHARINE: De sin. Le col, de nick; de menton, de sin.
ALICE: Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez
les mots aussi droit que les natifs d'Angleterre.
KATHARINE: Je ne doute point d'apprendre, par la grace de Dieu,
et en peu de temps.
ALICE: N'avez vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?
KATHARINE: Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de hand, de
fingres, de mails --
ALICE: De nails, madame.
KATHARINE: De nails, de arm, de ilbow.
ALICE: Sauf votre honneur, de elbow.
KATHARINE: Ainsi dis-je; de elbow, de nick, et de sin. Comment
appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
ALICE: De foot, madame; et de coun.
KATHARINE: De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots
de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et
non pour les dames d'honneur d'user: je ne voudrais
prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France
pour tout le monde. Foh! le foot et le coun!
Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon
ensemble: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de
elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.
ALICE: Excellent, madame!
KATHARINE: C'est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a diner.
Katherine had been mentioned before by the Chorus at the beginning of Act III. The French King had offered her hand in marriage to Henry, but the dowry wasn’t sufficient. The fact that she is interested in learning English suggests that she is intrigued by the possibility of becoming the wife of the King of England. She starts with simple names for different body parts, having Alice test her pronunciation and her memory. There is a nice touch in having her trip over the pronunciation of “elbow” several times, and at line 36 Alice flatters her on her accent. The lesson suddenly takes a bawdy turn at line 50 when Katherine asks for the English words for “pied” and “robe.” Alice’s attempt at “foot” and “gown,” coming out sounding like the French words “foutre” (“fuck”) and “count,” (“cunt”). It’s a long way for Shakespeare to go for a dirty joke in another language, but it is revealing that apparently enough people in his audience knew the French words to make the scene work. This scene is part of the interest in showing how people speak different dialects that we saw back n III, Scene 2. At one point in his life Shakespeare rented rooms from a family of French Protestant refugees in London.
Act III, Scene 5
What makes the English victories so difficult for the French leaders to accept in this scene? Why is there so much emphasis on capturing their enemies instead of killing them?
[Enter the KING OF FRANCE, the DAUPHIN, the DUKE oF
BOURBON, the Constable Of France, and others]
KING: 'Tis certain he hath passed the river Somme.
CONSTABLE: And if he be not fought withal, my lord,
Let us not live in France; let us quit all
And give our vineyards to a barbarous people.
DAUPHIN: O Dieu vivant! Shall a few sprays [offsprings, bastards] of us,
The emptying of our fathers' luxury [our fathers’ ejaculations],
Our scions [graftings], put in wild and savage stock,
Spirt [sprout] up so suddenly into the clouds,
And overlook their grafters?
BOURBON: Normans, but bastard Normans, Norman bastards!
Mort de ma vie! If they march along
Unfought withal, but I will sell my dukedom,
To buy a slobbery [water-logged] and a dirty farm
In that nook-shotten [misshapen] isle of Albion [ancient name for Britain].
CONSTABLE: Dieu de batailles! Where have they this mettle?
Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden [boiled] water,
A drench for sur-rein'd jades [medicine for over-ridden horses],their barley-broth [the same as their beer],
Decoct [warm] their cold blood to such valiant heat?
And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine,
Seem frosty? O, for honour of our land,
Let us not hang like roping [hanging down like ropes] icicles
Upon our houses' thatch, whiles a more frosty people
Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields!
“Poor” we may call them in their native lords.
DAUPHIN: By faith and honor,
Our madams mock at us, and plainly say
Our mettle is bred out [exhausted] and they will give
Their bodies to the lust of English youth
To new-store France with bastard warriors.
BOURBON: They bid us to the English dancing-schools,
And teach lavoltas [leaping dances] high and swift corantos [dances with running steps];
Saying our grace is only in our heels [i.e., running away],
And that we are most lofty [pompous] runaways.
KING: Where is Montjoy the herald? Speed him hence.
Let him greet England with our sharp defiance.
Up, princes! and, with spirit of honor edged
More sharper than your swords, hie to the field:
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France;
You Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and of Berri,
Alencon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy;
Jaques Chatillon, Rambures, Vaudemont,
Beaumont, Grandpre, Roussi, and Fauconberg,
Foix, Lestrale, Bouciqualt, and Charolois;
High dukes, great princes, barons, lords and knights,
For your great seats [estates] now quit you of great shames.
Bar Harry England, that sweeps through our land
With pennons painted in the blood of Harfleur;
Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
The Alps doth spit and void his [the Alps’] rheum upon:
Go down upon him, you have power enough,
And in a captive chariot into Rouen
Bring him our prisoner.
CONSTABLE: This becomes the great.
Sorry am I his numbers are so few,
His soldiers sick and famished in their march,
For I am sure, when he shall see our army,
He'll drop his heart into the sink [pit] of fear
And for achievement [acquisition] offer us his ransom.
KING: Therefore, lord constable, haste on Montjoy.
And let him say to England that we send
To know what willing ransom he will give.
Prince Dauphin, you shall stay with us in Rouen.
DAUPHIN: Not so, I do beseech your majesty.
KING: Be patient, for you shall remain with us.
Now forth, Lord Constable and Princes all,
And quickly bring us word of England's fall.
The French court is very upset with the news of the English victory at Harfleur and their march through northern France toward Calais. At line 4 the Constable, who in an earlier scene had warned the King to take Henry’s threat seriously, now says in frustration that if the French cannot fight Henry, they should give their country to “a barbarous people.” In the next speech the Dauphin picks up on this theme of the French superiority over the English. He reminds the court that the English people were, after all, the illegitimate descendents of the French Normans who conquered England in 1066, calling them “sprays” and “scions,” as if they were just inferior offshoots in a garden. Bretagne picks up on the idea, calling the English “Norman bastards.” If the mighty French army cannot defeat the English, he says, with poetic exaggeration, that he will “buy a slobbery [water-logged] and a dirty farm/ In that nook-shotten [misshapen] isle of Albion [ancient name for Britain].” The Constable, at lines 15 – 26, continues the insults. The English climate is terrible and their beer tastes like medicine you would give a horse. They don’t have the mild winters or wonderful wine of France. If the English are allowed to escape without a counterattack, the French will have to call their own lords “poor.” What you hear throughout this scene is the contempt that the French have toward the English, which just increases their anger over Henry’s victory.
At line 27 the Dauphin introduces a new theme. Unless the Frenchmen defeat the invaders, the women of France will turn to the English youth and get pregnant. It is a threat as old as war itself: unless we stop the enemy, they’ll steal our women. Bretagne continues this idea by describing the French defeats as learning new English dances that enabled the soldiers of France to run away with grace.
The King finally acts and orders his mighty lords to raise their armies. At that time there was not a single French army but rather a lot of private armies commanded by the powerful dukes of France. (One of the reasons for the English success at the Battle of Agincourt was that there was no overall centralized command among the French, just a lot of individual generals all doing their own things.) At lines 50 – 53 he envisions Henry being swept away like the waters rushing down from the melting snow in the Alps. The King calls for Montjoy, the official herald of the French court, and orders that he go out and demand what King Henry will pay for ransom when he is captured. The whole point of medieval battles was not to kill your opponent but to capture him if he was noble. Then the families and friends of the captives would have to pay a ransom, with which you could finance your next military adventure. Once they decide to act, the French are absolutely sure they will win. The Constable at line 56 feels sorry for Henry when he realizes he will be defeated.
At the end of the scene there is a small, but significant development. The Dauphin, who is the same age as Henry and whose practical joke of the tennis balls has backfired, is ordered to stay with his father and not to run off to the battle. Maybe the King knows that the Dauphin won’t be of much help on the battlefield; maybe he’s worried the kid will get into trouble. Whatever, the reason, we are struck by the contrast between Henry and the Dauphin. Which one of these young men deserves to rule France?
Act III, Scene 6, Lines 1 – 119
In this scene Fluellen makes a mistaken judgment about Pistol. What accounts for his error? What does Pistol ask Fluellen to do? Who is the first of the soldiers we are following to die and how does it happen? What is unusual about Henry’s response to the death?
[The English camp in Picardy.] [Enter
GOWER and FLUELLEN]
GOWER: How now, Captain Fluellen! come you from the bridge?
FLUELLEN: I assure you, there is very excellent services [exploits]
committed at the bridge.
GOWER: Is the Duke of Exeter safe?
FLUELLEN: The Duke of Exeter is as magnanimous as Agamemnon; and a man that I love and honor with my soul, and my heart, and my duty, and my life, and my living, and my uttermost power. He is not -- God be praised and blessed! -- any hurt in the world; but keeps the bridge most valiantly, with excellent discipline. There is an aunchient lieutenant [sublieutenant] there at the pridge, I think in my very conscience he is as valiant a man as Mark Antony; and he is a man of no estimation in the world; but did see him do as gallant service.
GOWER: What do you call him?
FLUELLEN: He is called Aunchient Pistol.
GOWER: I know him not. [Enter PISTOL]
FLUELLEN: Here is the man.
PISTOL: Captain, I thee beseech to do me favors;
The Duke of Exeter doth love thee well.
FLUELLEN: Ay, I praise God; and I have merited some love at
PISTOL: Bardolph, a soldier, firm and sound of heart,
And of buxom [lively] valor, hath, by cruel fate,
And giddy Fortune's furious fickle wheel --
That goddess blind,
That stands upon the rolling restless stone --
FLUELLEN: By your patience, Aunchient Pistol. Fortune is
painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to
signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is
painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which
is the moral of it, that she is turning, and
inconstant, and mutability, and variation; and her
foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone,
which rolls, and rolls, and rolls. In good truth,
the poet makes a most excellent description of it;
Fortune is an excellent moral.
PISTOL: Fortune is Bardolph's foe, and frowns on him;
For he hath stolen a pax [tablet used in the Mass] and hanged must a' be:
A damned death!
Let gallows gape for dog; let man go free,
And let not hemp his wind-pipe suffocate.
But Exeter hath given the doom [sentence] of death
For pax of little price.
Therefore, go speak -- the Duke will hear thy voice;
And let not Bardolph's vital thread be cut
With edge of penny cord and vile reproach.
Speak, captain, for his life, and I will thee requite.
FLUELLEN: Aunchient Pistol, I do partly understand your meaning.
PISTOL: Why then, rejoice therefore!
FLUELLEN: Certainly, aunchient, it is not a thing to rejoice at; for if, look you, he were my brother, I would desire the duke to use his good pleasure, and put him to execution; for discipline ought to be used.
PISTOL: Die and be damned! and figo [Spanish fig, obscene gesture]for thy friendship!
FLUELLEN: It is well.
PISTOL: The fig of Spain! [Exit]
FLUELLEN: Very good.
GOWER: Why, this is an arrant [utter] counterfeit rascal! I
remember him now -- a bawd, a cutpurse.
FLUELLEN: I'll assure you, a' uttered as Prave words at the
pridge as you shall see in a summer's day. But it
is very well. What he has spoke to me, that is well,
I warrant you, when time is serve.
GOWER: Why, 'tis a gull [simpleton], a fool, a rogue, that now and then
goes to the wars, to grace himself at his return
into London under the form of a soldier. And such
fellows are perfect in the great commanders' names:
and they will learn you by rote where services [exploits] were
done; at such and such a sconce [small fortress], at such a breach,
at such a convoy; who came off [got clear] bravely, who was
shot, who disgraced, what terms the enemy stood on [what the enemy’s position was]
and this they con [learn] perfectly in the phrase of war,
which they trick up [adorn] with new-tuned oaths: and what
a beard of the general's cut [a beard trimmed like the general’s] and a horrid suit of the camp [well-worn military uniform] will do among foaming bottles and ale-washed wits, is wonderful to be thought on. But you must learn to know such slanders of the age, or
else you may be marvelously mistook.
FLUELLEN: I tell you what, Captain Gower; I do perceive he is not the man that he would gladly make show to the world he is. If I find a hole in his coat [some fault], I will tell him my mind. [Drum heard] Hark you, the King is coming, and I must speak with
him from the pridge. [Drum and colours. Enter KING HENRY, GLOUCESTER, and Soldiers] God pless your majesty!
HENRY: How now, Fluellen! camest thou from the bridge?
FLUELLEN: Ay, so please your majesty. The Duke of Exeter has
very gallantly maintained the pridge; the French is
gone off, look you; and there is gallant and most
prave passages [combat]. Marry, th' athversary was have possession of the pridge; but he is enforced to
retire, and the Duke of Exeter is master of the
pridge. I can tell your majesty, the duke is a
HENRY: What men have you lost, Fluellen?
FLUELLEN: The perdition of th' athversary hath been very
great, reasonable great: marry, for my part, I
think the Duke hath lost never a man, but one that
is like to be executed for robbing a church, one
Bardolph, if your majesty know the man. His face is
all bubukles, and whelks [carbuncles and pimples], and knobs, and flames o' fire: and his lips blows at his nose, and it is like
a coal of fire, sometimes plue and sometimes red;
but his nose is executed and his fire's out.
HENRY: We would have all such offenders so cut off [executed], and we give express charge, that in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.
In Fluellen’s account of the victory at the bridge we see further evidence of his classical mindset, as he compares the Duke of Exeter to Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army in the Trojan War. Then, at line 14, he compares a valiant soldier, a lieutenant, to the great Roman general, Mark Antony. It turns out to be Pistol! Apparently he doesn’t remember Pistol running away from the battle at the breach in the wall at Harfleur. How could someone obsessed with the “true disciplines of the war” so mistake a coward and a phony like Pistol for a genuine hero? The answer lies in Fluellen’s naïve belief that if someone talks the talk, he must walk the walk. At line 65 he declares, “I'll assure you, a' uttered as prave words at the/ pridge as you shall see in a summer's day.” But Fluellen learns a valuable lesson when Pistol comes in to plead for Bardolph’s life. The red-faced thief has been arrested for stealing from a church a small tablet called a “pax,” used in the Mass. Bardolph is about to be executed for the theft. What is ironic about who Pistol blames for what has happened to his friend at lines 25 -- 29? Fluellen is so obsessed with his classical knowledge that he ignores the main point of Pistol’s news, Bardolph’s impending execution, and focuses on the symbolic significance of the depiction of the goddess Fortune. Pistol pleads that his friend not be hanged, a form of death usually reserved for common criminals, and asks Fluellen to intervene with Exeter, who has passed the sentence. At line 50 he even offers the Welshman a bribe! Fluellen is such a straight arrow, he declares at line 55 that if Bardolph were his own brother, he would urge Exeter to carry out the sentence, “for discipline ought to be used.”
Pistol is outraged by Fluellen’s answer and gives him the obscene gesture called the “Spanish fig” in Shakespeare’s time. (Your notes explain the gesture.) Gower recognizes Pistol and tells Fluellen he is an “arrant rascal….a bawd and a cutpurse,” a pimp and a pickpocket, hardly the military hero Fluellen took him for. The English captain goes on to give a wonderful description of the military con job people like Pistol practice back home in the alehouses of London. They memorize all the commanders’ names and the details of the battles and even trim their beards to look like those of the military leaders, all so they can fool the gullible and get people to buy them drinks. Notice that Fluellen does not bluster and rage the way Pistol had done, but he promise that if he ever finds a fault with Pistol, “a hole in his coat,” he will tell him his mind. It is a promise that the Welshman will keep.
When Henry comes in Fluellen tells him that the English under Exeter have captured the bridge from the French. This was vital for Henry’s army to make its retreat to Calais. Fluellen praises Exeter’s leadership and declares that the only casualty in the engagement is Bardolph, who was arrested for theft. (It’s bad enough to have stolen from the French, which Henry has expressly forbidden, but Bardolph robbed a church and took something that wasn’t that valuable anyway, “a pax of little price.”) The Welshman describes Bardolph’s ravaged face, tells us his nose was cut off prior to his execution, and then adds at line 107, “if your Majesty know the man.” Of course Henry knows Bardolph! He was one of his oldest friends from his wild days with Falstaff. How do you think Henry feels about the news that Bardolph is about to die? Notice how this scene is staged in the Branagh film version. Here is one of the places where Shakespeare shows us, without any commentary, what the human price of leadership is for the person who assumes that role. Shakespeare also shows us in Henry’s final speech here what political consequences are at stake.
Act III, Scene 6, Lines 120 –180
Montjoy, the herald from the French King, arrives and delivers his message. How does Henry’s answer differ from what the French might have expected?
MONTJOY: You know me by my habit
[his herald’s uniform].
HENRY: Well then I know thee. What shall I know of thee?
MONTJOY: My master's mind.
HENRY: Unfold it.
MONTJOY: Thus says my king: Say thou to Harry of England, though we seemed dead, we did but sleep. Advantage [favorable opportunity] is a better soldier than rashness. Tell him we could have rebuked him at Harfleur, but that we thought not good to bruise an injury [squeeze an abscess] till it were full ripe. Now we speak upon our cue, and our voice is imperial: England shall repent his folly, see his weakness, and admire our sufferance [patience]. Bid him therefore consider of his ransom, which must
proportion the losses we have borne, the subjects we
have lost, the disgrace we have digested; which in
weight to re-answer, his pettiness would bow under [to compensate fully would be too much for his small resources].
For our losses, his exchequer is too poor; for the
effusion of our blood, the muster of his kingdom too
faint a number; and for our disgrace, his own
person, kneeling at our feet, but a weak and
worthless satisfaction. To this add defiance; and
tell him, for conclusion, he hath betrayed his
followers, whose condemnation is pronounced. So far
my King and master; so much my office.
HENRY: What is thy name? I know thy quality.
HENRY: Thou dost thy office fairly. Turn thee back.
