Act V, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
In the French palace, the leaders of England and France meet to settle the terms of a peace treaty. After friendly greetings are exchanged, Burgundy gives a long speech summarizing the political situation. Henry then sends the others off to negotiate these matters while he courts Katharine, with whom he has fallen in love.
His amorous attentions make up most of this final scene. Appealing to her not as a king but as a “plain soldier,” he asks for her consent to join their lives and their kingdoms in marriage. Though shy and hesitant at first, she ultimately agrees. When the others return, the French king accedes to this and to “every article” of Henry’s other terms. Everyone present greets the reconciliation with joy, and the play ends.
Before the final curtain, Chorus gives a brief epilogue relating the subsequent history of this event. After ruling for but a “small time,” Henry died young, leaving the throne to his infant son Henry VI. This king, unwise and unlucky, eventually “lost France and made his England bleed.” The play ends with a plea for the audience’s acceptance.
Though Henry’s wooing of Katharine dominates this scene, and properly so, thematically Burgundy’s speech is at least as important. Its literal meaning is straightforward enough. He wants to reconcile the leaders of the warring countries and establish a lasting peace. But harking back to a metaphor used earlier, his words have a far deeper significance.
In Shakespeare’s time, the state of nature was a state of order. The creator set each earthly thing in its proper place, and it was mankind’s responsibility to maintain that arrangement. As long as humans remained virtuous, a general sense of orderliness would prevail, whether in the religious sphere or the secular, whether personal or political, whether individual or collective. To upset the divine plan was to invite disorder—an act of evil.
In Burgundy’s speech, the symbol of order is the garden, specifically “this best garden of the world,/Our fertile France.” Peace, he says, “hath from France too long been chased,” and as a result “all her husbandry [agriculture] doth lie on heaps,/Corrupting in its own fertility.” From here he goes on to recount the ills that have befallen his country, in both its vegetation and its people. Restoring the peace would, he implies, heal a breach in nature itself. Thus are the political issues linked to universal principles, and the signing of the treaty takes on an almost cosmic dimension.
Once these affairs of state are disposed of—the king’s approval is a forgone conclusion—the focus can shift to the personal level, where Henry wins his lady’s love.
Those skeptical of Henry’s motives may point out that the marriage, too, is a virtual fait accompli, because it is one of the terms of the treaty. This being so, he may be amusing himself at her expense. (Remember, Katharine is only 14 and, from what we have seen, far less sophisticated than this worldly young man.) Yet it is difficult to resist the charm and inventiveness of his...
(The entire section is 786 words.)