Henry V Summary
Read the full text of Henry V with a side-by-side translation HERE.
First things first, Shmoopsters: If you want to brush up on what went down in Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, or Henry IV Part 2, check out our summaries, but then come right back because things are getting seriously juicy at King Henry's royal palace in London...
Back? Good. When Henry V opens, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his sidekick, the Bishop of Ely, are having a private chitchat about a bill that's just been reintroduced by Parliament. If passed, the bill would take a bunch of the Church's land and money and put it in the king's treasury, which means it would probably be used for stuff like feeding the poor and funding the king's army. Canterbury isn't exactly thrilled about the idea of sharing the Church's dough, so he's decided to offer King Henry a HUGE chunk of change to make the bill disappear... forever. The extra cash will come in handy, because Henry is thinking of invading France and making a claim to the French crown, which requires a whole lot of well-funded troops. (Church corruption? Check. Greed? Check. Political intrigue? Check. We told you things were getting juicy.)
Citing a loophole in the Salic Law, Canterbury encourages Henry to invade France and help himself to the throne. Henry, who doesn't exactly need much convincing, totally agrees that he's got every right to the French crown, in addition to the English crown. After all, his great-great-grandmother was the daughter of a French king, so Henry's basically got dibs. The French should have absolutely no problem accepting this just as soon as Henry explains things to them. (Yeah, right.)
Canterbury's advice couldn't come at a better time, because the French Ambassador just so happens to be visiting England on a diplomatic mission and he's waiting to talk with Henry. It turns out that Henry has recently tried to claim some French dukedoms, so the Ambassador has brought a message from the Dauphin (the French king's son, who is set to inherit the throne) of France. The message goes something like this:
"Dear Henry. Thanks for your recent letter about your plans to claim some French territory. I've thought it over and decided that it's just not going to happen. Your pal, the heir to the French throne. P.S. In place of the dukedoms you so desperately wanted, please accept my gift to you, this giant treasure chest that I've gone ahead and filled with some tennis balls for you to play with."
Oh, snap! Henry is furious. How dare the Dauphin insinuate that he's just a boy who's better off playing a game of tennis than participating in power politics! (Looks like the Dauphin didn't get the message about Wild Prince Hal's transformation into a serious king. Maybe he should go back and read Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2.)
Naturally, Henry's got a message of his own for the Dauphin. It sounds like this:
"Dear Lewis, Thanks for the generous gift! I love it so much that I'm totally going to get medieval on you and your country by turning these tennis balls into cannonballs that will rip you and your friends to shreds. Then I'm going to take your father's crown and make him polish my new gold wand while I relax on his throne. Sincerely, the Soon-to-be King of France and England."
Taking a break from all this political drama, Shakespeare checks in with Henry's old pal Bardolph, who is still hanging out with his low-life crew (Pistol, Mistress Quickly, and a new guy named Nim) in Eastcheap, the London slum where Henry used to chill when he was a rowdy young prince. The word on the street is that Sir John Falstaff (Henry's ex-BFF and mentor) has been seriously ill. Everybody says he's dying of a broken heart because Henry banished him (back in Henry IV Part 2). Before we know it, Falstaff dies (off-stage) of a nasty venereal disease. After Bardolph and company take a few minutes to mourn their loss and argue about whether or not Falstaff is in heaven or hell, the guys run off to France to fight in Henry's army, leaving Mistress Quickly behind to run her "inn" (which is code for brothel).
Meanwhile, we find out about a treacherous plot to have King Henry assassinated by (gasp!) some of his own friends. Apparently, the French have paid three English noblemen (Scrope, Grey, and Cambridge) to kill him. We learn that Cambridge isn't just in it for the money – he thinks this other guy named Mortimer has a better claim to the English throne than Henry does. (Remember, Henry V only got to inherit the throne because one day his dad, Henry IV, took some French money and put together an army to help him snatch the crown away from the then King Richard II.) After playing a few mind games with the traitors, Henry has them executed. Then he hops on a ship and sets sail across the English Channel so he can snatch the crown away from King Charles VI. (You're picking up on the irony of all this attempted crown-snatching, right?)
While this is happening, the French talk about whether or not they should be alarmed that Henry's troops are about to invade France. The cocky Dauphin thinks that Henry and his army are a bunch of clowns – the battle will be a piece of cake (or maybe some other delicious French dessert, like chocolate mousse).
Before we know it, Henry's troops land on the shores of northern France and invade the town of Harfleur. During the siege, we get to hear Henry's famous battle cry, "Once more into the breach dear friends, once more." (Translation: "We've just blown a giant hole in the town's wall so please rush in there ASAP, even though it's dangerous and you'll probably die.")
While this is happening, Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim stand back and remain as far away as possible from the action. They say they'd much rather be back at home in London, enjoying a nice "pot of ale" (kind of like beer) at their favorite pub. Before we can decide whether or not we think they're cowardly or just plain smart, we notice that a small group of Captains (Fluellen, MacMorris, and Jamy) are also standing back as far away as possible from the fighting. Instead of fighting, these so-called leaders have a lively debate about the art of warfare while most of the other soldiers do all the dirty work. (Hmm. Shakespeare is really good at this irony thing, don't you think?)