And tell thy king I do not seek him now;
But could be willing to march on to Calais
Without impeachment [opposition], for, to say the sooth,
Though 'tis no wisdom to confess so much
Unto an enemy of craft and vantage [cunning and superiority],
My people are with sickness much enfeebled,
My numbers lessened, and those few I have
Almost no better than so many French;
Who when they were in health, I tell thee, herald,
I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen. Yet, forgive me, God,
That I do brag thus! This your air of France
Hath blown that vice in me. I must repent.
Go therefore, tell thy master here I am;
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,
My army but a weak and sickly guard;
Yet, God before, tell him we will come on,
Though France himself and such another neighbor
Stand in our way. There's for thy labor, Montjoy.
Go bid thy master well advise himself:
If we may pass, we will; if we be hindered,
We shall your tawny ground with your red blood
Discolor: and so Montjoy, fare you well.
The sum of all our answer is but this:
We would not seek a battle, as we are;
Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it:
So tell your master.
MONTJOY: I shall deliver so. Thanks to your Highness. [Exit]
GLOUCESTER: I hope they will not come upon us now.
HENRY: We are in God's
hand, brother, not in theirs.
March to the bridge; it now draws toward night:
Beyond the river we'll encamp ourselves,
And on to-morrow, bid them march away. [Exit
The official herald of the French King had the honorary title of Montjoy, and as such he had freedom to ride right into the English camp. Henry recognizes him because of his formal herald’s outfit. Montjoy delivers a chilling message that promises destruction of the small English army. It is very powerful and explains why the French have so far not confronted the invaders: they have lured the English into their territory so the French have the advantage The French King uses the image of squeezing a festering abscess, “bruise an injury.” Now they are really to act to teach the English their folly. At line 113 he introduces the amount of the ransom which Henry will have to pay, which he assures the English monarch will be more than he and his country can afford. As Montjoy declares the message is indeed “imperial.” But notice that it is in prose. Shakespeare subtly undercuts the seriousness of the threat in his choice of language, especially since Henry’s answer is in stirring blank verse.
Henry’s response at lines 147 –174 is remarkable. Its intended audience is Henry’s men, not necessarily the French. It is at once simple and direct, as opposed to the pomposity of the French King’s threat. It uses an effective sarcasm to appeal to his men’s sense of superiority, saying they can march and fight as well as any three Frenchmen. He does not try to hide the truth about the condition of his soldiers, which both the English and French know. Most importantly he makes it clear that he is not going to make a separate deal for his ransom and escape and leave his men to the destruction which Montjoy’s message had promised at line 143. He will share their fate. This must have come as a surprise to the overconfident French. Henry treats Montjoy with respect and offers him a purse for delivering the message. The English march across the bridge and make camp and await their fate.
Act III, Scene 7
This scene really doesn’t advance the plot at all. What dramatic purposes does it serve? What do we notice about the dynamics among the French leaders? As the future King of France, does the Dauphin inspire those who would follow him?
[The French camp, near Agincourt:]
[Enter CONSTABLE, the LORD RAMBURES, ORLEANS, DAUPHIN, others] CONSTABLE: Tut! I have the best armor
of the world. Would
it were day!
ORLEANS: You have an excellent armor; but let my horse have his due.
CONSTABLE: It is the best horse of Europe.
ORLEANS: Will it never be morning?
DAUPHIN: My Lord of Orleans, and my Lord High Constable, you talk of horse and armor?
ORLEANS: You are as well provided of both as any prince in the world.
DAUPHIN: What a long night is this! I will not change my
horse with any that treads but on four pasterns [feet].
Ca, ha! He bounds from the earth, as if his entrails were hairs [stuffed with hair, like a tennis ball]; le cheval volant [the flying horse], the Pegasus, chez les narines de feu [with fiery nostrils]! When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes [Mercury, god who invented the pipes].
ORLEANS: He's of the color of the nutmeg.
DAUPHIN: And of the heat of the ginger. It is a beast for
Perseus [mythical warrior]. He is pure air and fire; and the dull
elements of earth and water never appear in him, but
only in patient stillness while his rider mounts
him. He is indeed a horse; and all other jades [nags] you
may call beasts.
CONSTABLE: Indeed, my lord, it is a most absolute and excellent horse.
DAUPHIN: It is the prince of palfreys [saddle horses]; his neigh is like the
bidding of a monarch and his countenance enforces homage.
ORLEANS: No more, cousin.
DAUPHIN: Nay, the man hath no wit that cannot, from the
rising of the lark to the lodging of the lamb, vary [sing different themes] deserved praise on my palfrey: it is a theme as
fluent as the sea. Turn the sands into eloquent
tongues, and my horse is argument [a theme] for them all.
'Tis a subject for a sovereign to reason [discourse] on, and for
a sovereign's sovereign to ride on; and for the
world, familiar to us and unknown to lay apart
their particular functions and wonder at him. I
once writ a sonnet in his praise and began thus:
“Wonder of nature!”
ORLEANS: I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's mistress.
DAUPHIN: Then did they imitate that which I composed to my courser, for my horse is my mistress.
ORLEANS: Your mistress bears well [carries a rider, in a sexual sense as well].
DAUPHIN: Me well; which is the prescript [prescribed] praise and
perfection of a good and particular [private] mistress.
CONSTABLE: Nay, for methought yesterday your mistress shrewdly [severely or shrewishly] shook your back.
DAUPHIN: So perhaps did yours.
CONSTABLE: Mine was not bridled [My mistress is not a horse, or my mistress isn’t shrewish and therefore doesn’t have to be reined in.]
DAUPHIN: O then belike she was old and gentle; and you rode,
like a kern [lightly armed soldier] of Ireland, your French hose [wide, loose breeches] off, and in your straight strossers [tight trousers, i.e. bare-legged].
CONSTABLE: You have good judgment in horsemanship [also pronounced “whores-manship]. DAUPHIN: Be warned by me, then: they that ride so and ride
not warily, fall into foul bogs. I had rather have
my horse to my mistress.
CONSTABLE: I had as lief have my mistress a jade [nag, or loose woman]
DAUPHIN: I tell thee, constable, my mistress wears his own hair.
CONSTABLE: I could make as true a boast as that, if I had a sow
to my mistress.
DAUPHIN: “Le chien est retourne a son propre vomissement, et
la truie lavee au bourbier.”' Thou makest use of any thing.
CONSTABLE: Yet do I not use my horse for my mistress, or any
such proverb so little kin to the purpose.
RAMBURES: My Lord Constable, the armor that I saw in your tent
to-night -- are those stars or suns upon it?
CONSTABLE: Stars, my lord.
DAUPHIN: Some of them will fall tomorrow, I hope.
CONSTABLE: And yet my sky shall not want.
DAUPHIN: That may be, for you bear a many superfluously, and 'twere more honor some were away.
CONSTABLE: Even as your horse bears your praises; who would
trot as well, were some of your brags dismounted.
DAUPHIN: Would I were able to load him with his desert! Will
it never be day? I will trot to-morrow a mile, and
my way shall be paved with English faces.
CONSTABLE: I will not say so, for fear I should be faced out of my way [caused to frown, or driven off]; but I would it were morning; for I would fain be about the ears of the English.
RAMBURES: Who will go to hazard [bet] with me for twenty prisoners? CONSTABLE: You must first go yourself to hazard [put yourself in harm’s way], ere you have them.
DAUPHIN: 'Tis midnight; I'll go arm myself. [Exit]
ORLEANS: The Dauphin longs for morning.
RAMBURES: He longs to eat the English.
CONSTABLE: I think he will eat all he kills.
ORLEANS: By the white hand of my lady, he's a gallant prince.
CONSTABLE: Swear by her foot, that she may tread out [obliterate or treat with contempt] the oath.
ORLEANS: He is simply the most active gentleman of France.
CONSTABLE: Doing is activity; and he will still be doing [having intercourse].
ORLEANS: He never did harm, that I heard of.
CONSTABLE: Nor will do none to-morrow; he will keep that good name still.
ORLEANS: I know him to be valiant.
CONSTABLE: I was told that by one that knows him better than you.
ORLEANS: What's he?
CONSTABLE: Marry, he told me so himself; and he said he cared not who knew it
ORLEANS: He needs not; it is no hidden virtue in him.
CONSTABLE: By my faith, sir, but it is; never any body saw it but his lackey [lowly servant]; 'tis a hooded valor, and when it appears, it will bate.
ORLEANS: Ill will never said well.
CONSTABLE: I will cap that proverb with “There is flattery in friendship..”
ORLEANS: And I will take up that with “Give the devil his due.'” CONSTABLE: Well placed! There stands your friend for the
devil. Have at the very eye of that proverb with “A
pox of the devil.”
ORLEANS: You are the better at proverbs, by how much “a fool's bolt is soon shot.”
CONSTABLE: You have shot over [beyond the target].
ORLEANS: 'Tis not the first time you were overshot [missed the mark] [Enter a Messenger]
MESSENGER: My Lord High Constable, the English lie within
fifteen hundred paces of your tents.
CONSTABLE: Who hath measured the ground?
MESSENGER: The Lord Grandpre.
CONSTABLE: A valiant and most expert gentleman. Would it were day! Alas, poor Harry of England! He longs not for the dawning as we do.
ORLEANS: What a wretched and peevish [senseless] fellow is this King of England, to mope with his fat-brained followers so
far out of his knowledge!
CONSTABLE: If the English had any apprehension, they would run away.
ORLEANS: That they lack; for if their heads had any
intellectual armor, they could never wear such heavy
RAMBURES: That island of England breeds very valiant
creatures; their mastiffs are of unmatchable courage.
ORLEANS: Foolish curs, that run winking [with eyes shut] into the mouth of a Russian bear and have their heads crushed like rotten apples! You may as well say, that's a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.
CONSTABLE: Just, just! And the men do sympathize with the
mastiffs in robustious and rough coming on, leaving their wits with their wives: and then give them great meals of beef and iron and steel; they will eat like wolves and fight like devils.
ORLEANS: Ay, but these English are shrewdly [very much] out of beef.
CONSTABLE: Then shall we find tomorrow they have only stomachs [dispositions] to eat and none to fight. Now is it time to arm: come, shall we about it?
ORLEANS: It is now two o'clock; but, let me see -- by ten
We shall have each a hundred Englishmen. [Exit]
The scene takes place in the French camp the night before the big battle at Agincourt. Every member of Shakespeare’s audience knew the outcome of that battle, one of the most lop-sided victories in military history. Therefore, this scene does not build suspense in usual sense, nor does it add anything to the storyline. But we are anxious to see how these Frenchmen will react to their crushing defeat, especially since they are all so confident of winning. The characters cannot wait for the morning. How many times in this scene does a character, directly or indirectly, wish it were morning? It is interesting that these leaders, who loom so large before the battle, all disappear from the play following Agincourt, most of them because they are killed. The other dramatic purpose served by this scene is a kind of comic relief between the death of Bardolph and the big battle. Shakespeare knew he had to give his audience a chance to step back from the dramatic intensity for a while before he built to another emotional peak. So we watch these guys for 164 lines arguing and bragging among themselves about women and horses and armor and how really bad they are. (You could substitute computers and cars and girlfriends for the subject matter and it could be happening today!) In the process we see some interesting human dynamics at work. The Dauphin, who is the future king of France, is generally a boasting twit who commands little respect from those he would lead. His cousin, the Duke of Orleans, is a flattering ass-kisser. The Lord Constable, the nominal head of the Army, is fairly open in his disdain for the Dauphin.
The last time we saw the Dauphin his father had ordered him to stay at the palace, but somehow he has managed to show up for the big battle. These men boast about everything, what Henry had called back at line 160 of the previous scene a kind of disease in the air of France. The scene starts off with the Constable bragging about his armor. Then at line 11 the Dauphin starts an exaggerated praise of his horse which will run to ridiculous lengths for 60 lines. The Dauphin’s horse, “the prince of palfreys,” is compared to the flying horse of Greek mythology, Pegasus. (The Dauphin and Pistol would probably get along very well!) Throughout the scene Shakespeare uses occasional phrases in French to establish the atmosphere, being careful not to have any information in French that the audience really needs to understand. The Dauphin doesn’t simply insist that he has the best horse in the world, he has to disparage everyone else’s horse, as at line 24: “all other jades you may call beasts.” The Dauphin gets so carried away with his hyperbole that at line 31 the Duke of Orleans, who is always anxious to flatter him, warns him not to go any further.
But the Dauphin doesn’t listen. At line 47 the conversation turns bawdy as the Dauphin’s horse gets compared to his mistress. This connection will lead to elaborate puns on “horse-whores” and “jades” as nags and as loose women and riding technique. At first Dauphin accepts the challenge of comparing his horse with his mistress, bragging that his horse is his first love, but the Constable ridicules his statement, so at line 64 the Dauphin asserts that at least his horse has its own hair. What he is suggesting is that the Constable’s mistress, like most fashionable women, wore a wig; but the other implication is that she suffers from the symptoms of syphilis in its final stages – loss of hair. The Constable retorts that he could say the same thing if his girlfriend was a sow. The Dauphin counters with a line in French from the Bible, which your notes explain. The Constable points out that the Dauphin’s comments are really beside the point. At line 72 Lord Rambures tries to change the subject to lower the tension between the two men, but the Dauphin won’t let it go, suggesting that the Constable needs to lose some of the stars from his fancy armor, that is, lose some of his pride. At line 85 the Dauphin brags that he will ride his horse over the faces of the enemy. In the aftermath of massive battles there were bodies all over, so the French prince envisions this rather gruesome image. It is interesting to note that the Englishmen never brag before or after the battle.
After the Dauphin leaves to go get his armor on, the Duke of Orleans says the prince is so eager to get into the battle, he will eat the enemy. The Constable retorts that the Dauphin will indeed eat all those he kills, suggesting that he will stay out of the fight and so is in no danger of becoming a cannibal. As Orleans continues to praise the prince, the Constable continues to put him down: his “doing” is only sexual, not military; he does have a reputation for doing no harm and he won’t lose it in the battle because he won’t hurt anyone. The best putdown is at 109 when the Constable says he had heard from someone that the Dauphin was valiant; he said so himself and declared he didn’t care who knew it. This kind of self-aggrandizement was frowned upon among Renaissance gentlemen. When Orleans tries to excuse Dauphin’s boasting as making his virtues public, Constable replies at line 115 that the only person the Dauphin shows his courage to, that is, the only person whom he beats, is his “lackey” or servant. He then compares the Dauphin’s “hooded valor” to the hood on a falcon which flutters its wings when the hood is removed. This was called “bating,” which he makes into a pun on the Dauphin’s courage disappearing when the need for it arises. The trading of insults ends with an exchange of proverbs, which your notes explain.
When word comes that one of the French lords has actually measured the distance between the French and English tents, the guys switch from insulting each other to verbally assaulting the enemy. Henry is called “peevish,” his soldiers “fat-brained.” The fact that the English wore heavy helmets belies their lack of intelligence. They are compared to huge English mastiffs, dogs, specially trained for combat on the battlefield and in the bear-pits, where they were famous for charging at the Russian bears, even if they lost their lives. Finally at line 155 the Constable blames the English mindless ferocity on the fact they eat a lot of beef. (In fact, the British soldiers who guard the Tower of London are still called “beefeaters.”) But now, adds Orleans, they are out of beef and starving. The scene ends with an ironic note as the French foresee that each of them will have captured a hundred English by ten the next morning. In fact, it will be the English who capture and kill the French in great numbers.
This description of the two camps at night before the battle is quite poetic. Notice the emphasis on the sounds we might hear if we were there. Then we get a lengthy description of Henry moving through the English camp. How does his behavior differ from that of the French leaders we just saw?
Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring [eye-straining] dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly [softly] sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly [pale] flames
Each battle [army] sees the other's umbered [shadowy] face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear, and from the tents
The armorers, accomplishing [equipping] the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note [indication] of preparation:
The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,
And the third hour of drowsy morning name.
Proud of their numbers and secure [confident] in soul,
The confident and over-lusty [too lively] French
Do the low-rated English play [wager for] at dice;
And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night
Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp
So tediously away. The poor condemned English,
Like sacrifices, by their watchful [use for the sentinels] fires
Sit patiently and inly [inwardly] ruminate
The morning's danger, and their gesture [bearing] sad
Investing[accompanying] lank-lean; cheeks and war-worn coats,
Presenteth them unto the gazing moon
So many horrid ghosts. O, now, who will behold
The royal captain of this ruined band
Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,
Let him cry “Praise and glory on his head!”
For forth he goes and visits all his host.
Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
Upon his royal face there is no note
How dread an army hath enrounded him;
Nor doth he dedicate one jot of color
Unto [look pale on account of] the weary and all-watched [spent awake] night,
But freshly looks and over-bears attaint [overcomes any sign of exhaustion]
With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;
That every wretch, pining and pale before,
Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:
A largess universal like the sun
His liberal eye doth give to every one,
Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle [lower and upper class] all,
Behold, as may unworthiness define [as far as our unworthy selves can present],
A little touch of Harry in the night.
And so our scene must to the battle fly;
Where -- O for pity! -- we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils [stage swords],
Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,
The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,
Minding true things by what their mock’ries [imitations] be. [Exit]
This prologue has two things in common with the previous three prologues in the play. 1.) Shakespeare makes excuses for the limitations of his stage, especially in the last five lines of the scene; the constraints of the physical stage on which the play was performed were particularly noticeable in trying to recreate the great battle of Agincourt. 2.) The passage is filled with the power of Shakespeare’s poetic description; there are no characters, not even Henry, who have occasion in the play to demonstrate the power of Shakespeare’s imagination, unless you count the speech at Harfleur where Henry described how his men would rape and murder or a flowery speech about the condition of France by the Duke of Burgundy in the final scene.
