Sample Plot Summary: Henry V

Notes made from Arden3 single-volume edition (ed. T. W. Craik, 1995), with reference to The Norton Shakespeare (1997), which numbers the scenes differently [marked in square brackets].

Prologue [1.0]. The limitations of the stage and the necessity of the playgoer’s imagination.

1.1. Court. Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely discuss Henry IV’s bill to seize the Church’s land and Henry V’s transformation from prodigal youth to pious king. Archbishop has offered to fund Henry V’s war in France if he vetoes the bill.

1.2. Court. Archbishop confirms that the Salic Law (which forbids inheritance through the female line) applies only to Germany and therefore does not negate Henry’s claim to France. The French Ambassador brings the Dauphin’s gift to Henry: a chest of tennis balls. Henry is not amused, and vows to make the Dauphin regret his “jest.”

2.0. Chorus tells us that the “youth of England” are preparing for war, that “three corrupted men” have conspired with France, and that the playhouse has now moved to Southampton. [This chorus is often divided in performance, with the latter half spoken after 2.1.]

2.1. Eastcheap. Nym (rejected suitor) and Pistol (new husband) fight over Hostess (Mistress Quickly) and an unpaid debt. Bardolph tries to make peace so that they will “be all three sworn brothers to France.” Boy brings news that Falstaff is sick; his heart has been broken by Henry.

2.2. Southampton. Henry asks Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey what he should do about a man who “railed against our person”; they recommend exemplary punishment. Henry gives them their “commissions,” in which they read of their treason; they are sent to execution, after Henry’s “the mercy that was quick in us but late” speech.

2.3. Eastcheap. Hostess recounts Falstaff’s death; Pistol, Nym, Bardolph, and Boy leave for the wars.

2.4. French court. King fears Henry more than the Dauphin does, but both agree on the necessity of preparing defences. Exeter brings Henry’s demand that the French King relinquish his claim to France lest war swallow up husbands, fathers, and lovers; to the Dauphin, Henry sends “scorn and defiance, slight regard, contempt.” Exeter cheekily keeps speaking after French King has ended the interview, threatening that Henry himself will come.

3.0. Chorus asks us to imagine the English fleet sailing from Hampton [Dover in F ] to Harfleur, where they besiege the city. Henry rejects the French King’s offer of his daughter and her dowry.

3.1. Harfleur. Soldiers enter with scaling ladders [F s.d.]. Henry’s “Once more unto the breach” speech; notice how he addresses “nobles,” “yeomen,” and the “mean and base” separately.

3.2 [3.2 and 3.3]. Harfleur. Bardolph parodies Henry: “On, on, on, on on, to the breach, to the breach!” Nym, Pistol, and Boy don’t want to fight; Fluellen sends the men into the fray. Boy repudiates “these three swashers.” Captains Fluellen (Welsh) and Macmorris (Irish) argue about the “disciplines of war” while Gower (English) and Jamy (Scottish) listen.

3.3. Henry warns the Governor of Harfleur that he will sack the city, rape the virgins, and kill the infants; Governor yields because the Dauphin will not supply reinforcements. Henry puts Exeter in charge; he himself will rest one night and then march on to Calais.

3.4. French Court. Alice gives Katherine an English lesson.

3.5. French Court. French King send Montjoy the Herald to ask Henry what ransom he will give. King orders his nobles into battle, but keeps the Dauphin in Rouen.

3.6. English camp. Fluellen naively praises Pistol to Gower. Pistol, taking advantage of Fluellen’s misprision, asks him to speak on behalf of Bardolph, who is to be hanged for stealing a pax from a French church. Fluellen, however, is a proponent of discipline and refuses to help. Gower explains that Pistol is “a gull, a fool, a rogue,” and Fluellen vows to “tell him my mind” [thus providing a rationale for the leek episode in 5.1]. Fluellen reports to Henry that Exeter has maintained the bridge against the French, with no loss of men except Bardolph. Henry reiterates punishment for thieves. [In performance, Bardolph is usually present, so that Henry has to repudiate him in person and then watch the execution.] Montjoy brings message that French King “did but sleep.” Henry declares that he will not be ransomed, confesses that his men are sick and would like tomarch to Calais in peace; he does not seek battle, but will not shun it either.

