Act 5, Prologue–Epilogue Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1457
The chorus asks the audience to imagine Henry at Calais before shifting the focus back to England. He describes Henry’s ship sailing into port and an English coast thronged with people cheering his return.
Next, the Chorus draws the audience’s attention to London because that is where Henry is headed. A huge wave of citizens pours onto the streets of London to welcome home England’s “conquering Caesar.”
The Chorus also notes that the Holy Roman Emperor is interceding on France’s behalf and working to broker peace between England and France. Finally, the Chorus shifts the scene back to France.
Fluellen and Gower enter. Gower asks why Fluellen is wearing a leek in his hat, given that St. Davy’s Day is past. Fluellen explains that he has a quarrel to pick with Pistol. The day before, Pistol brought bread and salt to Fluellen and told him to eat his leek. Obviously, Fluellen saw this as an insult. Since the venue wasn’t an appropriate place for a physical challenge, Fluellen had to suppress his anger.
Pistol enters and immediately issues threats to Fluellen. He tells Fluellen that the smell of leeks makes him sick. Meanwhile, Fluellen tells Pistol that he must eat the leek he gives him. Pistol refuses, and Fluellen strikes him with a club. The latter insists that if Pistol can “mock a leek,” he can also eat one. Nursing his wounds, Pistol reluctantly eats the leek. Fluellen gives Pistol a penny for his trouble.
Pistol is furious at being forced to eat the leek from Fluellen’s hat. However, Gower tells him that he deserves what he got for insulting Fluellen and his Welsh accent. Gower also tells Pistol that he has no right to mock an “ancient tradition” and an emblem “worn as a memorable trophy of predeceased valor.”
The scene ends with Pistol revealing that his wife, Mistress Quickly, has died after contracting the pox. He laments that Fortune has left him and that he is bereft of comfort. Pistol decides that he will become a pimp and a pickpocket when he returns to England.
In this scene, the French court meets with the royal retinue from England. Henry exchanges pleasantries with King Charles, Queen Isabel, and the French noblemen in attendance. He also acknowledges Princess Katherine’s presence. It is revealed that the duke of Burgundy has organized this meeting between the royal houses.
The duke begins by asking if any impediments lie in the path to peace. Henry responds that peace can be purchased with “full accord to all our just demands.” Upon hearing this, the king of France asks for assistance in understanding the terms of peace. Henry tells the dukes of Exeter, Clarence, Gloucester, Warwick, and Huntingdon to assist King Charles.
The royal parties exit, leaving Henry alone with Princess Katherine and her lady-in-waiting, Alice. Henry intends to woo Katherine and ascertain her desire to be his wife. He begins by asking her to teach him the words a man should use to woo a woman.
Katherine says she is afraid he may mock her for her inability to speak English. Henry tells Katherine that if she would love him “soundly” with all her “French heart,” he would be content to hear her confess it in broken English.
He then tells Katherine that she looks like an angel. Katherine retorts that the tongues of men are full of deceit. Henry is amused. He tells her that he is lucky she is not more fluent in English, for she may ask for more verbal expressions of his love. Henry says that he cannot write poetry or dance. Unlike other suitors, he is unaccustomed to using flowery language. Henry maintains that he is just a plain soldier who excels in feats of strength.
Still, he pledges to remain true and faithful to her. Henry tells Katherine that a man may grow old but a good heart “shines bright and never changes.” He tells Katherine that, in taking him, she is marrying both a soldier and a king.
Katherine wonders if she can love an enemy of France. Henry answers that he does not expect her to love an enemy but a friend of France. He tells her that if she marries him, she will have both France and him. When Katherine says that she does not understand, Henry tries to speak in French. Katherine tells him that his French is better than her English.
Henry says he can tell that he won’t win her love without a fair fight, which shows that she would make a good mother of future soldiers. Still, he asks Katherine whether she can love him. He tells her that his exterior may be intimidating, but he assures her that he will look better as he ages. Henry comforts himself that old age can’t make his face any more frightening than it already is. He just wants to know whether Katherine will have him.
He looks forward to hearing Katherine proclaim “Harry of England, I am thine.” For, he will then be able to say “England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is thine, and Harry Plantagenet is thine.”
Katherine answers that she will have Henry if her father agrees. Henry says that King Charles will surely give his approval. He then tries to kiss Katherine’s hand but she demurs. When Henry tries to kiss her on the lips, he is told that French maidens don’t kiss until they are married. Henry insists that “nice customs curtsy to great kings” and proceeds to kiss Katherine. As a king, Henry claims the right to make or break customs.
The king of France soon enters with his advisers and Henry’s lords. The duke of Westmoreland tells Henry that the king of France will accede to all English demands and give Katherine as wife to Henry. Charles tells Henry to beget grandchildren for him and so unite the kingdoms of France and England. The scene ends with Henry kissing Katherine and announcing that preparations for their wedding will commence.
In the Epilogue, the Chorus extols the accomplishments of Henry, the “star of England,” noting that Henry’s military skills gained him the “world’s best garden”—that is, France. However, France was lost during the reign of his son, Henry VI. Civil war ensued and made “England bleed.”
In essence, the Chorus asks for continued favor from the audience, reminding them that it is no small feat to tell the story of England’s kings on stage.
In this final section of the play, we see an aspect of Henry we have never seen before. Fresh from his victory on the fields of Agincourt, he shows up at the French palace to woo Princess Katharine.
In this section, we see Henry at his most vulnerable. He is, first and foremost, a soldier and statesman and so has little practice in speaking the words of love.
On the fields of war, he mercilessly cuts down the enemy. But, here, he begs Katharine’s indulgence and presents himself as a lover whose heart is true, even if forged from iron. Henry’s use of endearments is tempered by practical considerations, however. He asks Katharine,
Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard? Shall we not? What say’st thou, my fair flower de luce?
Essentially, the marriage will secure Henry’s claim to the French crown and ensure that his descendants enjoy the same privilege. Henry acknowledges that he is not only marrying for love, despite his protestations otherwise.
Katharine must eventually be a “soldier-breeder”—in Henry’s words—if she is to aid her husband in his ambitious goals. Given his recent victory, Henry is the one with all of the power. Katharine, cognizant of her precarious position, can only put up a feeble protest by asking, “Is it possible dat I sould love de enemy of France?”
Henry’s answer that Katharine should think of him as “a friend of France” illustrates his skill in couching his Machiavellian ambitions in the language of love and diplomacy. Still, Henry does not loosen his hold on power, even in the realm of romance. Illustrating his belief in monarchical absolutism, he maintains that “nice customs curtsy to great kings.” When Katharine argues that it is not the custom in France for maidens to be kissed before marriage, Henry tells her that he will not be confined by existing sensibilities. In other words, the balance of power tilts to the victor, who decides the boundaries of conduct.