In the first 20 lines Shakespeare does a wonderful job of describing the two army camps, close enough in the night to hear each other and observe the fires of the opposing sentries. Notice how many images give us the sounds of the scene: “murmur,” “hum,” “whispers,” “neighs,” “ hammers,” “cocks do crow,” and “clocks do toll.” We see that the ordinary French soldiers, like their leaders, are over-confident and are wagering how many of the English they will kill or capture. From line 22 on we see that the English are worried about the battle. Notice the words Shakespeare uses to describe them: “poor,” “condemned,” “like sacrifices,” “inly ruminate,” “lank-lean cheeks and war-worn coats,” and “so many horrid ghosts.”
In this dire situation, Henry’s personal actions make all the difference. At line 32 he visits all his troops, calling them “brothers, friends and countrymen,” regardless of their social class. (Compare that to the actions of the French leaders in the previous scene.) This evocation of a brotherhood of battle, we will see, is one of the most important things Henry does. His crusade has transcended social class in that most class-conscious society.. He is cheerful and self-confident, like a politician cheering up his volunteers the night before the election, even though he’s 30 points behind in the polls. He refuses to show any fear for himself or for the outcome. Instead his men “pluck comfort from his looks,” at line 42. Henry’s personal leadership skills are described at line 43:
A largess universal like the sun
His liberal eye doth give to every one,
Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle [lower and upper class] all,
Behold, as may unworthiness define [as far as our unworthy selves can present],
A little touch of Harry in the night.
The “little touch of Harry in the night” will be the focus for the next, extended scene.
Act IV, Scene 1, Line 1 – 85
The challenge Shakespeare faced in presenting combat in his theater was, as he has said repeatedly in the prologues, the fact that his stage and company were so limited. And so Shakespeare, much like Henry before Harfleur, substituted language for physical violence. Why does Shakespeare have Henry walk, in disguise, through the camp before the battle? What is unusual , under the circumstances, abut Pistol’s reaction to the situation? Are you surprised by Fluellen’s complaint that Henry overhears?
[Enter KING HENRY, BEDFORD, and GLOUCESTER]
HENRY: Gloucester, 'tis true that we are in great danger;
The greater therefore should our courage be.
Good morrow, brother Bedford. God Almighty!
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distill it out.
For our bad neighbor makes us early stirrers,
Which is both healthful and good husbandry [careful management].
Besides, they are our outward [not our inner] consciences,
And preachers to us all, admonishing
That we should dress us [prepare] fairly for our end.
Thus may we gather honey from the weed,
And make a moral [improving less] of the devil himself. [Enter ERPINGHAM] Good morrow, old Sir Thomas Erpingham:
A good soft pillow for that good white head
Were better than a churlish turf of France.
ERPINGHAM: Not so, my liege. This lodging likes me better,
Since I may say “Now lie I like a king.”
HENRY: 'Tis good for men to love their present pains
Upon [in pursuance of] example; so the spirit is eased:
And when the mind is quick’ned, out of doubt,
The organs [parts of the body], though defunct [unused] and dead before,
Break up their drowsy grave and newly move,
With casted slough and fresh legerity [nimbleness].
Lend me thy cloak, Sir Thomas. Brothers both,
Commend me to the princes in our camp;
Do my good morrow to them, and anon
Desire them all to my pavilion.
GLOUCESTER: We shall, my liege.
ERPINGHAM: Shall I attend your grace?
HENRY; No, my good knight;
Go with my brothers to my lords of England..
I and my bosom must debate awhile,
And then I would no other company.
ERPINGHAM: The Lord in heaven bless thee, noble Harry! [Exeunt all but KING HENRY]
HENRY: God-a-mercy, old heart! thou speak'st cheerfully. [Enter PISTOL]
PISTOL: Qui va la [who goes there]?
HENRY: A friend.
PISTOL: Discuss[declare] unto me; art thou officer?
Or art thou base, common and popular [vulgar]?
HENRY: I am a gentleman of a company.
PISTOL: Trail'st thou the puissant pike [are you an infantryman]?
HENRY: Even so. What are you?
PISTOL: As good a gentleman as the emperor.
HENRY: Then you are a better than the king.
PISTOL: The king's a bawcock [good guy], and a heart of gold,
A lad of life, an imp [child] of fame;
Of parents good, of fist most valiant.
I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heart-string
I love the lovely bully [fine fellow]. What is thy name?: HENRY V: Harry le Roy.
PISTOL: Le Roy! a Cornish name. Art thou of Cornish crew?
HENRY: No, I am a Welshman.
PISTOL: Know'st thou Fluellen?
PISTOL: Tell him, I'll knock his leek about his pate
Upon Saint Davy's day.
HENRY: Do not you wear your dagger in your cap that day,
lest he knock that about yours.
PISTOL: Art thou his friend?: HENRY: And his kinsman too.
PISTOL: The figo for thee, then!
HENRY: I thank you: God be with you!
PISTOL: My name is Pistol called. [Exit]
HENRY: It sorts well
with your fierceness. [Enter FLUELLEN and GOWER]
GOWER: Captain Fluellen!
FLUELLEN: So! in the name of Jesu Christ, speak fewer. It is the greatest admiration of the universal world, when he true and aunchient prerogatifes and laws of the wars is not kept. If you would take the pains but to examine the wars of Pompey the Great, you shall find, I warrant you, that there is no tiddle toddle nor pibble pabble in Pompey's camp; I warrant you, you shall find the ceremonies of the wars, and the cares of it, and the forms of it, and the sobriety
of it, and the modesty [moderation] of it, to be otherwise.
GOWER: Why, the enemy is loud; you hear him all night.
FLUELLEN: If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating
coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also,
look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating
coxcomb, in your own conscience, now?
GOWER: I will speak lower.
FLUELLEN: I pray you and beseech you that you will. [Exeunt GOWER and FLUELLEN]: HENRY: Though it appear a little out of fashion [odd],
There is much care and valor in this Welshman.
In the opening exchange here Henry is talking with his two younger brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford. We have seen him rely on his closest relatives, such as his uncle Exeter. They are joined by one of the commanders, an older gentleman, Sir Thomas Erpingham, whom Henry greets warmly. This whole sequence is about confidence-building and bonding with the men in his army. Notice how many times in the first 35 lines Henry uses the words “good” or “fair,” or some form of these words. Henry even uses the presence of the enemy forces in a positive sense: they have awakened the English early so they can get on with their business. The sense of shared suffering is shown in Erpingham’s response at line 17 – “Now lie I like a king.”
Henry borrows Erpingham’s cloak to disguise himself and move through his army, checking on how the soldiers will react to the challenge of the upcoming battle. Whether or not the historical King Henry did this, the idea of the monarch in disguise moving among the common folks was very much part of the folklore at the time. Mark Twain wrote a novel based on a similar legend called The Prince and the Pauper. A film back in the 1990’s called Dave had the president, played by Kevin Kline, slipping out of the White House to go out and get an ice cream cone. It is an attractive idea that those in power connect in secret with those they govern.
The first person he runs into is Pistol, blustering around and demanding to know who Henry is. When the king is mentioned, Pistol, despite Bardolph’s execution by Henry’s order, is full of praise for the monarch:
The king's a bawcock [good guy], and a heart of gold,
A lad of life, an imp [child] of fame;
Of parents good, of fist most valiant.
I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heart-string
I love the lovely bully [fine fellow].
He uses affectionate terms to describe Henry, words that imply a very familiar relationship. A father might call his child “bawcock” or “bully.” Pistol may be trying to impress this stranger with his close personal relationship with the monarch. Or he may really have these feelings for the young king. In any event there is a wonderful sense of irony for the audience watching Pistol praise Henry in disguise. When Pistol asks his name, the king replies, “Henry le Roy,” the French phrase for “Henry the King.” When the king says he is Welsh, he is referring to the fact that he was born in Wales, during one of his father’s military campaigns, and he was for some years the Prince of Wales, as future king of England. Pistol threatens Fluellen, saying he will beat him with a leek upon “Saint Davy’s Day.” Saint David was the patron saint of Wales, and on his day the Welsh soldiers wore leeks in their caps in commemoration of their part in the famous victory at Crecy earlier in the Hundred Years War.
After Pistol leaves with an obscene insult, Henry eavesdrops on a whispered conversation between Gower and Fluellen. Once again the Welshman judges the actions of his colleagues by the military standards of the ancient Romans, specifically the great general Pompey. Fluellen objects to superfluous conversations in camp: “there is no tiddle toddle nor pibble pabble in Pompey's camp; I warrant you.” The fact that the French are talking loud enough to be heard doesn’t change anything:” If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb?” The king observes that although Fluellen seems a little odd, “There is much care and valor in this Welshman.”
Act IV, Scene 1, Lines 86 – 234
In this next long sequence Henry talks with three ordinary English soldiers about their chances in the upcoming battle. He engages them in a philosophical discussion about who is responsible for their souls if they die in battle. What is Henry’s position on the king’s responsibility for the immortal souls of his soldiers? Why does he challenge one of the soldiers to a fight after the battle?
[Enter JOHN BATES, ALEXANDER COURT, and MICHAEL WILLIAMS]
COURT: Brother John Bates, is not that the morning which
BATES: I think it be; but we have no great cause to desire
the approach of day.
WILLIAMS: We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think
we shall never see the end of it. Who goes there?
HENRY: A friend.
WILLIAMS: Under what captain serve you?
HENRY: Under Sir Thomas Erpingham.
WILLIAMS: A good old commander and a most kind gentleman. I pray you, what thinks he of our estate [condition or chances]?
HENRY: Even as men wrecked upon a sand [shoal], that look to be
washed off the next tide.
BATES: He hath not told his thought to the king?
HENRY; No; nor it is not meet he should. For, though I
speak it to you, I think the king is but a man, as I
am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me; the
element shows [sky appears] to him as it doth to me; all his
senses have but human conditions [limitations]. His ceremonies [royalty] laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours,
yet, when they stoop [swoop like a falcon], they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of [for] fears, as we
do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish
as ours are. Yet, in reason, no man should possess
him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing
it, should dishearten his army.
BATES: He may show what outward courage he will; but I
believe, as cold a night as 'tis, he could wish
himself in Thames up to the neck; and so I would he
were, and I by him, at all adventures [whatever the consequences], so we were quit [out of] here.
HENRY: By my troth, I will speak my conscience [inmost thought] of the king:
I think he would not wish himself any where but
where he is.
BATES: Then I would he were here alone; so should he be
sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men's lives saved.
HENRY: I dare say you love him not so ill, to wish him here
alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men's minds. Methinks I could not die any where so
contented as in the king's company; his cause being
just and his quarrel honorable.
WILLIAMS: That's more than we know.
BATES: Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know
enough, if we know we are the King’s subjects: if
his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes
the crime of it out of us.
WILLIAMS: But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day [Judgment Day] and cry all “We died at such a place,” ' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly [too young] left. I am afeard there are few die well [in a state of grace] that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection [proper relationship of subject and monarch].
HENRY: So, if a son that is by his father sent about
merchandise do sinfully miscarry [die while guilty of sin] upon the sea, the
imputation of his wickedness by your rule, should be
imposed upon his father that sent him. Or if a
servant, under his master's command transporting a
sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in
many irreconciled [not atoned for] iniquities, you may call the
business of the master the author of the servant's
damnation. But this is not so. The king is not
bound to answer [be responsible for] the particular endings of his
soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of
his servant; for they purpose not their death, when
they purpose their services. Besides, there is no
king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to
the arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all
unspotted soldiers: some (peradventure) have on them
the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder;
some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals [sealed covenants]of
perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark [defense against crime], that
have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with
pillage and robbery. Now, if these men have
defeated the law and outrun native [rightful] punishment,
though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to
fly from God. War is his beadle [religious police]; war is vengeance;
so that here men are punished for before-breach [previous crime] of
the king's laws in now the king's quarrel. Where
they feared the death, they have borne life away;
and where they would be safe, they perish: then if
they die unprovided [unprepared], no more is the king guilty of
their damnation than he was before guilty of those
impieties for the which they are now visited. [punished].Every
subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's
soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in
the wars do as every sick man in his bed -- wash every
mote out of his conscience: and dying so, death
is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was
blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained:
and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think
that, making God so free [complete and wholehearted] an offer, He let him
outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach
others how they should prepare.
WILLIAMS: 'Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon
his own head, the king is not to answer it.
BATES: But I do not desire he should answer for me; and
yet I determine to fight lustily for him.
HENRY: I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.
WILLIAMS: Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully: but when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we ne'er the wiser.
HENRY: If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.
WILLIAMS: You pay him [pay him back]then. That's a perilous shot out of an
elder-gun [toy gun], that a poor and private [personal] displeasure can do against a monarch! You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock's feather. You'll never trust his word after! Come, 'tis a foolish saying.
HENRY: Your reproof is something too round [plainspoken]. I should be
angry with you, if the time were convenient.
WILLIAMS: Let it be a quarrel between us, if you live.
HENRY: I embrace it.
WILLIAMS: How shall I know thee again?
HENRY: Give me any gage [pledge] of thine, and I will wear it in my
bonnet. Then, if ever thou darest acknowledge it, I
will make it my quarrel.
WILLIAMS: Here's my glove: give me another of thine.
WILLIAMS: This will I also wear in my cap: if ever thou come
to me and say, after to-morrow, “This is my glove,”
by this hand, I will take [strike] thee a box on the ear.
HENRY: If ever I live to see it, I will challenge it.
WILLIAMS: Thou darest as well be hanged.
HENRY: Well. I will do it, though I take thee in the
WILLIAMS: Keep thy word. Fare thee well.
BATES: Be friends, you English fools, be friends. We have French quarrels enow, if you could tell how to reckon [count].
HENRY: Indeed, the French may lay twenty French crowns [coins, or heads]to one, they will beat us; for they bear them on their shoulders; but it is no English treason [refers to crime of clipping gold coins to steal the gold] to cut French crowns, and to-morrow the king himself will
be a clipper.
The most obvious dynamic in this section is the fact we are aware that it is the King who is engaging these common soldiers in conversation. When they ask him who he serves under, Henry answers “Sir Thomas Erpinham,” since he wears his cloak. Our knowledge of the stranger’s identity creates a kind of dramatic irony where Henry’s words have one meaning to Bates, Court and Williams and a different meaning to us. In the passage from line 86 to 234, find at least three places where Shakespeare uses this dramatic irony. The other thing which this sequence demonstrates is Henry’s ability to communicate with even the lowliest soldier in his own language. Contrast Henry’s ability with what Shakespeare shows us of the Dauphin’s communications skills in Act III, Scene 7. The French prince could no more talk with the foot soldiers in his army than he could eat their food. But Henry has used his youthful experiences with Falstaff, Bardolph and the others to prepare him for just this moment: “How do I go about convincing ordinary men to fight gallantly even though they are surrounded and outnumbered?”
One way is to be straight forward with them. When they ask him what Sir Thomas thinks of their chances in the battle, Henry tells them the truth: ‘Even as men wrecked upon a sand [shoal], that look to be washed off the next tide.” Their position is desperate, but when they ask if Sir Thomas has told the King, Henry says he hasn’t and he won’t, since the King has to project optimism to the men fighting under him. When Bates says at line 117 that he bets the King wishes he were back home, Henry denies it and says he would rather be here in France than anywhere else. In the passage from line 102 – 114 we see something poignant about King Henry. He may see himself as just another man and seek to emphasize the brotherhood of all those with him, but in reality he cannot reach out to others in his own person. He can only do so, as here, in a disguise. He and these men can never be best buddies.
The other way that Henry has of appealing to the commoners serving in his army is to speak to them in ways they can relate to. When at lines 136 – 149 Williams speaks with simple eloquence about the horrors of dying in battle, he finds only one glimmer of hope: if they die in a state of sin, it will be the fault of the King. Henry’s long response at lines 150 – 190 is remarkable for its clarity and persuasive power. Back in the opening scene the two church leaders had said that the King could argue theology in scholarly terms, and we saw him tackle the complexities of the laws of succession to the French throne. But here he uses examples from everyday life and argues logically using two powerful analogies to show that each man is responsible for the state of his own soul, regardless of how he meets his death. What are the analogies he uses? He then moves to discussing how the King must recruit soldiers who may be guilty of crimes they committed before they joined his army. He cannot be held responsible for their damnation if they die in the war. At line 173 Henry calls war “God’s beadle,” the religious policeman who arrested criminals for acts of sin in the medieval church. From line 180 on Henry discusses how men facing battle should prepare for the worst, trying to make sure that if they die, they will die in a state of grace. Then if they survive the battle, the spiritual exercise of having atoned for their previous sins will make them better men in the rest of their lives and will serve as an example for others.
The argument convinces Williams and Bates that the King is not responsible for the state of their souls, and they declare they will “fight lustily” in his cause. Then Henry pushes his luck and brings up the question of ransom. Now the French had assumed that Henry would be defeated and would beg for a deal whereby he would pay a ransom for his freedom. Kings of France, Scotland and England had all been held for ransom at different times. (King Richard the Lion-Hearted of Robin Hood fame had been captured in Austria and held for ransom.) By the way, the ransom option only applied to the nobles and gentlemen; the common soldiers would most likely be slaughtered if they surrendered. But Henry had told Montjoy that he would not allow himself to be taken captive, and he repeats his promise here to the soldiers. When they cynically laugh at his naiveté in trusting what the leader had said publicly, Williams mocks him at lines 202 – 207, saying that the stranger’s displeasure could hardly matter to the King. Henry takes umbrage and ends up accepting a challenge from Williams to a fight after the battle is over. They exchange “gages,” probably gloves that would be a tangible sign that each had pledged his word of honor to fight the other. The sequence ends with Henry making an elaborate pun on “clipping French crowns,” which your notes explain.
