Henry V Summary and Analysis
Act Two, Chorus
The chorus tells the audience that, "the youth of England are on fire," (2.0.1) and that men throughout the land are preparing for a war with France. The French, afraid of the threat which Henry poses, have bribed three men to become traitors. The Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope, and Sir Thomas Gray of Northumberland have accepted French money and conspire to kill Henry before he can depart for France.
Act Two, Scene One
Corporal Nim and Lieutenant Bardolph are waiting for Pistol and his wife the Hostess to arrive. Nim was formerly betrothed to the Hostess, and is upset that Pistol has married her. Pistol arrives and soon he and Nim have drawn their swords and are ready to fight over the Hostess. She makes them put the swords away, but they again draw on each other only a few lines later.
Bardolph, upset by this, draws his own sword and threatens to kill the first man that dares to injure the other man. Before anything serious happens, the Boy who serves Falstaff appears and tells the men that his master is very sick. Nim tells Pistol that he will forget about the fight provided Pistol pays him the eight shillings he won gambling. Pistol agrees to give him a "noble", equivalent to six shillings and eight pence. Nim agrees to this arrangement and the men leave to go see how Falstaff is doing.
Act Two, Scene Two
Westmorland, Gloucester and Exeter arrive and discuss the fact that Henry knows that Scrope, Grey and Cambridge have become traitors. They remark that the traitors are able to pretend to be so loyal to Henry in spite of the fact that they accepted French money to kill him. They cannot believe that these men would sell their king's life for such a small amount of money.
Henry arrives accompanied by Scrope, Cambridge and Grey. He first asks them if they think he will be victorious against the French forces. They all tell him there is no doubt that he will win. Henry then decides to play a game with them. He orders Exeter to free a man accused of treason from the prison. Scrope objects, saying that it will set a bad example for the rest of the people. Henry replies, "O let us yet be merciful" (2.2.47). The other two traitors also object and tell him to put the man to death.
Henry nonetheless orders the man to be set free. He then changes topics and asks who the commissioners are (the commissioners are the men who will rule England in his absence). All three of the traitors inform him that he bade them come in order to receive a commission. Henry hands them letters of commission and tells Exeter and Westmorland to that the army will leave that night for France. He then turns back to the traitors and remarks that they appear quite pale.
The traitors have read the documents, which clearly implicate them in a plot to kill Henry. They beg for mercy, but he refuses to grant them any since they themselves would not pardon the accused man whom he wanted to free. He sends them away to be executed, and tells the assembled lords to prepare for war with France.
Act Two, Scene Three
Hostess Quickly, Nim, Pistol and Bardolph return from visiting Falstaff who has died. They discuss whether he went to heaven or hell, and Hostess Quickly argues that he cannot be in hell. Nim says that Falstaff swore off wine at the end, which was formerly one of his great indulgences. Falstaff's Boy also tells them that Falstaff swore off women, calling them "devils incarnate" (2.3.28). Nim then tells them it is time to leave. They all kiss the Hostess goodbye except for Nim and leave to join Henry's army.
Act Two, Scene Four
King Charles the Sixth of France tells his dukes Berri and Bourbon, as well as his son the Dauphin, to go to the garrisons and make sure France is well defended against Henry. The Dauphin says it is a good idea, but that it is also unnecessary because Henry is an idle king who acts more like a capricious youth. The Constable tells the Dauphin to be quiet because he is mistaken about Henry's real personality.
Charles decides that it is safer to prepare a strong defense rather than risk Henry being too strong. He is afraid of repeating the battle of Crecy, where Prince Edward of Wales defeated the French on their own territory. A messenger interrupts Charles' speech and informs him that Exeter has arrived as an ambassador from King Henry. King Charles orders Exeter to be brought before him.
Exeter informs Charles that Henry demands the throne of France, and wants Charles to willingly give up the crown or be responsible for the bloodshed that will occur. Charles tells Exeter that he will give him a response the next day. Exeter also has a message for the Dauphin, and tells the young prince that Henry scorns him for his joke and will make him pay for it. Exeter lastly informs the court that Henry has already landed on French soil and that Charles should give him a response immediately.
