Act IV, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis
The battle having begun, a French soldier captured by Pistol pleads for his life. His words are translated by the boy. After much confusion and haggling, Pistol agrees to accept a ransom of 200 gold coins.
In light of the ransom at stake in the previous scene, this scene can be considered a companion piece to it. Morally speaking, of course, it is a mirror opposite. Far from rejecting the notion of a ransom, the mercenary-minded Pistol is more than eager to accept. (Buying one’s release was so common during Shakespeare’s time that it was frequently the chief source of an army’s income.) His inverted sense of values is also reflected in the dialogue where he mistakes a reference to God (“O Seigneur Dieu!”) for the victim’s name.
As in another companion piece, the scene at the Harfleur wall, Pistol converts a serious theme into parody. Here it is the concept of mercy—a virtue repeatedly associated with Henry. Pistol equates the virtue with his own parasitic nature. “As I suck blood, I will some mercy show.” Not surprisingly, the remark elicits disgust from the boy, who says, “I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart.”