Henry V Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis

Summary
In the play’s shortest scene, the French nobles are found routed and panic-stricken. Their army’s ranks broken and facing certain defeat, they decide to seek death in battle rather than the disgrace they have earned. Bourbon speaks for all in vowing to throw himself on the enemy’s spear when he says, “I’ll to the throng./Let life be short, else shame will be too long.”

Analysis
Despite its brevity, this climactic scene has one moment of special significance. It is the Dauphin’s invocation of Fortune, a mythological goddess who was thought to control the lives of humans. In contrast to the prayers of Henry and his men, which are consistently directed to God, this blasphemous act associates the Frenchman with a pagan deity. Once again, Shakespeare underscores the different value systems of the two peoples, with the spiritual, high-minded English on one side, and the luxury-loving French on the other.

Perhaps to underscore the point, the Dauphin asks “Be these the wretches that we played dice for?” (In the previous scene, he and the others had placed wagers on the number of English soldiers they would kill.) In the Elizabethan world view, to forsake Christianity and follow Fortune was the sure way to damnation, and Shakespeare’s audience would not have missed the implications of his words—nor would they have overlooked the Constable’s reference to “Disorder.”