Act IV, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
As if echoing Grandpre’s speech, the English officers prepare for death by bidding one another good-bye. Then Henry delivers a speech about the honor of dying for one’s country. Suiting his remarks to the occasion, he says the coming battle will become a national holiday celebrating “St. Crispin.” (In Catholic theology, October 25 was a feast day for two Roman brothers, Crispinus and Crispianus, who were the patron saints of shoemakers.) And in a famous passage, Henry addresses the men—outnumbered five to one by the French—as
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother. . . .
As the troops begin to deploy, the French herald Montjoy rides up with a message from King Charles. For the third time he offers an alternative to battle, saying that Henry can spare his army “certain overthrow” by paying a ransom. Once again, the king rejects him, instead making himself the prize:
Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald.
They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints. . . .
The St. Crispin’s Day speech, which still stirs patriotic passion in the British heart, is the centerpiece of this scene. Some critics have detected a whiff of self-aggrandisement in Henry’s assertion that “I am not covetous for gold . . . But if it be a sin to covet honor,/I am the most offending soul alive.” But such possible faults fade before the speech as a whole, which brilliantly transforms the army’s most grievous problem—its tiny size—into a virtue of the highest order. He speaks confidently, dropping the hesitancy of when he was in disguise. Promising his men this battle will raise them socially to gentlemen and even confer a kind of immortality, making their names “as familiar as household words.” He says that “gentlemen in England now...
(The entire section is 470 words.)