Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 3, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

The king of France is consulting with the Dauphin, the Duke of Bourbon, the Constable, and others. They are going over Henry's progress into France. They talk about how foolish they look since the English soldiers have managed to be so unexpectedly fierce. They agree that they must fight back with more power for the sake of honor. King Charles says they must capture Henry. The Constable suggests that since by now Henry's army must be hungry and sick, Henry might give up without a fight. King Charles orders Montjoy to go to Henry with a defiant message, and also tells the Dauphin to stay at the palace, which displeases the Dauphin.

Analysis

Continuing to develop the theme of the power of language, this scene presents an example of how words that seem to mean one thing often end up conveying the opposite meaning depending on the context. The French seem to be talking about how weak and pathetic the English are: "a barbarous people" who live in a "climate foggy, raw, and dull" as if the sun disdains them. In dealing out these insults, however, they are actually describing how strong the English are, as they wonder at how such a soggy land could produce soldiers of such "valiant heat" that all the French women want to bear their children.

At times, themes and ideas from previous plays in the Henriad surface in Henry V. Here, the king of France appeals to honor to motivate his people to fight the English well: "Up, princes, and, with spirit of honor edged/More sharper than your swords, hie to the field." This use of honor to spur men to battle is a tool that kings employ throughout the Henriad. This final installment, though, shows most clearly the truth of Falstaff's observation that honor is not all it is cracked up to be: "What is honor? a word. What is in that word 'honor'? What is that 'honor'? Air." (Falstaff, Henry IV, Part 1, Act 5, Scene 1). The reality is that men may be spurred to violence by the word honor, but when they go to war, there is mostly danger and death. Henry V has motivated his men to war with noble and convincing words, as does the king of France, but the gritty reality of war shows the darker side of honor, creating a gap between the meaning of the word and its actual application.

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