Henry V Summary and Analysis
Act Five, Chorus
The chorus tells how Henry returned to London to a triumphant homecoming. They describe how all the people were celebrating out on the streets and cheering for their conqueror. The chorus compares the cheering crowds to those that might greet the Earl of Essex, "the general to our gracious Empress" (5.0.30), when he returns from Ireland. (The Earl of Essex was sent by Queen Elizabeth to fight in Ireland, and this is what Shakespeare is alluding to. His campaign ended in failure.) The chorus then moves ahead in time and comments on the fact that Henry invaded France twice more, in 1417 and in 1420, the latter date being the first scene of Act Five.
Act Five, Scene One
Gower and Fluellen are at the English camp in France. Gower asks Fluellen why he is wearing a leek in his hat given that St. Davy's day is past. Fluellen tells him that Pistol approached him the day before with salt and spread and asked him to eat the leek in his hat. Since there were other men around, Fluellen could not challenge him, but instead decided to wear the leek in his hat until he saw Pistol again so that he can get revenge.
Pistol enters and makes fun of the smell of the leek in Fluellen's hat, telling him it will cut short his [Pistol's] life. Fluellen takes the leek and asks Pistol to eat it since he has been so insulting to the Welsh symbol. Pistol refuses, and Fluellen strikes him. He continues striking Pistol until the man takes the leek and starts to eat it. Once Pistol finishes eating it, Fluellen offers him four pence for for his trouble. Pistol accepts the money and Fluellen leaves. Gower further admonishes Pistol for mocking the ancient Welsh custom of wearing the leeks and also departs. Pistol remains onstage and informs the audience that his wife Hostess Quickly has died from the French Disease (thought to be syphilis or another venereal disease). He decides to return to England, work as a thief, and pretend the marks he just received from Fluellen are battle scars.
Act Five, Scene Two
King Henry meets with King Charles for the first time, accompanied by many lords and attendants of both their courts. They greet each other and then listen to hear what Burgundy has to say. Burgundy compares France to an overgrown garden than needs to have peace in order to become productive again. King Henry tells him that peace will come as soon as Charles answers to his demands. Charles asks Henry to appoint some of his men to go over the documents and articles with him once more, after which he promises to give his answer. Henry sends all of the nobles who came with him, giving them power to negotiate and ratify on his behalf. Everyone leaves to discuss the documents except for Henry and Charles' daughter Katherine and her servant.
Henry turns to Catherine and says, "Fair Catherine, and most fair, / Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms / Such as will enter a lady's ear / And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?" (5.2.98-101). Catherine tells him he is mocking her and that, "the tongues of men are full of deceits" (5.2.117-118). Henry tells her that he is a plain man who cannot woo her with words other than to tell her he loves her. She gives straightforward answers to him that can also be considered coy depending on how comically the scene is played.
Henry finally decides to speak to her in French in a effort to get her to understand him. Catherine tells him he speaks better French than she English, a compliment that Henry denies. He continues trying to woo her until she finally tells him that she will accept him as long as it pleases her father. Henry accepts this as a good enough answer and tries to kiss her hand. She stops him and tells him he should not debase himself by kissing her hand. Henry then tells her he will instead kiss her lips, but again she stops him, claiming it is not the custom in France. Henry tells her, "nice customs curtsy to great kings" (5.2.250) and kisses her.
King Charles returns along with the rest of the lords. Burgundy asks Henry if he was teaching Catherine how to speak English, but Henry informs him he was trying to conjure up an image of his love for her. Burgundy promises to help Henry win her heart.
Henry then asks whether Catherine will become his wife. King Charles tells him that if that is what he desires, then he consents. Exeter informs Henry that Charles has signed all the articles except one that would make him sign all documents with his name and also add "Henry,...heir of France". Charles quickly agrees to this article as well and Henry kisses Catherine as his future queen.
Act Five, Epilogue
The chorus enters and tells the audience that King Henry conquered the garden of France which he left to his son Henry VI. Being an infant king, Henry VI had so many lords managing both kingdoms that they lost France and caused England to erupt into civil war. The play ends on this dark note and asks the audience to find favor with what they have seen.
Act Five is a transformation of the history into a comedy. Indeed, the entire play ends with the promise of a marriage between Henry and Catherine, much the same way most of Shakespeare's comedies do. Having seen Henry victorious at Agincourt, it is puzzling as to why Shakespeare included these last scenes at all. They are mostly pointless humor that fail to further the plot, especially since Catherine was promised to Henry long before. However, it has been pointed out that Shakespeare tried to surpass the previous Henry plays, and it is possible that this act is merely his way of overcompensating.
A key moment is when Pistol must eat the leek, a symbol of Wales. This scene is really all about language, not objects. The reason Pistol is forced to eat the leek is because he has been insulting Fluellen for his improper English. The point of the scene is to make is clear that no longer does language determine a gentleman. Instead, honor and valor are the criteria that are used to judge a man, meaning that Fluellen has the right to embarrass Pistol rather than the other way around.
Many critics have called the comic wooing scene between Henry and Catherine entirely pointless. Since Charles has already offered Catherine in marriage earlier in the play, there is no need for Henry to woo her. However, we see here some changes in Henry that are significant. His declaration of love is couched in plain language, prose, and marks the first time he uses prose at court. The purpose of using prose is to be perfectly clear, and his use of prose at court shows not only his rise from the common man's world, but also his political ability to avoid uncertain statements.
Henry, in speaking with Catherine and using Alice as an interpreter, comments, "The Princess is the better Englishwoman" (5.2.121). He is implying that to be smart is to be English, a backhanded compliment that Catherine is meant to not understand.
Catherine faces a similar problem to that of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. She defers to her father at end, saying she will be content to have Henry if it pleases her father. This reliance on her father's will undermines her own independence, denying her the ability to decide even if she wants to.
The use of English and French by Henry and Catherine marks a union of France and England. Henry tells her, "But thy speaking of my tongue, and I thine, most truly-falsely, must needs be granted to be much at one" (5.2.180-182). This union is, however, soon destroyed. The epilogue undermines this achievement, telling the audience that the child king Henry VI will lose everything. In the epilogue Shakespeare shows the fictionality of both history and the play by creating a fake peace at the end, a political idea never fully realized.
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