After the French call an official time out (which is technically called a "parley"), Henry stands before the gates of Harfleur and warns the Governor to surrender now or reap the consequences, which will probably involve his soldiers 1) raping the town virgins, 2) impaling infants on spikes, and 3) bashing in the heads of defenseless old men. The Governor of Harfleur surrenders. (By the way, we think the scariest version of this speech is in Peter Babakitis's 2007 film. You can check it out here.)
Later, we learn that Bardolph and Nim have been caught looting (when you steal stuff during a war or a riot) and have been sentenced to death by hanging. (Dang. Henry's old Eastcheap pals are dropping like flies. What's up with that?)
Meanwhile, the rest of the English troops are seriously down and out – they're exhausted and know they're outnumbered by the French soldiers. The night before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry walks through his camp and tries to cheer them up. Then, he borrows some dirty old clothes and disguises himself as a commoner so he can wander around the camp and get the 411 on what his soldiers are really thinking. It turns out they're not as excited about warfare as Henry is. They point out that they're the ones who will probably be killed or who will lose important body parts (like heads, legs, and arms) during the fighting. The king, on the other hand, will probably just get captured and ransomed for a bunch of money before the French ship him back to England with his tail between his legs.
Still disguised, Henry gets into an argument with a guy named Williams, who wonders if King Henry's war is even justifiable. Either way, Williams declares that the king is going to be responsible when the English soldiers are slaughtered in battle. This ticks off Henry, who argues that, actually, the king is not responsible for the lives of his men, even though they have to follow his orders and he's just ordered all of them to fight a battle they'll probably lose. (Um, okay.) When he's alone, Henry feels sorry for himself and delivers a long, whiny speech about how hard it is to be a king. (Cue the sad violin music.)
The next morning, the French and English prepare to get their battle on. To pump up his small crew of soldiers, Henry delivers one of the most famous motivational war speeches of all time, which includes the following lines: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother." Henry convinces his troops that it's actually better that they're so outnumbered because, this way, when they stomp all over the French, there will be a lot more honor for each of them. (This is sort of like how sharing a delicious pepperoni pizza with a small group of friends is better than sharing it with the entire school because everybody gets more.)
Miraculously, the English win the Battle of Agincourt and suffer only a handful of losses. Only four English nobles and 25 commoners have been killed. The French, on the other hand, have lost a boatload of men. We're not exactly sure how this happens because Shakespeare leaves the details a little fuzzy, but Henry promptly attributes the victory to God and warns that, if anyone says otherwise, they'll be put to death.
After the battle, Henry goes back to England, where they throw a big parade for him. He then returns to France to work out the details of a peace treaty with King Charles and Queen Isabel of France. Henry's got a big list of demands, including the right to marry the French princess, Catherine. Then something totally bizarre happens. Even though Henry knows that Catherine will be his wife, he tries to get all romantic and woos her anyway, begging her to marry him (as if she has a choice). King Charles agrees to the terms of the treaty and declares that Henry and Catherine can get hitched ASAP since the union will unite France and England. (Time for wedding cake!)
Unfortunately, Shmoopsters, this triumphant feeling doesn't last long – during the play's Epilogue, the Chorus comes out on stage and says something like, "By the way, we don't have time to show what happens next but it's not good. As we all know, Henry dies and his son, Henry VI, totally loses France. But, we hope you liked our play. Have a good night everyone!"
We know you've got a ton of questions about this, so go to "What's Up With the Ending?" if you want to know more.
Read the full text of Henry V Prologue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus steps on stage and kicks things off with a bang by asking for a "muse of fire" to help the theater company portray "a kingdom for a stage." Translation: Shakespeare means serious business in this play. (This classic move, by the way, is called an Invocation to the Muse. Check out the openings of The Odyssey, Paradise Lost, and The Aeneid for some other famous examples.)
- Then the Chorus tells us to get ready to rumble because we're about to watch "two mighty monarchies" (England and France) go toe-to-toe over the French crown.
- We interrupt this program for an important brain snack: When we say "the Chorus," we're not talking about the kids from Glee. In Henry V, the Chorus is a single character who sets the scene for us at the beginning of each act. It's a throwback to the old school Choruses (a group of singers that act like a peanut gallery) that we see in Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus the King. Now, back to our show.
- After pumping us up for some serious drama, the Chorus then apologizes because there's no way the theater can accurately represent Henry V's war against France on a tiny little stage with just a handful of actors.
- The Chorus tells us that we have to use our imaginations to help bring the events to life, since it's impossible for the theater to "hold the vastly fields of France" and the thousands of soldiers and horses that were involved in the historic battle at Agincourt.
Act 1, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry V Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At King Henry V's swanky English palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely chat about a bill that's been raised by Parliament.
- It turns out that the bill was raised years ago during Henry IV's reign, but it got pushed off to the side during the chaos of the civil wars. (How convenient!) Now that England is no longer at war, the bill has resurfaced.
- If the bill passes, the Church will lose a ton of money and land that it has collected over the years from generous rich people. Some of this money and property would go to the king's treasury and some of it would be used to fund the army and feed the poor.
- Canterbury and Ely want to make the bill disappear ASAP so the Church gets to keep the money. (Hmm. Looks like feeding the poor with Church money isn't high up on their "To Do" list.)
