Act IV, Scene 7 Summary and Analysis
Fluellen and Gower, upon hearing of Henry’s command, are both highly pleased. Fluellen compares the king to Alexander the Great, paralleling Alexander’s murder of a friend with Henry’s rejection of Falstaff.
At this point the king himself arrives and repeats his order to “cut the throats of those we have.” He adds, “not one of them that we shall take/Shall taste our mercy.”
Just then Montjoy returns, bearing a request that the French be allowed to bury their dead. Henry asks if the outcome of the battle has been decided, and the herald answers, “The day is yours.” “Praised be God, and not our strength, for it!” cries the happy king.
Henry and Fluellen then spend a few moments discussing the fact that they are fellow countrymen, Henry being from the Welsh town of Monmouth. In the remainder of the scene, the subplot involving Henry and Williams is resumed. When the king notices his glove in the soldier’s cap, he engineers a prank by sending Williams away and then giving Fluellen the other man’s glove (after first claiming that he, Henry, had stolen it from a soldier named Alencon). Fluellen, with the gage in his cap, is then sent on the same errand as was Williams, unwittingly to antagonize him. Once he is gone, however, Henry admits that “I by bargain should/Wear it myself,” and he sends his brother Gloucester and Warwick after Fluellen to prevent further “mischief.”
This scene contains some clues that could account for Henry’s apparently rash, unjustified order to kill the prisoners. The first is Fluellen’s revelation, in the opening lines, that the French have slain all the English boys guarding the camp’s luggage. This intelligence comes directly after the kill-all-prisoners order. Had it come just before, Henry’s motivation would be clear. Besides being “expressly against the law of arms,” as Fluellen says, the killing of the boys is an egregious atrocity, and probably reason enough for Henry to retaliate in kind.
Note, too, that Henry’s next appearance begins with the apparently unmotivated line, “I was not angry since I came to France/Until this instant,” whereupon he reissues the murderous command. Were the script rearranged, however, and this speech coupled with Fluellen’s revelation, it would become perfectly understandable. (History bears this out: the slaughter of the boys did in fact precede—and prompt—the killing of the prisoners.)
Misplaced lines? Quite possibly. Despite centuries of scholarly reconstruction, textual mistakes are by no means uncommon in Shakespeare’s plays. At a time long before copyright protection, scripts were amended freely by actors, directors, managers, printers, and various other interested parties, so it is altogether possible that a mix-up occurred here. Accordingly, many contemporary directors take out the Williams subplot altogether.
Returning to our thematic discussion, the boy occupies a special position in the play vis-à-vis Henry. Remember that Henry’s youth is one of the defining features of his character. Part of his task in being king is proving that he has cast off his wayward habits and reached a sober maturity. Yet he is still young, and to that extent has a certain affinity with this boy—who, after all, has followed in his footsteps by falling in with Falstaff and his crew. Just as the Dauphin is the alter ego of Henry the man, the boy is the alter ego of Henry the child.
Throughout the play, however, the two have been moving along opposite paths. Henry, in making difficult and often morally ambiguous decisions, has been gradually losing his innocence, while the boy,...
(The entire section is 918 words.)