Henry V

Henry V Summary and Analysis of Act 3

Act Three, Chorus

The chorus describes Henry's army boarding the ships that take the soldiers to Harfleur. They also mention that King Charles has made Henry an offer. Charles offers his daughter Catherine in marriage and will give some unprofitable dukedoms as part of the dowry. Henry does not like the offer, and chooses instead to go to war.

Act Three, Scene One

The scene opens in the middle of a battle to capture Harfleur. Henry says, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, / Or close the wall up with our English dead" (3.1.1-2). Henry proceeds to order his men to not dishonor their glorious forefathers. He motivates his men by telling them to teach the French how to really fight, thereby rallying his men to war and victory.

Act Three, Scene Two

Bardolph enters crying, "On, on, on, on! To the breach, to the breach!" (3.2.1). Nim and Pistol tell him that the fighting is too hot there and that they would rather stay alive. The Welsh captain, Fluellen, sees them standing still and starts to beat them while shouting at them to continue moving. When Nim makes a sarcastic remark, Fluellen starts to beat him until he and the others leave. The Boy, who formerly served Falstaff, remains behind and comments that he must find a new set of masters other than the three thieves for whom he has no respect.

Act Three, Scene Three

Captain Fluellen and Captain Gower, representing Wales and England respectively, discuss the tunnels which are being dug to undermine the fortress at Harfleur. Fluellen tells Gower that Captain MacMorris, who is in charge of building the tunnels, is an ass who will get them all blown up because he is allowing the enemy to build counter-tunnels four feet below his tunnels. Captain MacMorris (from Ireland) and Captain Jamy (from Scotland) arrive. Fluellen remarks that Jamy is a marvelous man whose war tactics he respects.

MacMorris tells them that the diggers were forced to quit and that he is upset because in one more hour he would have blown up the town. Fluellen offers him some advice on warfare, but mistakenly refers to MacMorris' "nation". He is corrected by the Irishman, who says, "Of my nation? What ish my nation?...Who talks of my nation?" (3.3.59). Fluellen wants to show the Irishman that he fully understands the disciplines of war, but MacMorris does not want to be taught by the Welshman.

The town of Harfleur sounds a parley, a signal that they want to negotiate. Henry tells them it had better be the last negotiation, or he will destroy the town. He tells the governor that he will allow his men to rape the daughters, smash the heads of the fathers, and spit the infants on pikes unless there is an immediate surrender. The governor informs him that the Dauphin is unable to come to the town's defense, and that therefore he will yield the town to Henry's mercy. The gates are opened, and Henry instantly orders Exeter fortify the town against the French.

Act Three, Scene Four

The princess Catherine, the daughter of Charles, asks an older gentlewoman named Alice to teach her English. The entire scene is done in French, and Catherine learns the words for hand, finger, nails, foot, arm, chin, and elbow. Catherine learns the words well enough to repeat them at the end of the lesson before going to dinner.

Act Three, Scene Five

King Charles is upset that Henry is advancing so rapidly through France. The noblemen and the Dauphin are shocked at the fighting ability of the British, and remark that unless Henry's troops are stopped, they will be forced to work and dance like the English. They further complain that Henry is being honored by the French women for being more valiant than their own men.

Charles orders his nobles to rally every man and take their army against Henry. The Constable remarks that Henry's army is fewer in number and that many of his men are sick and famished, and therefore Charles should easily win the battle. Charles lastly orders his son the Dauphin to remain with him in Rouen rather than go to battle.

Act Three, Scene Six

Fluellen tells Gower that he has seen Exeter valiantly defending the bridge so that Henry's troops can cross over. He then adds that Exeter has an ensign lieutenant with him named Pistol whom he also thinks is a great soldier. Gower says he does not know who Pistol is, but Pistol arrives at that moment.

Pistol asks Fluellen to intercede with Exeter and free Bardolph, who has stolen a religious tablet and is set to hang for his crime. Fluellen refuses, saying he would maintain the discipline even if Bardolph were his brother. Pistol curses him and makes a rude gesture before storming away. Gower tells Fluellen that he now recognizes Pistol as a common thief, and tells Fluellen to not be deceived by the man.

King Harry arrives, and Fluellen tells him that Exeter manages to win the bridge without losing a single man, other than Bardolph whom he ordered executed. Henry agrees with the execution, and tells Fluellen that if any other men are caught stealing, the same sentence should apply to them. He remarks that in war it is the gentler of the armies that emerges triumphant in the end.

Montjoy arrives from King Charles and tells King Henry that France has merely been sleeping, but now the full force of the French army will fight with him. He orders Henry to depart from France. He further demands that King Charles be fully compensated for the damages Henry has done to Harfleur, and lastly wants Henry to beg mercy from Charles. Henry tells Montjoy that although his army is weak with sickness, he will continue marching into France and will have to be defeated in battle. He then tips Montjoy.