- Canterbury and Ely go off on a tangent about how lucky they all are that King Henry has recently undergone a miraculous transformation. Back in the day, Henry was a wild young prince who spent all his time drinking and carousing with his low-life pals. These days, he's the perfect king.
- We learn that Canterbury has recently offered the Henry the biggest chunk of change that's ever been given to a monarch by the Church. This money will come in handy, because King Henry's thinking about declaring war on France and helping himself to the French crown. (Hmm. This sounds a little bit like a bribe, don't you think?)
Act 1, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry V Act 1 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In a private room at the royal palace, Henry gets ready to talk with the French ambassador. To flex his muscles, the king takes his sweet time and makes the Ambassador cool his heels while Henry chats up Canterbury and Ely.
- Henry asks Canterbury to explain whether or not he has a legal right to claim the French throne. He reminds the Archbishop that he better tell him the truth because he's about to declare war on France.
- Canterbury gives a looooong and complicated speech (we're talking over 60 lines) arguing that, yes, Henry can totally make a legitimate claim because Henry's great-great-grandmother (Isabella) was the daughter of the French King Phillip IV. (Wait a minute. A member of the Shmoop Editorial Team has a great-great-grandmother whose dad was senior class president back in the day. Does that mean we can declare ourselves senior class president?)
- Canterbury says that the French have been using the "Salic Law" as an excuse to prevent English kings (like Henry's great-grandfather King Edward III) from inheriting the French crown.
- ("Salic Law" is just the name of a French rule that prevented men from inheriting the crown through a female line. In other words, if a king has a daughter, she can't inherit the throne and her sons and grandsons can't inherit it either.)
- Canterbury also claims that, from a historical and legal standpoint, the Salic Law only applies to Germany, not France. Plus, adds Canterbury, a bunch of French kings have inherited the crown through their mothers' family lineage, so the Salic Law shouldn't apply to King Henry V either.
- Canterbury urges Henry to channel his great-grandfather's "warlike spirit" and declare war on France.
- Ely and Exeter chime in with a little medieval peer pressure: Henry should totally do this for his family's honor.
- Canterbury promises Henry that the Church will raise a ton of money to fund the war and reiterates that it will be the biggest donation the Church has ever made to an English monarch.
- King Henry is all for stomping on the French, but he's worried about the logistics of invading another country, which could leave England's borders vulnerable to attacks from its Scottish neighbors.
- Canterbury declares that England is strong enough to wage a war on foreign soil and protect its borders, so Henry should go to France and take what's rightfully his.
- Henry declares that, with "God's help," he's going to make France submit to his will "or break it all to pieces."
- The French Ambassador enters carrying a gigantic treasure chest.
- The Ambassador has a gift and a message for Henry, but he wants the King's word that he won't shoot the messenger if he's offended by what the Dauphin has to say.
- Henry is all, "Hey man, I'm a 'Christian king,' not a tyrant. Just spit it out."
- We learn that Henry recently made a claim to some French dukedoms and the Dauphin (the King's son who's set to inherit the throne) has sent the Ambassador to deliver his official response.
- Henry wants to know what's in the chest.
- The chest is full of tennis balls. (Oh, snap! The Dauphin is basically saying that Henry is an immature boy who's better suited to games of tennis than politics.)
- Henry is not amused and delivers a really scary speech about how God is going to help him turn the Dauphin's tennis balls into cannons that will tear down castles and turn thousands of French wives into widows. (How scary is this speech? We're talking Pulp Fiction "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger" scary.)
- Henry concludes by saying sweetly that he hopes the Ambassador has a safe trip back to France.
Act 2, Prologue
Read the full text of Henry V Act 2 Prologue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus steps out on stage and sets the scene for us: England is pumped up and preparing for war and the French are shaking in their boots because they know what's coming.
- The Chorus also has some bad news – three English traitors (Cambridge, Lord Scrope, and Sir Thomas Grey) have taken money from France and are plotting to assassinate King Henry.
Act 2, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry V Act 2 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At a seedy tavern in Eastcheap (a London slum), two commoners named Bardolph and Nim talk about the impending war with France.
- (We know what you're thinking, Shmoopsters. Why does Shakespeare direct us to this tavern in Eastcheap right after the Chorus has just told us about a plot against the King's life? Why not open this scene by dropping in on the traitors? Well, we're not exactly sure, but we're guessing that Shakespeare wants us to make some kind of connection between the traitors and the rowdy Eastcheap characters.)
- Mistress Quickly and Pistol (who have recently tied the knot) enter and talk about their family business. Their conversation sounds a lot like this: "Dang. We're so tired of everyone accusing us of running a 'bawdy house' (brothel) when all we're trying to do is run an honest business."
- Nim gets all bent out of shape and we find out why. Apparently, he was engaged to Mistress Quickly before she ran off and married Pistol.
- Nim threatens to slit Pistol's throat and the two men draw their swords (several times) before Bardolph manages to break up the argument.
- A Boy runs in and declares that Sir John Falstaff is deathly ill. (Remember, Falstaff is Henry's old pal from Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2. When he became King of England, Henry banished Falstaff.)
