Last Updated on October 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748
Gloucester inquires about the king’s whereabouts. Exeter answers that Henry has gone alone to inspect the troops. Meanwhile, Westmoreland announces that the French have sixty thousand warriors, frightening odds for England. Exeter agrees that this represents a five-to-one advantage for France.
Henry soon arrives, only to hear Westmoreland’s wish for ten thousand more men to join them. In response, Henry says that fewer men translates to a lower death toll for England. Conversely, if they are victorious, their achievement will earn them greater honor. Henry says that he prizes honor above material comforts. He maintains that those who have little stomach for fighting should be allowed to depart and given money for passage home. He would rather not die in the company of those who fear death. Henry reminds his lords that they fight on St. Crispian’s Day. If they are victorious, they will always have the privilege of standing tall on that day each year.
Salisbury enters and announces that the French are ready to charge. Henry asks if Westmoreland still wishes for more men. In response, Westmoreland answers that he now wants to fight the French with only Henry by his side.
In the foreground, a trumpet sounds, and Montjoy comes forward. He reminds Henry that defeat is imminent and that he should consider paying the French king’s ransom. Montjoy also sends a message from the Constable, who advises the English to repent before they die to ensure their “peaceful and sweet” transition to the next life.
Henry rebuffs Montjoy, telling him that the only ransom Charles will get are his bones. The scene ends with Henry giving permission to the duke of York to lead the English advance.
Pistol captures a French soldier named Monsieur Le Fer. He threatens to kill Le Fer unless the latter hands over some money. In response, Le Fer says that he comes from a wealthy family and promises Pistol two hundred gold coins. Being fluent in French, Boy, Pistol’s servant, acts as a translator throughout the exchange between Le Fer and Pistol.
Upon hearing the promise, Pistol leaves with Le Fer to retrieve the money. Alone, Boy wonders how a coward like Le Fer could have so loud a voice. He thinks that Bardolph and Nym have more courage than Le Fer. Besides, Bardolph and Nym have both been hanged for looting. Boy reveals that only servants like him are left to guard the English camp. He worries that they are completely unprepared for a French attack.
The Constable enters with the dukes of Bourbon, Orleans, and Rambures. The Dauphin is with them. The duke of Orleans howls that the day is lost, while the Constable reveals that the French soldiers have broken ranks. However, the duke of Orleans believes that the English can still be overcome if the French can restore order among their ranks.
The duke of Bourbon vehemently disagrees and announces that he will return to the battlefield. He asks that his life be shortened to minimize the shame of France’s defeat.
Henry remains defiant in the face of France’s demands to surrender. The French herald relays the contemptuous message from King Charles, but Henry rebuffs him. For his part, Henry rallies the troops with a speech that is often cited for its literary merits. His “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” speech is stirring and depicts martial valor as a moral virtue.
Henry’s reference to the Feast of St. Crispian highlights the theme of religious nationalism, an ideology merging religious and national objectives. Henry says that those who fight will forever be proud of the wounds they sustained on this holy day. Indeed, religion is seen as a powerful social force in war, affecting both morale and strategy. On the eve of battle, Henry uses religion to rally his soldiers to his side. Moreover, he promises that those who shed their blood by his side will be called his brothers (“be he ne'er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition”).
The courage of Henry’s army is juxtaposed against the profligacy of Pistol, who tries to extract money from a French prisoner. Boy’s revelation about Nym and Bardolph’s hanging is significant. It intimates that Pistol’s career in Henry’s army hangs by a thread. Ominously, Boy’s expressed warning of the English camp’s perilous position foreshadows tragedy on the day of battle.
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