Henry V | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry V | Act 4, Scene 8 | Summary

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Summary

Williams and Fluellen meet, since Henry V had sent them both to fetch Gower to make sure his trick would play out in full. Williams strikes Fluellen on account of the glove, and Fluellen becomes furious. Williams, however, says he will not break his oath. During the argument Warwick and Gloucester enter, followed closely by Henry and Exeter. Henry asks what has happened, and Fluellen accuses Williams of villainy and treachery. Williams defends himself by recounting the agreement he made with the stranger in the camp. Henry reveals that he was that stranger. Williams says he would not have challenged Henry if he had known his identity. Henry forgives him, has Exeter fill the glove with money and give it to Williams, and tells Fluellen to consider Williams a friend. A herald approaches with the numbers of the dead. The French have suffered massive losses, but the English have only lost about 30 men. Henry ascribes the miraculous victory to God and bids them all bury the dead with proper rites before leaving for Calais and returning to England.

Analysis

Henry V allows the joke on Williams to come to fruition, but even though Williams feels some concern after he finds out he has inadvertently challenged the king to a fight, no real harm is done. The exchange has the extra benefit of allowing Henry to show what a nice guy he is, and what a merciful king.

Historically, the difference in numbers of the dead after the Battle of Agincourt is not as drastic as the play reports, but it is true that the English were vastly outnumbered and the English casualties numbered less than 500, while French casualties were in the thousands. Henry is astounded by the low number of English dead and seems to take the casualty numbers as a sign of God's favor and of the righteousness of his own claim to the French throne. He forbids anyone to take credit for what God has clearly done on behalf of the English. Perhaps he sees it, too, as a sign of God's forgiveness of any sin his father may have committed in deposing Richard II. In any case it is clear that Henry believes God himself decreed that the English would be victorious in a spectacular fashion: "Was ever known so great and little loss/On one part and on th' other? Take it, God,/For it is none but thine."

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