Why does Henry go ahead with a challenge from an ordinary soldier? (By the way, Shakespeare got the names of these three men from Holinshed’s account of the Battle of Agincourt.) It isn’t as if he can go through with a fight with Williams, and given the fact that he was in disguise, he should not have been insulted when Williams made fun of his expressing displeasure with the King if he went back on his word. The fact is that Henry feels that enormous separation from his subjects. The men he had trusted in the past, like Lord Scroop, had betrayed him; the men he had hoped would change, like Falstaff and Bardolph, had disappointed him. I will talk later about this curious act of reaching out that he does by playing practical jokes on people whose lives he controls, what I call “the fellowship of the rough jest.” In fact the only way he has of feeling like a brother to Williams, Bates and Court is to play tricks on them.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 235 – 314
We really see this sense of isolation that Henry chafes under in this next sequence. Why does the language here change from what it had been in the rest of the scene? What separates the King from those he rules over? What has he given up to be an effective leader? Then, as Henry prepares for battle, he prays for the state of grace he had urged for the ordinary soldiers earlier. What is the sin that he seeks forgiveness for?
HENRY: “Upon the King! Let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful [anxious] wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the King!”
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath [speech]
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing [pain]! What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idle Ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? What are thy comings-in [income]?
O Ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration [thy real essence]?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form [good order],
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being feared
Than they in fearing.
What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poisoned flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown [inflated] from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure [bowing] and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play'st so subtly with a king's repose;
I am a king that find [discover the tue nature of] thee, and I know
'Tis not the balm, the scepter and the ball [royal orb],
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced [fancy-phrased] title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore [exalted places] of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body filled and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful [gained by hard work] bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey [footman], from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus [sun-god] and all night
Sleeps in Elysium [place of peace for the dead]; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion [god who controlled the chariot of the sun]to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labor, to his grave.
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up [passing] days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand [upper hand] and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of [sharer in] the country's peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots [realizes]
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages [most benefits the peasant]. [Enter ERPINGHAM]
ERPINGHAM: My lord, your nobles, jealous of [worried about] your absence,
Seek through your camp to find you.
HENRY: Good old knight,
Collect them all together at my tent. I'll be before thee.
ERPINGHAM: I shall do't, my lord. [Exit]
HENRY: O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning [counting], if the opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them. Not today, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interred anew;
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood:
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
Who twice a-day their withered hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
Two chantries [chapels], where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard's soul. More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon. [Enter GLOUCESTER]
GLOUCESTER: My liege!
HENRY: My brother Gloucester's voice? Ay.
I know thy errand, I will go with thee.
The day, my friends and all things stay for me. [Exit]
Here in the fourth act of a play entirely focused on one character, King Henry, we finally hear from the man himself. Every other utterance to this point has been a public declaration of some kind, playing to some kind of an audience. We find that Henry in reality is a lot more complex than he appeared to be. He is not as happy and self-confident as he shows the world. We see in his soliloquy that he harbors a lot of resentment; he feels that as king he must “bear all.” He is subject to “the breath/ Of every fool.” He carries an enormous burden as a man, and all he has to set him apart is “Ceremony,” what we might call “the perks of power.” And yet all the symbols of that ceremony, the objects associated with the royal coronation at line 265 --
the balm, the scepter and the ball [royal orb],
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced [fancy-phrased] title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on –
none of these is able to bring him any contentment or “hearts-ease.” Ceremony is but “a dream.” It cannot cure any disease and only insures that he will be fed “poisoned flattery.” When as a young prince, Henry had first shared his innermost thoughts with the audience in Henry IV, Part 1, he had made the same kind of statement and spoke of the coming burden of the crown as “the debt I never promised.” No one asked him if he wanted to be king, least of all his father. Here he develops a wonderful comparison with the “wretch” who works hard all his life for a little food and yet, unlike the king, sleeps soundly. Perhaps we thought Henry was walking around the camp the night before the battle because he wanted to bring everyone “a little touch of Harry in the night”; in reality, it is because he cannot sleep for worry.
Then at line 294 he has a remarkable prayer, seeking the same state of grace he had urged for Bates, Williams and Court. Here we discover Henry’s core worry, the sin he fears will lead to his downfall in the battle: his father’s illegal and immoral seizing of the throne and subsequent encouragement of the murder of the rightful king, Richard II. After praying that his men not give into fear, that they do not reckon the odds against them, he pleads that God not take this occasion to punish him for his father’s fault. He lists all the amends he has made: he has reburied Richard’s body with great ceremony; he has wept more tears than the blood which flowed from Richard’s mutilated body; he has hired 500 poor people to pray for Richard’s soul twice a day. He has even built two chapels and has priests praying officially for Richard. Yet he is honest with himself and knows that his efforts are all after the fact. He has the throne and can only seek pardon for what has been committed.
These two soliloquies, the statement of his burden and the prayer for his sin, make us see Henry as a very conflicted man. He has created the façade of a happy warrior, content to be facing destruction in battle in France. Yet we see that in reality, if he had had the choice, he would rather not have shouldered the cares and personal losses of being king. Nevertheless, he has accepted his lot and he carries out his masquerade with good grace and makes a very successful king. When we realize his inner turmoil, it makes his remarkable actions in leading his army and his nation all the more extraordinary.
Act IV, Scene 3
We again see the French leaders as they prepare for battle. What is their attitude toward their enemy? What points of contrast do they emphasize between themselves and the English?
[The French camp.] [Enter the DAUPHIN, ORLEANS, RAMBURES,others]
ORLEANS: The sun doth gild our armor; up, my lords!
DAUPHIN: Montez a cheval [To horse]! My horse! Varlet, laquais [grooms]! Ha! ORLEANS: O brave spirit!
DAUPHIN: Via! les eaux et la terre [begone, water and earth].
ORLEANS: Rien puis? L'air et la feu [ride further, to air and fire?]
DAUPHIN: Ciel [to heaven], cousin Orleans. [Enter Constable] Now, my Lord Constable!
CONSTABLE: Hark, how our steeds for present service neigh!
DAUPHIN: Mount them, and make incision in their hides,
That their hot blood may spin [spurt out] in English eyes,
And dout [blind] them with superfluous courage, ha!
RAMBURES: What, will you have them weep our horses' blood?
How shall we, then, behold their natural tears? [Enter Messenger]
MESSENGER; The English are embattled, you French peers.
CONSTABLE: To horse, you gallant Princes! straight to horse!
Do but behold yond poor and starved band,
And your fair show [appearance] shall suck away their souls,
Leaving them but the shales [shells] and husks of men.
There is not work enough for all our hands;
Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins
To give each naked curtle-axe a stain,
That our French gallants shall today draw out,
And sheathe for lack of sport: Let us but blow on them,
The vapor of our valor will o'erturn them.
'Tis positive 'gainst all exceptions [objections],, lords,
That our superfluous lackeys and our peasants,
Who in unnecessary action swarm
About our squares of battle, were enow
To purge this field of such a hilding [worthless] foe,
Though we upon this mountain's basis by
Took stand for idle speculation [observation],
But that our honors must not. What's to say?
A very little little let us do.
And all is done. Then let the trumpets sound
The tucket sonance [bugle call] and the note to mount;
For our approach shall so much dare [dazzle] the field
That England shall couch [crouch] down in fear and yield. [Enter GRANDPRE]
GRANDPRE: Why do you stay so long, my lords of France?
Yon island carrions [skeletons], desperate of their bones,
Ill-favoredly become the morning field:
Their ragged curtains [banners] poorly are let loose,
And our air shakes them passing [extremely] scornfully:
Big Mars seems bankrupt in their beggared host
And faintly through a rusty beaver [face-guard of a helmet]peeps:
The horsemen sit like fixed candlesticks,
With torch-staves in their hand; and their poor jades
Lob [droop] down their heads, dropping the hides and hips,
The gum down-roping [coursing] from their pale-dead eyes
And in their pale dull mouths the gimmaled [jointed] bit
Lies foul with chewed grass, still and motionless;
And their executors, the knavish crows,
Fly o'er them, all impatient for their hour.
Description cannot suit itself in words
To demonstrate the life of [demonstrate exactly as it is] such a battle
In life so lifeless as it shows itself.
CONSTABLE: They have said their prayers, and they stay for death.
DAUPHIN: Shall we go send them dinners and fresh suits
And give their fasting horses provender,
And after fight with them?
CONSTABLE: I stay but for my guidon [banner]. To the field!
I will the banner from a trumpet [trumpeter] take,
And use it for my haste. Come, come, away!
The sun is high, and we outwear the day. [Exit]
Given what is about to happen to the French, this is a scene filled with dramatic irony. All of the boasting and trash-talk which the French leaders indulge in makes their utter defeat all the more pleasurable to Shakespeare’s audience. Throughout this short scene the French emphasize their appearance and contrast it with the English – their armor, their horses, their banners. In the opening line Orleans is most concerned with how shiny his armor gleams in the sun; at line 17 the Constable declares that their “fair show” is enough to “suck away their [the English] souls.” The Dauphin continues to be obsessed with his horse which he will ride past the four elements of this world all the way to heaven! In his excitement he berates and perhaps beats his servants, as the Constable said back in Act III, Scene 7 was the way he demonstrated his courage. At line 4 Orleans flatters him as usual. The Dauphin even suggests that they cut the flanks of their horses so that their blood will spurt out when they charge the English and blind them! These guys are all about the visual effect they want to achieve, in contrast to Henry’s concerns about the sate of his and his men’s souls.
At line 19 the French begin to diss the English. The Constable complains that there aren’t enough of the enemy soldiers to provide work for everyone. Except for the fact that their honor requires them to fight, the French nobles could just leave the job of annihilating the English to their peasants and lackeys. At line 32 the Constable, as the nominal head of the army, gives his pre-battle pep talk: “What's to say?/ A very little little let us do./ And all is done.” That’s it! Contrast that with Henry’s speech in the next scene. Grandpre comes in at line 38 and really gets down on the English: they look like a bunch of beggars; they’re scared to death; their flags are more like ragged curtains. Then at lines 46 – 50 he gives us a detailed description of their horses, down to the gum running from their diseased eyes and the chewed grass on their bits. In a nice piece of irony he says that the “executors” of the horses’ estates after they are killed will be the crows, which were the principal birds of carrion on the battlefield. It’s a marvelously poetic passage which emphasizes through observing their mounts how really desperate the English are in the eyes of the French. The Dauphin sarcastic response at line 57 is to suggest they feed the English and their horses and give them better clothes and then fight with them afterwards.
In your text at line 60 the Constable says he is only waiting for his “guard.” That should read “guidon,” the special banner the leaders carried with them into battle. Since his hasn’t arrived yet, he will grab an ordinary banner from a trumpeter and take that to lead the charge. Time is wasting!
Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 1 – 78
Now we see the English getting ready for battle. Henry gives a pep talk, the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech, to inspire his men. What exactly does he say to appeal to them to fight?
[The English camp.]
[Enter GLOUCESTER, BEDFORD, EXETER, ERPINGHAM, with all his host;
SALISBURY and WESTMORELAND]
GLOUCESTER: Where is the King?
BEDFORD: The king himself is rode to view their battle [array of troops]
WESTMORELAND: Of fighting men they have full three score thousand.
EXETER: There's five to one; besides, they all are fresh.
SALISBURY: God's arm strike with us! 'Tis a fearful odds.
God bye [be with] you, princes all. I'll to my charge:
If we no more meet till we meet in heaven,
Then, joyfully, my noble Lord of Bedford,
My dear Lord Gloucester, and my good Lord Exeter,
And my kind kinsman, warriors all, adieu!
BEDFORD: Farewell, good Salisbury; and good luck go with thee!
EXETER: Farewell, kind lord; fight valiantly to-day:
And yet I do thee wrong to mind thee of it,
For thou art framed of the firm truth of valor. [Exit SALISBURY]
BEDFORD: He is full of valor as of kindness;
Princely in both. [Enter the KING]
WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
HENRY: What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are marked to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honor.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns [grieves] me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honor,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honor
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach [inclination] to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a- tiptoe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin's day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages [added luster]
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered --
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile [lower class];
This day shall gentle his condition [make him a gentleman]. And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. [Re-enter SALISBURY]
SALISBURY: My sovereign lord, bestow yourself with speed:
The French are bravely [finely arrayed] in their battles set,
And will with all expedience [speed] charge on us.
HENRY: All things are ready, if our minds be so.
WESTMORELAND: Perish the man whose mind is backward now!
HENRY: Thou dost not wish more help from England, coz?
WESTMORELAND: God's will, my liege! would you and I alone,
Without more help, could fight this royal battle!
HENRY: Why, now thou hast unwished five thousand men;
Which likes me better than to wish us one.
You know your places. God be with you all!
How does Henry inspire his men? The same way he did at Harfleur or the night before the battle – he finds whatever they have in common and speaks to them in powerfully eloquent but simple language. In the opening lines here, the English nobles essentially agree with the French assessment – they are outnumbered five to one, and they are tired while the French are fresh. When Salisbury leaves to join his troops, these leaders say farewell in a way that emphasizes their affection and respect for each other, unlike the sniping we saw among the French.
This particular day is a holiday back home in England, the Saint’s Day for the Roman brothers Crispin and Crispian who were martyred for being Christians in 286 A.D. Westmoreland wishes, at line 17, they had with them just one ten-thousandth of the men who were not working back home Henry enters at that point and chides Westmoreland for his wish. He declares that he is so covetous of honor, he hates to share with others the honor their victory will bring. If you think about it, Henry is using a psychological trick here. He takes the fact that they are relatively few and makes it into a virtue. Then at line 34 he makes a remarkable offer: anyone who doesn’t want to fight is free to leave; Henry will give him his wages and a safe conduct pass. Under the circumstances it is an effective gambit. The men listening would be reluctant to step up and desert their comrades, especially since they are surrounded by hostile Frenchmen who are hardly likely to allow them to just walk away. The “fellowship” Henry offers them sounds like an acceptance of the inevitable.
At line 40 Henry begins his appeal to shared suffering. Saint Crispin’s Day will henceforth be famous for their sacrifice. It will be a transformative event for these men; they will never be the same. He jumps ahead in time and imagines the survivors reliving this experience in years to come: they will feast their neighbors and show their scars, talking familiarly of the leaders and inflating their own deeds. Shakespeare was very perceptive, because veterans of every major battle have, throughout history, done the same thing; one has only to watch the History Channel or attend a veterans’ reunion. Fighting for Henry in this battle will mean the soldiers will always be remembered.
At line 60 Henry evokes the idea of a brotherhood of battle:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile [lower class];
This day shall gentle his condition [make him a gentleman].
Stephen Ambrose used the phrase “a band of brothers” as the title for his popular work on the exploits of a company of the 101 Airborne in World War II, a work which was made into a series for television and featured many of the old vets recalling their exploits in exactly the same way Shakespeare here describes. The clincher to Henry’s appeal is the offer to make everyone who fights a gentleman, regardless of his previous condition. In the other plays we have studied, you have seen how important this social divide is. Most people in England were of the lower classes, and this offer represented opportunity to rise significantly in the world for all the common soldiers who did most of the fighting. This remarkable gesture, says Henry at line 65, will make gentlemen back home jealous that they were not there as part of this brotherhood.
Two quick stories about this speech and World War II. Accounts of the D-Day landings in Normandy tell of some British officers reading the speech aloud to their troops as they headed for the beach. It was a natural kind of reaction for those familiar with the play from school or from a famous film version with Laurence Olivier made just before Normandy. There is a story about a kind of American version of the speech. Just before a big battle in France, the fiery general George Patton tried to inspire his troops with the same idea of Henry expresses here. He said, “Those of you who survive this battle and go home eventually will have kids. And when your kids ask you, ‘What did you do in the war, Daddy?’ you’ll be able to tell them you fought with Patton in France and not just shoveled shit in Louisiana.”
Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 79 – 133
Montjoy, the French herald, comes for a second time to talk with Henry about ransom. To whom are Henry’s remarks in response aimed? What connection do they have with Henry’s previous speech in this scene?
[Trumpet. Enter MONTJOY]
MONTJOY: Once more I come to know of thee, King Harry,
If for thy ransom thou wilt now compound [make terms],
Before thy most assured overthrow:
For certainly thou art so near the gulf,
Thou needs must be englutted [swallowed]. Besides, in mercy,
The Constable desires thee thou wilt mind
Thy followers of repentance; that their souls
May make a peaceful and a sweet retire [retreat]
From off these fields, where, wretches, their poor bodies
Must lie and fester. : HENRY V Who hath sent thee now?
MONTJOY: The Constable of France.: HENRY V: I pray thee, bear my former answer back:
Bid them achieve [kill] me and then sell my bones.
Good God!,why should they mock poor fellows thus?
The man that once did sell the lion's skin
While the beast lived, was killed with hunting him.
A many of our bodies shall no doubt
Find native graves; upon the which, I trust,
Shall witness live in brass of this day's work.
And those that leave their valiant bones in France,
Dying like men, though buried in your dunghills,
They shall be famed; for there the sun shall greet them,
And draw their honors reeking [exhaling] up to heaven;
Leaving their earthly parts to choke your clime,
The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France.
Mark then abounding valor in our English;
That being dead, like to the bullet's grazing,
Break out into a second course of mischief,
Killing in relapse of mortality [killing in a deadly ricochet].
Let me speak proudly. Tell the Constable
We are but warriors for the working-day;
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched
With rainy marching in the painful field;
There's not a piece of feather in our host --
Good argument, I hope, we will not fly --
And time hath worn us into slovenry [dirtiness];
But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim [in good shape, fashionably], And my poor soldiers tell me, yet ere night
They'll be in fresher robes [heavenly attire, after dying], or they will pluck
The gay new coats o'er the French soldiers' heads
And turn them [French soldiers] out of service. If they do this, --
As, if God please, they shall, -- my ransom then
Will soon be levied. Herald, save thou thy labor;
Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald:
They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints;
Which if they have as I will leave 'em them,
Shall yield them little, tell the Constable.
