Literature Study GuidesHenry VAct 4 Scene 4 Summary

Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 4, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

On the field of battle, Pistol and the boy run into a French soldier. Pistol threatens to kill him unless the soldier gives him money. The French soldier is terrified and pleads with him in French. Pistol continually mistakes the French words, and finally asks the boy to translate for him. The boy talks to the soldier, discovers his real name—Monsieur le Fer—and translates a few of Pistol's threats. He translates the soldier's reply for Pistol, which is another plea for mercy, and also an offer of 200 crowns. Pistol agrees to the bribe and takes the French soldier away. The boy soliloquizes, making fun of Pistol, and revealing that Nym and Bardolph have both been hanged for thievery. He also mentions that he is staying with the luggage at the camp, which has no one to defend it except boys.

Analysis

This scene, like others that describe the French/English language barrier, has elements of comedy based on similar-sounding words in the two languages. For example, when Pistol continues to threaten the French soldier, the man appeals to God by saying "Ô Seigneur Dieu!" ("O Lord God!"). Pistol thinks this is the French soldier's name and continues to threaten the man, calling him "Seigneur Dew."

The interaction between Pistol and the French soldier provides another parallel with Henry's story line. When the French soldier asks for "mercy," Pistol is happy to let him live, as long as the man pays him. Pistol's version of being merciful involves refraining from killing a person who pays a bribe. Is Pistol truly being merciful, or just a very middle-class merchant in dealing in terms of supply and demand? The same question can be asked of Henry V. When he threatens the citizens of Harfleur in Act 2, they capitulate, and only then does he let his army show mercy to the town. Their surrender is a condition of his "mercy," even though he is the invader.

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