Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 767
In this prologue, the Chorus once again asks the audience to use their imaginations. This time, they are to picture Henry’s majestic naval fleet sailing for Harfleur. The audience is to leave their thoughts of England behind and focus on the military campaign in France.
More than anything, the Chorus wants the audience to envision powerful English cannons aimed at the beleaguered French city and to think about the humiliated king of France offering Henry his daughter Katherine and several “unprofitable dukedoms” to stop the siege.
Finally, the Chorus wants the audience to imagine English cannons going off to signal Henry’s displeasure at such an insulting offer.
The sounds of battle can be heard. King Henry tells Exeter, Bedford, and Gloucester to breach Harfleur’s walls. He rallies his troops and tells them to go forward with courage. Henry also reminds his men that their fathers fought tirelessly and only sheathed their swords when there was no one left to fight.
Henry shows equal regard for both his lords and his common troops. He tells them to prove their mettle and display their prowess as soldiers of England. As they charge, he tells them to shout the battle cry of “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”
The scene begins with Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, and Boy lamenting the violent nature of war. All agree they would rather be safe and sound in an English alehouse. As the battle heats up, a superior officer orders Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol to return to the fight.
After the three leave, Boy reveals what he really thinks of the soldiers he serves. He maintains that all three speak boldly but act like cowards. To him, they can hardly be counted “men.” Bardolph is “white-livered” and “fights not,” while Pistol has a “killing tongue” but a “quiet sword.”
Nym is the worst of the three. He has heard that “men of few words are the best men,” so he doesn’t even say his prayers. In all, Nym’s words are almost as insignificant as his deeds on the battlefield. Boy also maintains that all three are thieves and think nothing of stealing from others. He wants to leave their employ because their villainy makes him sick to the stomach.
This scene also introduces captains Jamy, Fluellen, and MacMorris, who are Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, respectively. Although they work closely with Gower, an English captain, it is clear that conflict exists between the men. In particular, Fluellen and MacMorris hold differing ideas about siege warfare. Fluellen is partial to the “Roman disciplines” of war, whereas MacMorris thinks that a properly executed siege should be short, brutal, and decisive. Gower, meanwhile, tries to mitigate the tension between the two. However, his efforts are interrupted by a French request for a ceasefire.
In this section, the siege of Harfleur is underway. Henry’s friends have little inclination to fight but must obey orders. In Boy’s soliloquy, Shakespeare highlights both the men’s cowardice and their covetousness. The audience is told that “Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching.” This pronouncement foreshadows the judgment against both later in the play.
The inclusion of Captains Fluellen, Jamy, and MacMorris in this section is significant. Although the exchange between Fluellen and MacMorris is couched in typical Shakespearean comedy, the tension between both illustrates the frailty of the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish alliance.
It must be remembered that the Siege of Harfleur occurred in the fall of 1415, against the backdrop of the centuries-old Auld Alliance and the Welsh war for independence.
The Auld Alliance was a political, military, and economic pact between the Scottish and the French. From 1420 to 1424, thousands of Scottish mercenaries fought against the English in France.
The mercenaries were richly rewarded for their loyalty—Scottish merchants were given exclusive access to Bordeaux’s finest wines, a privilege denied their English counterparts. In light of their cooperative efforts against the English, many Scottish mercenaries were allowed to settle in France.
Meanwhile, Owain Glyndwr, the last native Welshman to hold the title of the Prince of Wales, led a Welsh war of independence against the English from 1400 to 1415. Henry V, then Henry of Monmouth, almost certainly fought Owain in 1403 and faced the latter’s English ally Henry “Hotspur” Percy in the Battle of Shrewsbury that year.
Seen in the light of history, the tenacious support given to Henry V by captains Jamy, MacMorris, and Fluellen is remarkable on its surface. Their assent to Henry’s interpretation of war upends the traditional definitions of loyalty, betrayal, and patriotism.
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