MONTJOY: I shall, King Harry. And so fare thee well:
Thou never shalt hear herald any more. [Exit]
HENRY: I fear thou'lt once more come again for ransom. [Enter YORK]
YORK: My lord, most humbly on my knee I beg
The leading of the vaward [vanguard].
HENRY: Take it, brave York. Now, soldiers, march away:
And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day! [Exit]
In this exchange with Montjoy, Henry continues to inspire his men, who are all standing there listening. Montjoy asks again what ransom Henry will be willing to pay and says the Constable hopes he has urged his men to repent, since they have no hope of escaping death. First, Henry angrily tells Montjoy to stop taunting the men the French will presumably kill; he reminds the herald of the story of the man who arrogantly sold the lion’s skin while it was still alive but was killed hunting it. Then rather than denying this possible outcome, which is on everyone’s mind anyway. Henry turns it to his advantage, almost reveling in the morbidity of the moment. If the English soldiers are killed and buried in the dung hills of France, their honors will be exhaled up to heaven while their festering bodies will breed a plague among the French; even in death the English will bedevil their enemies. In an appropriate conceit at line 105 Henry calls this a kind of collateral damage, like the ricochet of a bullet. At line 110 Henry acknowledges that the French will win the fashion show; that the English soldiers are “but warriors for the working day”: that is, they are rather drab looking but they mean business. They may not have feathers and plumes, but that just means they won’t fly from combat. Henry finishes by asserting once again that the only ransom he will pay is his joints, and killing him will be a great deal of trouble for the French. When Montjoy says he won’t return, Henry replies prophetically that he will come one more time. Gloucester, the king’s cousin, gets the honor of leading the vanguard of the English charge; it was also a very dangerous position to be in.
Act IV, Scene 4
We get our first view of the actual battle of Agincourt. Let me give you some background on the battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415 in Northern France. The French greatly outnumbered the English forces; whether or not it was five to one as Shakespeare tells us is unclear, but it was true the French soldiers were relatively fresh while the English were tired, sick and hungry. Agincourt was the name of a small castle near the battlefield. The English were at the bottom of a long, grassy slope, the French at the top. Henry had prepared a defensive position by driving sharpened stakes into the ground, behind which he grouped his armored troops and cavalry. The slope was lined on either side by trees, and here Henry stationed his common soldiers, most of whom were armed with the fabled English long bow, a weapon so powerful it could penetrate some metal armor. When the French knights, riding their heavy war horses, charged down to the English lines, the archers on either side forced them into a narrow lane the center of the slope. The ground was wet, especially at the bottom of the slope. There were so many mounted French at the battle, they had to take turns charging the enemy. Furthermore there was no overall commander of the French forces; each nobleman was in charge of his group of men and decided when they would enter the battle. As a result the French attacked the enemy piecemeal and at a disadvantage.
When the charging French reached the English stakes, they were packed into a small area, a killing zone. They were at a disadvantage in trying to fight in hand-to-hand combat in the mud with lethal arrows zinging into them. After the first wave of attackers had been dispatched, the next wave of French charged down, and so on, over and over. Within a short time so many Frenchmen had been killed the bodies were stacked in front of the English position 10 or 12 deep. The later attackers had to climb over the bodies of their own men to try and get at the English.
As the size of the catastrophe became apparent, more and more French soldiers gave up. They took off their armed glove, their “gage,” to signify they were giving their word, turned over their sword, and were marched to the rear. Soon there were more French captives behind the lines than there were English soldiers in the army. At this point Henry realized that there was nothing restraining those prisoners; they could overwhelm his men from the rear. He apparently panicked and ordered that the French prisoners be slaughtered.
Now the noblemen who had taken the captives and held their gages, were not about to kill their captives. First, it was against the rules of chivalry; they might be in the same position sometime themselves and were dependent on the charity of the enemy. Second, it meant they would lose all that ransom; the king would lose his cut as well. They refused the order. So Henry turned to the common soldiers. They had no financial stake in the captives and they could not expect any charity under the rules of war. Montjoy had just told them their bodies would fester and rot on the battlefield. They set about killing the French prisoners, using knives, short swords, wooden mallets and stakes. They would knock a man wearing armor to the ground. If they were unable to stab in through his face guard, they would find a weak point in the armor at the groin or armpit and drive the stake into the body.
No one knows for sure how many of the prisoners were killed like this; some think it was several thousand; other historians set the number at a couple of hundred. But what we do know is that it created a huge controversy at the time. All the French depictions of the battle show the massacre of the unarmed prisoners, emphasizing that it was a violation of accepted conduct in warfare. We do know that a large part of Henry’s subsequent military success was based on the fact that he fought a kind of total war and terrorized the French. The English were bothered by the charge that it had been an unwarranted atrocity, and so historians linked Henry’s decision to kill the prisoners to the unrelated attack upon his camp by an unorganized band of local guerrillas who were not under the command of anyone in the French army. Watch for how Shakespeare will establish this link for his audience in three different places where Henry’s decision is praised by the fighting men.
In Act IV the combat will be presented in three short vignettes, action on the periphery of the much larger battle. Why does Shakespeare present the fighting in this fashion? Why does he start with this scene where Pistol captures a Frenchman? What important foreshadowing occurs in this scene?
[The field of battle.] [Enter PISTOL,
FRENCH SOLDIER, and BOY]
PISTOL: Yield, cur!
FRENXH SOLDIER: Je pense que vous etes gentilhomme de bonne qualite.
PISTOL: Qualtitie calmie custure me! Art thou a gentleman?
What is thy name? Discuss.
FRENCH SOLDIER: O Seigneur Dieu!
PISTOL: O, Signieur Dew should be a gentleman:
Perpend my words, O Signieur Dew, and mark;
O Signieur Dew, thou diest on point of fox [a kind of sword],
Except, O signieur, thou do give to me
Egregious [huge] ransom.
FRENCH SOLDIER: O, prenez misericorde! ayez pitie de moi!
PISTOL: Moy shall not serve; I will have forty moys;
Or I will fetch thy rim [stomach lining] out at thy throat
In drops of crimson blood.
FRENCH SOLDIER: Est-il impossible d'echapper la force de ton bras?
PISTOL: Brass, cur!
Thou damned and luxurious [lustful] mountain goat,
Offer'st me brass?
FRENCH SOLDIER: O pardonnez moi!
PISTOL: Say'st thou me so? Is that a ton of moys?
Come hither, boy; ask me this slave in French
What is his name.
BOY: Ecoutez: comment etes-vous appele?
FRENCH SOLDIER: Monsieur le Fer.
BOY: He says his name is Master Fer.
PISTOL: Master Fer! I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret
him. Discuss the same in French unto him.
BOY: I do not know the French for “fer,” and “ferret”, and “firk”
PISTOL: Bid him prepare; for I will cut his throat.
FRENCH SOLDIER: Que dit-il, monsieur?
BOY: Il me commande de vous dire que vous faites vous
pret; car ce soldat ici est dispose tout a cette
heure de couper votre gorge.
PISTOL: Owy, cuppele gorge, permafoy,
Peasant, unless thou give me crowns, brave crowns; Or mangled shalt thou be by this my sword.
FRENCH SOLDIER: O, je vous supplie, pour l'amour de Dieu, me
pardonner! Je suis gentilhomme de bonne maison: gardez ma vie, et je vous donnerai deux cents ecus.
PISTOL: What are his words?
BOY: He prays you to save his life. He is a gentleman of
a good house; and for his ransom he will give you
two hundred crowns.
PISTOL: Tell him my fury shall abate, and I The crowns will take.
FRENCH SOLDIER: Petit monsieur, que dit-il?
BOY: Encore qu'il est contre son jurement de pardonner
aucun prisonnier, neanmoins, pour les ecus que vous
l'avez promis, il est content de vous donner la
liberte, le franchisement.
FRENCH SOLDIER: Sur mes genoux je vous donne mille remercimens; et
je m'estime heureux que je suis tombe entre les
mains d'un chevalier, je pense, le plus brave,
vaillant, et tres distingue seigneur d'Angleterre.
PISTOL: Expound unto me, boy.
BOY: He gives you, upon his knees, a thousand thanks; and
he esteems himself happy that he hath fallen into
the hands of one, as he thinks, the most brave,
valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.
PISTOL: As I suck blood, I will some mercy show.
BOY: Suivez-vous le grand capitaine. [Exeunt PISTOL, and French Soldier] I did never know so full a voice issue from so
empty [cowardly] a heart: but the saying is true “The empty
vessel makes the greatest sound.” Bardolph and Nym
had ten times more valor than this roaring devil i'
the old play, that every one may pare his nails with
a wooden dagger; and they are both hanged; and so
would this be, if he durst steal any thing
adventurously. I must stay with the lackeys, with
the luggage of our camp -- the French might have a
good prey of us, if he knew of it; for there is
none to guard it but boys. [Exit]
Shakespeare could hardly show the whole scope of the battle that involved thousands on each side, so he focused on short scenes to try and reflect what was going on elsewhere. Right from the beginning the battle of Agincourt went badly for the French, as we see in this little snippet of the action. After all of Henry’s inspiring words, however, we may have expected to see some heroic combat in which English courage saves the day. Instead we get the big phony Pistol capturing some clueless French soldier. This is Shakespeare’s way of reminding us that even with all the eloquence, the victory was made up of a lot of individual actions, and the individual men involved were operating for a lot of different motives. Pistol doesn’t care about honor or England or Henry, just the money. The other thing the scene makes clear is that Pistol is able to fool someone besides Fluellen into accepting his con as the hot-tempered military hero. The French soldier is terrorized and at line 63 the Boy tells us “he esteems himself happy that he hath fallen into/ the hands of one, as he thinks, the most brave,/ valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.”
Once again we have a scene in which much of the dialogue is in French, with someone translating just enough into English for us to follow what is happening. What is hilarious about the French/English confusion is the extent to which Pistol is obsessed with getting that “egregious ransom.” When the Frenchman at line 6 calls upon God, “Dieu,” Pistol assumes that he must be “Signieur Dew,” a gentleman who can pay for his life. When the soldier pleads to have pity on me, “moi,” Pistol says it will take at least forty “moys” to buy his freedom. When the Frenchman uses the word for “arm,” “bras,” Pistol is enraged at the suggestion he may be paid in brass rather than gold. He tells the Boy that he will “fer, firk and ferret” his captive for all he is worth. Pistol’s act pays off when the soldier offer to pay 200 crowns, a veritable fortune for someone like Pistol, who marches him off to the rear.
Disgusted, the Boy tells us the only reason Pistol has not been hanged like Bardolph and Nym is that he is too much of a coward to steal anything of any value. (So we discover Nym has shared Bardolph’s fate at the end of a rope.) At line 74 the Boy compares Pistol to the character of the Devil in an old comedy who was so toothless and feeble, you could “pare his nails with a wooden dagger.” In the last four lines of the scene, we learn that the Boy has been sent with the other youngsters to guard the English camp behind the battle lines. In a bit of foreshadowing the Boy tells us that if the French knew how poorly defended the camp was, they would attack it. This is the last time we se the Boy alive.
Act IV, Scene 5
We see our favorite Frenchmen one last time as they face the enormity of their defeat and the shame and dishonor they must bear. How has their opinion of the English changed?
[Another part of the field.]
[Enter Constable, ORLEANS, BOURBON, DAUPHIN, and RAMBURES]
CONSTABLE: O diable!
ORLEANS: O seigneur! le jour est perdu, tout est perdu!
DAUPHIN: Mort de ma vie! all is confounded, all!
Reproach and everlasting shame
Sits mocking in our plumes. O merchante fortune!
Do not run away. [A short alarum]
CONSTABLE: Why, all our ranks are broke.
DAUPHIN: O perdurable [lasting] shame! Let's stab ourselves.
Be these the wretches that we played at dice for?
ORLEANS: Is this the king we sent to for his ransom?
BOURBON: Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame!
Let us die in honor. Once more back again;
And he that will not follow Bourbon now,
Let him go hence, and with his cap in hand,
Like a base pander, hold the chamber-door
Whilst by a slave, no gentler [less noble, rougher] than my dog,
His fairest daughter is contaminated.
CONSTABLE: Disorder, that hath spoiled [ruined] us, friend us now!
Let us on [in] heaps go offer up our lives.
ORLEANS: We are enow yet living in the field
To smother up the English in our throngs,
If any order might be thought upon.
BOURBON: The devil take order now! I'll to the throng:
Let life be short; else shame will be too long. [Exit]
The French have a brief realization of how wrong they were in underestimating the English. At line 9 the Dauphin asks plaintively, “Be these the wretches that we played at dice for?” At line 14 Bourbon, one of the nobles, invokes the image of rape that Henry had raised at Harfleur, but now the French father will have to stand outside the door while his daughter is violated by an English slave, “no gentler” than his dog. Finally at lines 18 and 22 the Constable and Orleans both allude to the lack of order in the French battle operations as being a major cause for the disaster. The Constable mentions the fact that the dead are now heaped before the English lines. To escape the shame the only recourse they have is to go and sacrifice their lives in the lost cause.
Act IV, Scene 6
Here we get a short scene about the sense of losses in the battle from the English perspective. We hear how two English noblemen die together in combat. They turn out to be the only two English nobles who die, compared to ten thousand French nobles. But the loss is felt no less by the English. How is the description here different from the French sense of loss in the previous scene?
[Alarums. Enter KING HENRY and forces, EXETER, and others]
HENRY: Well have we done, thrice valiant countrymen:
But all's not done; yet keep the French the field.
EXETER: The Duke of York commends him to your majesty.
HENRY: Lives he, good uncle? Thrice within this hour
I saw him down; thrice up again and fighting;
From helmet to the spur all blood he was.
EXETER: In which array, brave soldier, doth he lie,
Larding [enriching] the plain; and by his bloody side,
Yoke-fellow to his honor-owing [owning honor] wounds,
The noble Earl of Suffolk also lies.
Suffolk first died: and York, all haggled over [mangled],
Comes to him, where in gore he lay insteeped,
And takes him by the beard; kisses the gashes
That bloodily did spawn upon his face;
And cries aloud “Tarry, dear cousin Suffolk!
My soul shall thine keep company to heaven;
Tarry, sweet soul, for mine, then fly abreast,
As in this glorious and well-foughten field
We kept together in our chivalry!”
Upon these words I came and cheered him up:
He smiled me in the face, raught [reached] me his hand,
And, with a feeble gripe, says “Dear my lord,
Commend my service to me sovereign.”
So did he turn and over Suffolk's neck
He threw his wounded arm and kissed his lips;
And so espoused to death, with blood he sealed
A testament of noble-ending love.
The pretty [poignant] and sweet manner of it forced
Those waters from me which I would have stopped;
But I had not so much of man in me,
And all my mother came into mine eyes
And gave me up to tears.
HENRY: I blame you not;
For, hearing this, I must perforce compound [come to terms]
With mistful eyes, or they will issue too. [Alarm] But, hark, what new alarm is this same?
The French have reinforced their scattered men:
Then every soldier kill his prisoners:
Give the word through. [Exit]
In this short scene Shakespeare reminds us how painful the loss of friends and family can be in battle. The Duke of York was Henry’s cousin, and he had asked to lead the vanguard of the English troops, a particularly dangerous position. Here Exeter describes in a very emotional passage how first the Earl of Suffolk was slain and then York. In the kind of hand-to-hand combat that occurred at Agincourt, if you were wounded and fell, you might well be trampled to death by those fighting around you. Henry says he observed York fall three times and arise to continue fighting. Exeter is moved to tears by watching the dying York embrace Suffolk’s corpse and the duke’s dying words: “Commend my service to my Sovereign.” Henry tells us at line 34 that his eyes are growing misty as well. What makes this all the more remarkable is that this little vignette takes places among the heaps of French dead. Yet Shakespeare shows us how the loss of just two individuals can affect others. At the end of the scene we are told that the French are reinforcing “their scattered men.” Henry gives the order to kill the prisoners without hesitation. Is he reacting to the loss of York and Suffolk? Is he panicking because of the perilous military situation? Does he anticipate the attack on the camp guarded only by the boys? We don’t know his reason.
Act IV, Scene 7, Lines 1 – 67
The entire play has built to this moment, the victory at Agincourt. We might expect trumpets and clouds parting and a grand dramatic moment. Instead we get this hodge-podge of a scene with high eloquence and low humor in apparently disjointed activities.. Why? How do the men around Henry react to the order to kill the prisoners? How does Henry justify his ordering of the atrocity?
[Another part of the field.]
[Enter FLUELLEN and GOWER]
FLUELLEN: Kill the poys and the luggage? 'Tis expressly
against the law of arms: 'tis as arrant a piece of
knavery, mark you now, as can be offer't; in your
conscience, now, is it not?
GOWER: 'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive; and the
cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha' done
this slaughter: besides, they have burned and
carried away all that was in the king's tent;
wherefore the king, most worthily, hath caused every
soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O, 'tis a
FLUELLEN: Ay, he was porn at Monmouth, Captain Gower. What call you the town's name where Alexander the Pig was born?
GOWER: Alexander the Great.
FLUELLEN: Why, I pray you, is not “pig” great? The pig, or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the
magnanimous, are all one reckonings, save the phrase is a little variations [he means “varied’].
GOWER: I think Alexander the Great was born in Macedon; his
father was called Philip of Macedon, as I take it.
