Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 2 Scene 4 Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

In France Charles VI, the Dauphin, the Dukes of Berri and Brittany, and a Constable are discussing how they will prepare for the English invasion. The Dauphin isn't taking the English invasion seriously, saying that Henry V is a "vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth," not a real threat. The Constable notes that Henry V is a noble king, by all accounts. King Charles says "King Harry" is strong, and they need to prepare, especially since he is descended from Edward the Black Prince, a man who proved to be troublesome for France in the past: "And he is bred out of that bloody strain/That haunted us in our familiar paths."

Ambassadors from England arrive. The Duke of Exeter suggests that King Charles simply give France to Henry. To support this position Exeter has brought a document detailing Henry's claim to the throne. If Henry is not given the throne, he says, there will be war. He also brings a special message for the Dauphin: Henry wants the Dauphin to make up for the insult he delivered; there will be additional trouble if he does not. But the Dauphin wants to fight England and doesn't regret his insult at all. Charles VI says he will send his answer soon.

Analysis

This scene reveals the French leaders' various opinions and expectations of Henry V, and their reasons for them. The Dauphin is disdainful of Henry, because as a young prince he appeared to be irresponsible. The Dauphin cannot rid himself of the idea that Henry V is a silly, vain youth and therefore not a serious threat. In the previous plays Henry took on an appearance of irresponsibility and wildness in order to manipulate people's view of him. The Dauphin makes the mistake of relying on Henry's past to form expectations about what he will do in the present.

The Constable disagrees with the Dauphin, because he has heard reports of Henry's excellent advisers and Henry's resolute determination to conquer France. He believes that Henry's previous "vanities" were simply a disguise, "covering discretion with a coat of folly" just as Lucius Junius Brutus feigned insanity to escape the tyrant Tarquin. The Constable relies on current reports of Henry's present behavior to form expectations about what he will do and interprets Henry's past behavior as fake.

King Charles VI suggests that Henry V is likely to be a formidable adversary because he is descended from King Edward III and from Edward the Black Prince, who were victorious over the French in the past. King Charles uses Henry V's ancestry to form expectations about what he will do, and how strong of an opponent he might be.

Time will prove the Dauphin's arrogant assessment of Henry V to be flawed, and the Constable's opinion to be correct, as Charles VI's concerns about Henry's kinship with the Black Prince appear to be well-founded.

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