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The others discreetly retire from the room, leaving Henry and Catherine alone together, with Catherine’s maid, Alice, to help translate. In a comic scene, Henry courts Catherine, trying to persuade her to marry him. Understanding the gist of his flood of English words and few French ones, Catherine eventually agrees, pointing out that the decision is actually up to her father, “de roi mon père [of the king my father]” (V.ii.229).
The rest of the noblemen come back in, and Henry and the Duke of Burgundy trade some manly innuendoes about what Catherine will be like in bed. Everyone signs the treaties that will make Henry and his sons heirs to the throne of France after the king of France dies.Read a translation of Act V, scene ii →
The Chorus appears for the last time to deliver the Epilogue. This very brief speech mentions the birth of Catherine and Henry’s son, King Henry VI of England, who went on to lose France and bring England into war. With a final plea for the audience’s tolerance of the play, the Chorus brings the play to a close.
In Act V, scene i, Pistol, Gower, and Fluellen’s final scene, the patriotic urgency that unites men of disparate nations in battle dissipates, and cultural conflict between the British allies again returns as Fluellen and Pistol insult each other. Fluellen’s tormenting of Pistol with a leek provides comic relief and contrasts with Henry’s treatment of the various characters—Scrope, Nim, and Bardolph—who have gotten on his bad side. Whereas Henry subjects those who run against him to death, Fluellen humiliates Pistol with a ludicrous but ultimately harmless punishment. Fluellen gives Pistol money to make up for his bruised head, demonstrating his compassion.
Pistol’s revelation of the news of his wife’s death adds an unexpected note of pathos to the end of the scene. It reminds us of the earlier deaths of Bardolph, Nim, and the boy, who was probably murdered with the other pages during the battle. The reminder of mortality darkens the play’s conclusion and adds a note of realism to Shakespeare’s presentation of his commoners. Even these comic characters must endure horrible tragedy. For a poor man like Pistol, an accident of fate can result in a terrible debasement—Pistol will now be forced to act as a pimp and thief merely in order to survive.
Act V, scene ii—the courtship scene between Henry and Catherine—is intended to close the play on a light note, but the scene contains some unsettling elements. Henry awkwardly makes courtship speeches, posing himself as an unpolished warrior. Henry has given far too many brilliant orations during the play for the audience to believe that he is no good at speaking. Henry’s discomfort, or his lack of desire to woo Catherine, stems from the fact that Henry’s manners are immaterial to his chances of success. Catherine is being used as a political pawn and barely understands the language her suitor speaks. As she points out when Henry asks her if she will “have” him, the decision her father’s to make (V.ii.228–229).
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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