Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: England; afterwards France.
Prologue: The Chorus laments that the players cannot adequately represent such great events as King Henry V’s war against France. But he begs the audience's indulgence.
Act I, Scene 1: The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely discuss a movement in Parliament to appropriate huge amounts of the church's wealth. Canterbury says that the king, despite his decadent youth, is likely to support the church; he marvels at length that the king has proved himself a wise statesman. He adds that he has just offered the king an immense sum of church money to support a war in France and assure his support against Parliament, but, before Henry could accept it, the arrival of an Ambassador from France postponed their conversation. Canterbury and Ely leave to witness the king's reception of the Ambassadors.
Act I, Scene 2: The king summons Canterbury for a conference before receiving the Ambassadors. The archbishop delivers a long and learned justification of Henry's claim to the throne of France. Ely, the Duke of Exeter, and the Earl of Westmoreland second him in recommending a war to support that claim, and Henry decides to invade. He receives the Ambassadors, who bring an insulting message from the Dauphin: Henry has gone too far in claiming certain French dukedoms; he should stay home and play games, as suits his dissolute character. A barrel of tennis balls accompanies this insolence. Henry sends the Ambassadors home with a declaration of war.
Act II, Chorus: The Chorus tells of English preparations for war in highly rhetorical terms. He also states that three men intend to kill the king in Southhampton before he can sail for France. The Chorus assures the audience that the play will transport them to France—without seasickness—after first taking them to Southampton.
Act II, Scene 1: Lieutenant Bardolph encourages Corporal Nym to forgive Pistol, who has married the Hostess, to whom Nym had been betrothed. Bardolph wishes them reconciled before they all go to fight in France, but Nym talks of violence against Pistol. Pistol and the Hostess appear, and he and Nym exchange insults and draw swords. Bardolph's threat to kill the first to use his weapon prevents immediate bloodshed. The Boy arrives, summoning the Hostess to help Falstaff, who is very ill, and she leaves with him. Pistol and Nym quarrel further, but Bardolph effects a truce. The Hostess returns to report that Falstaff's sickness has worsened, and they all leave to visit him.
Act II, Scene 2: Exeter, Westmoreland, and the Duke of Bedford discuss King Henry's cool pretence that he does not know of the treason intended by the Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scroop, and Thomas Grey. Henry arrives with the three traitors, and he mentions to them his intention to pardon a drunken soldier who has been arrested for speaking disloyally of him. They all recommend severity against any challenge to the king's authority. He then shows them the formal charges against themselves. They plead for mercy, but he cites their own arguments and sentences them to death. They acknowledge his justice before being taken away to be executed.
Act II, Scene 3: Falstaff's friends mourn him before departing for France. The Hostess touchingly describes his death.
Act II, Scene 4: The French King lays defensive plans against the English. The Dauphin belittles Henry's military potential but the Constable and the king remember earlier English triumphs led by Henry's ancestors Exeter arrives as Henry's ambassador, and he delivers a demand that the French King relinquish his crown or be conquered.
Act III, Chorus: The Chorus asks the audience to imagine the glorious English fleet sailing to France and, further, to imagine a French ambassador offering Henry a marriage to Princess Katharine, with a dowry of dukedoms, and being turned away as English cannons begin the fighting.
Act III, Scene 1: At the siege of Harfleur, Henry encourages his troops with a speech extolling the traditional courage of English soldiers, ending with a battle cry.
Act III, Scene 2: Bardolph enthusiastically shouts a battle cry, but Pistol Nym, and the Boy seek safety. Fluellen appears and harasses the reluctant soldiers up to the front, though the Boy stays behind long enough to soliloquies on the cowardice and dishonesty of his masters, reflecting that he hopes to leave their service soon. Gower, an English officer, talks with Fluellen, Macmorris, and Captain Jamy, who are Welsh, Irish, and Scottish, respectively. They discuss the tactics of siege warfare in a conversation made comical by their various dialects and stereotypical temperaments.
Act III, Scene 3: Henry addresses the citizens of Harfleur, vividly describing the horrors of an army sacking a town. The Governor of Harfleur appears and surrenders.
Act III, Scene 4: In French, Princess Katharine receives a comical lesson in English from her waiting-woman, Alice, enlivened by gross mispronunciations and inadvertent sexual references.
Act III, Scene 5: The French leaders marvel at the fighting abilities of the English, and the French King orders a massive assault. The Constable remarks that this show will surely make the English offer ransom rather than fight, for their forces are sick, hungry, and greatly outnumbered.
Act III, Scene 6: Gower and Fluellen discuss the English success in taking a bridge. Fluellen praises Pistol's accomplishments there but is disappointed when Pistol appears and seeks his intervention to save Bardolph, who has been sentenced to death for stealing from a church. Fluellen refuses, favoring stern discipline, and Pistol curses him and leaves. Fluellen recollects that Pistol’s supposed bravery at the bridge had consisted only bold words, and Gower elaborately describes the sort of cowardly rogue who avoids fighting and then brags of his heroics in London taverns. Henry arrives, and Fluellen tells him of Bardolph's sentence; the king approves. A French herald, Montjoy, arrives with a proposed truce if Henry will offer a large ransom. While admitting that he is at a disadvantage, Henry refuses to pay and prepares for battle.
Act III, Scene 7: The night before the battle, a group of the French leaders converse idly, anticipating an easy victory.