3.7. French Camp. The French noblemen are waiting to arm. The Dauphin [Duke of Bourbon in F] praises his horse.

4.0. Chorus tells us that both sides are preparing to fight. Henry “visits all his host,” calling them “brothers, friends, and countrymen” so that all “behold . . . a little touch of Harry in the night.”

4.1. English camp. English courage under privation and danger [usually read as antithetical to French decadence]. Henry takes Erpingham’s cloak and walks among his people. He hears Pistol praise the King and threaten Fluellen. He observes Fluellen’s “care and valour.” He joins a conversation between three common soldiers (John Bates, Alexander Court, and Michael Williams); “the king is but a man as I am” speech. Williams observes that “if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make,” and that he suspects that the King would allow himself to be ransomed were his men to be slaughtered; the disguised Henry disagrees. Williams and Henry exchange gloves as a token of their unfinished quarrel. Henry’s “O hard condition’ soliloquy. His prayer: “O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts,” concluding with a plea that God not think today upon Henry IV’s murder of Richard II.
4.2. French camp. The lords are confident of winning and regret only that the English present so small a challenge.

4.3. English camp. The English discuss the disparity in numbers and wish they had “but one ten thousand of those men in England / That do no work today.” “Crispin’s Day” rallying speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Montjoy comes to ask for Henry’s ransom again and is again denied. York asks for “the leading of the vanguard.”

4.4. Battlefield. Pistol captures a French soldier and accepts a promise of ransom. Boy translates.

4.5. The French realize they are losing the day.

4.6. Exeter reports that York and Suffolk are dead. Henry, hearing that the French are regrouping, gives the order for the English to kill their prisoners [because they don’t have enough men to guard the prisoners].

4.7. Fluellen reports that the French have gone behind the lines and killed the boys guarding the luggage, which is “expressly against the law of arms”; he explains that Henry ordered the prisoners killed because of this. He compares Henry to “Alexander the Pig.” Henry’s “I was not angry since I came to France” speech. Montjoy begs “charitable licence” to “book our dead,” for the French have lost the day. Fluellen claims kinship with Henry. Henry questions Williams about the glove in his cap, sends him off to fetch Gower. He gives Williams’ glove to Fluellen and sends him off also to fetch Gower, telling him that the glove came from Alencon and whoever claims it is a traitor.

4.8. Williams and Fluellen meet. Williams challenges Fluellen. Henry stops the ensuing fight, gives Williams the other glove from his own pair. Fluellen recommends that Williams be executed for abusing the King, but Henry fills the glove with crowns and returns it. The numbers of the dead are read aloud; 29 men are dead on the English side, compared to 10,000 on the French side.
5.0. Chorus bears the King towards Calais, and thence to London, where he is greeted like a hero, and back to France. [This chorus is often moved in performance, spoken either entirely or partly after 5.1.]

5.1. English camp. Fluellen makes Pistol eat a leek. Pistol’s Nell [Doll in F & Q] is dead; he vows to turn bawd and cutpurse.

5.2. French court. Burgundy opens the peace proceedings. While the French King reviews Henry’s demands, Henry is left alone with Katherine and Alice. He woos Katherine in broken French, wins her even though she objects that he is the enemy of France, hopes to “compound a boy” with her, and kisses her in despite of French custom, arguing that “we are the makers of manners, Kate.” The French King accepts all the terms including, after some hesitation, the demand that he name Henry heir to France (thus disinheriting the Dauphin). The French King and Queen bless the proposed marriage.

Epilogue. The Chorus reminds us that Henry VI became king in infancy and France was lost because “so many had the managing” of his state, a story familiar from Shakespeare’s own Henry VI plays.