Act Three, Scene Seven

The French nobles are organizing near Agincourt, and Bourbon (or alternatively the Dauphin in the First Folio), the Constable, Rambures, and Orleans discuss their horses. Bourbon (or the Dauphin) remarks that he would not change his horse for anything, and tells the other men that he even wrote a sonnet to the horse once. He starts telling them the sonnet, saying, "Wonder of nature!" (3.7.36-37). Orleans interrupts him and comments that the sonnet sounds like it is for a lover, not a horse. "I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's mistress" (3.7.38). Bourbon (or the Dauphin) and the Constable continue talking, making sexual innuendoes concerning horses and mistresses. Bourbon (or the Dauphin) finally leaves to go arm himself.

The Constable and Orleans comment on how they wish it were morning so they could defeat the English army. A messenger arrives and tells the men that the English army is only fifteen hundred paces away that night. They both comment that the English are probably not enjoying the night or anticipating the morning's battle the way they are. Both noblemen are convinced they will have no trouble defeating the English the next morning.


The issue of inheritance is complicated in this play not only by the issue of Salic law (see Act One) but also by the fact that battle can alter whose claim is more valid. Inheritance is therefore not passive the way it should be, but actively fought over. War and bloodshed is a means of clarifying inheritance, where the victor can lay a stronger claim. Henry certainly manages to do this when he defeats Charles and debars the Dauphin from assuming the throne.

The issue of inheritance is also tied up with fathers and sons. In the play, fathers are figures whom sons must emulate, often in the form of valour on the battlefield. Henry calls on the sons of England to duplicate their fathers' exploits or fall short and fail:

BLOCKQUOTEOn, on, you noblest English,

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,

Fathers that like so many Alexanders

Have in these parts from morn till even fought,

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.

Dishonor not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you called fathers did beget you" (3.1.17-23)]

The sons must emulate the fathers not only to avoid dishonor, but more generally to avoid losing their inheritance rights. The issue of inheritance really becomes one of keeping families together. Henry makes this clear at Harfleur, where he tells the governor that he will destroy the family affinity, ruin paternal patterns, and dishonor all the mothers:

why, in a moment look to see

The blind 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. (3.3.110-118)

As surprising as it is to describe his own men as rapists and murderers, Henry brilliantly makes the potential victims members of families, such as daughters, fathers, mothers, and infants. This heightens the impact of the violence to such a degree that the governor yields the town without a fight. It also makes it clear that what Henry is really threatening to destroy is the entire inheritance structure of the town, without which Harfleur loses its entire identity. This connection between family and inheritance underlies the reason why Henry refuses to marry Catherine the first time Charles offers her to him. Henry does not only need Catherine as his wife, he also needs the assurance that Charles will make him his heir.

Issuance of blame comes up again when Henry tries to make the governor of Harfleur accept responsibility for the rape and pillage he will allow his troops to pursue. The governor of Harfleur yields the town, begging for mercy as he does so. However, although Henry still refuses to take responsibility for his actions, he cannot escape the judgment of his troops. As will be seen in Act Four, they blame him for leaving behind widows and fatherless children.

Indeed, it is wrong to assume that only the French face disruption of their families. The Constable makes clear, "His [Henry's] 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 of fear" (3.5.57-59). Henry is not just lightly marching through France, he is struggling to keep together a suffering army as well. The losses Henry deals with are largely due to sickness and starvation. Henry states, "My people are with sickness much enfeebled, / My numbers lessened, and those few I have / Almost no better than so many French" (3.6.131-133). However, given that Henry speaks these lines to the French Herald, it is probable that he is exaggerating to give the French a false sense of confidence.

The heterogeneous nature of the army is firmly established in Act Three. There are four officers with four accents, English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh. The unity of the men rests on their allegiance to Henry. Indeed, when Fluellen refers to MacMorris' "nation," he is corrected by the Irishman, who says, "Of my nation? What ish my nation?...Who talks of my nation?" (3.3.59). This cohesion among that disparate regions is something only Henry has managed and is what his father battled for most of his reign.

In Act Three, Scene Four we are introduced to Catherine. This scene, largely a comedy, also serves to seriously foreshadow two results. By learning the English language, Catherine foreshadows defeat for her father and shows that she must get used to a foreign tongue. However, she also indicates a union of the two languages and kingdoms by virtue of her willingness to use English words.

One of the more interesting comparisons is between the Dauphin and Hotspur, Henry's enemy in Henry IV, Part I. The Dauphin writes a sonnet to his horse (this is only in the First Folio, other texts substitute Bourbon for the Dauphin). In writing the sonnet he reenacts Hotspur who said his roan shall be his throne. The Dauphin can in many ways be said to be embody the worst aspects of Hotspur: his overbearing confidence, his love of horses, and his lack of leadership ability. This stands in contrast to Henry who will later be seen as a modern version of Hotspur by getting the consent of his troops and wishing for more honor by having fewer men.