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On the field at the Battle of Agincourt, the English appear to have seized the advantage and have captured many French soldiers and noblemen. But the battle is not quite over, as many of the French continue to fight. Exeter gives King Henry an update on the battle: the English are doing well, but two noble cousins, the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk, have been killed. Exeter touchingly describes the way the wounded York lay down to die beside the body of his beloved cousin Suffolk. Henry, like Exeter, is moved to tears by the story.
A sudden stir and cry sounds. King Henry, interpreting this commotion as a rally by the French, abruptly orders every English soldier to kill his French prisoners—a remarkably bloody move.
Alexander, God knows, and you know … did in his ales and his angers, look you, kill his best friend Cleitus—
Back in the press of battle, Fluellen talks with Gower. A small group of French soldiers, fleeing the main crush of the battle, have attacked the English camp. They have looted the goods there and murdered the young pages, mere children, who were left in the camp. Fluellen is outraged at the French atrocity of killing the young pages, which violates the chivalrous codes of battle. He agrees with Gower in approving of King Henry’s decision to slaughter the French prisoners, and he compares the valiant Henry to Alexander the Great.
King Henry appears, with the Duke of Bourbon as a prisoner. Having learned about the slaughter of the boys, he says he is angrier than he has ever been before and repeats the order to kill the French prisoners. Montjoy, the now-humbled French messenger, reappears. He brings a request from the king of France that the French be allowed to go safely into the battlefield to identify, recover, and bury their dead. King Henry demands to know whether the English won. Montjoy says they have, and Henry praises God for the victory.
Henry spots the soldier Michael Williams, with whom he argued and exchanged gloves the night before. Henry decides to play a practical joke: he gives Williams’s glove to Fluellen and tells him to wear it publicly, saying that it came from a noble Frenchman in the field and that anyone who attacks Fluellen over it must be a traitor to the English. Henry then follows them to see the fun.
When Williams sees Fluellen, he recognizes his own glove and thinks Fluellen was the man with whom he quarreled the night before. He strikes Fluellen, and Fluellen, believing that Williams is a French traitor, orders him to be arrested. King Henry arrives, innocently asking about the cause of the fuss, and then he reveals to Williams that his quarrel is really with King Henry himself. Williams says that he cannot be held responsible for picking a quarrel with the king because Henry was deliberately disguising his identity the preceding night. Henry, enjoying his little joke and approving of Williams’s courage, rewards him by filling his glove with coins.
I just finished Henry V, the 19th Shakespeare play, in my quest to read all the Bard by his 450th birthday next year. If you're interested, visit my blog to find out what I thought of it and more on what I thought of Henry:
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