FLUELLEN: I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn. I tell you, captain, if you look in the maps of the 'orld, I warrant you sall find, in the comparisons
between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations,
look you, is both alike. There is a river in
Macedon; and there is also moreover a river at
Monmouth. It is called Wye at Monmouth; but it is
out of my prains what is the name of the other
river; but 'tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is
to my fingers, and there is salmons in both. If you
mark Alexander's life well, Harry of Monmouth's life
is come after it indifferent well; for there is
figures [parallels] in all things. Alexander, God knows, and
you know, in his rages, and his furies, and his
wraths, and his cholers, and his moods, and his
displeasures, and his indignations, and also being a
little intoxicates in his prains, did, in his ales and
his angers, look you, kill his best friend, Cleitus.
GOWER: Our king is not like him in that: he never killed
any of his friends.
FLUELLEN: It is not well done, mark you now take the tales out
of my mouth, ere it is made and finished. I speak
but in the figures and comparisons of it: as
Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his
ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in
his right wits and his good judgments, turned away
the fat knight with the great belly-doublet [extra large size] -- he
was full of jests, and gipes, and knaveries, and
mocks; I have forgot his name.
GOWER: Sir John Falstaff.
FLUELLEN: That is he: I'll tell you there is good men porn at Monmouth.
GOWER: Here comes his majesty. [Alarum. Enter KING HENRY, and forces; WARWICK, GLOUCESTER, EXETER, others]
HENRY: I was not angry since I came to France
Until this instant. Take a trumpet, herald;
Ride thou unto the horsemen on yon hill:
If they will fight with us, bid them come down,
Or void the field; they do offend our sight:
If they'll do neither, we will come to them,
And make them skirr [scurry] away, as swift as stones
Enforced from the old Assyrian slings:
Besides, we'll cut the throats of those we have,
And not a man of them that we shall take
Shall taste our mercy. Go and tell them so.
This sequence contains a lengthy piece of historical analysis by Fluellen and a chilling warning from Henry. It begins with Fluellen’s outrage that the French stragglers have attacked the camp and killed all the boys, a clear violation of the ancient laws of warfare. Gower concurs, assuring us all the boys are dead and connecting that action with the King’s order to kill the prisoners. Rather than being bothered by this calculated atrocity, Gower sees it as Henry’s crowning achievement – O, ‘tis a gallant king!”
Fluellen now launches into a historical analysis in which he attempts to show the parallels between King Henry and Alexander the Great, the greatest military leader in the ancient world. It does seem rather odd that in the middle of this desperate struggle for survival, the two captains have enough time to spend 55 lines examining why Henry is like Alexander. Fluellen gets very excited about the comparison, and as we know from earlier passages, when he gets excited, he is more likely to switch his “b” sounds for “p.” And so it is that Fluellen, forgetting Alexander’s usual appellation, calls him “Alexander the Pig.” When Gower tries nicely to correct him, Fluellen gets irritated and says, “The pig,/ or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the/ magnanimous, are all one reckonings.” Fluellen’s argument is brilliant: both Henry and Alexander were born in a city that began with “M”; both cities have rivers; both rivers have salmon. There you go! Then at line 35 he begins a fourth parallel: that both leaders were responsible for the deaths of their best friends. The Welshman invokes the memory of Falstaff, ironically, at the moment of Henry’s greatest triumph. It is doubly ironic because Falstaff always maintained that he was one of the greatest soldiers in England, despite being a devout coward. At another level it is fitting that Fluellen remind us Henry’s rejection of Falstaff. It was that act right at the beginning of his reign that enabled Henry to put his past behind him and surprise his apprehensive subjects with his seriousness of purpose, leading to this moment of his greatest victory.
Henry enters at line 54, enraged. The battle is now personal with him. He sends a herald to ride to the top of the hill and challenge the remaining French horsemen to fight. The alternative is a rather chilling threat to cut the throats of the remaining prisoners. If the business of killing the prisoners seems a little ambiguous in the play, that is because it is. Why did Henry issue the initial order to kill them? Why are there still prisoners left alive at this point? What is the connection established in the play between killing them and the attack on the camp? One thing is for sure: Pistol’s prisoner he would have ransomed for 200 crowns is most certainly dead by now.
Act IV, Scene 7, Lines 68 – 119
Montjoy comes for the third visit, just as Henry had predicted. What is unusual about the way the outcome of the battle is determined and how the battle gets its name? Why is Fluellen particularly pleased by Henry’s acknowledgement?
EXETER: Here comes the herald of the French, my liege.
GLOUCESTER: His eyes are humbler than they used to be.
HENRY: How now? What means this, herald? Know'st thou not
That I have fined [pledged] these bones of mine for ransom?
Comest thou again for ransom?
MONTJOY: No, great king:
I come to thee for charitable license,
That we may wander o'er this bloody field
To book [record] our dead, and then to bury them;
To sort our nobles from our common men.
For many of our princes (woe the while!)
Lie drowned and soaked in mercenary blood;
So do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs
In blood of princes; and their wounded steeds
Fret fetlock deep in gore and with wild rage
Yerk [kick] out their armed heels at their dead masters,
Killing them twice. O, give us leave, great king,
To view the field in safety and dispose
Of their dead bodies!
HENRY: I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no;
For yet a many of your horsemen peer [are in sight]
And gallop o'er the field.
MONTJOY: The day is yours.
HENRY: Praised be God, and not our strength, for it!
What is this castle called that stands hard by?
MONTJOY: They call it Agincourt.
HENRY: Then call we this the field of Agincourt,
Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus.
FLUELLEN: Your grandfather of famous memory, an't please your
majesty, and your great-uncle Edward the Plack
Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles,
fought a most prave pattle here in France.
HENRY: They did, Fluellen.
FLUELLEN: Your majesty says very true. If your majesties is
remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their
Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this
hour is an honorable badge of the service; and I do
believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek
upon Saint Tavy's day.
HENRY: I wear it for a memorable honor;
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
FLUELLEN: All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty's
Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that:
God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases
his grace, and his majesty too! : HENRY V: Thanks, good my countryman.
FLUELLEN: By Jeshu, I am your majesty's countryman, I care not
who know it; I will confess it to all the 'orld: I
need not to be ashamed of your majesty, praised be
God, so long as your majesty is an honest man.
HENRY: God keep me so! Our heralds go with him:
Bring me just notice of the numbers dead
On both our parts. Call yonder fellow hither.
Henry’s enjoys a moment of personal triumph as Montjoy comes back, hat in hand, to beg for permission to bury their dead. The French are concerned with more than common decency. They insist on segregating the bodies to make sure the nobles are separated from the common soldiers, here called “mercenary” because they were paid to fight, unlike the nobles who fought for loot and ransom. At line 80 Shakespeare has a grotesque image of the wounded horses of the fallen nobles, kicking in their agony and mutilating the corpses of their riders. Even though the English are surrounded by heaps of French dead, Henry at line 85 has to have Montjoy in effect call the victory. Furthermore, once the battle is fought, they have to agree on a name – Agincourt for the nearby castle. Notice at line 89 that Henry’s immediate reaction when he learns the English have won is to give the credit to God. Here again we see a marked contrast wit the French who were sure before the battle that their superior armor and horses would win the day.
Fluellen reminds Henry that the Welsh have done valiant service in the cause of the English King in the past. One of their great victories had apparently been fought in a field of leeks, the big green onions, and as a result the Welsh soldiers wear leeks in the caps on Saint Davy’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. Henry agrees and declares that he wears the leek because he is Welsh. (Henry calling himself Welsh is like the child of an American soldier born while the family was stationed on Okinawa growing up and announcing that he was Japanese because of where he had been born.) But Henry plays up the Welsh angle for all it’s worth, and Fluellen is delighted with the connection. It singles him out for special attention and reinforces that “brotherhood” Henry had talked about before the battle.
Act IV, Scene 7, Lines 120 – 186
Here at the moment of Henry’s greatest triumph, our attention is suddenly diverted to an elaborate practical joke that the King engineers to play on two of his soldiers. How does Henry set up the joke? Why does Henry set up the joke on Williams and Fluellen?
HENRY: Call yonder fellow hither.
[Points to WILLIAMS]
EXETER: Soldier, you must come to the king.
HENRY: Soldier, why wearest thou that glove in thy cap?
WILLIAMS: An't please your majesty, 'tis the gage of one that
I should fight withal, if he be alive.
HENRY: An Englishman?
WILLIAMS: An't please your majesty, a rascal that swaggered with me last night; who, if alive and ever dare to challenge this glove, I have sworn to take him a box o' th' ear: or if I can see my glove in his cap, which he swore, as he was a soldier, he would wear if alive, I will strike it out soundly.
HENRY: What think you, Captain Fluellen? Is it fit this
soldier keep his oath?
FLUELLEN: He is a craven and a villain else, an't please your
majesty, in my conscience.
HENRY: It may be his enemy is a gentleman of great sort [rank],
quite from the answer of his degree [above your social class].
FLUELLEN: Though he be as good a gentleman as the devil is, as
Lucifer and Belzebub himself, it is necessary, look your grace, that he keep his vow and his oath: if he be perjured, see you now, his reputation is as arrant a villain and a Jack-sauce [saucy Jack] as ever his black shoe trod upon God's ground and his earth, in my conscience, law
HENRY: Then keep thy vow, sirrah [form of address used by social superior] , when thou meetest the fellow.
WILLIAMS: So I will, my liege, as I live.
HENRY: Who servest thou under?
WILLIAMS: Under Captain Gower, my liege.
FLUELLEN: Gower is a good captain, and is good knowledge and literatured in the wars.
HENRY: Call him hither to me, soldier.
WILLIAMS: I will, my liege. [Exit]
HENRY: Here, Fluellen; wear thou this favor for me and stick it in thy cap. When Alencon and myself were down together, I plucked this glove from his helm. If any man challenge this, he is a friend to
Alencon, and an enemy to our person; if thou
encounter any such, apprehend him, and [if] thou dost me love.
FLUELLEN: Your grace doo's me as great honors as can be desired in the hearts of his subjects. I would fain see the man, that has but two legs, that shall find himself aggrieved at this glove; that is all; but I would fain see it once, an please God of his grace that I might see.
HENRY: Knowest thou Gower?
FLUELLEN: He is my dear friend, and please you.
HENRY: Pray thee, go seek him, and bring him to my tent.
FLUELLEN: I will fetch him. [Exit]
HENRY: My Lord of Warwick, and my brother Gloucester,
Follow Fluellen closely at the heels.
The glove which I have given him for a favor
May haply purchase him a box o' th' ear;
It is the soldier's. I by bargain should
Wear it myself. Follow, good cousin Warwick.
If that the soldier strike him, as I judge
By his blunt bearing he will keep his word,
Some sudden mischief may arise of it;
For I do know Fluellen valiant
And, touched [fired] with choler, hot as gunpowder,
And quickly will return an injury:
Follow and see there be no harm between them.
Go you with me, uncle of Exeter. [Exit]
This seems an odd way to celebrate such a great victory, to play a practical joke on two well-meaning soldiers. The significance of the prank actually tells us a lot about Henry. At line 123 the King acknowledges the lowly soldier Williams by asking about the glove in his cap. Williams, who is undoubtedly swaggering around waiting for someone to claim the gage, is probably astounded that the King even asked. Henry asks Fluellen if Williams should honor the challenge, which he warns may have come from someone of a much higher social rank than Williams. Fluellen insists that Williams’ honor requires him to follow through, regardless of who the other party is. Henry sends Williams off to fetch his Captain, Gower.
Then the crafty jokester has Fluellen put Williams’ glove in his cap and invents a cock-and-bull story about it belonging to a French general named Alencon. If someone should recognize it in Fluellen’s cap, it will mean that person is a French agent and a danger to Henry’s life. Fluellen suddenly becomes a secret agent for the King, and isn’t he excited at the great honor which has been done to him? He too is sent off to find Gower, meaning that he will run into Williams. Then at line 173 Henry switches from prose to verse and tells Warwick and his brother Gloucester about the joke and sends them off to witness the fireworks. Why does Henry set up this charade? The answer can be found in the first 74 lines of the next scene.
Act IV, Scene 8, Lines 1 – 74
What are Fluellen and Williams’ reaction to the King’s jest? Why does Henry play such a cruel joke?
[Before KING HENRY'S pavilion.] [Enter
GOWER and WILLIAMS]
WILLIAMS: I warrant it is to knight you, captain. [Enter FLUELLEN]
FLUELLEN: God's will and his pleasure, captain, I beseech you now, come apace to the king. There is more good toward you peradventure than is in your knowledge to dream of.
WILLIAMS: Sir, know you this glove?
FLUELLEN: Know the glove! I know the glove is glove.
WILLIAMS: I know this; and thus I challenge it. [Strikes him]
FLUELLEN: 'Sblood, an arrant traitor as any is in the
universal world, or in France, or in England!
GOWER: How now, sir! you villain!
WILLIAMS: Do you think I'll be forsworn?
FLUELLEN: Stand away, Captain Gower; I will give treason his
payment into plows, I warrant you.
WILLIAMS: I am no traitor.
FLUELLEN: That's a lie in thy throat. I charge you in his
Majesty's name, apprehend him. He's a friend of the
Duke Alencon's. [Enter WARWICK and GLOUCESTER]
WARWICK: How now, how now? What's the matter?
FLUELLEN: My Lord of Warwick, here is (praised be God for it!) a most contagious treason come to light, look you, as you shall desire in a summer's day. Here is his Majesty. [Enter KING HENRY and EXETER]
HENRY: How now? What's the matter?
FLUELLEN: My liege, here is a villain and a traitor, that,
look your Grace, has struck the glove which your
Majesty is take out of the helmet of Alencon.
WILLIAMS: My liege, this was my glove; here is the fellow of it; and he that I gave it to in change promised to wear it in his cap. I promised to strike him, if he did. I met this man with my glove in his cap, and I have been as good as my word.
FLUELLEN: Your Majesty hear now, saving your Majesty's
manhood, what an arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy
knave it is. I hope your majesty is pear me
testimony and witness, and will avouchment [acknowledgement], that
this is the glove of Alencon, that your Majesty is
give me; in your conscience, now?
HENRY: Give me thy glove, soldier. Look, here is the
fellow of it.
'Twas I, indeed, thou promised'st to strike;
And thou hast given me most bitter terms.
FLUELLEN: An please your majesty, let his neck answer for it, if there is any martial law in the world.
HENRY: How canst thou make me satisfaction?
WILLIAMS: All offences, my lord, come from the heart: never came any from mine that might offend your Majesty.
HENRY: It was ourself thou didst abuse.
WILLIAMS: Your majesty came not like yourself: you appeared to me but as a common man; witness the night, your garments, your lowliness; and what your Highness suffered under that shape, I beseech you take it for your own fault and not mine: for had you been as I took you for, I made no offence; Therefore, I beseech your Highness, pardon me. : HENRY V: Here, uncle Exeter, fill this glove with crowns,
And give it to this fellow. Keep it, fellow;
And wear it for an honor in thy cap
Till I do challenge it. Give him the crowns:
And, captain, you must needs be friends with him.
FLUELLEN: By this day and this light, the fellow has mettle enough in his belly. Hold, there is twelve pence for you; and I pray you to serve God, and keep you out of prawls, and prabbles' and quarrels, and dissensions, and, I warrant you, it is the better for you.
WILLIAMS: I will none of your money.
FLUELLEN: It is with a good will, I can tell you; it will serve you to mend your shoes. Come, wherefore should you be so pashful? Your shoes is not so good. 'Tis a good silling, I warrant you, or I will change it.
Williams has told Gower the King wants to see him and assures him the monarch will reward him for his leadership in the battle by making him a knight. Fluellen enters and hints at some royal reward. Williams recognizes his glove in Fluellen’s cap and hits him; Fluellen assumes the soldier is the reputed French spy and at line 9 shouts, “: 'Sblood, an arrant traitor as any is in the/ universal world, or in France, or in England!” The use of the taboo word “’sblood” (short for “God’s blood’) is a signal of Fluellen’s rage; it’s the only time in the play the emotional Welshman uses the blasphemous word. (Shakespeare never uses such words without some dramatic or psychological reason.) Fluellen’s attempt at a comparison is as usual charmingly flawed: he begins with “universal world” and then moves to “France” and “England,” as if they were not part of the world. Williams’ striking an officer is a gross violation of military discipline, and Gower calls him “a villain,” a word that denoted social inferiority. When Henry enters each man angrily gives his side of the dispute, and at line 41 the King reveals his part in the affair. Notice that Henry shifts at that point to blank verse, to emphasize the seriousness of what Williams has done. That’s enough for Fluellen who demands that Williams’ neck pay the price of having insulted the King, undoubtedly by hanging. On the spot, Williams pleads with Henry that he did not intend to give offense and that the King had disguised himself as a common soldier. Henry “punishes” Williams by giving him his glove, filled with money, admonishing him to wear the royal gage until the King challenges him. Henry has given the soldier an enormous sum by the standard of that day, plus the royal favor of being singled out for recognition, even if it was as the butt of a joke. Fluellen tries to make peace by offering Williams “twelve pence,” a shilling, and admonishing him to stay out of “prawls” and “prabbles.” Williams, with the glove full of crowns, disdains Fluellen’s gift. The Welshman insists, telling him to use the money to get his shoes fixed; then he assures the soldier the coin is good, not counterfeit, and offers to exchange it for another coin to satisfy Williams, as if that were the source of Williams’ hostility.
Why does Henry play this elaborate joke? It is what I call the fellowship of the rough jest. Henry has always had a reputation as a jokester since his days with Falstaff, when he would play elaborate tricks on people. That’s why the Dauphin tried his lame joke of the tennis balls. These jokes are as close as he can come to intimacy with people. He would really just like to hang out with the boys, but he can’t allow himself the luxury of having real friends. When he tried it with Lord Scroop, it almost cost him his life. The kingdom is dependent upon him; he believes people around him are all after something and will probably betray him. Henry really liked talking with Williams, Bates and Court the night before the battle and enjoyed the spirited give-and-take exchange. When Williams insulted him, something that happens all the time among guys, Henry was absolutely wrong to have challenged him. The King cannot stoop to trade punches with a commoner. This business with the gloves and the fight with Fluellen is how he gets close to people. For his part, Williams would have been doubly honored to have been singled out for such treatment.