- Mistress Quickly, Nim, and Pistol agree that Falstaff is dying of a broken heart because King Henry unfriended him.
Act 2, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry V Act 2 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The scene shifts to Southampton. We learn from Gloucester, Exeter, and Westmoreland that Henry knows all about the traitors' plot to assassinate him.
- Brain Snack: Shakespeare doesn't exactly tell us how Henry found out about the plot, but the fact that he does tell us that Henry has a good spy network, which is Shakespeare's way of giving his monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, a big shout-out. (Elizabeth I was famous for having a bunch of spies everywhere. In fact, one of her mottos was Video et taceo, which is Latin for "I see and am silent.")
- Meanwhile, King Henry is boarding a ship that will take him and his troops to France. With him are Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey (the three traitors), who are busy trying to brown-nose the King.
- Henry decides to toy with the traitors a bit before he lets them know he's onto them.
- He makes up a story about how, yesterday, some drunk guy was talking smack about him in public (which is considered treason). King Henry asks the three traitors if they think he should have mercy on the guy.
- Brain Snack: In the 1965 cult classic film The Chimes of Midnight (a.k.a. Falstaff), director Orson Welles turns this anonymous drunk guy into Falstaff and has King Henry pardon him.
- Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey are all, "You should punish that guy and make an example out of him!"
- Henry says something like "Gee, guys, you really think I shouldn't be merciful to traitors?"
- Henry hands the three men some documents to read. (The papers indicate that King Henry has proof of their plot to murder him.)
- As the traitors read the incriminating documents, Henry innocently asks why their faces look so pale.
- Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey know they're busted – they immediately 'fess up and beg for mercy.
- Henry has them arrested and sentences them all to death for high treason.
- Cambridge confesses that, even though he accepted French money, he didn't do it for the cash.
- Brain Snack: Cambridge supports Edmund Mortimer, who seems to have a better claim to the English throne than Henry V because Mortimer is the great-grandson of Edward III's third son. Henry, on the other hand, is the grandson of Edward III's fourth son. Plus, Henry only inherited the throne after his father (King Henry IV) usurped the crown from Richard II. (In other words, Shakespeare is reminding us that Cambridge's plot isn't so different from what Henry IV did to Richard II.)
- As the traitors continue to beg for mercy, Henry refuses and says it's not because he's vengeful – he's just trying to protect England's national security.
- The traitors are hauled off to the slammer and Henry takes the opportunity to thank God for revealing the treacherous plot. This, he reasons, must be a sign that God wants him to invade France.
Act 2, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry V Act 2 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back in the seedy underworld of Eastcheap, Pistol tells us point blank that Falstaff "is dead."
- We find out that Falstaff died of some kind of dreadful venereal disease. (Eww.)
- Bardolph, Mistress Quickly, and Pistol are completely crushed because they think Falstaff was the greatest guy of all time. (We have to admit that we're a little bummed about this too.)
- Bardolph and his crew discuss whether or not the old knight is in heaven or hell, and whether or not he swore off women and booze on his deathbed.
- Mistress Quickly describes the agony of Falstaff's final moments when he cried out to "God" and babbled about "sack" (wine) and the "Whore of Babylon."
- Quickly tells us that Falstaff was ice cold as he lay in his bed. (She ought to know because she "felt to his knees, and so upward and upward, and all was cold as any stone." Yep, that's a dirty joke, all right.)
- After a few minutes, Pistol, Nim, and Bardolph decide that they've grieved enough. It's time to set off for the war in France.
- P.S. Shakespeare scholar and Falstaff fan Harold Bloom (a.k.a. "Bloomstaff") has never quite forgiven Shakespeare for killing off this beloved character. Still, he does admit that that Shakespeare had to get rid of Falstaff. Otherwise, the larger-than-life figure would have caused the play to "break apart." Go to "Characters: Falstaff" for more on this.
Act 2, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry V Act 2 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In France (where the rest of the play takes place), King Charles and his son the Dauphin talk about how the English troops are about 2 seconds from knocking on France's front door.
- King Charles wants to make plans to defend his kingdom, but his son tells him to chill out and stop being a scaredy cat because England's king is nothing more than a "vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth."
- Charles isn't so sure. He reminds everyone of the time that Henry's great-grandfather (Edward III) and his great uncle (Edward the Black Prince) stormed France and made the French army look like a bunch of chumps. If Henry V is anything like his ancestors, France is in serious trouble.
- A Messenger brings word that King Henry's Ambassadors are close by and want a meeting with the French king.
- The Duke of Exeter enters with a message from the English monarch. Basically, King Henry says he wants King Charles to step aside peacefully while he helps himself to the French throne, which he's legally entitled to.
- King Charles asks "Or else what?"
- Exeter says something like "Henry is totally going to invade France like a 'fierce tempest' of 'thunder.' The earth will quake and war will open its jaws and swallow everyone whole."
- Then Exeter sweetly adds that King Henry also wanted him to say "hi" to the Dauphin and thank him for the chest of tennis balls.
- King Charles says he'll think about it.
- His son, the Dauphin, doesn't need to think about anything. He dares Henry to bring it.