Act IV, Chorus: The Chorus asks the audience to imagine the two opposing camps, busy in the night preparing for battle. The overconfident French play games, gambling prospective English prisoners with each other. The rueful English contemplate defeat and death. However he says Henry moves among his troops, raising their spirits He adds that the actors will depict the ensuing battle of Agincourt, although their petty presentation will disgrace the battle's fame.
Act IV, Scene 1: King Henry's cheerful approach to the coming battle is mirrored by an aged knight, Sir Thomas Erpingham Henry dismisses his attendants, and, incognito, encounters several soldiers in his army. The disguised king is roundly cursed by Pistol when he defends Fluellen. Henry then overhears a conversation between Fluellen and Gower and reflects that Fluellen is a good and careful officer. He next meets three English soldiers, one of whom, Michael Williams, asserts that, while common soldiers will be killed, the king risks only capture, after which he will be ransomed. Henry, speaking as another commoner, insists that this is not so; the king has vowed to die rather than be taken prisoner. Williams doubts that this will happen. After a brief argument, Williams agrees to fight his opponent after the battle, if they both live, and they exchange tokens of identity, so that they can recognize each other in the day time: each will wear the other's glove on his hat. The soldiers depart, and Henry in a long soliloquy, meditates on the cares not kingship. Erpingham appears and delivers a request that the king confer with his nobles, and Henry sends him to convene a meeting at his tent. Alone again, the king prays that God will not permit his soldiers to tail as punishment for his father's deposition and murder of Richard II, since he has reburied Richard and made other formal atonements.
Act IV, Scene 2: The French nobles, about to begin the battle, remark on the feeble opposition.
Act IV, Scene 3: The English nobles, though ready to fight, comment on the degree to which they are outnumbered. Westmoreland wishes they had reinforcements from England, but Henry observes that their triumph will be the greater because they are fewer. He would prefer that the faint-hearted depart so that the honor of the battle need be shared only by those who are worthy. He predicts that the day will be long remembered as a great one for England and that all those present will value the experience for the rest of their lives. Montjoy reappears with another offer of peace for ransom, but Henry sends him back with a proud refusal.
Act IV, Scene 4: Pistol captures a French Soldier and threatens bloody death if he is not paid a ransom, but the soldier doesn't understand English. Pistol comically, but viciously, rants at his helpless prisoner, until the Boy interprets into English the Frenchman's offer of money, and Pistol marches off with him. Alone, the Boy reflects that Pistol has avoided the fate of Bardolph and Nym—both hanged for theft—only through cowardice, having been afraid to steal. He observes that only he and other boys are with the army's baggage train, which makes it a good target for the French.
Act IV, Scene 5: The French nobles hysterically try to organize a counter-attack against the English, who are winning the battle.
Act IV, Scene 6: Exeter gives Henry a touching account of the death of the Duke of YORK (5). When it appears that French reinforcements have entered the battle. Henry orders all prisoners killed.
Act IV, Scene 7: Fluellen and Gower discuss the cowardly French massacre of the unarmed boys tending the baggage train. Praising Henry's response to this outrage—ordering the death of all prisoners—Fluellen presents a long and comical comparison between the king and Alexander the Great. Henry arrives and sends a messenger to tell the remaining French knights that they should prepare to fight or flee, for all French prisoners are to be killed. Montjoy reappears to ask that the fighting stop so that the French can bury their dead, and he concedes that the English have won the battle. Fluellen praises the king, noting his Welsh blood. Williams appears and tells the king of the oath that the glove on his hat represents. Henry sends him with a message to Gower. The king then gives Fluellen a glove to wear on his hat, saying that he had captured it in the battle and that anyone who challenges it is a friend of the French and should be arrested. Fluellen, proud of his assignment, is also sent to Gower. Henry then instructs Warwick and Gloucester to follow Fluellen and prevent a fight between him and Williams.
Act IV, Scene 8: Williams encounters Fluellen and strikes him; Fluellen prepares to fight, as Warwick and Gloucester prevent him. The king arrives, explains the circumstances, and gives Williams a glove full of coins. Fluellen attempts to increase the reward with his own shilling, but Williams rejects it. Henry reads a long list of French noblemen killed in the battle, along with only four English knights, and he orders that religious rites of thanksgiving be observed.
Act V, Chorus: The Chorus tells of Henry's triumphal return to London, of the peace negotiation between England and France, and of Henry's subsequent return to France.
Act V, Scene 1: Fluellen tells Gower that Pistol has insulted the leek, symbol of Wales, that he wears in his hat. Pistol appears, and Fluellen cudgels him and forces him to eat the leek. The humiliated Pistol decides that he will return to England and take up a life of petty crime. He will pretend the scars from Fluellen's beating were obtained in battle.
Act V, Scene 2: King Henry, the French King, and their respective entourages, meet to sign a peace treaty. The Duke of Burgundy makes an eloquent plea for peace, and Henry replies that peace must be bought, as the treaty provides. The French King requests a final consultation on certain points, and Henry sends his noblemen to negotiate with the French. Henry is left with Princess Katharine and Alice. The king courts the princess, and their language difficulties are humorous. She is uncertain what to think, but she concedes that, if her father agrees to the marriage, she will also consent. The negotiators return, and all parties accept the marriage. Henry orders that wedding preparations begin.
Epilogue: The Chorus states in a Sonnet that this ends the presentation of Henry's glory. Conquered France was left to the infant Henry VI, during whose reign it was lost through English discord and mismanagement, as the actors have often depicted on stage.
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