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Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 3 Scene 3 Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



The governor of Harfleur and several citizens assemble as Henry V comes to the town's walls. Henry tells the governor that he must surrender, and threatens that if the battle resumes, he will raze Harfleur to the ground and his soldiers will run wild through the town, killing and raping. Henry stresses that any horrors inflicted on the people of Harfleur will be the governor's fault, because he did not surrender and ask for mercy. The governor agrees to surrender, as the Dauphin has not been able to ready his forces in time to defend the town. Henry orders Exeter to lead the occupation of Harfleur, but orders him to show mercy to the townspeople.


Henry's ability to use words to inspire fear and achieve his goals is featured heavily in this scene. He goes into great detail about the terrible, horrific things that will happen to the people of Harfleur if the town does not surrender. His ability to conjure up the terrible possibilities in the imaginations of the listeners is one cause for their quick surrender. Henry's apparent unconcern for the terrible suffering that his own soldiers will let loose as they rape and murder is also terrifying, and strengthens his case for the town's total surrender.

In addition Henry makes it clear that it is the governor of Harfleur's failure to surrender that will cause the suffering, not Henry's actions or those of his soldiers. To this end he wants to make sure he mentions all the things he isn't responsible for. Recall that Henry has already blamed the suffering of the entire war on the Dauphin's insulting gift of the tennis balls. It is important to Henry V that he appears righteous and merciful, even when he is a violent aggressor.

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