Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In London Lieutenant Bardolph and Corporal Nym are wondering where their friend Pistol is. They joke about fighting and how all three are going to France together to fight in the war.

Pistol and Mistress Quickly (who have gotten married since the last play, Henry IV, Part 2) arrive, and Pistol and Nym banter and argue, which escalates until they draw their weapons. Bardolph threatens to do them violence if they don't calm down, so Pistol and Nym sheathe their swords. A boy enters and reports that Falstaff is very ill. Mistress Quickly blames this illness on Henry, then exits to check on Falstaff. Nym and Pistol resume arguing and draw their swords until Bardolph persuades them to stop. Mistress Quickly comes back to tell them that Sir John Falstaff is doing very badly. They all go in to comfort Falstaff, agreeing that Henry is being a good king, but also that he's had a negative effect on their lives. Sir John Falstaff is often thought to be modeled on Shakespeare's father, for whom Shakespeare obtained a coat of arms and the title of Gentlemen in 1596, shortly before his father's death in 1601.

Analysis

The characters introduced here include King Henry's former companions and friends from his tavern days. This scene revisits these characters and shows how they have fared since they lost their drinking buddy, Prince Hal, to his destiny as king of England. It demonstrates the negative effects of the way Henry suddenly left his wild youth behind and transformed into a noble, yet merciless, king. Recall that in the first scene of the play, this same transformation was heartily praised by the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely. This is the flip side. Shakespeare doesn't want his audience to forget that Henry, though painted as an epic hero, has a dark side.

This scene also introduces a story line that will provide the counterpoint to Henry's story line throughout the play. These characters are not nobles, but lower-class petty criminals. They go to war but are not particularly excited (or unexcited) about it. In fact they are arguing about other things, such as women and money. As the play progresses the experiences of common soldiers such as Bardolph and Nym will play a role in evoking the grim, gory reality of the war that Henry wages so ruthlessly. The contrast between the view of war from the top (Henry's view) and the view from the bottom (the everyday soldiers' view) is an important structural aspect of the play, and helps develop its plot, character, and themes. This is one device characteristic of Virgil's Aenead, many parts of which Shakespeare was likely to have had to recite by rote in his early school years. By employing the device here, Shakespeare presents Henry V as an epic hero on the same footing as Aeneas, who also had his own humanizing character flaws.

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