Act IV, Scene 8, Lines 75 -- 128
In the last part of this scene we get the body count from the battle. What is the significance of the number? Who do you recognize among the French nobles slain or captured? To what does Henry attribute the victory? What is a possible political strategy behind his explanation?
[Enter an English Herald]
HENRY: Now, herald, are the dead numbered?
HERALD: Here is the number of the slaughtered French.
HENRY: What prisoners of good sort [high rank] are taken, uncle?
EXETER: Charles Duke of Orleans, nephew to the king;
John Duke of Bourbon, and Lord Bouciqualt:
Of other lords and barons, knights and squires,
Full fifteen hundred, besides common men.
HENRY: This note doth tell me of ten thousand French
That in the field lie slain. Of princes, in this number,
And nobles bearing banners [with coats of arms], there lie dead
One hundred twenty six: added to these,
Of knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen,
Eight thousand and four hundred; of the which,
Five hundred were but yesterday dubbed knights:
So that, in these ten thousand they have lost,
There are but sixteen hundred mercenaries;
The rest are princes, barons, lords, knights, squires,
And gentlemen of blood and quality.
The names of those their nobles that lie dead:
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France;
Jaques of Chatillon, admiral of France;
The master of the cross-bows, Lord Rambures;
Great Master of France, the brave Sir Guichard Dolphin,
John Duke of Alencon, Anthony Duke of Brabant,
The brother of the Duke of Burgundy,
And Edward Duke of Bar. Of lusty earls,
Grandpre and Roussi, Fauconberg and Foix,
Beaumont and Marle, Vaudemont and Lestrale.
Here was a royal fellowship of death!
Where is the number of our English dead? [Herald shows him another paper] Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk,
Sir Richard Ketly, Davy Gam, esquire;
None else of name; and of all other men
But five and twenty. O God, thy arm was here;
And not to us, but to thy arm alone,
Ascribe we all! When, without stratagem,
But in plain shock and even play of battle,
Was ever known so great and little loss
On one part and on the other? Take it, God,
For it is none but thine!
EXETER: 'Tis wonderful!
HENRY: Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this or take the praise from God
Which is his only.
FLUELLEN: Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?
HENRY: Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.
FLUELLEN: Yes, my conscience, he did us great good.
HENRY: Do we all holy rites;
Let there be sung 'Non nobis' and 'Te Deum;'
The dead with charity enclosed in clay:
And then to Calais; and to England then:
Where ne'er from France arrived more happy men. [Exit]
The whole point of this comparative body count is to emphasize the lop-sized difference in the numbers killed or captured as evidence of the magnitude of the English victory. (In historical reality these numbers are a little suspect, but there were a whole lot more French killed than English.) We can recognize from among those listed nearly all the French leaders we had seen earlier: Orleans, Bourbon, the Constable (whose name was Charles Delabreth), Rambures, Alencon and Grandpre. The only one missing from the list is the Dauphin. (Don’t be confused by the listing at line 97; that’s not the royal prince.) The Dauphin probably ran away from the combat, just as the Constable had predicted he would.
We should not be surprised by the fact that the body counts are carefully separated by social class. Of French princes and mighty nobles (those “bearing banners) there were 126 killed; of knights, esquires and gentlemen (those with coats-of-arms) 8,400 perished; there were only 1,600 common soldiers who died. The significance is that the upper classes of French society suffered a disproportionate loss. In contrast, the English lost the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk whose deaths we had read about two scenes back. There were two other gentlemen and only 25 common soldiers who were lost.
Shakespeare wants to emphasize the idea that the victory was a kind of miracle as shown by the few English who perished. However, in Kenneth Branagh’s film version of the play, as Henry reads the names of those who were killed, the camera plays across the faces of the English soldiers, and we see that each loss is powerfully felt. Furthermore, in the text Henry orders that the hymns “Non nobis” and “Te Deum” be played as the army marches on. Branagh has the songs of celebration played while he shows us a very long camera shot, panning across the carnage of the battlefield, following Henry as he carries the body of the Boy to a cart on which the English dead are gathered. As we glimpse the enormity of the violence, we will see the body of Nym, contorted in death, suggesting he had died in the fighting rather than at the end of a rope; we will also see a group of hysterical women rushing toward the King, probably the family members of some of the French who had died in the battle. Branagh’s version is true to the text but visually reminds us of the reality behind the miraculous numbers of casualties
Henry’s decision to give God the credit for the English victory makes good political sense. He can present himself as the instrument of the Almighty, wrapping himself in a cloak of divine invulnerability. It helps to make him more secure at home and to create uncertainty among his enemies in France. Henry did become known as “the Scourge of God,” as a force for God to punish sin in this world.
In the fifth prologue of the play, what elements does Shakespeare have in common with the previous four appearances of the Chorus? What reference to a contemporary event allows us to date the composition of this play?
[Enter Chorus] CHORUS:
Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story,
That I may prompt them; and of such as have,
I humbly pray them to admit the excuse [allow the actors to represent]
Of time, of numbers and due course of things,
Which cannot in their huge and proper life
Be here presented. Now we bear the king
Toward Calais. Grant him there; there seen,
Heave him away upon your winged thoughts
Athwart the sea. Behold, the English beach
Pales in [encloses] the flood with men, with wives and boys,
Whose shouts and claps out-voice the deep mouthed sea,
Which like a mighty whiffler [herald at the head of a royal procession] 'fore the king
Seems to prepare his way. So let him land,
And solemnly see him set on to London.
So swift a pace hath thought that even now
You may imagine him upon Blackheath;
Where that his lords desire him to have borne
His bruised helmet and his bended sword
Before him through the city. He forbids it,
Being free from vainness and self-glorious pride;
Giving full trophy, signal and ostent [token, sign and show]
Quite from himself to God. But now behold,
In the quick forge and working-house of thought,
How London doth pour out her citizens!
The mayor and all his brethren in best sort [array] --
Like to the senators of the antique Rome,
With the plebeians swarming at their heels --
Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in:
As, by a lower but loving [lovingly anticipated] likelihood,
Were now the general [Earl of Essex] of our gracious empress,
As in good time he may, from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached [impaled] on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit,
To welcome him! much more, and much more cause,
Did they this Harry. Now in London place him;
As yet the lamentation of the French
Invites [gives excuse for] the King of England's stay at home;
The emperor's [of the Holy Roman Empire] coming in behalf of France,
To order peace between them; and omit
All the occurrences, whatever chanced,
Till Harry's back-return again to France:
There must we bring him; and myself have played [represnted]
The interim, by remembering you 'tis past.
Then brook [tolerate] abridgment, and your eyes advance,
After your thoughts, straight back again to France. [Exit]
Once again, as he has in the previous four prologues, the Chorus asks the audience to forgive the limitations of the stage. He urges the spectators to use their imaginations to get Henry and his army to Calais and then across the Channel. The sounds of happy throngs mark his procession into London. As he approaches the city, at a place called Blackheath on the outskirts, he once again refuses to allow the victory to be made a personal triumph for him, giving all credit to God. At line 25 the mayor and other officials pour out to greet him, much as the senators of ancient Rome had done for their conquering heroes’ return. The parallel is deliberate; the English saw themselves as the embodiment of the spirit of the ancient Romans. At line 30 Shakespeare has a curious reference to the future return of the Earl of Essex, the general leading Elizabeth’s army against the Irish rebels, who will be like a second Henry. So we know the play was written between March, 1599, when Essex left for Ireland, and June, when news of his failure arrived. Shakespeare was also tangentially involved in Essex’s abortive uprising against Elizabeth the following year. Finally, at line 38, Shakespeare tells us the Holy Roman Emperor arrives to try and negotiate a treaty between Henry and the King of France. Once again the action moves to France.
Act V, Scene 1
In this scene we see payback time for Fluellen. How does Pistol reveal his true nature in this exchange? What is Pistol’s future?
Enter FLUELLEN and GOWER
GOWER: Nay, that's right; but why
wear you your leek today?
Saint Davy's day is past. FLUELLEN: There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in all things: I will tell you, ass my friend,
Captain Gower: the rascally, scauld, [scurvy] beggarly,
lousy, pragging knave, Pistol, which you and yourself and all the world know to be no petter than a fellow, look you now, of no merits -- he is come to me and prings me pread and salt yesterday, look you, and bid me eat my leek. It was in place
where I could not breed no contention with him; but I will be so bold as to wear it in my cap till I see him once again, and then I will tell him a little piece of my desires. Enter PISTOL
PISTOL: Ha! art thou bedlam [mad]? Dost
thou thirst, base Trojan,
To have me fold up Parca's fatal web [one of the three Fates whose web was spun to determine the length of a man’s life]
Hence! I am qualmish at the smell of leek.
FLUELLEN: I peseech you heartily, scurvy, lousy knave, at my desires, and my requests, and my petitions, to eat, look you, this leek: because, look you, you do not love it, nor your affections and your appetites and your digestions doo's not agree with it, I would desire you to eat it.
You called me yesterday mountain-squire [owner of worthless land], but I will make you today a squire of low degree [title of a romance]. I pray you, fall to. If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.
FLUELLEN: I say, I will make him eat some part of my leek, or I will peat his pate four days -- Bite, I pray you; it is good for your green [raw] wound and your ploody coxcomb [cap worn by a fool, a mocking reference to head].
FLUELLEN: Much good do you, scauld knave, heartily. Nay, pray you, throw none away; the skin is good for your broken coxcomb. When you take occasions to see leeks hereafter, I pray you, mock at 'em; that is all.
GOWER: Go, go; you are a counterfeit cowardly
knave. Will you mock at an ancient tradition, begun
honorable respect [consideration], and worn as a memorable trophy of predeceased valor [courage of bygone days] and dare not avouch in your deeds any of your words? I have seen you gleeking and galling [gibing and annoying] at this gentleman twice or thrice. You thought, because he could not speak English in the native garb, he could not therefore handle an English cudgel. You find it otherwise; and
henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you a good
English condition. Fare ye well. [Exit]
PISTOL: Doth Fortune play the huswife [hussy]
with me now?
News have I, that my Doll [undoubtedly Nell Quickly] is dead i' the spital
Of malady of France [syphilis]
And there my rendezvous [retreat] is quite cut off.
Old I do wax; and from my weary limbs
Honor is cudgeled. Well, bawd I'll turn,
And something lean to cutpurse [try pickpocketing]of quick hand. To England will I steal, and there I'll steal:
And patches will I get unto these cudgeled scars,
And swear I got them in the Gallia wars. [Exit]
Pistol has returned to France with the army and has continued to harass Fluellen. Apparently he insulted Wales and gave Fluellen some bread and salt to eat his leek with but did so in a situation where the Welshman was unable to respond. So now Fluellen, referring to Pistol several times as “a scurvy, lousy knave,” confronts him with a leek and a cudgel. Pistol tries as usual technique of bluster and threat, asking the Welshman at line 20 if he is “bedlam,” or crazy, calling him “base Trojan,” an epithet that Pistol thinks makes him sound intelligent. He threatens to kill Fluellen when he says he will fold him in “Parca’s fatal web,” an elaborate reference to the Greek Fates. Nevertheless, Fluellen beats Pistol while forcing him to eat the leek. As the Welshman says at line 38, “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.” When Pistol has finished the leek, Fluellen forces him to accept a groat for his pains. This gesture of accepting a small coin in exchange for his beating is even more of an insult for someone like Pistol who pretends to be a gentleman. (It may also be Fluellen’s way of reminding Pistol of his humiliation for calling the Welsh “goats” at line 29.) When Pistol threatens to bring down the wrath of hell after Fluellen leaves, Captain Gower at line 72 calls Pistol a counterfeit and points out that just because Fluellen speaks English a little strangely doesn’t mean he can’t handle an English cudgel.
In his final soliloquy Pistol blames his troubles on Fortune, just as he had Bardolph’s crimes that got him hanged; none of Falstaff’s old gang ever accepted responsibility for their misdeeds. Your text says at line 84 that “Doll” has died in the hospital of the “malady of France,” syphilis. Most certainly, this is a mistake for Pistol’s wife Nell Quickly, whose death leaves the aging Pistol with no recourse but a career change. As he has lost his honor, he decides to become a bawd or pimp and to try his hand at being a cutpurse. At line 90 he declares,” To England will I steal, and there I'll steal,” an appropriate play on words. Ever the survivor, the last member of the old bunch of troublemakers that hung out with Prince Hal, Pistol realizes that he can use the wounds that Fluellen just gave him as proof that he was a valiant soldier in the French wars. He is the proud inheritor of the tradition of Sir John Falstaff, conman extraordinaire.
Act V, Scene 2, Lines 1 –98
At the palace of the French King the peace treaty between England and France is being negotiated. What role does Henry play in the final agreement? What key person is missing from the assembly?
Enter, at one door KING HENRY, EXETER, BEDFORD, GLOUCESTER, WARWICK, WESTMORELAND, and other Lords; at another, the FRENCH KING, QUEEN ISABEL, the PRINCESS KATHARINE, ALICE and other Ladies; the DUKE of BURGUNDY, and his train
to this meeting, wherefore we are met!
Unto our brother France, and to our sister,
Health and fair time of day; joy and good wishes
To our most fair and princely cousin Katharine;
And, as a branch and member of this royalty,
By whom this great assembly is contrived,
We do salute you, Duke of Burgundy;
And, princes French, and peers, health to you all!
QUEEN ISABEL: So happy be the issue, brother England,
Of this good day and of this gracious meeting,
As we are now glad to behold your eyes --
Your eyes, which hitherto have borne in them
Against the French, that met them in their bent [direction],
The fatal balls of murdering basilisks:
The venom of such looks, we fairly hope,
Have lost their quality, and that this day
Shall change all griefs and quarrels into love.
QUEEN ISABEL: You English princes all, I do salute you.
BURGUNDY: My duty to you both, on equal love,
Great Kings of France and England! That I have labored,
With all my wits, my pains and strong endeavors,
To bring your most imperial majesties
Unto this bar [place of judgment] and royal interview,
Your Mightiness on both parts best can witness.
Since then my office hath so far prevailed
That, face to face and royal eye to eye,
You have congreeted [exchanged greetings], let it not disgrace me,
If I demand, before this royal view,
What rub [obstacle] or what impediment there is,
Why that the naked, poor and mangled Peace,
Dear nurse of arts and joyful births,
Should not in this best garden of the world
Our fertile France, put up her lovely visage?
Alas, she hath from France too long been chased,
And all her husbandry doth lie on heaps [in ruins]],
Corrupting in its own fertility.
Her vine, the merry cheerer of the heart,
Unpruned dies; her hedges even-pleached [always intertwined],
Like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair,
Put forth disordered twigs; her fallow leas [unplanted fields]
The darnel [weeds], hemlock and rank fumitory
Doth root upon, while that the coulter[blade of the plow] rusts
That should deracinate [root up] such savagery;
The even mead, that erst [previously] brought sweetly forth
The freckled cowslip, burnet and green clover,
Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness and nothing teems [is brought forth]
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.
And as our vineyards, fallows, meads and hedges,
Defective in their natures, grow to wildness,
Even so our houses and ourselves and children
Have lost, or do not learn for want of time,
The sciences that should become our country;
But grow like savages,--as soldiers will
That nothing do but meditate on blood,--
To swearing and stern looks, diffused [disorderly] attire
And every thing that seems unnatural.
Which to reduce [restore] into our former favor [appearance]
You are assembled: and my speech entreats
That I may know the let [hindrance], why gentle Peace
Should not expel these inconveniences
And bless us with her former qualities.
Duke of Burgundy, you would [desire] the peace,
Whose want gives growth to the imperfections
Which you have cited, you must buy that peace
With full accord to all our just demands;
Whose tenors and particular effects
You have enscheduled briefly in your hands.
KING OF FRANCE: I have but with a cursitory [cursory]
O'erglanced the articles. Pleaseth your grace
To appoint some of your council presently
To sit with us once more, with better heed
To re-survey them, we will suddenly
Pass our accept and peremptory answer [quickly give you an answer].
we shall. Go, uncle Exeter,
And brother Clarence, and you, brother Gloucester,
Warwick and Huntingdon -- go with the King;
And take with you free power to ratify,
Augment, or alter, as your wisdoms best
Shall see advantageable for our dignity,
Any thing in or out of our demands,
And we'll consign [agree] thereto. Will you, fair sister,
Go with the princes, or stay here with us?
QUEEN ISABEL: She hath good leave.
This is a sequence filled with the fancy language of courtly indirection. In historical reality this peace conference took place seven years after Agincourt, seven years of grueling, bloody fighting before Henry had forced the French to give up. And yet to listen to this passage, you would think it was a pleasant family reunion. Henry calls the French ruling family “brethren,” the French King calls Henry “brother.” Everyone is just happy to be there. There are two new players on the scene – the French Queen, Isabel, and the Duke of Burgundy. The queen is obviously a power to be reckoned with in the court; when the French King and the English negotiators go into the next room to conclude the final details of a treaty, Isabel goes along to “lend a woman’s voice.” She is the only one of the French court who reminds Henry of his past hostility toward them. At line 15 she introduces an interesting conceit which compares Henry’s eyes to the lethal balls shot from basilisks, the massive cannons named for the mythical creature that could turn men into stone just by looking at them. The Duke of Burgundy was a powerful noble who governed his own section of France, independent of the French King. He has acted as a peacemaker in bringing the conference about. Burgundy has a long, poetic description, lines 23 –67, of the terrible effects the prolonged war has had on the country. In it he emphasizes the loss of cultivation as fertile fields are overgrown by weeds. At line 56 he draws a parallel to the human loss of civility as the population has grown savage. He concludes by asking disingenuously what is preventing the establishment of peace between the combatants.