Henry V is considered by some critics to be a parallel to Richard II. Indeed, there are many similarities which serve to mark the differences between Richard II and Henry V as kings. For example, the Chorus states that the English are preparing for battle, "following the mirror of all Christian kings" (2.0.6). This compares to the mirror that Richard calls for when he has lost his throne to Bolingbroke. Unlike Henry, who serves as a mirror for his people, Richard dashes his mirror against the floor and destroys it. The meaning is clear: Henry can make people obey and emulate him, Richard has an image even he does not want to see.
The self-control of Henry V has often been remarked on, as well as his treatment of friends. He comes across as necessary but harsh, able to turn civil war into a religious crusade. However, in the process Henry puts aside his former friendships (consider his dismissal of Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 2). And unlike Richard II who saw traitors everywhere but yielded to them, Henry destroys them. Thus Grey, Cambridge, and Scrope are killed, and the inward wars (civil wars) move outwards towards France and outside enemies rather than inside enemies.
One of the personality traits that Henry has is his liking for games. This first appears when he plays with Falstaff in Henry IV, but at least there Falstaff could attempt to get even. Now that Henry is king, he will always be the victor in all of his games. Notice how he plays with Scrope and the other traitors, handing them letters that they think are promotions when in reality they letters inform them that Henry knows their secret. This toying with people takes a more serious turn later on when Henry and Williams agree to fight. Henry makes Fluellen take the hit that Williams was supposed to give him, and also denies Williams the right to be revenged. The entire scene leaves the audience unsure of what Henry's motivation for playing with Williams was, and also thinking that Williams was cheated due to Henry's rank.
The rejection of Falstaff marks a loss of the only character capable of commenting on the hypocrisy of the play. Hostess Quickly informs us that, "The King has killed his heart", thereby laying the blame for Falstaff's death firmly on Henry's head. However, Falstaff in some sense needs to die in Henry's England. He is an older character, and is in some ways analogous to John Gaunt in Richard II. Indeed, much the way Gaunt represented the medieval world, so too does Falstaff symbolize an old world order that is now over. Hostess Quickly remarks that Falstaff is in, "Arthur's bosom" (2.3.9), when actually it should be Abraham's bosom. This transition from biblical to English history marks the death of the old disordered world. From Abraham to Arthur marks the shift from the ancient world to the new England.
The only man who survives this play among the group of friends that Henry V used to spend time with is Pistol. He is a coward who takes advantage of every situation to steal or collect ransom, and is the only character who remarks, "for, lambkins, we will live" (2.1.116). In fact, Pistol cannot be killed. As a character, he represents the common man struggling to survive on his wits alone. His final statement at the end of the play, where he has lost his wife and been forced to eat a leek by Fluellen, is that of a man beaten down by life yet determined to enhance his reputation regardless of the cost.
The first impression that we receive of the Dauphin through his gift of tennis balls is confirmed in this act. He is unable to look at Henry other than as a young good-for-nothing. This mistake of his will be made indirectly by all the other French nobility as well in the way they act so sure of victory. The Dauphin, thinking that even extra defenses on the French forts are unnecessary, tells his father, "For, my good liege, she [England] is so idly kinged, / Her sceptre so fantastically borne / By a vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth" (2.4.26-28). The Constable seems able to see through Henry's reputation, telling him, "O peace, Prince Dauphin. / You are too much mistaken in this king" (2.4.29-30). In fact, the greatest mistake the Dauphin makes is that he himself acts in the manner he accuses Henry of. He is the one who vainly sends tennis balls and who writes poems to his horse. It is his misimpression of Henry that will lead him to be replaced as son, allowing Henry to become the heir to France rather than the Dauphin.
A central theme of this play is also the assignment of blame. Henry is constantly at odds with his men over who should be blamed for his actions. He chooses to put the blame for the war on everyone but himself. King Henry tells Canterbury that a war will result if his claim to France is upheld, thereby inferring that Canterbury is somehow responsible his future actions. In this act he sends a message via Exeter to King Charles, "Deliver up the crown, and... take mercy / On the poor souls for whom this hungry war / Opens his vasty jaws; and on your head / Turns he the widows' tears, the orphans' cries" (2.4.103-106). Thus Henry tries to blame King Charles of France for the suffering he will unleash on the grounds that Charles should yield his crown immediately or create a war.
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