Act 3, Prologue
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Prologue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus appears on stage and asks us to imagine that we've just watched Henry leave Dover, England and arrive on the shores of Harfleur, France. In fact, we should imagine we were on the ship with Henry and could hear the sounds of the crew, feel the wind on our faces, and smell the salty sea air.
- While we're at it, we should also imagine that we've witnessed King Henry reject France's peace offering (Charles' daughter Catherine and some small, petty dukedoms).
Act 3, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The scene opens in the middle of the siege of Harfleur, where King Henry delivers a famously rousing speech to his troops as he urges them on into a gap in the French fortifications: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, / Or close the wall up with our English dead."
- Henry also tells his troops to channel their inner tigers (seriously) and declares that, if they fight with everything they've got, warfare will make them noble (even the "yeoman" who grew up on farms).
- Henry shouts, "God for Harry! England and Saint George!"
Act 3, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- While Henry leads the charge "unto the breach" (the giant hole they've just blown in the town's walls), Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol stay back and avoid the fray. (Hmm. So much for warfare turning these guys into noblemen.)
- A Boy (who used to be Falstaff's servant and is conveniently named "Boy") says he wishes he were relaxing back in London at an alehouse. Pistol agrees that this sounds a whole lot better than fighting the French.
- Captain Fluellen (a Welshman) shows up and screams at the men to start fighting, or else.
- When Nim smarts off, Fluellen beats him and then chases after the men.
- Alone on stage, the Boy tells us that Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim are cowards and thieves who've been roaming around stealing everything in sight. The Boy thinks stealing is unmanly and says he refuses to join in.
- A note about the division of scenes: In some editions of the play, the action continues on in this scene. Other editions (like the Norton Shakespeare) end the scene here and continue the action in Act 3, scene 3.
Act 3, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Meanwhile, Henry's troops are still charging "unto the breach" but Captain Gower, Captain Fluellen, Captain Jamy, and Captain MacMorris stand off to the side...talking about the art of warfare.
- Captain MacMorris notes that this is no time for chitchat and says it's a "shame" that they're not joining in the fight.
- The Captains continue to chitchat until they're interrupted by a parley (a trumpet blast signaling that the French want to negotiate).
- The scene cuts to King Henry and his attendants at the gates of Harfleur.
- Henry delivers a disturbing speech about how the Governor of Harfleur better hurry up and surrender peacefully. Otherwise, Henry's troops will storm the gates and rape the town's "fair virgins" after they impale all the French infants on spikes and bash all the old men's heads in.
- Henry claims that, if he unleashes his soldiers on the town again, he'll have no more control over them.
- Naturally, the Governor surrenders and opens the gates.
- Henry leads his troops into the town, where his weary soldiers can rest until they push on to Calais.
Act 3, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the French palace, Princess Catherine asks her lady-in-waiting (Alice) to give her an English lesson. (After all, it seems likely that Catherine will be married off to King Henry.)
- Alice teaches Catherine the words for various body parts: "la main" (hand), "les doigts" (fingers), "les ongles" (nails), "le bras" (arms), "le coude" (elbow). "le col" (neck), "le menton" (chin), and so on.
- When Catherine learns the English words for "le pied" (foot) and "de cown" (gown), she protests that they sound like dirty words and says she would never say them out loud in front of a French gentleman.
- Shakespeare's big joke is that, when Catherine explains why these words sound so vulgar, she does say them out loud (several times). With her heavy French accent, Catherine makes the English word "foot" sound a lot like the French word "foutre" (which translates to the f-bomb in English). She also makes the English word "gown" sound a lot like the French word "con" (an offensive slang word for female genitalia).
Act 3, Scene 5
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Meanwhile, King Charles, the Constable, and the Dauphin discuss the fact that Henry is marching through France unchecked.
- The Constable worries that they'll have to hand over their French vineyards to the "barbarous" English.
- Bourbon calls the English a bunch of "bastard Normans" and the Dauphin declares that the English are nothing but "a few sprays of us." (This is a crude way of saying that the English nobility are offshoots of the French, because their ancestors are the Normans, who invaded England back in 1066.)
- The Dauphin claims that some of the French people (especially women) are rooting for the English. He worries that their women will "give their bodies to the lust of the English youth." (Hmm. It sounds like someone isn't too happy about the fact that his sister will likely be married off to Henry V.)
- King Charles orders the troops to pummel the English and take Henry prisoner.
- Meanwhile, Henry's soldiers are lagging – the English troops are exhausted and sick, so the French think it's likely that they'll soon back down.
Act 3, Scene 6
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Over at the English camp, we learn that Bardolph has been busted for stealing a pax (a tablet with a crucifix stamped on it) from a Church. He's been sentenced to death for looting.
- Pistol begs Captain Fluellen to intercede on Bardolph's behalf.
- When Fluellen says that Bardolph deserves to be punished, Pistol throws a tantrum and makes an obscene hand gesture called a "fig" (or fico), which involves pushing his thumb between two fingers. (It's basically the equivalent of flipping someone the bird – kind of like when Sampson bites his thumb at the Montague's servants in Romeo and Juliet.)
- Fluellen is unimpressed.
- Just then, Gower recognizes who Pistol is and chimes in that Pistol is nothing more than a "bawd and a cutpurse" (a pimp and a thief). He says that guys like Pistol are a dime a dozen in times of war. They show up at the battlefield and talk a lot of smack without ever actually doing anything. Then, they go home from war and brag to everyone about how brave they were.
