Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 3, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Gower and Fluellen meet at the English camp in Picardy. There has been fighting at the bridge over the Ternoise River. Gower asks after the Duke of Exeter, and Fluellen explains at length that the Duke of Exeter is valiant, but then says he saw another man behaving valiantly—Pistol. Then Pistol arrives at the camp and reports that Bardolph has been condemned to death for thieving. Pistol asks Captain Fluellen to intervene on behalf of Bardolph, but Fluellen refuses in the name of discipline. Pistol leaves angrily. After Pistol leaves Fluellen and Gower disagree about Pistol. Fluellen maintains that Pistol was brave at the bridge, and Gower says he is a dishonest man like all of his companions. After a while Fluellen seems to come around to Gower's point of view.

A drum is heard, signaling that the king is coming. Henry, Gloucester, and soldiers enter. Henry says that the Duke of Exeter holds the bridge. Fluellen reports that they have no real casualties except for a man who was caught stealing from a church (Bardolph) and who is condemned to death for it. Henry agrees that dishonest soldiers should be punished, and admonishes his men that they should not steal from the French. A fanfare sounds and Montjoy enters. Montjoy gives Henry a message from King Charles, blaming all the damage done to France on Henry and saying that Henry will pay for what he has done. Henry says his soldiers are tired, sick, and hungry, but he insists that they will keep fighting if his progress is challenged.

Analysis

The apparent valiance of Pistol and the thievery of Bardolph hearken back to themes and ideas from previous plays in the Henriad. The difference between appearances and reality is an important theme in Henry IV, Part 1 and continues to surface at times in this play. Fluellen, to whom appearances are very important, especially where military matters are concerned, initially believes Pistol to be valiant because he seemed to fight bravely. The audience, of course, knows that Gower is correct: Pistol isn't a very noble character.

Henry's strong stance against thieves and thieving is important both in context of this play and the previous plays. In Henry IV, Part 1 young Prince Hal took part in minor thieving and trickery along with Falstaff and other low-class friends. Recall that John Shakespeare, likely the model for the outrageous Fallstaff, was very fond of drink and constantly in and out of trouble with the law. Henry is now intent on taking possession of France for England by invading it. In addition the impetus for war with the French in Henry V is, at least in part, the need for additional wealth to add to Henry V's coffers. (Recall that the archbishop of Canterbury suggested taking France as a way to avoid having to give the king church money and land.) So Henry V is arguably a thief himself on both small and large scales, despite his vehement words against thievery.

Continuing the pattern established earlier in the play, Henry V makes sure to lay the blame for the war's violence at the feet of the French. He maintains that he does not seek battle but will fight if challenged, once again framing his actions as if they are only reactions to others' aggression rather than his own: "If we may pass, we will; if we be hindered,/We shall your tawny ground with your red blood/Discolor."

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