Act 4, Scenes 6–8 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1496
Henry praises his troops, telling them that they have done well. Meanwhile, Exeter tells Henry that the duke of York sends his respects. Upon hearing this, Henry asks whether York is still alive. Henry says that he saw York fall three times within an hour. And, although he was covered with blood from his helmet to his spurs, the brave nobleman got up each time.
Exeter tells Henry that York’s body now lies on the battlefield, next to that of the Earl of Suffolk. Exeter relates that Suffolk died first and that York chose to die next to his cousin. With his last breaths, York asked Exeter to send his respects to Henry. Exeter says that he couldn’t stop his tears from flowing when witnessing York’s nobility. Henry is equally touched as he hears about the manner of York’s death.
The conversation is interrupted by more sounds of battle. Henry says that the French must have reinforced their scattered ranks. He gives the order for every English soldier to kill his French prisoners.
Fluellen and Gower enter. Fluellen reveals that the French ambushed the English camp and killed all the servants. He is upset that the French have flouted the conventions of war. Gower agrees. He says that “there’s not a boy left alive, and the cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha’ done this slaughter.”
The French soldiers also burned and carried away everything from Henry’s tent. In light of such actions, Gower heartily supports Henry’s order to slit the throats of the French prisoners. Fluellen then compares Henry to Alexander the Great. He maintains that there are analogies in everything and that Henry and Alexander share the same temperament, worldview, and battlefield exploits. To make his point, Fluellen mentions that Alexander killed his best friend, Cleitus.
Gower responds that Henry “never killed any of his friends.” But Fluellen insists that his analogy holds: Just as Alexander killed Cleitus, Henry killed his best friend, Sir John Falstaff. Before Gower can respond, Henry enters.
With Henry are the dukes of Gloucester, Warwick, Bourbon, and Exeter. Henry is furious at the French for the massacre of innocents at the English camp. He orders the English herald to send a message to the enemy: either come down and fight or clear the field. Henry says that if the French do neither, the English will take the fight to them. Before the English herald can leave for his errand, Montjoy, the French herald, appears.
Montjoy asks Henry for “charitable license” to bury France’s war dead. Montjoy also begs for permission to separate the bodies, as the “blood of princes” is mingled with the “mercenary blood” of common soldiers. Surprised by Montjoy’s request, Henry admits that he doesn’t know which side has won. Montjoy says that the English have the victory. Henry then inquires about the name of a nearby castle. When Montjoy answers that the castle is named Agincourt, Henry says that he will christen the war the “Battle of Agincourt.”
Fluellen then reminds Henry that his great-uncle Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, fought a brave battle in France. In a touching aside, Fluellen says that he is proud of his Welsh heritage and isn’t ashamed to share the same heritage with Henry. As befits his egalitarian nature, Henry acknowledges both his Welsh ancestry and Fluellen's claim of a shared heritage. When he finishes speaking, Henry motions for Williams to come forward.
Henry then asks Williams why he is wearing a glove in his cap. Williams answers that it is to remind him of a soldier he quarreled with prior to the battle. He tells Henry that if he sees the soldier wearing his glove in his cap, he’ll knock it off.
Henry then asks Fluellen whether Williams should keep his vow. Fluellen answers in the affirmative, saying that he would consider Williams a coward and villain if he failed to do so. Upon discovering that Williams serves under Captain Gower, Henry orders Williams to bring the latter to him.
After Williams leaves, Henry tells Fluellen to stick Williams’s glove in his cap. He tells Fluellen that he plucked the glove from a French combatant named Alencon. And, if anyone challenges it, he must be treated as an enemy of England. Thus, Fluellen should arrest that man. Henry then tells Fluellen to fetch Gower.
After Fluellen leaves, Henry tells the dukes of Warwick and Gloucester to follow Fluellen closely. He warns them that Fluellen may earn a “box o’ th’ ear” for wearing the glove in his cap. Essentially, Henry wants Warwick and Gloucester to see that no harm comes to Fluellen or Williams.
Gower and Williams enter. Not long after, Fluellen enters and tells Gower that Henry seeks his audience. Upon seeing Fluellen, Williams inquires about the glove in his cap. He thinks that Fluellen is the soldier he made a wager with.
Misunderstanding Williams, Fluellen says that the glove actually belongs to a traitor. Williams becomes angry, thinking that Fluellen is toying with him. Meanwhile, Fluellen says that Williams should be arrested for treason as he is a friend of the duke of Alencon.
As tempers rise, the dukes of Warwick and Gloucester enter, followed by Henry and the duke of Exeter. Fluellen tells Henry that Williams now has the glove Henry took from Alencon’s helmet. Williams tells Henry that Fluellen is the man he must fight.
After hearing both men speak, Henry reveals that he is the man Williams is looking for. For his part, Williams admits that he made a mistake but faults Henry for it. If Henry hadn’t disguised himself as a common man, Williams believes that he never would have made the mistake of challenging the king of England.
Magnanimously, Henry tells Exeter to give Williams some gold coins. Henry tells Williams to keep the coins in his cap until he challenges him for them. However, Williams refuses to take the money.
An English herald enters to give Henry an account of French casualties and prisoners of war. Henry reads off the names of French nobles who died. Accordingly, the French lost ten thousand soldiers. Of this number, 126 were princes. In all, 8,400 were knights, squires, lord, barons, and “gallant gentlemen.” Only 1,600 of the French casualties were mercenaries.
In contrast, the English lost only twenty-nine men. Upon receiving the report, Henry decrees that only God should be credited for England’s tremendous victory. Anyone who says otherwise will be put to death. Henry also says that the English will make a solemn procession through the captured village. He decrees that the dead will be buried properly before they leave for Calais and then England.
The deaths of the duke of York and Suffolk are eulogized by Henry. In Henry's eyes, the noblemen gave their lives for a just cause. Thus, they are to be lauded for their sacrifice.
Both York and Suffolk exemplify the ideal of warriors fighting in a “just war.” To the Elizabethan audience—and certainly to Henry—their deaths exemplify their devotion to God and king. Their reward is rest in the heavenly realms, as Exeter describes in scene 6:
The noble earl of Suffolk also lies.
Suffolk first died, and York, all haggled over,
Comes to him where in gore he lay insteeped
And takes him by the beard, kisses the gashes
That bloodily did yawn upon his face.
And cries aloud, “Tarry, my cousin Suffolk.
My soul shall thine keep company to heaven.
Tarry, sweet soul, for mine; then fly abreast,
As in this glorious and well-foughten field
We kept together in our chivalry.”
Henry frames the English victory in religious terms. He maintains that “God fought for us” and that all the holy rites for the French dead are to be observed. In light of York and Suffolk’s sacrifice and the loyalty of Welsh allies like Fluellen, the treachery of the Southampton three—Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey—is but a distant memory for Henry.
In a touching exchange with Fluellen, Henry acknowledges both his Welsh heritage and the Welsh contribution to the day’s victory. In answer to Fluellen’s “I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s Day,” Henry answers that he will wear the leek “for a memorable honor.” In response, Fluellen’s emotional declaration—“I am your majesty’s countryman, I care not who know it!”—highlights the complexity of the Welsh and English alliance. While his countrymen in Wales organize rebellions against the English at home, Fluellen fights by Henry’s side in France. The irony would not have been lost on Shakespeare’s audience.
A significant development in this section is the massacre of pages in the English camp. This act of malice and brutality on the part of fleeing French soldiers can be seen as a justification of Henry’s order to kill all French prisoners.