Act III, Prologue Summary and Analysis
Chorus again calls on the audience to imagine offstage events. Henry has sailed to France and has begun a siege of the town of Harfleur. Meanwhile, a French ambassador tells Henry that the French king is offering Princess Katharine in marriage, along with “some petty and unprofitable dukedoms,” if he will end his campaign. Henry rejects this attempt at appeasement.
As in all the Prologues, Chorus’ diction is elevated and grandiose. The shore is the “rivage,” the sea is “inconstant billows,” strength is “pith and puissance,” the cannons have “fatal mouths,” and so forth. Through this rhetoric, Chorus gives an epic, larger-than-life scale to the drama, overcoming the theater’s limitations and conferring a mythical importance on the action.
A few details are notable for their apparent inaccuracy. One is the passage describing the helplessness of England, which Chorus says is defended by “grandsires, babies, and old women”—contradicting the fact, mentioned earlier, that three-fourths of the army is still there. Shakespeare may be reminding the audience that despite its military power, the English throne is still somewhat precarious because of the ethnic divisions within the country. As we know, a possible revolt by the Scots, along with the chronic restiveness of the Irish and the Welsh, needs constant attention. This aspect is developed further during Act III.
A second apparent inaccuracy is a reference to the army as “culled and choice-drawn cavaliers.” This may be another rhetorical flourish, as, historically speaking, Henry had relatively few such warriors. Most of his army was made up of infantry, or footsoldiers, who were unarmored and carried only swords and longbows.