Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 1 Scene 2 Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

In another room Henry enters with several nobles and attendants. Before Henry agrees to hear what the French ambassador has to say, he asks for the archbishop of Canterbury. He wants to hear more details about any claim he might rightfully have to France, so he can judge if his claim would be solidly within the law. He specifically warns the archbishop of Canterbury to be careful how he responds, because if they go to war, lives will be lost. The archbishop of Canterbury gives Henry a long, involved explanation of the laws involved. Henry is still unsure, but when the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Ely, and others join in, Henry is persuaded that England should invade France.

Henry wants to make sure that while they are in France they still have enough defenses left to make sure Scotland doesn't see an opportunity and attack England. They decide that Henry will take one quarter of the available army into France, leaving the remaining three-quarters at home to keep England secure.

This issue resolved, Henry calls in the French ambassadors. They have come with a message and a gift, "treasure" from the Dauphin, the king of France's son. They deliver their message: Henry recently claimed some dukedoms in France, and the Dauphin warns him that he can't dance and revel his way into France's dukedoms. He advises Henry to leave these dukedoms alone. When the "treasure" is revealed, however, it is made up of tennis balls. Insulted by the insinuation that all he does is play games, Henry becomes angry and vows to take the throne of France. The tennis balls also refer to the "game of war-making." Shakespeare often includes allusions to games (such as Tarot cards in the final scene of Hamlet) to express that the "game of life" is brief and the hand one plays is dealt by fate as much as by the decisions a person makes in playing the game.

Analysis

In this scene Henry V uses the "royal we"—referring to himself in first-person plural ("we") instead of the singular "I." This is a formal way of speaking that England's sovereigns (especially at the time this play is set) would use in official contexts to show that they spoke not just for themselves but for the nation. So when Henry says, "We would be resolved" and "our claim," he means I would be resolved and my claim.

Henry's stern admonition to the archbishop of Canterbury to tell him the plain truth of the strength of his legal claim to France's throne shows that Henry is aware of the waste and toll of war. He does not want the archbishop of Canterbury to spin the story: "Therefore take heed how you impawn [pledge] our person,/How you awake our sleeping sword of war./We charge you in the name of God, take heed,/For never two such kingdoms did contend/Without much fall of blood."

The Dauphin's gift of tennis balls is his way of saying that he considers Henry a young, inexperienced man better suited for games than for war. Henry's angry response turns the Dauphin's gift into a long metaphor comparing a tennis game and war. He says that he will "play a set" in France that will disturb "all the courts of France" with "chases." The wordplay employed by Henry in these lines is biting: a "hazard" is a hole in the wall of a tennis court, but also means "danger"; "courts" are where tennis is played but also refer metaphorically to the French royal court; "chases" refers to the strokes that ensure victory in a tennis game but also is used to define the pursuit and defeat of one's enemies in war. Henry concludes his speech by blaming the Dauphin for inciting the war and grieving the carnage it will bring: "And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his/Hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul/Shall stand sore chargèd for the wasteful vengeance/That shall fly with them; for many a thousand/widows/Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands." Henry closes by declaring that he will appeal to God himself to aid him in his fight: "But this lies all within the will of God,/To whom I do appeal, and in whose name/Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on,/To venge me as I may."

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