Act III, Scene 6 Summary and Analysis
Back among the English at Picardy, captains Gower and Fluellen discuss the bravery of Exeter, who has just won an important military skirmish by holding a key bridge further up the river. (This event is not described in detail in the play. Exeter’s stand took place in an area called Teroune. Henry and his men needed a nearby river crossing to avoid an exhausting, 50-mile trek to the next bridge. Exeter, while reconnoitering, came upon a small bridge that the French were about to destroy. He drove off the enemy and held out until Henry and his troops arrived.)
Describing the scene in his slow-witted fashion, Fluellen praises both Exeter and another soldier he saw on the bridge, the “Aunchient Pistol.” (The Welshman’s dialogue, like that of the other ethnics, Macmorris and Jamy, is sprinkled with idiomatic mispronunciations.) At this point, Pistol himself enters and tries to intercede on behalf of Bardolph, who has been caught stealing and is under the sentence of death. When Fluellen rejects the plea, Pistol exits.
Gower then recollects an earlier meeting with Pistol and exposes him as an “arrant counterfeit rascal,” though Fluellen remains unconvinced. They are interrupted by the arrival of Henry, along with Gloucester and some common soldiers. Fluellen relates the sentence imposed on Bardolph, pointing out that so far the English have not lost a single man in battle—this thief would be the first. Nevertheless, Henry upholds the judgment, adding, “We would have all such offenders cut off.” He repeats his order against looting or committing any other incivility toward French civilians.
At this point, the French herald Montjoy appears, bearing the French king’s demand for ransom. Though admitting that “My army [is] but a weak and sickly guard,” Henry rejects the order out of hand, in effect making himself the ransom price. Come and get me, he tells Charles through his messenger: “We would not seek a battle as we are,/Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it.” To his own men he says, “We are in God’s hand, not theirs.”
Much has been made about Henry’s decision not to pardon Bardolph, his former companion, for what might be construed as a petty offense—the theft of a “pyx” from a local church. This object was indeed of relatively little value, being a paten , or communion plate rather than a chalice or other golden artifact. However, the principle involved was an extremely serious one, because by law any theft from a church was a capital crime. Pardoning Bardolph would set a momentous precedent,...
(The entire section is 653 words.)