- King Henry arrives with his exhausted soldiers in tow.
- Fluellen proudly reports that the English have taken over an important French bridge, which he calls a "pridge." (This is Shakespeare's way of exaggerating Fluellen's Welsh accent.)
- When Henry finds out that his old pal Bardolph has been busted for looting a local Church, he declares that any other English soldiers caught stealing or abusing the French villagers will be hanged, period. (Hmm. Maybe someone should remind Henry that he's in the process of trying to steal the French crown.)
- Montjoy enters with a message from the French king: "Though we seemed dead, we did but sleep." (Translation: Even though you took Harfleur, we're going to crush you if you take one step further into France.)
- King Henry asks Montjoy to deliver a message to King Charles: Even though the English army is exhausted and sickly, the French better watch their backs because they're not going to back down.
- Henry tips the enemy messenger (which is kind of cool) and sends him on his way.
Act 3, Scene 7
Read the full text of Henry V Act 3 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Over at the French camp, Bourbon brags about his horse (seriously) until the Constable and Orléans say enough already!
- Bourbon goes on and on about the magnificence of his horse and Orléans points out that Bourbon talks about it like it's his girlfriend or something.
- Bourbon confesses that he once wrote a sonnet to his beloved steed.
- After some discussion among the men about the similarities between riding one's horse and "riding" a woman, Bourbon declares, "I had rather have my horse to my mistress." (Eww. Go to "Symbolism" if you want to know what this is all about.)
- When Bourbon runs off to get ready for battle (even though it's midnight), the Constable and Orléans take the opportunity to talk trash about him.
- A messenger arrives with news that the English are only 1500 paces from the French encampment.
- Orléans and the Constable talk about what an idiot King Henry has turned out to be. The English army has no idea they're about to get pummeled by the French soldiers.
Act 4, Prologue
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Prologue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus steps out on stage and delivers a speech about what's going down at both the French and English camps.
- The French are overly cocky while the underdog Englishmen are worried about what will happen come morning.
- The Chorus also tells us that King Henry has been walking around camp trying to cheer up his soldiers. Even though Henry is worried (the French army has encircled his camp), he's put on a brave face to comfort his exhausted men.
- The Chorus apologizes (again) for the theater's inability to justly portray the upcoming battle of Agincourt.
Act 4, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the English camp, King Henry talks with Gloucester and Clarence.
- Henry borrows Erpingham's dirty old cloak and then sends the men off to prepare for battle.
- Henry disguises himself as a commoner and walks around camp, where nobody recognizes him as the king.
- Pistol shows up and chats up Henry.
- When Henry claims to be a kinsman of Fluellen, Pistol makes an obscene hand gesture (the fig) and storms off.
- Fluellen and Gower show up and Henry eavesdrops on their conversation.
- Gower speaks too loudly and Fluellen tells him to pipe down since they're so close to the French camp.
- Henry thinks that, even though Fluellen is kind of whacky, he's actually a pretty smart Captain.
- Three common soldiers show up (Bates, Court, and Williams) and Henry talks to them about the war. All three soldiers wish they were back at home and question the King's motives and decisions.
- Bates, who doesn't recognize Henry, declares that the king isn't as brave as he pretends to be.
- Henry tries to defend himself by saying that he's sure Henry wouldn't wish that he was anywhere else but here.
- Williams and Bates are skeptical. They admit that they don't even know if Henry's war against France is "just."
- Williams chimes in that, if the soldiers die in battle the next day and leave behind a bunch of grieving widows, it will be all King Henry's fault.
- Henry is furious and says that the king isn't responsible for the deaths of his soldiers, just like a father isn't responsible if his son dies during a commercial sea venture. (Um, okay.)
- Williams and Henry can't come to any agreement, so they decide to exchange gloves. (The idea is that, when they bump into each other later, they'll recognize the gloves and can fight about it then.)
- Bates tells the men to be friends – they've got enough to worry about fighting against the French.
- The common soldiers exit.
- Alone on stage, King Henry delivers a speech about the difficulties of kingship. Being king is tough work and it's isolating. Henry says he spends all of his time worrying about his people and never has any time to relax.
- Henry says a prayer. He asks God to make his men brave and to forgive him for his father's sins. (Remember, Henry's dad, King Henry IV, stole the English crown from King Richard II.)
- Henry reminds God that he's built a kind of shrine to Richard II and that he pays 500 poor people to pray for Richard twice a day. He's also built two chantries (chapels where people sing masses for the dead).
- Henry hopes that God will keep all of this in mind during tomorrow's battle.
Act 4, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Over at the enemy camp, the French are as cocky as ever as they prepare for battle.
- A Messenger arrives with word that the English have lined up and are ready to rumble.
- The Constable declares that whipping the English soldiers is going to be a piece of cake. In fact, the English soldiers will probably just "couch down in fear and yield." Also, he adds, the English have probably already said their prayers and are just standing around waiting to die.
- Bourbon jokes that maybe they should send over some fresh clothes for the English and some food for their starving horses before they destroy them in battle.
- They run off to fight.