Apparently the hang-up is the French King who has been given a list of Henry’s demands but, at line 76, claims he hasn’t really given them careful attention. He asks to meet separately with English representatives and promises he will make a decision quickly. We have seen this behavior before from the King: when Exeter arrived back in Act II, Scene 4, he delayed making a decision. In historical reality King Charles VI suffered from mental impairment of some kind, a condition that was probably hereditary and which he would pass on to Henry’s son, King Henry VI, through his daughter. Henry’s reaction here is quite interesting. Throughout the play he has been a driven man, but when it comes time to work out the final details, he turns the business over to his associates, declaring at line 90 that he will sign anything they come up with.
The one person who is not present for the peace conference is the one person who has the most at stake – the Dauphin, the once and future ruler of France. The principal demand by Henry is that the French agree that the English King will become the heir to the French throne. The Dauphin is probably back in his apartment rethinking that wonderful practical joke that we began the play with.
Act V, Scene 2, Lines 98 – 386
The concluding sequence shows us Henry in a whole new light. Given what we have seen of him previously, how do you explain his behavior here? How does the language change right at the beginning of the sequence? Why?
Exit all except HENRY, KATHARINE, and ALICE HENRY: Fair Katharine, and most fair,
Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms
Such as will enter at a lady's ear
And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart? KATHARINE: Your majesty shall mock at me; I cannot speak your England. HENRY: O fair Katharine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue. Do you like me, Kate? KATHARINE : Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell vat is “like me..” HENRY: An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel. KATHARINE : Que dit-il? Que je suis semblable a les anges? ALICE: Oui, vraiment, sauf votre Grace, ainsi dit-il. HENRY V: I said so, dear Katharine; and I must not blush to affirm it. KATHARINE: O bon Dieu! les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies. HENRY V: What says she, fair one? that the tongues of men
are full of deceits? ALICE : Oui, dat de tongues of de mans is be full of
deceits: -- dat is de princess [that is what she says]. HENRY: The princess is the better English woman [because she sees through flattery]; I' faith, Kate, my wooing is fit for thy understanding; I am glad thou canst speak no better English, for, if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my crown. I know no ways to mince it [speak fancily] in love, but directly to say “I love you.” Then if you urge me farther than to say, “Do you in faith?” I wear out my suit [spend all my courtship]. Give me your answer; i' faith, do; and so clap hands [shake hands on the deal], and a bargain. How say you, lady? KATHARINE : Sauf votre honneur, me understand vell. HENRY V: Marry, if you would put me to verses or to dance for your sake, Kate, why you undid me. For the one, I have neither words nor measure, [meter], and for the other, I have no strength in measure [ability to dance], yet a reasonable measure in strength. If I could win a lady at leapfrog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armor on my back, under the correction of bragging be it spoken. I should quickly leap into a wife. Or if I might buffet for my love, or bound my horse for her favors, I could lay on like a butcher and sit like a jackanapes [ape], never off. But, before God, Kate, I cannot look greenly [sheepishly] nor gasp out my eloquence, nor I have no cunning in protestation; only downright oaths, which I never use till urged, nor never break for urging. If thou canst love a fellow of this temper, Kate, whose face is not worth sun-burning, that never looks in his glass for love of any thing he sees there, let thine eye be thy cook [your eye present me more attractively].. I speak to thee plain soldier. if thou canst love me for this, take me; if not, to say to thee that I shall die, is true -- but for thy love, by the Lord, no; yet I love thee too. And while thou
liv’st, dear Kate, take a fellow of plain and
uncoined [unalloyed] constancy; for he perforce must do thee
right, because he hath not the gift to woo in other
places: for these fellows of infinite tongue, that
can rhyme themselves into ladies' favors, they do
always reason themselves out again. What! A speaker is but a prater; a rhyme is but a ballad [unsophisticated verse]. A
good leg will fall; a straight back will stoop; a
black beard will turn white; a curled pate will grow
bald; a fair face will wither; a full eye will wax
hollow: but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon; or, rather, the sun, and not the moon; for it shines bright and never changes, but keeps his course truly. If thou would have such a one, take me; and take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king. And what sayest thou then to my love? Apeak, my fair, and fairly, I pray thee. KATHARINE : Is it possible dat I sould love de enemy of France? HENRY: No; it is not possible you should love the enemy of France, Kate; but, in loving me, you should love the friend of France; for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it -- I will have it all mine. And, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine. KATHARINE: I cannot tell vat is dat. HENRY: No, Kate? I will tell thee in French, which I am sure will hang upon my tongue like a new-married wife about her husband's neck, hardly to be shook off. Je quand sur le possession de France, et quand vous avez le possession de moi, (Let me see, what then? Saint Denis [patron saint of France] be my speed!) donc votre est France et vous etes mienne. It is as easy for me,
Kate, to conquer the kingdom as to speak so much
more French: I shall never move thee in French,
unless it be to laugh at me. KATHARINE: Sauf votre honneur, le Francois que vous parlez, il
est meilleur que l'Anglois lequel je parle. HENRY: No, faith, is't not, Kate: but thy speaking of my tongue, and I thine, most truly-falsely, must needs be granted to be much at one [alike]. But, Kate, dost thou understand thus much English? Canst thou love me? KATHARINE : I cannot tell [don’t know or can’t speak]. HENRY: Can any of your neighbors tell, Kate? I'll ask them. Come, I know thou lovest me; and at night, when you come into your closet [private chamber], you'll question this gentlewoman about me; and I know, Kate, you will to her dispraise those parts in me that you love with your heart; but, good Kate, mock me mercifully; the rather, gentle Princess, because I love thee cruelly. If ever thou beest mine, Kate -- as I have a saving faith within me tells me thou shalt -- I get thee with scambling [scrimmaging], and thou must therefore needs prove a good soldier-breeder. Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard? Shall we not? What sayest thou, my fair flower-de-luce? KATHARINE: I do not know dat HENRY;: No; 'tis hereafter to know, but now to promise. Do but now promise, Kate, you will endeavor for your French part of such a boy; and for my English moiety take the word of a king and a bachelor. How answer you, la plus belle Katharine du monde, mon tres cher et devin deesse? KATHARINE : Your majestee ave fausse French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle dat is en France. HENRY: Now, fie upon my false French! By mine honor, in true English, I love thee, Kate; by which honor I dare not swear thou lovest me; yet my blood begins to flatter me that thou dost, notwithstanding the poor and untempering [not softened] effect of my visage. Now, beshrew my father's ambition! He was thinking of civil wars when he got me, therefore was I created with a stubborn outside, with an aspect of iron, that, when I come to woo ladies, I fright them. But, in faith, Kate, the elder I wax, the better I shall appear. My comfort is, that old age, that ill layer up [wrinkler] of beauty, can do no more, spoil upon my face. Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst; and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me [possess me], better and better. And therefore tell me, most fair Katharine, will you have me? Put off your maiden blushes; avouch the thoughts of your heart with the looks of an empress; take me by the hand, and say “Harry of England I am thine:” which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal, but I will tell thee aloud “England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is thine, and Harry Plantagenet is thine”;' who though I speak it before his face, if he be not fellow with the best king, thou shalt find the best king of good fellows. Come, your answer in broken [arranged in parts] music; for thy voice is music and thy English broken; therefore, Queen of all, Katharine, break thy mind to me in broken English; wilt thou have me? KATHARINE : Dat is as it sall please de Roi mon pere. HENRY: Nay, it will please him well, Kate it shall please him, Kate. KATHARINE: Den it sall also content me. HENRY: Upon that I kiss your hand, and I call you my queen. KATHARINE : Laissez, mon seigneur, laissez, laissez! Ma foi, je ne veux point que vous abaissiez votre grandeur en baisant la main d'une de votre seigeurie indigne serviteur. Excusez-moi, je vous supplie, mon tres-puissant seigneur. HENRY: Then I will kiss your lips, Kate. KATHARINE : Les dames et demoiselles pour etre baisees devant leur noces, il n'est pas la coutume de France. HENRY: Madam my interpreter, what says she? ALICE : Dat it is not be de fashion pour les ladies of
France,--I cannot tell vat is baiser en Anglish. HENRY: To kiss. ALICE : Your majesty entendre bettre que moi. HENRY : It is not a fashion for the maids in France to kiss before they are married, would she say? ALICE : Oui, vraiment. HENRY: O Kate, nice [fastidious] customs curtsy [bow] to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list [limit] of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows our places [is a consequence of our royalty] stops the mouth of all find-faults; as I will do yours, for upholding the nice fashion of your country in denying me a kiss. Therefore, patiently and yielding.[Kissing her] You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate. There is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the
tongues of the French council; and they should
sooner persuade Harry of England than a general
petition of monarchs. Here comes your father. Re-enter the FRENCH KING and his QUEEN, BURGUNDY, and other Lords BURGUNDY: God save your majesty! my royal cousin. Teach you our princess English? HENRY: I would have her learn, my fair cousin, how
perfectly I love her; and that is good English. BURGUNDY: Is she not apt? HENRY: Our tongue is rough, coz, and my condition [temperament] is not smooth; so that, having neither the voice nor the heart of flattery about me, I cannot so conjure up the spirit of love in her, that he will appear in his true likeness. BURGUNDY: Pardon the frankness of my mirth, if I answer you for that. If you would conjure in her, you must make a circle; if conjure up love in her in his true likeness, he must appear naked and blind. Can you blame her then, being a maid yet rosed over with the virgin crimson of modesty, if she deny the
appearance of a naked blind boy in her naked seeing self? It were, my lord, a hard condition [stipulation] for a maid to consign [agree] to. HENRY: Yet they do wink [shut their eyes] and yield, as love is blind and enforces. BURGUNDY : They are then excused, my lord, when they see not what they do. HENRY: Then, good my lord, teach your cousin to consent winking. BURGUNDY: I will wink [give her a significant look] on her to consent, my lord, if you will teach her to know my meaning: for maids, well summered and warm kept, are like flies at
Bartholomew-tide [late summer], blind, though they have their eyes; and then they will endure handling, which
before would not abide looking on. HENRY: This moral ties me over [restricts] to time and a hot summer;
and so I shall catch the fly, your cousin, in the
latter end and she must be blind too. BURGUNDY: As love is, my lord, before it loves. HENRY : It is so: and you may, some of you, thank love for my blindness, who cannot see many a fair French city for one fair French maid that stands in my way. FRENCH KING :Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively [through an optical glass that distorts] the cities turned into a maid; for they are all girdled with maiden walls that war hath never entered. HENRY: Shall Kate be my wife? FRENCH KING : So please you. HENRY: I am content; so the maiden cities you talk of may wait on her: so the maid that stood in the way for
my wish shall show me the way to my will [sexual desire]. FRENCH KING: We have consented to all terms of reason. HENRY V: Is't so, my lords of England? WESTMORELAND: The king hath granted every article:
His daughter first, and then in sequel all,
According to their firm proposed natures. EXETER : Only he hath not yet subscribed this: Where your Majesty demands, that the King of France,
having any occasion to write for matter of grant [granting lands or titles],
shall name your Highness in this form and with this
addition in French, “Notre trescher fils Henri, Roi
d'Angleterre, Heritier de France”; and thus in
Latin, “Praeclarissimus filius noster Henricus, Rex
Angliae, et Haeres Franciae.” FRENCH KING : Nor this I have not, brother, so denied,
But your request shall make me let it pass. HENRY: I pray you then, in love and dear alliance,
Let that one article rank with the rest;
And thereupon give me your daughter. FRENCH KING: Take her, fair son, and from her blood raise up
Issue to me; that the contending kingdoms
Of France and England, whose very shores look pale [white cliffs on Channel]
With envy of each other's happiness,
May cease their hatred, and this dear[expensive but loving] conjunction
Plant neighborhood [neighborliness] and Christian-like accord
In their sweet bosoms, that never war advance
His bleeding sword 'twixt England and fair France. ALL: Amen! HENRY:: Now, welcome, Kate: and bear me witness all,
That here I kiss her as my sovereign queen. [Flourish] QUEEN ISABEL: God, the best maker of all marriages,
Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one!
As man and wife, being two, are one in love,
So be there 'twixt your kingdoms such a spousal,
That never may ill office [performance], or fell jealousy,
Which troubles oft the bed of blessed marriage,
Thrust in between the paction [compact] of these kingdoms,
To make divorce of their incorporate [united in one body] league;
That English may as French, French E nglishmen,
Receive each other. God speak this Amen! ALL : Amen! HENRY: Prepare we for our marriage--on which day,
My Lord of Burgundy, we'll take your oath,
And all the peers', for surety of our leagues.
Then shall I swear to Kate, and you to me;
And may our oaths well kept and prosperous be! [Sennet. Exit]
We learned back at line 30 of the Prologue to Act III, that the King of France offered his daughter to Henry as a way of placating the demands for the throne of France. Henry passed on the offer and attacked Harfleur. Now after all the bloodshed of Henry’s invasion leading to a peace conference, we are back at the question of Henry marrying Princess Katharine. This courtship scene actually takes much more stage time than the entire battle of Agincourt! In the play to this point we have had a mixture of pageantry, violence, jingoism and low humor. Now the drama takes a 180 degree and turns into a romantic comedy. What is going on?
In historical reality the marriage of the young English king and the French princess was just an afterthought to the larger political settlement. Katharine was like the ballplayer “to be named later” who is part of a big trade. The real dealing was going on in the next room over the details of the peace treaty. The marriage will serve as a cover by which Henry can become the heir to the French throne, disinheriting the Dauphin. Shakespeare chooses to focus on the wooing of Kate. It isn’t as if she had any choice in the matter, but Shakespeare shows us Henry trying desperately to win her love. Between lines 100 and 260, he asks her eight times if she can love him; find the points where he poses the question. In his courtship efforts Henry is clearly out of his element. Throughout the play he has successfully adapted to whatever part he needed to play, whether disciplinarian or cheer leader. Now he is trying to court a lady, the ultimate test of the abilities of a courtly gentleman. Henry has no hope of matching the subtle sophistication of a French courtier, so he chooses to come across as a “plain soldier.” He denigrates himself throughout the sequence. Find the places where he says he cannot speak well, cannot speak French, cannot write a love verse, cannot dance, lacks the polish of a courtier, has an unattractive appearance. To reinforce his lack of skill in courting, the language he uses changes from verse, the normal form used for romance, to prose almost immediately after line 100.
Henry comes across as an honest, plain-spoken wooer. Notice at line 127 he describes himself as being like a simple farmer who sold his land to get a kingdom. At line 132 he proposes, if she agrees to wed, they shake hands on the bargain, like horse traders. At line 141 he offers to woo her using his skills at jumping into the saddle wearing a full suit of armor or playing leapfrog. While his appearance is nothing special, he claims at line 238 he will age well. When she questions how she could love the enemy of her country, he declares at line 175 that he loves her country so much he will not give up a single village. Indeed a big part of his appeal is that by becoming his wife she will become the queen of England, Ireland and France – “What’s mine is yours.”
For her part Kate plays the coquette; of course, we already know from her English lesson in Act III, Scene 4, that she is intrigued by Henry. She dodges his incessant question of how she feels about marrying him by claiming she cannot understand English. When she says at line 202 that “she cannot tell,” he asks in an exasperated tone, “Can any of your neighbors tell?” After she finally says that if her father agrees to the marriage, she will be content, she is shocked by his request to kiss her hand and then her lips. Such premarital shows of affection are not the custom in polite society in France. Henry’s response gives us an insight into why this marriage is so important to him:
Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list [limit] of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows our places [is a consequence of our royalty] stops the mouth of all find-faults; as I will do yours, for upholding the nice [fastidious] fashion of your country in denying me a kiss.
Kate is what Henry needs to complete himself. We have seen himself hungry for intimacy. What he needed was an equal, someone he could share all he has accomplished with. His vision of their future is that they create between them a son who will rule both countries and go to Constantinople and drive the Turks out of the former capital of the Eastern Christian Church.
Following the return of the French King, Burgundy and the English lords, we have from 295 to 340 a lot of tasteless bawdy banter about Henry and Kate. Your notes can take you through the puns on “winking” and “walled cities.” It is the equivalent of the bachelor party for Henry and in some ways is the parallel of the jest of the glove following Agincourt. The French King even agrees to the stipulation that Henry be identified in official documents as the heir to the French throne; at line 360 he echoes the hope that Henry and Kate’s offspring will be able to lead the two countries in peace. It is left to Queen Isabel to pronounce the benediction on the marriage at line 371. Notice the political significance she gives to the marriage. As befits a play that bears his name, King Henry V has the final word in the scene.
The Chorus comes back for one final appearance. What happens to Henry’s dream of a single strong ruler for both England and France?
far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending [apologetic] author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts [fits and starts] the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England. Fortune made his sword;
By which the world's best garden [France] he achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take [find favor]. [Exit]
For a modern audience the play might well have ended with the conclusion of the previous scene. But Shakespeare’s audience knew all too well the ironic outcome of Henry V’s dream. The young King would die soon after his marriage, probably from the effects of dysentery that was rampant among the soldiers who fought in France. His son, Henry VI, was crowned monarch of England at six months of age. The actual control of England and later France was fought over by members of the courts of both countries. The Duke of Burgundy who helped engineer the peace in this play double-crossed the English and, with a champion of French nationalism named Joan of Arc, helped drive the English invaders out of the “world’s best garden.” Henry VI inherited the mental feebleness of his French grandfather and helped lose the Hundred Year’s War and set off the bloody English civil war called The War of the Roses. But as Shakespeare points out in this epilogue Henry’s brief reign may have been short, “but in that short most greatly lived.”
All hail the King!