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Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 3 Scene 2 Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy are at the wall of Harfleur right after Henry V has given his "once more unto the breach" motivational speech. Bardolph is trying to spur the others on, but Nym, Pistol, and the boy are hesitant to join in the battle. They would prefer to be at home. Captain Fluellen (a Welshman) enters and yells at them to get on with it. Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph all go with him to fight, leaving the boy behind. The boy remarks that he serves all three of them, but all three together hardly make one man. He also says they are dishonest thieves and just looking for profit, and he can't serve them anymore. He exits.

Captain Fluellen comes back in with Captain Gower. Gower tells Fluellen that he should come to the mines because the Duke of Gloucester wants to see him. But Fluellen says the mines are "not according to the disciplines of war." When Gower argues that Captain MacMorris, an Irishman, is advising the Duke of Gloucester, Fluellen says MacMorris is an "ass" and also does not understand the disciplines of war. Then Captain MacMorris and a Scottish captain, Captain Jamy, arrive. Fluellen tries to get into argument with them about the disciplines of war, but MacMorris and Jamy don't think it is a good time for talking.

The "parley sounds," indicating that Henry V will now talk to the leader of the town.


In his soliloquy the boy summarizes the character faults of Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym: Bardolph is "white-livered/and red-faced," that is, he is a coward and a drunk. Pistol has "a killing tongue/and a quiet sword, by the means whereof he breaks/words and keeps whole weapons," that is, he is good at talking about courageous deeds but not very good at doing them. Nym is a man of few words but only because he has "heard that men of few words are the best men, and/therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest he should/be thought a coward." However, he is not, like other men of few words, a man of action because "his few bad words are/matched with as few good deeds."

This scene introduces the character of Fluellen, who seems to see war as something of an art or game, with rules and customs that dictate what one should and should not do in war. He refers often to these as the "disciplines" of war and wants to talk at length about them. He shows great interest in "discourse," which evokes Greek philosophers such as Plato, who relied on imaginary, written dialogues between Socrates and various other characters to express and expand upon his ideas.

In contrast the other captains think war is for action, not talk. Pistol, Nym, and the boy think war is something that takes men far from home and puts them in danger. Bardolph, and to some degree Nym and Pistol, see that war can be for profit. The profitability of war parallels most closely Henry V's own motives for invading France. Even though Henry wants to make sure his motives seem to be noble, he would not be invading France if he didn't need money for his coffers.

In this scene Shakespeare also makes a point of identifying the four captains as English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish and giving them appropriate accents. The way they use language due to their dialects shows their differences. This is a reminder that there has been civil war among these groups for a long time under the kingship of Henry IV. Under Henry V these groups are united by fighting together on the same side against the French.

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