Study Guide

Henry V Act 1, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

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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.

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