Act 4, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the English camp, we learn that Henry's army is seriously outnumbered. Things are not looking good.
- Westmoreland says he wishes they had some more soldiers here with them.
- In response, Henry delivers a famous speech that begins "If we are marked to die, we are enough / To do our country loss; and if we live, / The fewer men, the greater share of honour."
- Henry declares that he doesn't want to fight alongside any man who doesn't want to be there with him. He tells his soldiers they can leave if they want to and even offers to give them cab fare for the ride home. To those who chose to stay and fight alongside him, though, Henry says they'll become his "band of brothers" and everyone will remember that they fought with him on St. Crispin's Day. (The Battle of Agincourt was fought on St. Crispin's Day, October 25, 1415.)
- Psst. Watch Kenneth Branagh deliver the St. Crispin's Day speech here.
- As Henry and his army prepare to fight, Montjoy shows up with a message from the French Constable, who says he's giving Henry one last chance to give up.
- Henry, of course, refuses, and sends Montjoy back to the French camp.
Act 4, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Cut to the battlefield, where Pistol has encountered an unnamed French Soldier, who mistakes Pistol for a gentleman.
- Pistol takes the soldier prisoner and demands a ransom, which the French soldier agrees to (after begging for his life, of course).
- Since Pistol and the French Soldier don't understand each other, the Boy (who used to be Falstaff's page) has to translate everything.
- The Boy complains to us that Pistol is nothing but a loudmouth braggart.
- He then reveals to us that Nim has been hanged for stealing, just like Bardolph. (Dang. The rowdy Eastcheap characters are dropping like flies. Who's next?)
- The Boy heads back to the English camp, where the rest of the young pages (boy servants) have to stay behind while the men duke it out on the battlefield. (Get your highlighters out because this will be important later on.)
Act 4, Scene 5
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Elsewhere on the battlefield, the French are losing big time, despite the fact that they outnumber the English.
- The once confident Constable, Bourbon, and Orléans are running around shouting things like "O diable!" (O the devil!) and "Mort de ma vie!" (Death of my life!).
- A guy named Rambures runs away in fear as Bourbon orders the French soldiers back into the fray.
- Bourbon tells us that surrendering to (or running away from) the English would be like letting an enemy into his home to rape his daughter.
Act 4, Scene 6
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- On the battlefield, it seems pretty clear that the English are the victors. Still, the fighting's not over.
- Exeter shows up and debriefs King Henry: The Earl of Suffolk and the Duke of York have been killed in battle.
- Through tears, Exeter describes how a wounded and bloody York spotted his dead cousin (Suffolk) and lay down beside him to die.
- Exeter apologizes for crying like a sissy but Henry says it's okay – the story has moved him to tears also. (Go to "Themes: Gender" if you want to know more about the relationship between war and masculinity.)
- When Henry hears an alarum (a call to arms that signals the French are sending in reinforcements), he's all "Oh no they didn't!" and orders his soldiers to kill all the French war prisoners.
- Pistol cries out "Coup la gorge!" (Cut the throat!)
Act 4, Scene 7
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- As the battle wages on, we learn that a group of French soldiers just attacked the English camp, where they set fire to it and slaughtered all of the young boys (including the kid who used to be Falstaff's errand boy) who were left there to guard the equipment and supplies.
- Fluellen and Gower declare this to be a cowardly act and say they're glad King Henry made the decision to slit the throats of all the French war prisoners.
- Fluellen compares Henry to Alexander the Great, which is funny because Fluellen refers to him as "Alexander the pig." (Whoops. We think he meant to say "Alexander the Big.")
- Gower argues that Henry is nothing like him because, unlike Alexander the Great, Henry "never killed any of his friends."
- Fluellen reminds Gower that, actually, Henry banished his old friend, the "fat knight," whose name Fluellen has forgotten.
- Gower helps him out. The name of the now dead "fat knight" is Sir John Falstaff. (The guy who died of a broken heart after Henry banished him.)
- The scene cuts to King Henry, who is furious after learning that the young boys have been slaughtered at the camp.
- Henry declares no mercy for the French soldiers who refuse to surrender and then repeats that he wants the throats of all the war prisoners slit open.
- Montjoy (the French messenger) approaches and asks if the French can have permission to go onto the battlefield and sort their dead, since it wouldn't be right if the corpses of the mere commoners got to soak up any of the blood of the dead noblemen. (Hmm. Looks like the French soldiers don't consider themselves a "band of brothers.")
- King Henry allows this but first, he makes Montjoy admit that the English have won the battle.
- Fluellen and Henry reminisce about how the King's great uncle, Edward the Black Prince, once defeated the French nearby.
- Fluellen reminds the King that he (Henry) was born in Wales (where Fluellen is from) and declares that he's proud to be Henry's countryman. (Go Britain!)
- Williams shows up on the scene, and he's wearing the King's glove in his cap. (Remember, Henry and Williams exchanged gloves after getting into an argument.)
- Henry spots the glove and decides it would be loads of fun to play a practical joke on Williams. (Looks like Hal the prankster is up to his old tricks, don't you think?)
