King Henry The Fifth "Men Of Few Words Are The Best Men"

William Shakespeare

"Men Of Few Words Are The Best Men"

Context: Henry V and his English forces, convinced of the validity of their claim to the French throne, have invaded the kingdom of France. Charles VI, the French king, and Lewis, the Dauphin, have scoffed at the English claims, the Dauphin earlier having sent Henry a set of tennis balls in mock recollection of Hal's previous days as a bounder at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap. Henry, the "mirror of a Christian king," is now determined to prove through his military adventures both the might and vigor of the English forces and his own maturity as a ruler. The first real test of strength is at Harfleur, a walled city which has refused to surrender. During the battle Henry encourages his men to expend their best efforts as patriots of their country. Among the soldiers are Bardolph, Falstaff's associate from the Henry IV plays; Pistol, a rowdy braggadocio; and Nym, a foolish and naïve soul whose bravery is qualified by a Falstaffian discretion. The conversations of these common soldiers provide a constant reminder of the differences between the florid and eloquent martial oratory of the nation's leaders and the realistic and earthy dialogue of the foot soldiers engaged in actual battle. A young boy who has accompanied them to battle sees through the façade of their bravura and decides to part from them at his first opportunity:

As young as I am, I have observed these three swashers. I am boy to them all three, but all they three, though they would serve me, could not be man to me; for indeed three such antics do not amount to a man. For Bardolph, he is white-livered, and redfaced; by the means whereof 'a faces it out, but fights not. For Pistol, he hath a killing tongue, and a quiet sword; by the means whereof, 'a breaks words, and keeps whole weapons. For Nym, he hath heard that men of few words are the best men, and therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest 'a should be thought a coward: but his few bad words are matched with as few good deeds; for 'a never broke any man's head but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk.
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