- Henry asks Williams about the glove in his cap and Williams replies that it belongs to a "rascal that swaggered with [him] last night." Williams promises that, when he sees the man, he's going to "take him a box o'th' ear." (Read: He's going to slap him upside his head.) He'll recognize the guy because he'll be wearing Williams' glove in his cap.
- Henry sends Williams off on an errand and then gives Fluellen Williams' glove and asks him to wear it in his cap. Henry fibs and says the glove belonged to a Frenchman and, if anyone confronts Fluellen about the glove, it means that they're a traitor.
Act 4, Scene 8
Read the full text of Henry V Act 4 Scene 8 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- When Williams returns and sees his glove in Fluellen's hat, he slaps Fluellen.
- Fluellen accuses Williams of being a traitor and says that Williams should be arrested.
- The two men scream at each other until King Henry steps forward and confesses that he's playing a joke on them. He admits that he's the one who exchanged gloves with Williams when the two bickered back at camp the night before.
- Williams is shocked, but he defends himself and says that he didn't know he was arguing with the king, since Henry was disguised as a commoner.
- Henry fills the glove with some coins and gives it to Williams, who is pretty ticked off that he's been punked.
- When Fluellen tries to give Williams some more money so he can go out and buy a new pair of shoes (seriously), Williams feels insulted.
- An unnamed English Herald shows up and we learn about the casualties of war: Ten thousand French soldiers have been counted dead (many of whom were princes and noblemen).
- Miraculously, only four English nobles and twenty-five commoners have been killed in battle.
- Henry orders a procession through the local village and says anyone who doesn't give God props for the English victory will be put to death.
Act 5, Prologue
Read the full text of Henry V Act 5 Prologue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus comes out on stage and tells us about Henry's trip to Calais and his victorious return to London, which we'll just have to imagine because it's impossible to portray such a journey on stage.
- The Chorus tells us that the Holy Roman Emperor made a trip to England to try to negotiate peace between England and France and that Henry has returned to France.
Act 5, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry V Act 5 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back at the English camp in France, Fluellen and Gower talk about why Fluellen is wearing a leek (kind of like an onion) in his hat, even though St. Davy's Day was yesterday (March 1).
- Brain Snack: For the Welsh, wearing a leek in one's hat on St. Davy's Day was as patriotic as Americans eating too many hotdogs and lighting fireworks on Independence Day.
- Fluellen tells us that he's still wearing the leek because, yesterday, Pistol insulted him by sending him some salt and bread (to eat with the leek).
- When Pistol shows up, Fluellen beats him severely and crams the leek in his mouth.
- Then Fluellen gives Pistol some money and tells him to scram.
- Gower points out that Pistol got what was coming to him. Next time, Pistol will think twice before messing with a guy just because he's got a whacky Welsh accent.
- Left alone on stage, Pistol relates some sad news: His wife, Mistress Quickly, has died of venereal disease. (Just like Falstaff.)
- Pistol decides that, since he no longer has a wife to go home to, he's going to become a pimp.
Act 5, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry V Act 5 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the French palace, King Henry meets with King Charles and Queen Isabel to negotiate a peace treaty.
- Henry is super-polite, but he's got a list of demands. If the French know what's good for them, they'll give into each of them.
- It turns out that Princess Catherine is at the top of Henry's list.
- Henry has a semi-private meeting with Catherine, who's got her sidekick/personal translator with her. (That would be Alice, Catherine's lady-in-waiting.)
- As Henry proceeds to put the moves on Catherine (while Alice translates), he pretends that she actually has a choice about whether or not she'll marry him.
- During said romancing, Henry tries to pass himself off as a simple and humble "soldier" who's not much of a ladies' man or a smooth talker. (We, of course, know that this isn't true.)
- Catherine refuses to play along. She points out that it's not up to her to decide if she'll marry Henry. Her father gets to make the decision for her.
- Henry protests and Catherine finally says something like, "Okay, fine, whatever."
- As Henry goes in for a kiss, Catherine points out that nice French girls don't make out until after they're married.
- Henry points out that Catherine is royalty, so she can do whatever she wants.
- Catherine's mom and dad enter the room, along with Burgundy. (We're pretty sure they've been spying on Catherine and Henry the whole time.)
- Henry and Burgundy have a side conversation about what it will be like for Henry to go to bed with Catherine, "a maid yet rosed over with the virgin crimson of modesty."
- King Charles announces that he has consented to all the terms of the treaty.
- He gives Henry and Catherine his blessing and is all, "I can't wait to be a grandfather! Just think, honey, your children are going to be the next heirs to the French throne!" (According to the terms of the treaty, Charles gets to keep his crown. When he dies, though, Henry and/or his sons get to take over.)
- Queen Isabel points out how convenient the marriage will be. Henry and Catherine can join their hearts and their kingdoms "in one." (Aww. Who knew that a peace treaty could be so romantic?)
Read the full text of Henry V Epilogue with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Chorus troops out on stage one last time to deliver the Epilogue.
- We're told that after Henry's victorious exploits in France, he and Catherine had a son (who became Henry VI). Unfortunately, Henry VI lost France and led England into bloody war.
- The Chorus reminds us that Shakespeare has already portrayed these events in the plays Henry VI Part 1 and Henry VI Part 2. (What? Sometimes Shakespeare likes to give himself a shout-out.)